Paul Ryan, Spawn of Newt.

The classic line about Newt Gingrich, the architect of the strategy of rigid partisan obstruction that has rendered problem-solving virtually impossible, was that “He’s a stupid man’s idea of what a smart man sounds like.” * Newt, now pasty, blubbery and entirely beholding to a casino owner who could soon be in very deep (and long overdue) trouble for padding his fortune with the help of Chinese gangsters, has finally been dismissed from the public stage. (Not that the Beltway talk shows won’t continue to trumpet an “exclusive” with a guy more familiar with a microphone than a light salad.)

It took over 30 years for America’s political/media culture to work the wisdom of Newt Gingrich through its system. But even before he was properly deposited and disposed of, his replacement has stepped in to the spotlight. I speak of course of Paul Ryan, for whom the famous Gingrich quote applies … in spades.

PX90-trim, jut-jawed, clear-eyed and armed with a cherry-picked “understanding” of Ayn Rand, Ryan is very much Gingrich’s spawn. He is, like Gingrich, a man who sounds informed, serious and authoritative despite the uncomfortable fact that his visionary notions for solving The Big Problems … don’t really make any sense once you put paper, pencil or computer to the numbers and get into even superficial detail about … the details. It’s not quite a lunar colony — which would actually have more of a pump-priming quality job creation benefit — but’s it’s nearly as unrealistic.

But for a party, the modern GOP, that has a kind of “Project Runway” response to candidates who look like the characters they are supposed to be –Mitt Romney, job creating businessman who looks like a Hollywood president and now Paul Ryan, serious student of hard numbers from humble origins with matinée-idol appeal — Ryan is a dream candidate. Or rather a “dreamy” candidate.

Ryan’s various budget ideas will get picked apart like a dead deer on a hot Wisconsin highway in the next few weeks. This may be illuminating for those who have no idea who he is or what he’s been talking about and why the GOP cognoscenti (FoxNews, Michelle Malkin, Limbaugh) has such a crush on him. For others, who know about how the Congressional Budget Office scored his budget (which he insisted they judge based on a vast number of closed tax loopholes and cuts… that he did not specify), it’s enough to keep in mind a few key bits of information that wreak havoc with Ryan’s approved personal narrative.

1: He’s “courageous”. In the same way that perpetually campaigning on “cutting taxes” is the single easiest, least courageous thing any politician could ever do, Ryan’s career to date is built on never proposing or seriously countering any tax or legislative initiative supported by this country’s enfranchised financial elite. An act of “courage” would be to have at some moment, as a “serious” thinker, found something somewhere that might have readjusted the tax burden away from the middle-class and on to those around whom money has pooled like fast-rising flood water since the Bush cuts of 2003.

All of his “serious” talk to town halls in southern Wisconsin involve selling middle-class voters on the idea that times are very tough, and it is their patriotic duty to accept sacrifices … none of which are required from the people who have supported him through the entire adult working life he has spent in Congress, mastering the game of modern politics.

2: He’s a “deficit hawk”. Again, were he a true hawk and not merely a hyper-partisan in the Gingrich mold, he would have leaped at the so-called “grand bargain” in last year’s budget talks … but didn’t because to have voted for something that would have so significantly cleaned up the country’s books — post the Bush-Cheney era where Ryan voted for every budget-busting war and idea that crowd of drunken sailors came up with — would have facilitated Barack Obama’s reelection. There is no “courage” or pragmatic patriotism, or seriousness in capitulating to every act of partisan obstruction required from party leaders … who are essentially nothing more than circus dogs for their heavy-lobbying financial masters.

3: He’s a “rising star”. On this point there is no doubt. Ryan is on the ticket because of his appeal to voters for whom the appearance and sound of “seriousness” is good enough, and certainly better than anything said by a Kenyan Muslim socialist. Who the Tea Party crowd was going to vote for, if not Mitt Romney, I have no idea. But I doubt they needed Paul Ryan to vote against Barack Obama. Still, Ryan, assuming he leaves the ring in November with only character-enhancing scars from his run with Romney, is very much the modern GOP’s answer to Wally Pipp. In fact, in the event of a Romney loss, you can already hear the worst of the hyper-partisan zealots caterwauling that “we had the wrong guy at the top of the ticket”.

What I do like is that Ryan has been in Team Obama’s sights for quite a while. A shrewd read of what today’s GOP regards as a courageous rising star. I doubt they were surprised or unprepared for Ryan, and considering the gift he provides in terms of his re-design of Medicare and Medicaid and the focus he restores on the modern GOP’s concept of an equitable balance of balance to the 1% and everyone else, I suspect they are delighted to see Ryan, spawn of Newt, take that act back on the national trail.

Oh, and BTW, today on the campaign trail, Ryan will give a speech on the economy and all the tough choices middle-class Americans are going to have to make … then stop by the Venetian Hotel and Casino for a meeting with the aforementioned friend of Chinese mobsters, Sheldon Adelson, Newt’s one-man deep pocket and now devoted to bankrolling Mitt Romney.

The courage is breathtaking.

* Paul Krugman.

“I’ve Got a Lot to Lose and I’m Betting High So I’m Begging You…”

“…Before it ends, just tell me where to begin.”

With apologies to Fiona Apple, at least three of the candidates in tonight’s GOP debate are probably humming the Criminal lyrics right now as they do their final debate prep.  What’s at stake tonight for Speaker Gingrich, Governor Romney and Senator Santorum is nothing less than their chance to become the Republican nominee. Should be worth tuning in.

Lest you think I exaggerate, consider the state of play for each of our doughty soldiers who are still marching toward the fall battle with Team Obama.

Newt Gingrich.  The former speaker needs desperately to recapture some of the lightning in a bottle that helped him win the South Carolina primary after two strong debate performances.  Failure to deliver tonight means that Georgia – the Speaker’s mountain redoubt, his last bunker – is almost certainly lost.  Without Georgia, the case for a Gingrich candidacy is non-existent even to Sheldon Adelson (and Mr. Adelson, if you’re reading, feel free to drop that $100 million off at my house; I’ll burn it – most of it anyway – in the back yard just as colorfully as Newt can do it).

Mitt Romney. A bad debate performance tonight and Governor Coiffure can take the next 6 days off because he’ll have lost Michigan and – possibly – Arizona as well.  Most polls have Santorum up in Michigan (albeit with the margin of error) and closing in Arizona.  This is just the latest in a series of bad news moments for Romney that include getting swept two weeks ago in three state contests, being out-fundraised and having members of the Republican establishment (Mike DeWine for example) jumping ship or are sitting on their hands.  He’s been off-message so long while fighting fires about his relations with conservatives, his lack of connection and authenticity and more that I doubt he knows what his message is supposed to be at this point. Lose Michigan and/or Arizona and Romney loses the only things that got him here in the first place – a shitload of money and some unfocused perception that his winning was inevitable – are gone.

Rick Santorum. Senator Sunshine needs a strong debate performance as well, both to prove that he’s got more staying power than his predecessors as leader of the “I’m Not Mittt” club and to walk back some of his wacky moments over the last couple of weeks.  You know, things like Satan is undermining America, it would be legal to stop the sale of birth control products, Protestants – and the President – are outside mainstream Christian values, public schooling is obsolete, prenatal testing is form of eugenics. Stuff that probably couldn’t  get majority support from the House GOP caucus.  Failure to do so means that the tide has crested and what we’re seeing is the bathtub ring of his candidacy.

I’m popping an extra-big bowl of popcorn.

– Austin

PS – No, I didn’t forget about Ron Paul, just don’t care.  He’s in it no matter what, he still has no chance of winning, tonight he’ll once again be treated like Uncle Teddy in Arsenic & Old Lace whereby the moderators will every once in a while throw him a question just so he can talk about San Juan Hill or digging the Panama Canal or whatever it is we should be doing under his worldview.

An Absolute Total Schettino

The truly flabbergasting Susan G. Komen for the Cure fiasco, which boiled to its essence is just another in a long, relentless line of attempts by modern conservatives to politicize every imaginable aspect and service of American life, (most notoriously — the U. S. attorneys scandal)  has already claimed a victim: The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Fund.

As of today, the Fund’s Bushie BFF president, Nancy Brinker, and her board are flailing about trying to reassure everyone from working class sisters of breast cancer survivors to their truly impressive list of corporate sponsors that, A: They really, truly are restoring full funding to Planned Parenthood and not playing cute while they wait for more instructions from right-wing, witch-hunting, anti-choice crusaders, and B: That they can prove they are spending more donor money on breast cancer research and prevention than “protecting their brand”. Either way, I am hereby betting heavily that the organization will have to thoroughly air out its books, divest itself of President Brinker and its VP for Public Policy, Karen Handel, the former Georgia GOP candidate for Governor and avowed opponent of Planned Parenthood, and recalculate its budget to reflect serious declines in giving, as pissed off donors — people who thought some things, like breast cancer prevention, for chrissakes, were above political game-playing — divert their philanthropy either directly to Planned Parenthood or to any number of non-political research labs and universities.

I’ve been out in the Southwest for much of the past few weeks, road tripping through the Mojave when not repainting trim and hanging motion detector lights on my sister-in-law’s garage in Phoenix. As I left town the big news, other than the ceaseless, circling-the-drain, buffoonery du jour of this year’s GOP presidential campaign, was the sinking of the gargantuan cruise ship, Costa Concordia. Of particular fascination was the behavior, soon to be deemed officially criminal, of the ship’s captain, one Francesco Schettino.

By now the entire world knows that not only did Capt. Schettino screw up his most basic job, the piloting of his $450 million ship, mashing it into rocks while apparently showing it off for a buddy, or trying to impress chicks on shore, I’m not sure which, but then compounded his eternal ignominy by setting off in a lifeboat while (at least) hundreds of passengers and crew were still on board. In the annals of the worst examples of command, seamanship and male valor the name of Francesco Schettino will live forever, at least as infamous as, oh, I don’t know Vidkun Quisling and Steve Bartman.

To behold a person or an episode in which at every moment a decision was required the wrong decision was made, with indisputably, unequivocally disastrous results that only bring, justified, shame and disrepute on the person(s) involved is to witness An Absolutely Total Schettino.

So it is with Ms. Brinker, Ms. Handel and the board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation which allowed someone to bring a prominent ideologue like Handel into the organization. But so it also is with … you got it … today’s Republican party.

Fraudulent command and navigation, resulting in entirely predictable foundering (think de-regulated financial markets, politicized cooking of military intelligence, demanding austerity amid a pounding recession, and gridlocking the wheels of governments for months on end for transparently political reasons) followed by an astounding run of shameful, public embarrassments. It’s your modern Republicans … without the snappy captain’s hat and white shorts.

If only, like Captain Schettino, Mitt “I’m not concerned about the poor” Romney and Newt “I’m a historian for hire” Gingrich, could be confined to their home(s) and advised by their attorneys to say nothing until arraignment.

Like Capt. Schettino claiming he was supervising his destroyed ship’s evacuation … while he was either in a life boat or on shore having a cappucino, the modern Republican party, imbued with its lethal fervor of religious certainty and self-righteousness, talk radio bombast and undisclosed billionaires’ lucre (the Dems can only cop to one of that three) has flipped the company cruise liner’s credibility on its side as a consequence of saying … whatever … will save their ass … until either a better lawyer shows up, or their cousin, Fredo, throws a canvas bag over their head and runs them across the Straits of Messina to a Sicilian hill town and a new identity.

The whole party has made a laughingstock of itself. Vain, incompetent and craven. Utterly Schettino. From Mittens and Newt (and Michele and Rick and The Donald and Herman) to Kurt Zellers, Warren Limmer, Steve “The Draz” Drazkowski, Dave Thompson, Amy Koch and Michael Brodkorb here in Minnesota

If there was another word better and more accurate than “disgraceful” for the way Romney and Gingrich have campaigned to date, I’d use it. But the word doesn’t exist. Although, “farcical” would come close if it weren’t for the fact a fat chunk of the general public, like the Costa Concordia passengers trapped below the water line, are prepared to follow Capt. Schettino to their cold, watery grave … if it means never having to call a black guy, “Captain”.

Not that I’m hoping the GOP’s Absolute Total Schettino episode ends any time soon. The whole, gaseous, brawling, whining, prevaricating spectacle makes me feel kind of Italian. Well, Roman anyway. Like at the Colosseum, watching a motley pack of doltish buffoons warm up the lions’ teeth before the real gladiators get down to business.

Ten Things That’d Go Down Today, if I Were King, God Damn It.

Eventually I lost track of how many “10 Best/10 Worst” lists I slogged through at the end of 2011. Suffice to say none of them covered the stuff that I consider critical to maintaining, A: A functioning democracy in our troubled times, B: The possibility of  victory in the eternal struggle between intelligence and bullshit-lubricated shilling, and C: My sanity.

Hence, my annual list of “Ten Things That’d Go Down Today, if I Were King, God Damn It.”

1:  Hear ye, hear ye … in our modern hyper-connected, Google-ized, information at the tap of a smart phone wonderland there is no reason — none at all — to but up with the astonishing bombardment of fact-free bullshit in what passes as “news” programming. Therefore and henceforth, all cable, satellite and broadcast programming purporting to be/marketing itself as “news”, be it “reported” or “personality driven” shall be placed on a 30 second delay. During that delay a “Truth Squad” of a half-dozen or so techno-geeks will run a check on all statements presented as fact. The results will run in a constant banner at the bottom of the screen. For example, when Sean Hannity says, “Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim with a secret proto-Socialist appeasement agreement with the Iranian ayatollahs”, the banner beneath him would read: “Nothing about this statement bears any resemblance to reality. As usual, Sean is completely full of shit.”

 2: The aforementioned “Truth Squads” would be paid for a by … A Tax on Perfidy.  Monetary fines adjusted in proportion to audience size at that moment would be channeled back into the system, steadily adding more and more fact-checkers. For example, if Brian Williams describes Mitt Romney as “an executive with an unequivocal history of job creation”, NBC would pay a fine of say one cent per viewer. Assuming an audience of 13 million, that’d be $130,000 into the fact-checker hiring kitty.

3.  Computing power would also be deployed in removing the single biggest obstacle to Congressional Gridlock … gerrymandered, incumbent-protected redistricting. All pertinent data would be fed into Watson the Monolithic Deep Blue Number Cruncher which after a few seconds of humming and blinking would spit out 435 new Congressional districts with no consideration whatsoever of protecting the careers of the incumbents who have signed the most oaths, pledges, vows and taken the most four-star dinners with Big Pharma lobbyists.

4:  Recognizing that Newt Gingrich has had at least one good idea … Lincoln-Douglas style debates … it is hereby ordered that the top 12 leaders of the two major parties submit themselves to a regular, free-form debate process … with the wild card that the debates be moderated by acknowledged experts in the subject matter at hand. For example, by the luck of the draw Eric Cantor would be required to appear in debate with say, Chuck Schumer, on the topic of government deficits, moderated by Joseph Stiglitz and Simon Johnson. Live. Two hours. No toilet breaks. No under-the-suit wiring. No microscopic ear buds.

5:  Jazzed by the success of the Tax on Perfidy funded Truth Squads, I hereby order a similar … Tax on Brain Sucking Inanity. Scrolling through the current 500 channel TV universe is one of the most profoundly depressing exercises imaginable. Cajun pawn shops. Swamp coots ‘rasslin’ alligators. Functionally illiterate yobs and gimbals shrieking insults and throwing drinks, talentless society bimbos with freakish hypo-plumped lips and no instinct for decorum carving up each other’s egos … and Sean Hannity. Lost tribes of the Amazon are better served by their signal drum media. Hence, another per viewer tax for every … tattoo, Botox injection, absence of teeth, faux hawk, catty knife-in-the-kidney remark and reference to anything Kardashian. Billions will accumulate in a single week.

6:  Similarly, based on the astonishing response to Your King’s mandatory debate decree, it is hereby ordered that as a condition of any candidate filing for state-wide or national public office they be publicly vetted by a similar panel of acknowledged experts in the fields of foreign policy, tax policy, economics, American history and, if necessary the difference between a Kleenex and a paper towel. Live. Two hours. Not that brains matter, of course. But the likelihood of a sheer public humiliation might at least spare us six months of Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.

7: In addition to a (far) more enlightened, skeptical and informed political media Your King hereby decrees on an infusion of similar virtues into the realm of …. business reporting. Since money is the only thing that matters, each public relations profile  masquerading as journalism must be off-set with a persistent stream of curiosity into any endeavour making disproportionate profits in any industry. Or … any industry making disproportionate profits amid recessionary collapse. Similarly the CEOs of such companies must submit themselves for public cross-examination by a panel of indisputably skeptical journalists. The phrase “shareholder value” is NOT an acceptable explanation for gross violation of labor and environmental laws.

8: The next variation on “Lost” — like this “Alcatraz” series for example  — must have an ending written and filed in a safe deposit box prior to the airing of the pilot episode. Granted, anyone with two neurons left in operating condition shouldn’t be watching network TV. But Your Royal Highness is not pleased — to the point of going all Henry VIII — on the next Hollywood slickster who sucks us in to a “Twin Peaks”/”X-Files”/”Lost” puzzle drama … without the faintest attempt to tie the loose ends together and make sense of years worth of tantalizing sub-plots. If not beheading, The King is seriously considering yet another tax.

9: Noting the $10 million spent on television advertising prior to the absurdly unrepresentative Iowa caucuses — which drive fewer low-information religious crazies to their caucus sites than fans to the average Ohio State-Michigan football game — The King correctly senses that this maelstrom of nutbaggery is a boon only to the Pizza Ranches and TV stations of Iowa. Unable to think up anything punitive enough for Pizza Ranch managers, the windfall income to (mostly corporate-owned) TV stations shall be (bitch) slapped with a 50% surcharge, or $5 million in this year’s cycle, which will be re-distributed to public schools for courses in critical thinking.

10:  Finally, Your King recognizes that royalty such as his is a residual quality from the Dark Ages … not that that bothers him all that much. But just because we wallow like happy swine in this rank sewer of Kardashian-Hannity-Swamp People-botox-wives-of-New Jersey effluent doesn’t mean we have to spend as much time as we will this year counting down to the end of the Mayan calendar. Bug-eyed jeremiads will be heard all about the land. But The King hereby decrees that he finds prophets of doom-for profit tedious … and usually in arrears on their taxes. Therefore they shall all be arrested by The King’s Bullshit Police and given the choice of either summary beheading (The King’s preference) or being caged in broken elevator for the next 12 months with a Kardashian and … Sean Hannity. (After a week the knaves will plead for the guillotine.)

That is all. Now, back to the fields with you.



Ask Newt If Ads Matter

In age of 24/7 cable news coverage and social media, in an age when the public is sick to death of political advertising, in an age of nifty ad-dodging tools like Hulu, YouTube and TiVO, political ads are now increasingly irrelevant. An anachronism.

Right? We’ve been hearing that for years now. For instance, a 2008 column in the Star Tribune by John Rash carried the provocative headline, “Ads’ influence falls away in a ‘message election,’” and carried a number of quotes from influential local and national experts supporting the headline’s assertion.

It’s not the first time you’ve heard the claim, and it’s not the last time you’ll hear it. But reports of the demise of the political ad have been greatly exaggerated.

Consider, for instance, Newt Gingrich’s freefall in Iowa.

Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been watching the same presidential debate coverage of Newt. Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been watching the same national news coverage of Newt. Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been listening to Limbaugh, Hannity and other nationally syndicated talk radio hosts opining about Newt and his rivals.

But a huge difference for Newt in Iowa versus the rest of the country is the anti-Newt advertising pouring into Iowa. Newt reportedly is getting hammered by negative direct mail ads, radio ads, TV ads, outdoor ads, and online ads. Iowans are seeing the ads repeatedly, but Americans as a whole are not.

It therefore is probably not a coincidence that Newt is polling at about 27.4% nationally, but half that (13.7%) in Iowa. Nationally, he is still in first place, but in Iowa he has fallen to fourth place. His trend line isn’t great in either Iowa or the nation as a whole, but in Iowa Gingrich has fallen faster and further.
Continue reading “Ask Newt If Ads Matter”

Have a Heaping Helping of “Classic Nostalgia”

Kurt Andersen is someone who has earned our attention. Largely responsible for the success of SPY magazine, a seminal confluence of the celebrity/media snark and satire zeitgeist in the mid-80s, Andersen went on to create the short-lived but equally iconoclastic website/magazine “Inside”. He’s published a couple critically acclaimed novels with a third teed up for next summer. He also hosts NPR’s weekly arts and culture program, “Studio 360”. He is, in short, one of the smart kids in the class. (He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard where, yes, he was an editor for the “Lampoon”.)

MPR’s Marianne Combs had Andersen on last Friday to discuss his article in the latest Vanity Fair, titled, “You Say You Want a Devolution”. The gist of it is Andersen’s view/belief that America’s creative culture is in a retrograde phase unlike anything in any generation since the industrial revolution.  Fashion? Nothing significant since the late ’80s. Architecture? Nothing nearly as bold and as emphatic a statement of this era as the Empire State Building and Grand Central were of their’s. Music? Lady Gaga is today’s recycled Madonna with weirder costumes. Film? What happened to that explosion of creativity in the early Seventies, when we had “A Clockwork Orange” and “Klute”.

Wait a minute? “Klute”? Jane Fonda as a high-priced hooker? I missed the explosive revolution in that one.

Reading the piece in its entirety it’s pretty obvious that there is no science here and the whole argument is a lot like a couple of football nerds arguing who is the better quarterback, Dan Marino or Aaron Rodgers? Basically it’s just Andersen firing off 1500 words to provoke an argument. But since it is Kurt Andersen there is an argument worth having. Especially when he wanders into how large-scale corporate research and marketing focuses — with high precision — on the most profitable demographic, pours on more of what they want most, re-branding it as “classic” and selling, both subtly and directly, the “nostalgia” appeal of the latest pop idol or re-imagined muscle car. The insinuation being that culture-rattling boldness, creativity of a kind that shocks and momentarily discombobulates audiences and before setting a standard for a generation kind of got co-opted by the giant conglomerates that control the marketing end of “art”.

In truth, callers into Comb’s show made several points more interesting and provocative than Andersen. But having covered media in one way or another since pretty much the dawn of Andersen’s retrograde era, 20 years ago, I have some sympathy for his argument. If pop music is in a static phase, with nothing anywhere (of any mass) having the impact of rock’s ’60s-’70s glory days, or Springsteen in the ’80s, or hip-hop in the early ’90s, the manipulations and decision-making of record execs, most answering to the shareholders of major media corporations are a bona fide subject for indictment. Expand that complaint to the numbing blandness of commercial radio through the past 20 years, a period most notable for gross consolidation and an ever-heavier reliance on corporate-generated play lists, voice-tracking “local jocks” and syndicated talent, and you see why something bold and unusual, much less revolutionary, rarely if ever cuts through the research-tested maximum-middle ground formula.

Predictably, as I drove west across sun-swept, snowless Minnesota to pick up Mom for a Christmas visit, I wondered how much big media marketing, looking to mine the rich ore of “classic” and “nostalgia” (essentially interchangeable concepts) has colored the past 20-plus years of political values.

Watching the strategies of all but maybe one of the Republican candidates trying to appeal to the party’s base in Iowa, I continue to return to the explanation that what the base wants most in its candidate is the person who sounds most like their favorite radio host –by that I mean pugnacious, scornful of everything liberal, supremely self-assured (and beyond direct intellectual challenge). Hence the brief spikes of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and  Newt Gingrich. Each of them delivered, or purported to deliver, the same kind of “classic nostalgia” that has been the essential, research-tested, carefully target-marketed mien of talk radio since the introduction of Rush Limbaugh — via heavily consolidated syndication — 20 years ago. They present themselves as avatars for classic American values — unequivocal patriotism (of a specific militarized variety), a 1950s vision of familial propriety (before a black middle class, single working mothers and, gasp!, kids with two mommies) and an intense resistance to change (especially if suggests social peerage with those previously regarded as of a lower class).

I’ve thought for some time that this particular election cycle represents a moment of apogee for this kind of talk radio mentality. It had a great deal to do with Gingrich’s glory moment in 1994, but it floundered as a result of overreach, Bill Clinton’s more adroit/less toxic-feeling political instincts and a booming economy. The “movement” recovered its balance — and as syndication and the development of FoxNews delivered the “classic nostalgia” message to every market in the land — asserted ever more sway over the only receptive party, the Republicans, until its crowning moment in 2010, hyper-galvanized by Kenyan Muslim Barack Obama hero-worshipped into the White House.

What we’re waiting to see now is whether that retrograde nostalgia mentality takes one more step next fall — not with a Mitt Romney winning the presidency as much as the nostalgist anti-revolutionaries capturing both houses of Congress and completely shutting off any avenue for … change.


Something About Mitt

One of the limitations of polling is that respondents sometimes give answers they think will please the interviewer, rather than answers that reflect their true feelings. They do this because they believe their true feelings may be at odds with societal norms. In the public opinion research world, this is referred to as “social desirability bias.”

For instance, a survey respondent who senses that religious tolerance is a dominant norm in society is less likely to want to admit to a stranger conducting a survey interview that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism makes the voter less likely to vote for Romney.

But an interesting thing happens when pollsters approach the issue from a slightly different angle. When Pew Research asked respondents to provide one word that comes to mind when they hear a candidate’s name, we get a glimpse of what is top-of-mind with voters.

You might expect that terms dominant in Romney-related media coverage or ads might rise to top-of-mind status with voters, terms like “Romneycare,” “job creator,” “flip-flopper,” “front-runner,” “slick,” and “businessman.” After all, those topics and descriptors are dominant Romney-related topics in the campaign.

But they aren’t what sticks the most for the most for voters. The number one word that popped into voters’ minds, among both the general public and Republicans, is…


Keep in mind, I can’t recall a single ad airing about Romney’s religion. The subject has come up only fleetingly in debates, with Romney’s opponents largely shrugging off the issue. Yet “Mormon,” above all else, is what sticks in voters’ minds, while “Catholic” is not even on the public’s radar when it comes to Newt Gingrich.

This doesn’t tell us that the Mormonism is viewed as a negative by all or even most voters. But the fact that a) “Mormon” is voters’ dominant summation of Romney and b) Romney can’t seem to get get any traction with GOP primary and caucus voters leads me to believe that Mormonism is a bigger factor in this race than many want to admit.

– Loveland