January 14th, 2013 5:00 pm

What the 2012 #masen turnout tells us about 2013

By Beckwith-Zink via Wikimedia Commons

By Beckwith-Zink via Wikimedia Commons

In a bit of long overdue self-reflection, I wanted to check back on my original predictions for the race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. Sure, it’s been two months, but I live in LA now. There was surfing to do and tacos to eat. Well, there were tacos to eat.

Friends of the blog may remember that in April of 2011 I predicted that Scott Brown was doomed. My prediction was based on the idea that, in a Presidential election, Democratic turnout would be too high for any Republican, no matter how affable or moderate, to overcome.

You’ve probably heard that Brown lost. I think it was in the papers. But, let’s look at the numbers:

Elizabeth Warren: 1,678,408 votes
Scott Brown: 1,449,180 votes

Brown lost by more 200,000 votes. He lost while still besting his totals from the 2009 special election by more than 300,000 votes. That’s because Elizabeth Warren bested Martha Coakley’s total from 2009 by almost 600,000 votes. However, if we’re trying to look at the Presidential race’s impact, the 2009 special isn’t the best comparison. Let’s compare the 2012 election totals with the 2008 election totals:

2012 Results

Elizabeth Warren: 1,678,408 votes
Scott Brown: 1,449,180 votes

Obama/Biden: 1,900,575 votes
Romney/Ryan: 1,177,370 votes

2008 Results

John Kerry: 1,971,974
Jeff Beatty: 926,044

Obama/Biden: 1,904,097
McCain/Palin: 1,108,854

There is an almost negligible difference in the Presidential results from 2008 and 2012. Looking back a cycle, we see very similar turnout in 2004, as well. So, for the last decade, Presidential year turnout has been remarkably consistent in Massachusetts. That’s what Brown was up against.

I think it’s safe to assume that, whoever Jeff Beatty is, he received close to the minimum number of votes possible. That puts the floor for a Republican Senate candidate around 925,000, and makes Brown’s 1.5 million votes start to look pretty impressive.

Whether because of incumbancy or the strength of his campaign, Brown was able to get about 220,000 voters to split their tickets and vote for him. I had said last year that he needed 300,000-400,000 people to split their ticket, which was a bit short. He actually would have needed about 440,000.

It seems clear that Brown put up a strong effort, but turnout was always going to be too high for him to overcome. This isn’t to take away from the campaigns both he and Warren ran — both were excellent. Still, you have to wonder if Brown just set the high water mark for a statewide Republican candidate in Massachusetts.

What, if anything, does this teach us about the upcoming special election (That is, if he runs at all)? At first blush, it doesn’t look good for the potential Democratic candidate. A recent(ish) WBUR poll has Brown’s favorable/unfavorable — even after losing — at 58/28. That’s considerably better than any of his potential opponents.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, but it looks like Brown has a very solid base of people willing to turn out and vote for him, even in a special election. It’s obvious he won’t get anywhere near his total from 2012; there just won’t be that kind of turnout for a special election. I also don’t think he will get as many votes as he did in 2009. That election was lightning in a bottle, and that’s hard to capture twice. Still, I bet he could count on almost a million votes.

That means that any of the Democratic candidates will need a strong campaign, and the state party will need to crank the GOTV machine into overtime, to beat him. That’s going to be a tall order with resources, volunteers, and operatives exhausted from almost five straight years of campaigning. Not to mention a Democratic Party that doesn’t seem incredibly excited about the candidates in the offing.

So, I’d have to say that Brown is certainly the favorite for this summer. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Ed Markey (or whoever) is doomed. It will be a close race. However, with his current advantage in favorability and name recognition, not to mention his solid base of turnout, Brown clearly has the edge.

The irony, of course, is that Brown would then have to turn around and campaign again in 2014. And Democratic turnout in off years seems to be in the 1.1-1.3 million range, higher than he can probably get in that election.

Math is, as always, a fickle mistress.

October 31st, 2012 10:19 pm

Voting Guide: 2012 California and Los Angeles Ballot Questions

Next week, Californians will not only vote for Federal and local elected offices, but for a number of county and state ballot questions. Because of how ballot questions work in California, these questions have an outsized affect on state and local government. Many people, myself included, think ballot questions are ruining the state. However, we still have to vote on them. To that end, I researched all of the questions and shared them with my friends. I thought I should post them here as well.

State Measures

(Asterisks mean you would be well-served to read the description below)

30 – Yes*
31 – No
32 – No
33 – No
34 – Yes
35 – No
36 – Yes
37 – Yes *
38 – No *
39 – Yes
40 – Yes

County Measures

A – No
B – No
J – Yes


[Write In: Joshua Gee]

Detailed explanations after the jump

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September 28th, 2012 12:02 am

Can technology change the way government works

God I hope so.

September 6th, 2012 12:00 am

The Rookie

Because of cancelling cable, I was a little bit behind the RNC this week. All of my live updates came via Twitter and Facebook, while news and analysis came later from blogs and newspapers. This worked fine until Thursday night, when Clint Eastwood took the stage, and, not to put too fine a point on it, the Internet exploded. It wasn’t until Friday that I managed to see the already infamous address and after watching it, I quickly went back and watched as many of the other speeches I could find to confirm my suspicions.

The best speech of the RNC was directed at an empty chair.

Yes, the speech was rambling and disjointed, and the chair gimmick was poorly thought out and delivered. However, it was the only speech of the convention that I saw which was aimed at anyone outside the convention hall.

While a parade of aspiring 2016 candidates threw red meat to the delegates, and the candidates themselves attempted to aggressively portray themselves as “Generic Republican”, Eastwood got up there and gave voice to a population of cranky independents (or at least moderate Republicans). He talked about the hope he felt when Obama was elected and his sadness at what he feels are jobs not done and a string of broken promises, particularly on unemployment. He did it all without resorting to racist dog whistles or partisan crowing. In essence, his argument was what I have long thought the most effective attack against Obama: We’re not mad, we’re just disappointed.

On unemployment, Eastwood made a compelling argument when he said, “There is 23 million unemployed people in this country. Now that is something to cry for because that is a disgrace, a national disgrace…  Whenever interest they have is not strong enough, and I think possibly now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.” There was no blaming of Obamacare or TARP, no misdirections about Welfare. Just the simple case that with 23 million unemployed people in America, he thinks it’s time to give someone else a chance to fix it.

I’m not the only person who thinks this. Social media analytics conducted by the team at Engage DC show that Eastwood had not only the most popular line of the convention, but that Eastwood led all speakers in eliciting a reaction of “Awesome” from social media users.

Obviously, a few points must be clarified. I believe that Romney and Ryan are, in no uncertain terms, the wrong choice to tackle the overwhelming problems of today. I just think that Clint Eastwood delivered the best argument for why we shouldn’t give President Obama another chance. The speech itself, which we now know was delivered ad libbed (a feat that, as Roger Ebert perfectly put it, takes brass balls) was extremely halting and uneven. I’ve had to clean up several of the quotes presented in this post. There were also several points where he said things that were not just untrue, but hilariously so. While I appreciated his point that someone should have asked the Russians how invading Afghanistan works, it probably should have been President Bush who asked (I would extend it, saying he should have asked the British how it worked out for them, too). However, when Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential nominee, made a number of equally egregious lies, I’ll give the 82 year old man speaking off the cuff a pass.

I’ll especially give him a pass because, in his closing, he made his strongest argument, and what is, to me the line of the convention:

“We — we own it.  It is not you owning it, and not politicians owning it.  Politicians are employees of ours. And  – so — they are just going to come around and beg for votes every few years.  It is the same old deal.  But I just think it is important that you realize , that you’re the best in the world. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether you’re libertarian or whatever, you are the best.  And we should not ever forget that. And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.”

It’s an appeal strong enough that it even tugged at my heartstrings. What you have in that passage is the core beliefs of the tea party, the occupy movement, and, frankly, more than a number of the very politicians he is attacking. Delivered by an aging movie star who is clearly fed up with the entire system, it got what sounded to me like some of the loudest cheers of the entire convention and according to Engage DC’s research, was also the most popular line with social media users. I hope Mitt Romney, or at least key members of his team, were listening. If he wants to expand beyond his base, he needs to start sounding a lot more like that.

Maybe he should start carrying an empty chair on the trail.

August 8th, 2012 11:45 am

Corporate Public Affairs

One of the largest trends in PR over the past decade has been Corporate Social Responsibility. As most PR people and business executives will tell you, it’s no longer enough for a company to make profits, grow, and maybe pass around a United Way box from time to time. Companies are not only make significant charitable investments, but make that charitable work part of their DNA. Whether that is Starbucks working to increase the quality of life for coffee farmers, or Eli Lilly investing in improving health for underserved populations, companies want to be seen as not just a force for profit, but a force for good.

Why? Because their customers and employees are demanding it. As I heard it once said, “All things being equal, I’d rather give my money to the good guys.”

While CSR is becoming gospel in boardrooms around the world, I have begun to notice what could become a new trend. Recently, we saw several major companies, most prominently Google and Chik-fil-A, wade into the debate over gay marriage. Google announced its “Legalize Love” campaign, an effort to lobby governments around the world to legalize gay marriage. Chik-fil-A President Dan Cathy doubled down on his company’s support of anti-gay organizations by saying in several interviews that his company believes in, “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

What we have here is not traditional CSR—all of these companies do a large amount of that—but companies taking steps into the political realm. These are examples of money and publicity being spent directly and prominanty on advocacy for changes in high-profile public policies.

Corporations have done this for a long time, just think about the legions of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. However, corporate advocacy has traditionally gone on behind the scenes and only on issues that directly impact a company’s bottom line. Gay marriage is one high profile example, but are we going to see companies taking stances on more controversial issues and wading into more political fights? I think so.

The same pressures that drove CSR trends in the 90s and 00s: increased transparency, over-communication, pressure from employees and customers to know if the company shares their values, will continue to drive companies to take official stances on political issues. Eventually, a holding statement about your passion for customer service (Even if it is true!), will seem lame in comparison to statements by your CEO or donations made by the company.

This means there is a new opportunity for PR and Public Affairs companies. As corporations wade into the political arena, they will need guidance and insight as to the right way to get involved. Just like an elected official, they will need professional and strategic advice as to which issues they should support and to what degree.

This goes beyond major debates like gay marriage. Corporations have traditionally joined associations around major issues, but what if someone like John Hancock in downtown Boston took a bold stance and donated a significant sum to advocate for transportation reform or congestion pricing, saying that it was in the best interest of their employees and the city economy. In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, donated $100 million to improve public schools in Newark. As part of the deal, Governor Christie ceded some control of the system to Mayor Booker. What if Facebook used some of that money to fund an advocacy campaign for restructuring how New Jersey’s schools are funded? Or if they weighed in on the fight over teacher pensions that has been a major focus of Governor Christie, talking about the need to fix our education system to create the innovate workers of tomorrow? While there isn’t a direct relation to Facebook’s bottom line, a major high-tech company taking a stand for American workers and education would clearly add something to Facebook’s brand.

There are dangers to this kind of advocacy. You can piss off more people than you make happy, turning potential customers into potential enemies. You could burn off your political capital with elected officials, so when the time comes, you won’t have the ability to influence the legislation that really matters to your bottom line. Also, publicly owned companies will have to explain to their shareholders, some of whom may disagree with stances being taken by the company, why they are spending the money. Each of those are calculations companies will have to make on an issue-by-issue basis. For every customer you alienate, maybe you gain one more passionate fan. For every politician who doesn’t like the stance you take, maybe there is another who now owes you one.

I do worry about extending the political divide in this country. Do I need to know the political views of my dry cleaner, or is it all that matters that he gets my shirts white? Are there going to be dueling fried chicken stands, one red, one blue, glaring at each other from across the highway rest stop?

The forces seem to be pushing in that direction. And if that’s the case, companies need to be prepared. And the communications industry needs to be prepared for this potential new market.

January 21st, 2012 5:02 pm

Vote Romney

As the Republicans of South Carolina flock to the polls (kudos to them for being the only state sensible enough to hold their election on a weekend), it looks like Newt Gingrich is positioned to walk away comfortably. A Gingrich win, especially a big one, could swing the momentum in his direction and rewrite the narrative of this race. What looked like a Romney sweep-up only days ago could turn into a protracted, state-by-state battle. A battle which Romney will probably end up winning anyway.

Most Democrats I know are drooling over the idea of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, men almost reptilian in their unpleasantness, spending the rest of the winter and spring travelling across country tearing into each other like speed-crazed weasels. Excuse me, speed-crazed weasels armed with Super PACs which have millions of dollars earmarked *solely* for negative advertising.

However, I think this is wrong. I am hoping that Romney pulls it out. Hell, if I was in Charleston, I would finish my coffee and head out to hold a sign. I think the best thing for President Obama and the Democrats is for someone (Romney, Gingrich, whoever) to win this primary quickly.

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