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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Turnout Unskewed?

I haven't blogged much about the presidential "horse race" this year. However, I've read a large number of articles about the state of the race and am generally convinced by the data and analysis presented by Nate Silver, Drew Linzer, Sam Wang, etc. Using primarily state-based polling data, these analysts see a solid lead for Barack Obama. In this work, the President's well-established lead in Ohio is a key firebreak that Mitt Romney cannot easily overcome.

Many conservative websites point to the Gallup likely voter national polling (temporarily suspended because of Hurricane Sandy) and challenge Silver et al. Romney has been winning handily in Gallup LV polling. One writer on Red State called the President "toast" because of his apparent failure to appeal to independent voters in 2012. Some conservatives ridicule the "Moneyball" election analysts. If national poll averages suggest a 50-50 election, then this is best seen as a coin flip like 2000 (or 2004), not a likely Obama victory.

Silver, famously, put the odds at an Obama victory at roughly 2-to-1 for many weeks and that ratio is now creeping past 3-to-1 towards 4-to-1. Wang thinks the President's chances are over 90%. Linzer is also confident that Obama will win.

If you read Silver consistently (or Linzer or Wang), they have at one time or another explained why all the conservative arguments are wrong. They don't employ ideology or wizardry, they use math.

For example, some critics and skeptics argue that Obama cannot win because young people and other enthusiastic 2008 voters are disillusioned with his presidency and will not vote next week. This will significantly depress 2012 turnout and pave the way for enthusiastic Republican anti-Obama voters to tilt the election to Romney. Silver responds analytically:
Suppose, for example, that you take the consensus forecast in each state. (By “consensus” I just mean: the average of the different forecasts.) Then you weigh it based on what each state’s share of the overall turnout was in 2008, in order to produce an estimate of the national popular vote.

Do the math, and you’ll find that this implies that Mr. Obama leads nationally by 1.9 percentage points — by no means a safe advantage, but still a better result for him than what the national polls suggest.
What if turnout doesn’t look like it did in 2008? Instead, what if the share of the votes that each state contributed was the same as in 2004, a better Republican year?

That doesn’t help to break the discord between state and national polls, unfortunately. Mr. Obama would lead by two percentage points in the consensus forecast weighing the states by their 2004 turnout.

Or we can weigh the states by their turnout in 2010, a very good Republican year. But that doesn’t help, either: instead, Mr. Obama leads by 2.1 percentage points based on this method.
Ohio polls close at 7:30 pm ET, though anyone in line at that time can still vote. Conceivably, the election could be effectively over if Obama clearly wins this key state at an early hour. On the other hand, there are going to be a large number of provisional ballots in Ohio-- perhaps more of them than the margin between Obama and Romney.  Since those ballots are not counted for 10 days, we might wake up next Wednesday without a clear winner. I find that unlikely, but these are the range of alternatives.

I would note that Obama will likely retain the presidency without Ohio, Florida,  and North Carolina (all states in won in 2008) if he holds on to the appropriate combination of Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin. Silver finds that Obama has a 1 to 4 point lead in each of those states.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Staples and the 2012 Presidential Election

Mitt Romney claims that he is the superior choice for President because he has been a job creator thanks to his time in the private sector. Specifically, as the Wall Street Journal reported in July, Romney claims that he created "more than 100,000" jobs while running Bain Capital.

However, this figure seems to be overstated, as the WSJ noted:
Steven N. Kaplan, a finance professor at the University of Chicago who studies private equity, used another approach: counting 100% of the jobs gained and lost at Bain companies, but only until Mr. Romney left the firm in 1999. By that measure, Mr. Kaplan concluded that Mr. Romney had created "tens of thousands" of jobs....

"I don't think that an investor should get credit for the jobs created beyond the ones where an investor has a position in the company," said John M. Abowd, a labor economist at Cornell University who donated to the Obama 2012 campaign.
He suggests yet another way: Give Mr. Romney and Bain credit for a share of jobs created proportional to Bain's ownership stake in its investments at the time. Because Bain held minority stakes in all four firms, and sold out years ago, that method would produce a far lower total—less than 1,500.

By whatever counting method, it is clear that Staples figures prominently in Romney's jobs record. The Republican presidential candidate refers to Staples fairly frequently and the WSJ piece specifically evaluated Romney's contributions to the office supply company's success:

Mr. Romney includes in his tally the total Staples head count today, about 88,000 jobs. Securities filings show Bain owned 7.3% of the office-supply retailer when it went public in 1989 and had sold out by early 1992, when Staples had 5,300 employees.

Thomas Stemberg, Staples's founder and former CEO, said Mr. Romney's contribution to Staples came "from his personal advice, input and efforts, not his money." Mr. Stemberg, a major backer of the Romney campaign, said he would give Mr. Romney credit for 100% of Staples's 88,000 jobs.

By Mr. Kaplan's method, Mr. Romney should be credited with the 43,000 jobs Staples had when Mr. Romney left Bain in 1999. The weighted average count would be more like 250 jobs—a total Mr. Stemberg called "absurd."
Regarding Staples, the Journal does not address an issue that Mother Jones raised this past July:
Mitt Romney, who served on Staples' board of directors in addition to investing in the company when he was at Bain Capitol, likes to tout the chain as an example of private-sector success. But as the National Employment Law Project Action Fund points out in a new report, that success has not trickled down to employees.

The report lists Staples as one of the 50 largest low-wage employers in the US. The company has continued to turn high profits even in the recession, and its CEO made $8.8 million in 2011 (which was a 40 percent drop from what he made in 2010). And yet most of its nearly 33,000 employees make less than $10 per hour
The Mother Jones piece contrasts Staples to Costco, where employees earn $19 per hour, on average. Many (if not most) employees also receive health care benefits.

Readers might be interested to learn that the Costco CEO, Jim Sinegal, spoke at the Democratic National Convention:
“And that’s why I’m here, supporting President Obama, a president making an economy built to last,” Sinegal said in his prepared remarks. “See, in order for companies like Costco to invest, grow, hire and flourish, the conditions have to be right. That requires something from all of us.” And later: “here’s the thing about the Costco story: We did not build our company in a vacuum.”
The Washington Post story includes Sinegal's entire address, if you are interested. Incidentally, the Staples CEO, Stemberg, spoke at the RNC and often touts Romney in various media outlets.

I offer one note in closing for local readers: The cost-conscious University of Louisville Purchasing policy includes this opening paragraph in the section on office supplies:

"Office Supplies are to be purchased through the University's primary contractor, Staples Advantage. The cooperative effort between Staples and the Department of Purchasing continues to keep our University at the leading technological edge of procurement and together we are able to offer unprecedented discounts based on volume purchasing contracts. "

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Good Club

In an age of austerity, what global political actors will have the resources and willpower to tackle major problems such as poverty, hunger, global warming, inequality of wealth, etc.? 

A recent issue of The Nation featured a book review by Mark Mazower that included an interesting anecdote about the super-wealthy people who seek to address world problems via their philanthropy:
In 2009, for instance, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and David Rockefeller called a meeting of their fellow super-philanthropists—people like George Soros, Oprah Winfrey and Ted Turner—to discuss what they could do in response to the global financial crisis and the longer-term environmental and health problems facing the world. When the participants gathered at an Upper East Side residence in New York on May 5, the meeting was shrouded in secrecy. It was scarcely surprising: the combined wealth of the people in the room was reckoned to be around $120 billion—and that was after already spending billions in the previous twelve years. Such sums dwarfed the social spending budgets of most member states of the UN down the road.
The so-called "Good Club" apparently had an important agenda at this private meeting -- though no one is precisely sure of the details. Most importantly, Mazower notes that the super-rich cannot solve global problems. That is a job better left to various international institutions: 
...did they decide, as some newspaper accounts have it, that it was up to them to tackle the threat of planetary overpopulation—probably the top global fear of wealthy American philanthropists for about a century? We cannot know. But we have learned enough about the history of private wealth to know that these do-gooders alone are inadequate vehicles to supply the global public goods that well-run multilateral international institutions can handle more systematically and openly.
Incidentally, the piece also discusses the work of NGOs and provides some interesting data. For example, 90% of NGOs have been formed since 1970 and "two-thirds of EU relief goes through them." Since 2003, these NGOs have been distributing more money globally than related UN organizations.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Romney vs. Romney

Obviously, I haven't blogged as much about the 2012 election as I did the 2004 and 2008 campaigns. This does not mean that I am disengaged. Unfortunately, I simply have much less free time to blog than I did in those earlier years.

Also, I haven't focused too much attention on Mitt Romney because he seemed like such an obviously bad candidate -- a rich corporate raider running during an era when the Occupy movement brought new attention to decades of policies that spawned incredible inequality in the U.S. Even Romney's Republican rivals were bashing him about this record.

Moreover, Romney has demonstrably reversed his positions on many issues, apparently so that he could get elected in a Republican presidential primary system dominated by social conservatives and tea partiers.

The Romney that served as Governor of Massachusetts was more moderate than the 2008 and 2012 presidential candidate versions and it appears that the relatively centrist Romney is back on the top shelf. However, this "new Romney" still has to reconcile his latest positions with the stands he took earlier in 2012. Hence, the Romney vs. Romney debate:

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