Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Fishing for Boos

(Flickr / jim.greenfield)
In early 1990, as the lackluster California governorship of the lackluster George Deukmejian was running down, the two Democratic front-runners to succeed him were Attorney General John Van de Kamp and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein—in that order. Then, at the state’s annual Democratic Party convention—a body with no nominating power (that was to be decided in a subsequent primary) but nonetheless a yearly gathering for liberal activists—Feinstein included in her speech a ringing, if otherwise gratuitous, endorsement of the death penalty. Predictably, the delegates booed her. Just as predictably, her standing in the polls quickly shot past Van de Kamp’s and she went on to win the Democratic primary (though she lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson). Make no mistake, though: She’d wanted those boos. She needed them to surge in the polls. It’s increasingly clear that Mitt Romney wanted the boos he got during his speech at yesterday’s NAACP convention, too. His...

Extreme Makeover: Voting Edition

(Flickr/jugbo)
Elections, like baseball, are a simple game; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains. The rules are fairly intuitive to Americans from an early age. You’ve got your primaries, where the family engages in rousing infighting, and then the general election, where the guy or gal with the best power suit and tasteful red accessories wins. You vote for one candidate and get the hell out. The plebs always get stickers, and the senior citizens running the polls are guaranteed to be real pieces of work. It is democracy as the ancient Athenians must have imagined—only in their wildest dreams. But could there be another way to do it? Indeed. The fact is, there is more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to voting. Without further ado, we present some different flavors of democracy in action. What the heck is Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)? Also sporting the moniker “ranked choice voting” (catchy, eh?), this mode of voting is all about "win, place, show." Voters are given...

Games People Play

Mitt Romney comes under withering fire for offshoring his millions to Bermuda and Switzerland—and for refusing to allow light to shine into what the Times calls his “ financial black hole ”—Senator Lindsey Graham came up with what is surely the year’s most novel line of defense today : “It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally.” No doubt, the Romney campaign apparatus was delighted to hear this: Thanks for being so helpful, Lindsey! At least he added that “legally” word. But there was more! "As long as it was legal, I'm OK with it," Graham said. "I don't blame anybody for using the tax code to their advantage.” And more still! "It's a game we play. Every American tries to find the way to get the most deductions they can. I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game." To be scrupulously fair to the Man from South Carolina, he was trying to combine his defense of Romney with a call for a flat tax, which he and others claim would bring a welcome...

How Much Will Money Matter?

(401K/Flickr)
So far this week, the big presidential campaign news is Mitt Romney’s massive fundraising haul for the month of June. The Romney team raised $106 million last month, out-raising President Obama by $35 million and besting Democrats for the second month in a row. There are important asterisks to the GOP gains—in particular, a large portion of this money has been raised for the technically ongoing primary, and can't be spent until after the convention—but it’s still impressive. If the Romney team can sustain this pace—it’s possible they’re collecting low-hanging fruit, and the numbers will drop off later—then it will have a large financial advantage in the fall. But how much does that actually matter? The Obama team wants you to believe that fundraising could be the deciding factor in the election. In an email to supporters, campaign manager Jim Messina warned, “The gap is getting wider, and if it continues at this pace, it could cost us the election.” In the same email, Obama adds that...

Americans Paying Historically Low Taxes

The top marginal income tax rate, a testament to our oppression. (Flickr)
When the Tea Party movement started in 2009, some of its adherents made signs that read, "Taxed Enough Already!"—the movement defined itself in large part as a reaction against the oppressive tax policies of the federal government, sucking ordinary people dry in its endless search for cash to fund its freedom-destroying schemes. This was always an insane inversion of actual reality—the truth is that as part of the stimulus bill, President Barack Obama actually cut taxes for almost everyone, and the only tax increase he imposed in his first term was a hike in cigarette taxes. It's true that the Affordable Care Act contains a number of different tax increases (on things like "Cadillac" health plans), but those have not taken effect yet. But to many conservatives, it just feels like they're paying more taxes, because ... well, because there's a Democrat in the White House. Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the taxes we have actually been paying, and guess what:...

Didn't See It Coming?

(Flickr/emmapebble)
Surely by now you’ve figured out that you shouldn’t be listening to any of us, haven’t you? One of the more nitwitted arguments of Marxist-Leninists—back when there were such people—was that history is a science and human behavior is as predictable as chemical interaction, rendering sociological results inevitable,; and if few of us in what passes for the commentariat these days would put matters in such a way, we still tend to view politics as a series of patterns determined by previous patterns, which are defined by ideology and demographics. Intangibles, X factors, monkey wrenches in the machinery—or, in other words, human beings acting like human beings—get lost in the accounting, and sometimes the result is a conventional wisdom that not only proves wrong but also didn’t make sense in the first place. To argue that this election is about demographics suggests major blocs congenitally programmed to support one candidate or another: Naturally, for instance, young people are going...

Show Us Your Papers!

The calls for Obama to show his birth certificate still rage on at the extreme fringe of the Republican Party, but it seems that it is finally time for Mitt Romney to turn over his documentation. Instead of a birth certificate, though, Romney's opponents on the left are looking for his tax forms—can we make "formerism" a neologism?—from the past decade. The push comes after a Vanity Fair piece last week that cast doubt on the legality of some of Romney’s offshore holdings. Joe Biden, the Obama administration’s favorite attack dog, was let off his leash to tell the National Council of La Raza , “Mitt Romney wants you to show your papers, but he won’t show us his.” It was a perfectly executed double-play that works to woo Latino voters and put the spotlight on Romney’s money. Romney countered by saying "There is nothing hidden" in his offshore accounts, and quickly tried to pivot the discussion to the sour economy. You can expect Romney and Obama to keep playing ping-pong with the...

Could the Voting Rights Act Be Struck Down?

(Flickr/ezola)
Texas doesn't have an air-tight case when it comes to the stringent voter-ID law that's currently having its week in court. Even Fox commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano said he expects the state to lose . And according to Politico , the Department of Justice (DOJ) has promised to show not only that the voter-ID law will have a discriminatory effect but that such an effect was intentional. Texas's case, meanwhile, rests on two different arguments: First, that the state needs a voter-ID law to combat voter fraud, and second, that the state should not have to obtain preclearance—as required by the Voting Rights Act—for changes in its election law in the first place. After failing to do so in years past, Texas's GOP-dominated legislature passed a stringent voter-ID law in 2011. Under this law, only a few forms of identification are allowed: driver's licenses and state-issued identification cards, military IDs, citizenship certificates (with photos), passports, and handgun licenses. But...

The Fundamentals Are Still in Obama's Corner

(White House/Flickr)
The latest poll from The Washington Post and ABC News reflects a point I’ve been making for awhile: The presidential race is basically stable. If the election were held today, 47 percent of voters would support Barack Obama, and 47 percent would support Mitt Romney. Moreover, the bulk of these voters are locked in to their choice; 80 percent of Obama voters say that they will “definitely” support the president, while 73 percent of Romney voters say the same for the former Massachusetts governor. Of those surveyed, only 8 percent say that they could change their minds over the course of the campaign—4 percent of Obama’s supporters and 12 percent of Romney’s. When it comes to Obama’s tenure , a large majority of Americans—63 percent—say that the country is on the wrong track. Forty-nine percent disapprove of how the president is handling his job—compared with 47 percent who approve—and 54 percent disapprove of how Obama is handling the economy. But, when voters are made to choose...

Mr. Middle Class

You’d think it would be downright ludicrous—late-night comedy material—for Barack Obama, the elegant and eloquent Man from Harvard Law, to pitch himself as any kind of regular Joe. But he managed it pretty well in 2008. And he was at it again last Friday, on a lawn in Maumee, Ohio, flanked by hay bales and an American flag, talking to a bunch of middle-American types in a loose-fitting, short-sleeved checked shirt he may have last worn while bowling in Pennsylvania—and sounding pretty darn regular , inspiring choruses of that’s right s and amen s. He talked about his single mom, who “raised me and my sister right,” about his grandparents’ service in World War II, about his HoJo’s vacations as a kid. The message: I’m middle class to my bones, y’all, believe it or not. Along the way, he previewed today’s call for extending the Bush tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year, for income under $250,000—another component of the campaign’s renewed emphasis on economic fairness and, you...

Their Mind on Mitt's Money and Mitt's Money on Their Mind

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Remember when the knock on Mitt Romney was that he's an unprincipled flip-flopper? That seemed like it would be at the very least one foundation of the campaign Barack Obama would run against Romney, if not the primary foundation. It's a potent attack, and there may never have been a candidate more vulnerable to it than Romney. Yet aside from passing remarks here and there, we don't hear much about flip-flopping from Obama and his surrogates anymore. Instead, it's going to be all money, all the time. Or to put it another way, the Obama campaign's central message will be that Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy who spent a career screwing ordinary people in his endless lust for profits and now wants to be president so he can continue to screw ordinary people and reward his rich friends. Look at the ads produced by Priorities USA Action, the main pro-Obama super PAC. There are about 20 ads focusing on Romney's record at Bain Capital, and not one about flip-flopping. The ads produced...

Mitt Romney: The New Face of GOP Intransigence

As expected, President Obama has called for an extension of the middle-class Bush tax cuts—which apply to all incomes under $250,000—and an end to the additional tax cut for income greater than that amount. Given the degree to which the GOP program is devoted to more and greater tax cuts for the wealthy, it’s no surprise that Republicans are completely opposed to this plan to modestly raise taxes on higher-income Americans. Indeed, in a renewed bit of hostage taking, congressional Republicans have refused to renew the middle-class tax cuts unless Democrats also vote to extend further tax cuts for wealthier Americans. If the issue isn’t resolved, lower-income and middle-class Americans will see a significant hit to their income, and the economy will suffer from the decline in consumer spending. As Brian Beutler explains for Talking Points Memo , this puts Mitt Romney—standard-bearer for the Republican Party—in a tricky position: Last time around, nobody really had to answer for that...

Out of Touch Meets Really out of Touch

The Hamptons (Google Maps)
Mitt Romney has taken lots of abuse for being an out-of-touch rich guy whose struggles to connect to regular folks often produce comical results. But the stories coming out of Romney's one-day fundraising marathon in the Hamptons (three separate events at the no doubt spectacular vacation homes of Ronald Perelman, Clifford Sobel, and David Koch) on Saturday actually make Romney look good. Because the thing about Mitt is this: He's trying. He may be terrible at it, but he's making an effort to connect with ordinary people. He talks to them almost every day. Yes, the encounters are awkward and superficial, but he wants to be one of the fellas, and he understands that this is something he could be a lot better at. Whereas the people who came to these fundraisers are actually as pretentious, condescending, and elitist as Democrats would like people to believe Mitt Romney is. Let's stipulate that among the attendees at these events were some folks who are thoughtful and modest, treat their...

Voters Have Changed Their Mind about Romney—for the Worse

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Methodologically, it doesn’t make much sense to do a poll of just the swing states. In presidential elections, the country moves as a whole; if President Barack Obama gains support nationally, then it will be reflected in individual states. Yes, some states will show more movement than others (Nate Silver calls these “ elastic ”), but there’s no real reason to focus exclusively on swing states, since you can predict the change with national polling. At most, it furthers the common but misguided notion that the election comprises 50 individual contests. Of course, we can still glean useful information from swing-state polls. The most recent , from USA Today and Gallup, has a good amount of useful information. Focusing on the barrage of TV ads in swing states, USA Today and Gallup found that of the overwhelming majority of voters in those states who saw campaign ads, about 1 in 12 said that it changed their minds. And of those 1 in 12, 76 percent say they now support President Obama,...

Florida's Voter Purge: What the Hell?

(Flickr/ldcross)
With a tangle of lawsuits and legal complexities, it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of Florida's voter-purge debacle. Last week, as a U.S. District Court ruled on one of the disputes between the Department of Justice and the state of Florida, most of the media discussion focused on who'd won and who'd lost in the rather nuanced court opinion. More legal action comes next week, and the discussion will likely be similar. At its core, though, this is a story of how Florida's secretary of state cast suspicion on thousands of perfectly legitimate voters. Waving around a list of 180,000 potential non-citizens and sending out a sample of 2,700 to elections officials, the state's methodology was deeply flawed. Many of those identified had immigrated to this country and completed the arduous path to citizenship. Now they're at risk of being kicked off voter rolls. With voter-ID laws gaining popularity in states across the country, the purge constitutes a new front in the battle to protect...

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