Archive for November, 2008

WSJ and online media

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Major daily newspapers across the country are reporting declining subscription rates and are cutting staffs as a result of declining advertising revenue. Various theories regarding content, choice, and culture have been offered, but John Fund of the Wall Street Journal recently shared his own view at a conference I attended. He said that free Internet content is killing newspapers. Why subscribe to a newspaper you can read for free online? He notes that when newspapers first began going online, the Wall Street Journal joined the transition, but required online readers to pay a subscription. The WSJ now has 1.1 million online subscribers and is on track to cross the lines with their print subscribers to achieve greater online subscribers than print subscribers in the next 2.5 years. The WSJ has a distinctive voice and unique niche in national newspapers and it goes to show when you are the sole or best provider of content on a topic, consumers will pay for it.

For GOP future, look at history

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Last week I heard John Fund from the Wall Street Journal speak on the results of the 2008 election. I wrote about his thoughts in this week’s Reasonably Right. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Fund recommended Republicans look for President Ronald Reagan’s “persistent, realistic optimism,” and remember the GOP performed worse in the elections of 1974 and 1976 than 2006 and 2008, only to recover shortly afterward….Reagan’s message: conservatism works; liberalism fails. He promised if the Carter Administration tried liberalism, it would fail, and the nation would turn to Republicans.

So it was, and in 1980 the nation turned to Reagan….Shortly after Bill Clinton’s 1992 election, Reagan hosted a reunion of close advisors and reaffirmed his prediction. Reagan said Clinton would act liberally and give Republicans an opportunity to come back to power. He did. They did.

I also mentioned the role of Republican governors in the future of the GOP.

The Republican Governors Association chose South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford as chairman, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour as vice chairman. Barbour said it is too early to talk about 2012. But others are talking, and many Republicans list Barbour and Sanford on their shortlists for a national ticket.

Reagan, himself a former governor, taught his White House Political Director Haley Barbour “good policy is good politics.” The converse is also true. Bad policy is bad politics and if Obama implements liberalism, he will fail. For Carter that meant one term; for Clinton that meant a Republican congress. What that will mean for Obama will be up to Republicans who heed the echoes of that California governor whose predictions proved true.

You might remember that Sanford came to Mississippi to keynote the Mississippi Center for Public Policy’s presentation of the Governing by Principle Award to Barbour. You can read my observations on his speech from this October 2 column: Government through freedom.  You can also read the full column from this week: For GOP future, look at history.

Election results in context

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

This past week in the Madison County Journal, Reasonably Right looked at the recent election in context of prior Mississippi and U.S. elections.  Here are some excerpts:

Turnout, based on voter eligible population (VEP) [you can go to the research by Dr. Michael McDonald in the Department of Public and International Affaris at George Mason University for state by state VEP turnout in US presidential races], reached an all-time high. Between 1980 and 1992, VEP turnout in Mississippi fluctuated between 52 and 53 percent. It plummeted to 45.9 percent in 1996 and since has steadily increased: 49.1 percent in 2000; 55.7 percent in 2004; 58.8 percent in 2008. Mississippians cast about 113,000 more ballots this year than four years ago when President George W. Bush carried the state with 59 percent of the vote. In perspective, 158,000 more Mississippians voted in 2004 than 2000.

These numbers reflect a modest increase rather than inspired surge in voter turnout. A report released last week by American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests nationwide turnout to be near the same level as 2004, or at the most 1 percentage point higher. While Democratic turnout did increased by 2.6 percent, a decrease of 1.3 percent by Republicans neutralized hopes of record turnout. The report proposes this is a result of a disparity in the enthusiasm level for the party’s respective candidates, “by at least 20 percentage points, Obama enjoyed stronger allegiance than McCain.”

I made one big mistake in the column which I’ll correct in this coming week’s piece.

Cochran retains his record as the highest vote earner in Mississippi history. He first set that record in 1984 when he defeated William Winter at a greater than 60 percent margin with 580,314 votes. To be fair, that year President Ronald Reagan did post about two thousand more votes than Cochran in Mississippi. But this year, Cochran collected more than 722,000 votes: more than McCain, more than Bush ever, more than anyone, ever.

To illustrate the importance of turnout, Cochran took 62 percent of the vote to defeat his opponent Erik Fleming. Yet in losing, Fleming pulled more raw votes than Kirk Fordice, Ronnie Musgrove, or Haley Barbour in any of their successful elections for governor. Despite 2008’s record turnout and perceived enthusiasm, the Democrat who holds the record for votes in Mississippi is not Obama or Musgrove, not John Kerry or Al Gore, but Attorney General Jim Hood who in 2003 pulled 548,046 votes.

In reality, Jim Hood does not hold the record. A Democratic friend and neighbor e-mailed to point out that then Secretary of State Eric Clark bested all Democrats in 2003 by accumulating 610,461 votes. Also trumping Hood in the record books: George Dale (610,341) and Lester Spell (564,283) both in 2003.

I also wrote about the results of the Democrats’ successful litigation to put the Musgrove-Wicker special election nearer to the top of the ballot and so closer to the Obama-Biden ticket.

Unfortunately for Democrats, that simultaneously placed Wicker closer to McCain. Not only did McCain receive more votes than Obama, but Wicker received more votes than Obama. In fact, Musgrove received more votes than Obama. Exit polls suggest Musgrove got 18 percent of the white vote when Obama only pulled 11 percent. Those same polls show while McCain only got 2 percent of the black vote, Wicker was able to pull 8 percent. If anything, Obama was a drag on Musgrove.

While there was a drop off of just over 43,000 votes from the presidential election to the special senate election, had Musgrove gotten every one of those votes, it would not have eased his deficit (he lost by more than 124,000 votes). The special senate election received more votes than the regular senate election, which appeared above it on the ballot. About 2000 people voted for president, skipped the Cochran-Fleming race, and voted in the Wicker-Musgrove contest.

Visit the Madison County Journal online to read the full column: Perry/ Election results in context.

Negative ads work

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I write about negative campaigning this week in Reasonably Right. Here are some excerpts:

Strictly speaking, a negative advertisement - or contrast piece - is any campaign material that discusses a candidate’s opponent instead of himself. It could be on the issues, on public records, or personal. It could be light hearted, policy oriented, or biography based; but anything about the opponent is “negative.”

Negative campaigning works; campaigns will continue to go negative as long as it works; campaigns will cease to be negative when it ceases to work. When voters complain they hate negative advertising they are proving they’ve seen it, they remember it, and it makes them take action. People infrequently talk about positive advertising, discuss it with their friends, or call a campaign to praise it.

Negative campaigning can persuade someone not to support a candidate; it can persuade someone not to vote; it can persuade the media to investigate a charge. An effective negative campaign can drive poll numbers down and bury them where they will not rise again. Negativity and incivility are nothing new in politics.

During the 1800 campaign for president, incumbent John Adams faced a re-election challenge against his own vice-president, Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists, the party of Adams, circulated handbills saying, “Thomas Jefferson is a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father…raised wholly on hoe-cake made of coarse-ground Southern corn, bacon and hominy, with an occasional change of fricasseed bullfrog.” They claimed Jefferson was not a Christian and a pro-Adams newspaper editorialized that if voters elected Jefferson, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced” and crime and distress would permeate the land.

Meanwhile supporters of Jefferson claimed Adams sought to marry his son to the daughter of Britain’s King George III to establish and American monarchy. They warned Jefferson wanted to start a war with France and said the President had a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Jefferson won. The Electoral College chose, in today’s campaigning terms, the guy who wanted to eliminate prayer in schools, cut education, reduce Medicare and who was soft on crime over the elitist neo-con.

I mention some other campaigns (1824, 1884, 1964, 1972, 1988) and then bring the incivility back to Mississippi.

Few can meet the vitriolic standard of Theodore Bilbo. I can’t even fully quote him in a respectful newspaper. Bilbo called one political opponent, “a cross between a mongrel and a cur, conceived in a…graveyard at midnight, suckled by a cow, and educated by a fool.”

The Jackson Daily News Editor Frederick Sullens called Bilbo, “a pimp and frequenter of lewd houses” to which Bilbo responded calling Sullens “a degenerate by birth, carpetbagger by inheritance, a liar by instinct, an assassin of character by practice, and a coward by nature.”

If you miss those negative ads, they’ll be back soon enough, because they worked this year as they have for centuries.

You can read the full column in the Neshoba Democrat: Perry/Negative ads work.

For more on negative campaigning you can check out “Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning” by David Mark, “Going Negative” by professors Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar, or “Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time” by Kerwin C. Swint.  From his book research, Swint wrote this brief article on the Jefferson-Adams and Jackson-Adams campaigns: Founding Fathers’ dirty campaign. David Mark wrote in the November 2006 issue of Reason Magazine, “Attack Ads Are Good for You! In praise of negative campaigning.”

And for a lighter look at negative campaigning from the past, check out this article over at 5 Presidential Elections Even Dumber Than This One (Somehow) - it is very entertaining, although it does use some crude language.

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