Wednesday, January 10, 2018

HoCo Executive Survey – Topline Observations

As a pollster/strategic communications counselor, I will probably be writing about survey research frequently this year.  Here are my thoughts on this new HoCo Exec Poll

-          If Calvin Ball (D) is down only 3% against Allan Kittleman (R) on an initial head-to-head ballot test, despite Kittleman leading on Name Identification by a whopping 41% margin (87% to presumably approximately 46% based on the data reported), then Ball is quite well-positioned to expand his electoral base.

-          Statistically, they are in a dead heat right now.

-          This poll indicates that Kittleman (at 42%) is far closer to his ceiling than Ball (at 39%).

-          It would have been better to release the results in mid-December.

-          I am not a huge fan of automated phone surveys conducted for political campaigns. I greatly prefer live interviewer studies.  Yes, they are more expensive, but they are worth it, especially if the interviewers are well-trained in data collection methods and best practices.

-          Sean Murphy, HoCo’s answer to Stephen Miller, tried to launch an attack, but he stumbled. Not exactly an A-game message.   Sade was not singing about him, as he is not a Smooth Operator.

-          I would love to see the geographic breakouts.  Assuming the study was conducted proportionate-to-probability, the subsample sizes for that race from each of the Council Districts are large enough to yield statistically significant data, albeit with a high(er) margin of error compared to the overall MoE (4% at the 95% level of confidence).

-         Would be great to see how the 19% Undecided broke out (by ideological affinity, by partisan affiliation, by geography, by gender, by race, by age, and by voting propensity and/or interest in voting in the upcoming 2018 elections).

-         As I said in 2013 – 2014, the County Executive race is one where the Democratic candidate can win with up to 58% of the vote, and the Republican candidate can win with up to 52% of the vote.  His path was narrower but Kittleman ran in a favorable GOP cycle.  Despite the increased Democratic registration since then, Kittleman enjoys incumbency in a (generally but far from universally) OK economy.  And 2018 (like 2014) is a non-presidential election cycle, where Democratic turnout tends to be lower. Perhaps frustration with Kittleman’s Republican Party will help send more Ds to the polls and lead more Unaffiliated (read: Independent) voters to vote D.  That said, I will stick with that 58% D – 52% R range from the last cycle.

-         Putting myself in their shoes, I would be mildly pleased with the findings if I was Ball and I would be slightly nervous if I was Kittleman.  In short, it was a good day for Dr. Ball.

In solidarity.

Monday, January 8, 2018

On Oprah Winfrey 2020

First, allow me to spend a moment on political theory.  Professor Stephen Skrowronek, author of “The Politics Presidents Make” wrote that American Presidents (and by extension Presidential candidates) exist in “political” time.  By this, he was referring to their relative ability to exercise - based on the political climate in which they operate - a warrant of authority attached to a partisan/ideological agenda.  For example, the limitations of the Adams (Federalist) regime's ability to cope with the challenges facing the nation in 1800 provided an opportunity for a Jeffersonian “Reconstruction” that re-aligned power in this country, with the Democratic-Republicans becoming the majority, governing party at the national level until their “disjunction” under JQA and the rise of the Jacksonians.

His cyclical perspective caught my attention as an undergraduate, and it appeared to attach a coherent framework that explained why certain Presidents (such as GHW Bush) put themselves in electoral jeopardy by straying too far from the prevailing orthodoxies of his day (his decidedly non-Reaganite-seeming “no new taxes” pledge break, which helped bring about the Buchanan challenge) while others (such as Clinton) felt compelled to triangulate to retain office, knowing that the fundamental Reagan reconstruction constituted a functioning conservative governing majority in America, despite the Democratic win at the presidential level in ’92.

Which was why I was annoyed that Skowronek seemed to hedge his bets at the end of his work. I am going from memory here, so bear with me.  As I recall, he projected an “end” to political time and a rise of ad hoc coalitions.  Looking at the larger societal context in recent years, I was wondering if he was perhaps prescient and that we had entered (and this is my theory) a “cultural time” distinct from “political time” insofar as candidates who tapped into deeper cultural tropes would achieve electoral success.  Enter Trump.  Then again, I thought Trump would be a latter-day Horace Greeley and would go down in flames, although perhaps not in quite the same way as Mr. Greeley did in 1872 (look it up).

Now, in our post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-Iran-Contra, post-Whitewater, post-#43 Iraq lies era, trust in our public institutions (and most public office-holders) has eroded deeply. No wonder why we have all kinds of “cultural” (ostensibly but not really apolitical) figures who have emerged in the public dialogue (in varying degrees of seriousness) as potential 2020 presidential candidates:  Mark Cuban, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Zuckerberg, Kanye West, Tom Hanks, and yes, Oprah Winfrey.

So perhaps Ms. Winfrey (yes, I am formal) would be the Democrat best situated to defeat Trump, assuming the latter runs for re-election.  One could argue that we look at weak Presidents, like Trump, and (as a nation) we tend to look for candidates who are very much un-like them to make up for their shortcomings.  To that end, one might argue that someone who has held elective office for years (say, a Senator or Governor) and who understands DC from that perspective might offer up a better contrast on the experience metric.  That said, Ms. Winfrey who has held and sustained, for years, Name Identification and Favorability numbers that Biden, Sanders, Clinton, Warren, etc… can only dream of possessing should have no problems at all distinguishing her background, her persona, her policy stances, and her vision of America from that of Donald Trump.

And if she ran in the Democratic primary, with her formidable presence in American culture, her resources, and her media abilities, how could she be challenged effectively?  Granted, she might turn out to be a terrible political candidate, but I doubt it.  And how would a rival Democratic opponent offer up a comparative line of communications without looking like they are attacking OPRAH WINFREY?!  Someone polling at 5% in Iowa who tries that three months out is looking at a career-ending event.

Would she be a good President?  This is purely speculative but I believe she could perform quite well on certain measurements we use to rate performance. As has been discussed by others, yes, I think she would do well on the moral authority metric.  I believe she has the ability to be a great communicator of American purpose in the world.  Unlike #45, I think she would have extremely talented people in her Administration, people who could help her move a legislative agenda through Congress.  I believe she has the skills to repair relations with world leaders. I believe she is a quick study and can grasp extremely complex issues.  Does she have a traditional candidate profile?  No, but perhaps she is the President that America will need. 

In short, I am not going to be one of those folks who reject, out of hand, a Winfrey candidacy.  We have done far worse and we have seen far weirder.  Frankly, Winfrey’s ability to connect with the average person is something we, as a nation, desperately need…bearing in mind the out-of-touch, craven lunatic that resides at 1600 Pennsylvania.  Let me tell you this – I would sleep much better at night knowing that President Winfrey is on the watch compared to DJT.  

In solidarity.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

And in Local News

First, a quick word about Delegate Frank Turner (D-13), who recently announced his intention to not seek re-election to Maryland’s General Assembly in 2018.

Back in 2011, I wrote a couple of op-eds in support of two year terms for the House of Delegates that were published in some local papers.  Two can be found here and here.
As part of my lobbying efforts, I contacted dozens of state legislators, including Delegate Turner.  We spoke on the phone for perhaps 20 minutes or so.  While my reasoning was clearly impeccable and my position unassailable from a good governance point of view, he, like many others in the Assembly, had a differing perspective.  That said, he was very generous with his time, he defended his stance capably, and he offered up a suggestion or two that demonstrated both his attentiveness to my concerns as well as his thoughtful reflections on the matter.  While I could not sway him (or many of his colleagues), I respected how he handled the issue.  He was, and is, a serious player.  District 13 will lose his voice in Annapolis, which is why…moving to the second point of today’s post…

I was elated to read that Howard County Councilperson Jen Terrasa will be entering the race for the now-open seat.  She would be an excellent Delegate and an effective advocate for Howard County interests.  She showed true mettle in the recent tax increment financing (TIF) debate where she demonstrated her commitment to putting “people over profits” if you don’t mind the old chestnut.

Finally, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, citing “personal considerations,” “suspended” (read: ended) her campaign for Governor.  A pity.  I would have liked to have seen what an MRC candidacy firing on all cylinders might have accomplished. She attracted some institutional support (from Emily’s List, most notably) and I believe she would have emerged as a top-flight contender.  As it is, she would be an extremely formidable congressional candidate.  Just saying.  So now I am down to three gubernatorial possibilities:  Jealous, Madaleno, and Vignarajah (in alphabetical order, for those who wonder about such things). 

Which reminds me, no thanks Mr. Shea. I am not interested in the LG spot on your ticket.  But there is someone you can call, as long as you do it collect, his name is Slats MacCune…

In solidarity.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Brentrance and Blue Monday

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Inauguration of Dunces, the case has never been stronger for retrocession. I am not talking about the actual retrocession in 1846 involving the return of the land to the Commonwealth of Virginia that was part of the original District of Columbia; nor the proposed retrocession of D.C. (as it exists now) to Maryland.  I mean approaching Her Majesty the Queen, acknowledging that our attempt at self-governance has taken a horrid turn, and re-joining the United Kingdom. 

Granted, we would have to deal with Theresa May for at least a while…but she (unlike the current American Chief Executive) can pass the oddly formidable sanity challenge.  Better yet, with Labour gaining electoral strength, the odds are better than 50/50 that we will have Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn as our Head of Government soon enough.  Frankly, this is a good deal at thrice the price…which I suppose would be in pounds sterling.

In other news, we are approaching “Blue Monday” which some claim to be the most depressing day of the year.  There is a simple yet scientifically unsound mathematical formula that allegedly “validates” this hypothesis; it involves (among other variables) the weather, debt levels, and the end of the Holiday season.  Let’s be reductive, yet no less accurate, and just call it the third Monday in January.

While the present author appreciates the whimsy inherent in attempting to identify and quantify the nadir of our national mood, as someone who has written about mental health, I would like to remind you, dear reader, that this can be a tough time of year for those who contend with issues such as depression.  So, be kind. And if you are personally dealing with such matters, please reach out to someone – a friend, a family member, a loved one, a medical professional, a crisis hotline, anyone…in this era, there is someone out there who is accessible to you and who will listen.        

In solidarity.