Never Underestimate The Vacuity Of DC Political Analysis

Matt Yglesias writes:

It’s often best in life to try to avoid assuming that people you disagree with are motivated by “absurd” lines of reasoning. Perhaps [White House Chief of Staff Bill] Daley['s support for the President's decision to suspend EPA rule writing on ozone] is [due to being] persuaded by Matthew Kahn’s point (based on research from Michael Greenstone) that enhanced EPA regulations cause job-shifting out of non-attainment counties into attainment ones. Regulations that break up concentrations of extreme pollution in part by shifting polluting activity to less-polluted areas are perfectly sound public health measures, but there’s nothing absurd about the theory that it could do political damage to the standing of incumbent politicians in the areas that suffer from the negative short-term effects.

I checked the link Yglesias provides and find his political reasoning to be absurd. From the link:

The Clean Air Act is not uniformly enforced across the United States. Counties are assigned to “Non-Attainment” status and “Attainment” status. When new regulations are imposed on the dirty urban counties, these “Non-Attainment” counties do lose some jobs (as documented by Greenstone) but these jobs do not all walk to China. Instead, they “leak” to other less regulated U.S areas (the Attainment status counties). So, from a macro perspective — the job loss estimates based on micro regression methods overstate the economy wide impact. Intuitively, if ozone regulation becomes more severe, Los Angeles may lose some jobs but they will be displaced to somewhere in Mississippi.

Yglesias' argument is that:

Daley met with industry groups who showed him a map of which counties would be forced by the new rules into non-compliance. There were a bunch of counties on the map, many of which were in states such as Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio that are crucial to Obama’s re-election effort.

And the result of this would be what according to Yglesias? Presumably, lost jobs right? But the piece Yglesias critiques says:

If the ozone regs had passed, several swing states would be put into noncompliance. That would have involved some fines and prompted the need for aggressive state implementation policies (SIPs). That might have upset voters, who would then be less likely to vote for Obama and, e.g., Michigan Sen. Carl Levin (D). It might have upset businesses, who would then be less likely to give money to those candidates. Now that the White House has delayed the rule, those voters won’t be upset, so they’ll be more likely to vote the right way, and businesses won’t be upset, so they’ll be more likely to give money.

I hope it’s obvious, just from laying it out, how absurd this kind of reasoning is, especially when it comes to voters. It relies on the presumption that there is a neutral media which will report to voters in those states that something was going to happen, but now isn’t, and that those voters will be attentive enough to understand that, and that the knowledge will meaningfully affect their voting behavior.

But there is no such media. There are no referees. And voters are not nearly that sophisticated. They assess politicians based on crude stereotypes, and when politicians do something counter to those stereotypes, voters simply don’t notice. That’s more true than ever in today’s fractured media landscape. The kind of people who get their news from Fox are never, ever going to give Obama credit for blocking regulations.

This strikes me as perfectly sensible political analysis. Indeed, it strikes me as generous to Daley. I think the critique's analysis of voters actually applies to Beltway political strategists as well - to wit, I bet that Daley's actual political analysis was based on "assess[ing] politic[s[ based on crude stereotypes." In this case, "tree huggers bad," "less regulation" good.

Whether that crude political assessment is right or wrong, there is no way Obama or Dems will ever out-antiregulate Republicans. This reminds me of the eternal futile search for Values Voters to go Dem. They don't. Dems will never out "Value Voters" Republicans.

Defining what the election will be about is the issue in these elections always. In the past, when elections were about Social Security, Medicare, economic fairness. etc., Democrats would be fighting the political battle on favorable ground. When it was "we need less government" type of election, Dems lose.

As a Sistah Souljah move, it seems to have been a pretty bad one. I've never focused much on environmental issues, but a significant number of voters and activists do.

This just looks like a bad crude political tradeoff. Obama needed a "school uniforms" issue here. Daley seems to have fumbled the issue.

Happily, someone in the Obama political team seems to understand this stuff better than Daley - his Thursday speech and followup, so far, have clearly set the right tone, as demonstrated by today's PPP poll (PDF):

President Obama’s jobs speech last Thursday night might have given him a boost in his bid for re-election. After tying his perpetually strongest potential challenger Mitt Romney last month, Obama again leads him, but still by a smaller margin than he beat John McCain in the national popular vote three years ago. Everyone else far underperforms McCain, who lost to the president in a near landslide. Obama tops Romney, 49-45, up from a 45-all tie in PPP’s August national poll. He leads Rick Perry, 52-41 (49-43 in August); Newt Gingrich, 53-41; and Michele Bachmann, 53- 39 (50-42). [. . .]The president’s more solid standing in the Perry and Romney horseraces comes from consolidating his party support. He was losing 13% of Democrats to each candidate in August, but only 11% to Romney and 9% to Perry now. Obama has meanwhile upped his own crossover support, from 5% to 9% of Republicans versus Romney and 10% to 11% against Perry. The president leads Perry by ten points with independents, but Romney tops Obama by two with them.

Also demonstrating that when protecting Social Security and Medicare are high profile issues Dems win, is Obama's dominance of Perry among seniors (as compared to trailing against Romney):

it appears that Perry's rhetoric on Social Security could already be causing him problems. When PPP did a national poll three weeks ago Barack Obama led Perry by only 6 points at 49-43. Now that gap has widened to 11 points at 52-41. [. . .] With seniors Romney leads Obama by 4, but Obama leads Perry by 5. No one's going to be more concerned about the Social Security issue than them, and it's safe to say a Republican can't get elected to the White House next year without doing very well with that voting group.

The winning issues for Democrats are not mysterious. The key is to make the election about those issues. Perry does it for us all by himself. The key is to make it a Dem issues election if Romney is the nominee. If Bill Daley wants to do some political strategery, that's what he should be working on, not some double backflip tree hugger bashing absurdity.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I think the days when a 'school uniforms' issue (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by ruffian on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 04:09:04 PM EST
    has impact are gone. People get the noise of the stereotypes from the media 24/7 now. If anyone still thinks Obama is a liberal after 3 years in office, their mind is not going to be changed by move like that.

    And then there are the voters like the ones (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Anne on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 05:51:29 PM EST
    turning out in the Baltimore City mayoral primary...like the lady the local news station interviewed.  They were curious about how informed the voters were, so they asked this woman about the candidates, and she looks at the sample ballot and she points to each one and says, in turn, "Well, I don't know her, and I think I saw this one once on TV, and I don't know this guy at all, this name isn't familiar to me..."  I don't think she even knows who the incumbent mayor is.

    But, she's a Democrat, so by golly, she's going to touch the screen for someone today, even if she doesn't know who they are, what their positions are or what their resume is.

    She won't know any more tomorrow than she knows right now, and she won't give another thought to it when she votes in the general election, and she'll vote for the Democrat and that will be that until the next election, when she will once again seek out the (D) on the ballot and vote.

    She's a loyal party-line voter, which means that if Daffy Duck were running as a Democrat, she'd vote for him without batting an eye.

    Is it any wonder we keep electing crappy politicians?

    Ok, I voted in that race at 6:30 tonight-- (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by honora on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 07:23:52 PM EST
    I had intended to ignore the Democratic primary, because I have lost faith in the Democratic Party, but in the end I voted because I am a sucker for democracy.  But to be fair, there are about ten people running in the Democratic primary and they all have current positions in the largely ineffective city government.

     When given a choice between faulting the voter for not being too excited by a bunch of lackluster candidates and faulting the political party for being unable to present good candidates, I error on the side of blaming the political party.  I knew 'most' of the candidates, but not all of them and I must admit that I voted for the mayor because she is not that bad, despite the fact that her husband has trouble figuring out how many Maryland homeowner tax exemptions they are entitled too.  

    You can also interview lots of people, until you get one really uninformed one to highlight.


    I thought about that, that maybe they (none / 0) (#14)
    by Anne on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 08:46:53 PM EST
    decided to show the most uninformed voter they could find - but it was just kind of embarrassing.

    And I totally agree with you that the party needs to excite the voters - and let's face it, there isn't a single one of the candidates that I could call "exciting."


    Kind of surprising she votes in a local (none / 0) (#8)
    by oculus on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 06:23:20 PM EST

    Not everybody is suited for office (none / 0) (#16)
    by sj on Wed Sep 14, 2011 at 12:29:47 AM EST
    And what you say is true about the crashing the party (about a few committed people).  I know, because I was also a district captain based on the same premise.  But one active district didn't have a huge effect (read none) on support from the state party for candidates without a huge war chest.  The two million dollar price of admission, I believe it was called, for Senator.  Don't get me started on the details.  I'd waited years for a candidate like that, and all I heard was ele-e-e-ctable!  We want electable!!.  Party support at the beginning of his run would have made all those years of work worth every minute.

    Now I have cynicism, less fluid lines and no party.  But way more free time.


    I'm sorry ... (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by Robot Porter on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 08:27:23 PM EST
    I'm taking away Matt's blogging privileges for a month for writing this sentence:

    Regulations that break up concentrations of extreme pollution in part by shifting polluting activity to less-polluted areas are perfectly sound public health measures, but there's nothing absurd about the theory that it could do political damage to the standing of incumbent politicians in the areas that suffer from the negative short-term effects.

    Omigod, Bulwer-Lytton prize here he comes!

    But really that's not fair to Bulwer-Lytton.  Bulwer-Lytton occasionally had interesting things to say.

    The crude stereotypes that voters respond to... (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 04:00:08 PM EST
    ...can be summed up by a line comedian Jeffrey Ross gave at a Friar's Club roast, and I paraphrase a bit: "Freddy Roman, Alan King, Pat Cooper, I've seen younger face on cash."  It's all about the Ben Jammin's.

    Don't follow the money, Mr. President, lead it.

    FaceS, younger FACES (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 04:01:05 PM EST
    "I've seen younger faces on cash."

    Nothing like phucking up a great punchline.  

    I suck.


    I think it's time for both the strategists (none / 0) (#5)
    by ruffian on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 05:19:47 PM EST
    and the media to wake up tot he fact that the Clinton administration was over nearly 12 years ago...and the analogies they are drawing are nearly 20 years old. Can we come up with other ideas?  Or am I the only one who is bored?

    He surely would (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by ruffian on Wed Sep 14, 2011 at 08:00:31 AM EST
    He has an appreciation for new voices and ideas. Too bad what Obama offered was rehashed Reagan.

    The math must be eluding me (none / 0) (#6)
    by Towanda on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 05:42:41 PM EST
    in an analysis that states such things as "everyone else far underperforms McCain," followed by how each of the Repubs polls against Obama.

    Um, more than a year before the 2008 election, McCain underperformed McCain a year later -- because it was a year later, and he was the sole candidate of his party.

    So I would presume that at least some of the Romneyites and Perryites and Palinians and others will come together and outperform any one of the above.  

    Heck, if you add 'em all up, they outperform Obama.  Because, y'know, it's a year out.

    Pretty good title. (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 08:11:52 PM EST

    OT: Turner reported to have won NY 9th (none / 0) (#15)
    by The Addams Family on Tue Sep 13, 2011 at 11:03:28 PM EST