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February 3, 2015

[liveblog][shorenstein] Peter Hart on the Presidential Race

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is giving a lunchtime talk at the Shorenstein Center titled “The Mood of America & the Presidential Race 20016.” Peter is a pollster

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Peter begins by lauding Alex Jones, who has led the Center for fifteen years and is leaving at the end of this semester.

Peter says it’s an “interesting time” and is going to report on a poll taken just before the State of the Union address.

The Michigan Consumer Index for 45 years has measured how positive we feel (looking at positive and negative words and phrases). We are nowat the highest level since Jan. 2004; its Sentiment Index has improved 20% since July 2014. This is a major change. A year ago, about 1 in 4 was satisfied and 7 in 10 dissatisfied. This month, it’s now far more balanced. Women and African Americans are showing an especially large gain in satisfaction.

Top priorities? For Republicans, 87% say it’s defeating ISIS. Democrats: 87% Creating jobs, and defeating Isis is at 71%. Some items show up among independents and Democrats that don’t show up for Republicans: Independents and Dems want to fix and keep ACA, fund the infrstraucture, and reduce inequality and increase the minimum wage. Iran’s nukes aren’t on the Democrats top concerns, but are the Republican agenda. (Only items that concern more than 50% of respondents are listed.)

Peter looked into Colorado in particular, via focus groups, and what stands out is the absolute hatred Americans have of the gov’t and of Congress in particular. People are bothered, frustrated, and uncertain. He tells about one respondent named Jennie. 43 yrs old. In procurement and contracts. Republican. She’s against marijuana legalization because of the economic implications. She’s voted straightline Republican for years. But she says, “I don’t know where I’ll be in 2016.” Peter asked, “Which candidate would you like to spend an hour with?” Answer: Elizabeth Warren. Jennie: “I think if she ran, she could be the next president. Personable, knowledgeable, and has a good handle on what’s going on in the country.”

When they got into the discussion, it turned out Jennie’s furious with Boehner because he said “Anyone who really wants a job, has a job.” But Jennie’s husband has been unemployed for 18 months. On immigration, she’s a Republican, but on education she says she was told people need more education so she went back to college. Now her student loan debt each month is twice her rent. It feels to her that everything in DC is stacked against her. “Jennie is a great example of what the Republicans will be facing in 2016. It’s not a matter of left and right.”


Q: [alex jones] How relevant will today’s polls be about how people will actually vote?

A: Not. Things change. The one Repub who came out of these focus groups was Rand Paul. Jeb faces the problems that he’s his brother’s brother, and people don’t relate to him. The numbers by themselves don’t make any sense. Remember the 1.5 hours when Herman Cain was the front-runner? The key is to see who has a theme, something to say to the country.

E.g., In 1998 al Gore came up to me at a party and wanted to go over every candidate who might run against him. I told him not to worry about that now but about what you want to say about to the country. He ended up with a “lock box” [SNL] At least Jeb Bush has a vision about where this nation should go. I think that makes him formidable. Same for Rand Paul. But the polls at this point are of no value.

Q: If you were advising the nominees, what would you tell the Dem and Repub to run on?

A: Two things, as always: Safety and economic security. Clearly Isis is at the top of the list. Look at Boston and Paris. It’s no longer a war. It’s radical terrorism. So, who’s going to make us feel secure? More important: how do we get our mojo back, a sense of economic security, confidence?

Q: What about immigration, gay marriage, etc., that are especially important to conservative Republicans.

A: The Republican candidates all have to travel the same path to get the nomination; it goes through social conservativism. Immigration remains a hot button issue. Same sex marriage has been litigated and the Republicans will figure out a way that they don’t have to face it head on. They’re on the wrong side of history on that one.

Q: The southern branch of the Dem party has captured it, but the primary states determine the nominee. Now there’s talk of a southern primary to trump that.

A: They will go through the same fights. The Republicans will get killed in the polls on immigration until they change, as Perry has. But it’s always the same purple states that decide the election, and the primary calendar doesn’t help you.

Q: The big primary states that the Republicans have to play to generally aren’t going to vote Republican in the general election.

A: We break out numbers for Tea Partiers, and there are huge gaps, up to 40%, from non-TP Republicans.

Q: Is Rand Paul Tea Party?

A: Yes and no.

Q: Who will it be in 2016?

A: No way in the world I’ll answer that. [laughter] The betting odds are Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush if you really had to pick at this stage. Would I bet? No.

Q: If it is, does either have an advantage in 2016?

A: A counter-cyclical thought: I’d handicap the advantage to the Republicans. From 1958 forward, we had a clue in the 6th year of a two-term presidency as to who the candidate will be. The off-years tell us that the Republicans can’t be ignored. So I put the odds a little better on the Republicans.

Q: Anything distinctive now in talking to people than in years past?

A: Two elements are striking. 1. Anger is much closer to the surface. In the past it would have been discouragement. 2. I don’t think people recognize how hard it is and how much of a struggle it is. How many of us have relatives facing a real economic struggle? [Not many hands go up. It’s Harvard.] This is the first generation that we think may be going backwards economically.

Q: Income inequality doesn’t show up in the Republican answers, maybe because they treat “income inequality” is a Democratic buzzword.

A: A single word can change results dramatically. We work on phrasing things well. Our phrase was “reducing income inequality between the rich and the poor.” Maybe that wasn’t neutral enough.

Q: Are the Dem and Repub demographics what makes the difference on the income inequality question? Are the Republicans you interviewed wealthier?

A: My favorite state is W. VA. It voted for Michael Dukakis but is now a solidly red state. It’s the only state in which there hasn’t been a big demographic change. They’ve just gone from economic to values voters.

Q: Since income inequality didn’t show up, how do you explain why the Republican candidates are now raising it?

A: Because they recognize that’s where the country’s at. That’s Jennie.

Q: Income inequality is less resonant than inequality of opportunity. Do you get at the distinction in your polling?

A: Not directly.

Q: As a pollster how do you think about identity? E.g., people vote for someone in part because they want to have a beer with him/her. How do you ask about that?

A: I spend a lot of time thinking abaout this. I think we make Congressional choices with our heads. Gubernatorial, mayors, and presidents are much more gut choices. In 2000, I asked a focus group: Let’s suppose that for the next 2 months you now have a 2-hour commute, and to get into the HOV lane you have to have either Bush or Gore in your car. Overwhelmingly people said Bush. They said: Bush will be interesting, we’ll talk about baseball. With Gore, they’d fall asleep at the wheel. But if you ask who you’d want as your lifeline on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Gore. Obama started with a personal connection but has become a much more remote figure as president. People don’t relate to him.

Q: [me] Do the political leanings ├žorrelate with news sources such as TV, newspapers, Internet, radio…?

A: The Net has been growing. Newsprint has been diminishing. The difference between a Fox viewer and an MSNBC viewer is day and night. Younger voters have a much wider sphere of getting information. Traditionally, when the source was TV, they tended to have more surface knowledge vs readers of newspapers.

Q: How is the hatred and frustration going to affect motivating people to vote?

A: I tend to believe that voting participation will be up in 2016 but you won’t have the same degree of interest in the African-American community unless there’s an African-American on the ticket. The most interesting group will be the under 30s. They voted in overwhelming numbers in ’08 and ’12. 2012 surprised us. If they turn out again, that will say something about participation going forward. If the two candidates are perceived as being the same, that will depress sturnout. [I may have gotten this wrong.]

Q: I’ve long been puzzled that Americans vote against their interests. But I’m wondering if the Republicans in fact reflect the true America. The Democrats represent a hodgepodge of special interest pressure groups.

A: The Democrats have always figured that people always vote their pocketbooks. But if you look at the Republicans for the past 10-20 yrs, it’s not economics alone. The Democrats have always been a pressure interest party. By talking to all their special interests, the Democrats lack a persuasive national msg. The Tea Party has cost the Republicans in the same way.

Q: Would it be political suicide to convene a constitutional convention to address the level of dissatisfaction?

A: It’d be a big step. In 2012 we thought a 3rd party could get double digit percentage of votes. In 2014 we thought there might be a broom party: sweep ’em out. I think there’s still a possibility of that.

Q: How do the issues for independents and Republicans line up with the State of the Union?

A: The things that are important to get done are the ones we can’t get done. If the Republicans continue to do silly things, the SOTU agenda will give the Democrats an advantage — silly things like opposing health care and immigration reform. This could make the Republicans look like the irresponsible party. McConnell is trying to steer them in the other direction.

Q: I like your 6th year analysis. But the economy also tends to be pretty predictive of the general election. Is that model going to hold? This is an unusual recovery.

A: The consumer index I started with is going to soar. But I worry about Democratic Fatigue. I think Obama has figured out his legacy. He’s been a weak figure over the last 4 years. I think the public is now seeing a more positive persona. He’s going to be known as a liberal-left president. Does that make the country move more centrist?

Hillary’s campaign will be bigger than life. Everyone will have an opinion. It won’t be like Gore. She’s polarizing right from the beginning. In 2008 when she finished her run, 43% had positive and 41% negative. When Secty of State, it was 55% [?] positive. Now she’s back down.

Q: What do we make of the invitation to Netanyahu?

A: An ill-chosen decision. It may play very well to one segment of the Republicans but it’s so far away from Arthur Vandenberg. You don’t do something like this, especially right before an Israeli election.

Q: Are Clinton and Bush identified as their own people, or as Bill’s wife or George’s brother?

A: Hillary is definitely perceived as her own person. Everyone has a sharp definition of her and feeling about her. Her husband is 100% asset. Jeb is not defined enough, and people have more questions. A lot needs to be filled in. The one that’s working for him is that he has conceptualized 2016 and done so in a smart way: the country wants to figure out how to come together. He’s about consensus not confrontation.

Q: Did you reality-test people’s ideas about the deficit? Do people know that the deficit has gone down?

A: The public is lousy when you deal with all of those questions about the budget.

Q: If not Hillary, who might it be?

A: Anybody’s guess. The Democrats have a bench that’s one deep.

Q: Is Jerry Brown a possible candidate?

A: In his own mind.

Q: Would Warren be a viable candidate?

A: 1. Warren is perfect on one issue for an awful lot of Americans. But is she perfect in foreign policy, as Commander in Chief, etc.? 2. She has the potentiality of being the Robert Kennedy of 2016: Electric and different enough that you don’t know where it will go.

Do I think she’ll get in? No.

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November 6, 2012

Keep your ballots private

In 2008 I posted a photo of myself holding my filled-in write-in ballot next to a cardboard cutout of Obama. I thought it was a little amusing, and I had made no secret of who I was voting for. But I got chided via social media, for what seems to me to be a good reason: we wouldn’t want the posting of ballot photos to become a common practice since it could lead to social pressure on people who don’t want their actual vote to be known. Imagine, say, a coal mine owner who is pressuring employees to vote for a particular candidate, and who puts up a “voluntary” “Post your Ballot Photo!” page. An employee might assume that a failure to post would be taken as a vote for the “wrong” candidate, and thus would be in a difficult position.

Now, that’s a hypothetical of course, but it captures a reason to preserve the norm that actual ballots are private, not public. Brag all you want about who you voted for — please! — but I think it’s a good idea to keep your actual ballot secret.

On the other hand, if you posted your ballot, it’s not something I find publicly chide-worthy.

(PS: I voted for President Obama. Quelle surprise!)

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November 4, 2012

Your vote counts, but exactly that way

If when the votes are counted you feel betrayed because you were told “Your vote counts!” but it turns out that the election would have gone the same way even if you had stayed home, I understand. If you take “Your vote counts” as really only being true when your vote determines an outcome, then in my lifetime of voting, my vote has never counted. (For a different reading, see the the incredibly smart Peter Norvig’s election FAQ.)

Still, I vote and I hope you do too — even the young, despite some contempt for them). But my reasons have more to do with community than outcomes.

First, voting is a a rite that affirms the most basic and magnificent thing about our country: We believe everyone has an equal voice.

Second, my vote is unlikely to determine an outcome of an election, but it is certain to affect — fractionally, for sure — the total number of people who have voted. And that bears on our sense of the success of our democracy and of our national community. This is not merely information about community, but is information that forms community.

Third, if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. So, vote or for God’s sake STFU.

As for who to vote for: (a) check my Twitter feed for links to the vids etc. that I find amusing/moving, and (b) really?

(To volunteer to help Pres. Obama’s Get Out the Vote effort, click here. And because I’m a liberal, here’s Romney’s GOTV site.)

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April 10, 2009

This election brought to you by Starbucks

Well, not exactly. Starbucks is offering a free cup of coffee to everyone who votes in the Indonesian elections. (Via Mong Palatino at GlobalVoices

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November 19, 2008

Electoral Windex tells you who voted, based on public election records. So far it’s only ratting out those dirty stinking voters in four states (Florida, Idaho, Ohio, and Washington).

Who voted and who contributed money to campaigns has always been public info in the US. But when you had to blow dust off of ledger pages in the basement of your town hall, we didn’t feel quite so exposed. Welcome to the fishbowl!

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November 1, 2008

Twitter the vote

Report any voting problems you have using #votereport in your tweet. You can see them aggregated at,

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October 28, 2008

Crowdsourcing a fair election

Just a reminder: is asking people to sign up to report on the conditions they find at their local polling place so that the site can create a “weather map” of electoral fairness.

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October 23, 2008

Twittering for fair elections

Volunteer programmers, designers and activists across the country will coordinate in online chat rooms and at real-world coding parties on Friday to build Twitter Vote Report, a groundbreaking web election monitoring system to fight voter suppression and disruption efforts. Anyone with a account will be able to use their cell phones or computers to send a message notifying voters, election monitors, and the media of problems around the country. A web map will display incidents in real-time.

For more info about how you can help, here. And if you want to help out on Friday’s code jam, go here. [Tags: ]

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July 6, 2008

My Fair Election

Archon Fung, at Harvard’s Kennedy School, is proposing that we crowd source the fairness of the upcoming presidential election at You can watch a 7 minute video presentation or read a brief paper.

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