Sunday, September 30, 2012

Forecasting the Presidential Election

At The Washington Post, Dan Balz writes:
Are you ready to call the election? Mitt Romney certainly isn’t, nor for that matter is President Obama. But a few hardy academics have done so. Out now are a baker’s dozen forecasts produced by political scientists that predict the outcome in November.
Polls give Obama the advantage, nationally and in most of the battleground states, but they are, as is often said, snapshots in time, not predictions of the future. The election forecasts are in fact predictions, based on various and varied statistical models. Most give the advantage to the president, but the verdict is not unanimous.

The 13 projections are contained in the new issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, which is published by the American Political Science Association. Eight of them project that Obama will win the popular vote; five say the popular vote will go to Romney. But the degree of certainty in those forecasts differs. One projection favoring the president says there is an 88 percent certainty that he’ll win, while two others forecasting Obama say there is only a 57 percent certainty.
James E. Campbell, the department chairman at the University at Buffalo in New York, who wrote the introduction to the package, rates them this way: Five predict that Obama will win a plurality of the two-party vote, although three are on “the cusp of a toss-up.” Five predict that Romney will win the plurality of the two-party vote. Three are in what he calls the toss-up range.
Campbell offers some wise observations about forecasts in general:
The rationale behind many of the statistical election forecasting models is (1) that we can identify general influences that normally influence the vote (the fundamentals, such as the economy and incumbency), (2) that many of the fundamentals are known and measured before the general election campaign begins, (3) that these fundamentals shape how normal campaigns are likely to affect the vote, and (4) that their typical effects on the vote can be estimated based on the history of past elections. Note that forecasting does not necessarily assume the lack of campaign effects on the vote or that campaigns do not matter. Campaign effects themselves may be shaped by the fundamentals (Campbell 2008). Some models also start from a precampaign public opinion baseline and assess those influences that may affect the development or change in voter preferences during the campaign. Whether using a precampaign public opinion baseline as a starting point or not, this line of reasoning is the foundation of the enterprise. It would not seem to be terribly controversial or particularly mysterious.
Of course, the devil is in the details. The specific factors included as fundamentals, their appropriate indicators, the time over which their typical effects are estimated, the lead time before the election for the forecast, and other choices create a diverse array of models and forecasts. This diversity is often overlooked. A substantial difference (often lost on critics) exists between evaluating election forecasting models as an enterprise and evaluating individual models. Some models are considered more credible than others. Some have longer and stronger track records than others. Some are more consistent with the existing body of voting behavior and campaign effects research. By the same token, there is an important distinction between evaluating each model and its forecast for a particular election. Each election prediction offers a real test of a forecasting model, but as important as it is, it is only a single test.
James E. Campbell, "Forecasting the 2012 American National Elections," PS: Political Science & Politics, Volume 45, Issue04, October 2012 pp 610-613, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?aid=8700580

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Problem with Ballot Measures

This November, reports the Initiative and Referendum Institute, voters in 37 states will decide on 174 propositions, including:
  • 44 initiatives
  • 12 referendums,
  • 115 legislative measures,
  • and 3 votes on constitutional conventions.
The states with most propositions are : Alabama 11, Florida 11, California 10, Arizona 9, Louisiana 9, Oregon 9. 


At KNBC, Joe Mathews notes that several California ballot measures are getting little attention from the press or public.
So what to do? Voters might be wise to go with the strategy of simply voting no on things they don't know much about it. But what would be even better would be to take such measures off this ballot -- and delay them to another time.
This sort of thing can be done in some other states and countries with the ballot initiative process. But not in California. Once an initiative is on a ballot, it's on the ballot -- and it can't be moved. The result is that voters will be voting blindly on these measures.
But there's another solution to this: limiting the number of measures that can be on any one ballot.
One way to do that would be to separate ballot measure elections from candidate elections, as is done in Switzerland, which was the original inspiration for California's initiative process. The Swiss hold quarterly elections on initiatives and referenda. Those elections are set up to make sure there's only one or two initiatives on the time, so each measure gets scrutiny, deliberation, and debate.
California should adopt the Swiss election calendar, and vote up to four times a year on measures. Each initiative deserves some time in the sun before we vote on it.

Transparency Update

Transparency is a major concern of "good government" groups. Previous posts have discussed the federal government's performance in this area. Bloomberg reports:
On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama ordered federal officials to “usher in a new era of open government” and “act promptly” to make information public.
As Obama nears the end of his term, his administration hasn’t met those goals, failing to follow the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, according to an analysis of open-government requests filed by Bloomberg News.
Nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the law requiring the disclosure of public information: The cost of travel by top officials. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act.
“When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’” said Daniel Metcalfe, director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981 to 2007.
The Bloomberg survey was designed in part to gauge the timeliness of responses, which Attorney General Eric Holder called “an essential component of transparency” in a March 2009 memo. About half of the 57 agencies eventually disclosed the out-of-town travel expenses generated by their top official by Sept. 14, most of them well past the legal deadline.

Youth Disengagement

The Pew Research Center reports:
Young voters are significantly less engaged in this year’s election than at a comparable point in 2008 and now lag far behind older voters in interest in the campaign and intention to vote. The share of voters younger than 30 who are following campaign news very closely is roughly half what it was at this point four years ago (18%, down from 35%). Just 63% of young registered voters say they definitely plan to vote this year, down from 72% four years ago.
Not only are young registered voters less engaged, but fewer young people are registered to vote. In all Pew Research Center polling conducted over the course of 2012, only half (50%) of adults under 30 say they are absolutely certain that they are registered. This compares with 61% in 2008 and 57% in 2004. Registration rates typically rise over the course of election years, but for youth voter registration to reach 2008 levels the figures will have to shift decidedly over the coming month.
Both of these trends are disadvantages for Barack Obama, who continues to hold a wide lead among young voters. In the latest Pew Research Center survey, conducted Sept. 12-16, registered voters under 30 favored Obama over Romney by 59% to 33%, and that margin has held relatively steady over the course of the year.
But so far, any potential damage to Obama has been mitigated by three factors. First, the decline in youth engagement is not limited to Obama supporters. In fact, the dropoff is at least as steep among young voters who intend to vote Republican. Second, other segments of Obama’s electoral base – notably African Americans – remain highly engaged in the election. Third, declining engagement in a key Republican subgroup – moderate Republicans – at least partially offsets falling interest among the young.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The World-Wide Id

Thanks to Twitter, we can instantly tell the world about anything that comes into our heads, which is not necessarily a good thing.  

Our technologies have evolved quickly but our brains have not. As the great psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow, we have two systems in our heads. System 1 represents intuition, supplying us with instant feelings, impressions and impulses. System 2 represents deliberation, involving intelligence and reason. We have to rely on System 1 for split-second decisions because System 2 just doesn’t operate fast enough.

When we’re playing a sport or driving a car, this reliance on intuition can work well. People develop a sense of when they can change lanes or steal third base without doing cost-benefit analyses. Public life is different. System 1 draws on stereotypes and mental shortcuts that can mislead us when we apply them to political questions. It is better to engage System 2, thinking things through and seeking additional information.

In an article today in The Christian Science Monitor, I explain why System 1 dominates social media -- much to the detriment of deliberative democracy.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Lowest Unit Rate"

Consistent with a recent LA Times pieceThe Washington Post explains an important financial advantage for Obama:
Starting several weeks ago, both campaigns gained the ability to obtain radio and TV advertising at the “lowest unit rate,” which is guaranteed to federal candidates within 60 days of an election. The legal requirement means that campaigns — but not parties, nonprofits or super PACs — can commandeer airtime at the cheapest prices.
At the start of September, Romney had about $50 million in his campaign account compared with about $90 million for Obama, who has brought in much of his money in small-dollar contributions. Romney, by contrast, has relied heavily on donors giving up to $75,000, most of which must go to the Republican Party because of legal limits on how much a donor can give to a candidate’s campaign committee.
Outside groups and parties typically pay at least 50 percent more for advertising than candidates do in the final weeks of a national campaign, according to media buyers. Sometimes the gap is wider: One GOP ad buyer said a 30-second slot on “Good Morning America” in Washington will cost a candidate about $2,000, compared with twice that much for an interest group.
Federal candidates also legally receive priority over other clients, meaning they can force regular commercials aside, and they cannot be refused airtime by radio or television stations, regardless of the content.
“When everyone talks about what the media buy is, it’s often very misleading,” said Ken Goldstein, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising. “Not all dollars are created equal.”

News: Digital Overtakes Print, Threatens TV

The online transformation of the news business continues. The Pew Research Center reports that television's dominance may be in jeopardy:
Online and digital news consumption, meanwhile, continues to increase, with many more people now getting news on cell phones, tablets or other mobile platforms. And perhaps the most dramatic change in the news environment has been the rise of social networking sites. The percentage of Americans saying they saw news or news headlines on a social networking site yesterday has doubled – from 9% to 19% – since 2010. Among adults younger than age 30, as many saw news on a social networking site the previous day (33%) as saw any television news (34%), with just 13% having read a newspaper either in print or digital form. [emphasis added]

These are among the principal findings of the Pew Research Center’s biennial news consumption survey, which has tracked patterns in news use for nearly two decades. The latest survey was conducted May 9-June 3, 2012, among 3,003 adults.

The proportion of Americans who read news on a printed page – in newspapers and magazines – continues to decline, even as online readership has offset some of these losses. Just 23% say they read a print newspaper yesterday, down only slightly since 2010 (26%), but off by about half since 2000 (47%).

The decline of print on paper spans beyond just newspapers. The proportion reading a magazine in print yesterday has declined over the same period (26% in 2000, 18% today). And as email, text messaging and social networking become dominant forms of communication, the percentage saying they wrote or received a personal letter the previous day also has fallen, from 20% in 2006 to 12% currently. There has been no decrease in recent years in the percentage reading a book on a typical day, but a growing share is now reading through an electronic or audio device.
The report notes patterns of blog use:
Slightly more than one-in-ten (12%) of all Americans regularly read blogs about politics or current events and another 21% say they read them sometimes. Just less than half (45%) never read blogs or do not use the internet. The numbers of those who read blogs regularly are little changed since 2008.
There is little partisan difference when it comes to blog-reading: 14% of Republicans, 13% of Democrats and 10% of independents say they read blogs about politics and current events.
Among age groups, regular blog reading is lowest among those 18 to 24 (6%) and highest among those 40 to 49 (17%). There is little difference in blog reading among the age groups in between. Looked at by education level, 15% of college graduates and those who have had some college regularly read blogs, a number that falls to 7% for those with high school or less.

Multiple-Race Identification

The 2010 Census showed that people who reported multiple races grew by a larger percentage than those reporting a single race. According to the 2010 Census brief The Two or More Races Population: 2010, the population reporting multiple races (9.0 million) grew by 32.0 percent from 2000 to 2010, compared with those who reported a single race, which grew by 9.2 percent.
Overall, the total U.S. population increased by 9.7 percent since 2000, however, many multiple-race groups increased by 50 percent or more.
The first time in U.S. history that people were presented with the option to self-identify with more than one race came on the 2000 Census questionnaire. Therefore, the examination of data from the 2000 and 2010 censuses provides the first comparisons on multiple-race combinations in the United States. An effective way to compare the multiple-race data is to examine changes in specific combinations, such as white and black, white and Asian, or black and Asian.
For census purposes, race is a matter of self-identification.  The change here stems less from any shift in ancestry patterns than from an increased tendency to report multiple races.  In turn, this tendency may stem from evolving attitudes toward race, greater awareness of multiracial backgrounds (perhaps reflecting the historic election of a multiracial president), and in some cases, genealogical discoveries.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trust in the Branches of Government

Previous posts have discussed trust in political institutions. Gallup reports:
Americans trust the judicial branch most and the legislative least of the three branches of government, with trust in the executive branch falling in between these two. Trust in all three branches is up slightly this year, but from a longer-term perspective, the legislative branch has lost by far the most trust over the last 10 years.

Gallup's latest update on trust in the branches of government was included in its Sept. 6-9 Governance survey. The data reflect the same general pattern that has been evident since 2009 -- with the judicial branch on top, the legislative branch on the bottom, and the executive branch in the middle. All three branches are slightly more trusted this year than last.
 Trend: How much trust and confidence [do] you have at this time in the executive branch headed by the president, the judicial branch headed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the legislative branch, consisting of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives?

Earlier this month, Gallup reached a similar finding about approval of Congress:
Thirteen percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, the lowest Gallup has measured this late in an election year. The prior lows were 18% in 1992, 2008, and 2010.

In election years in which congressional approval has been low in the months leading up to Election Day, there has generally been higher turnover of seats in Congress. Another factor that may promote higher turnover in this year's congressional elections is the redistricting of all 435 seats after the 2010 census. In 1992, a year in which Congress was unpopular and incumbents seeking re-election were running in newly redrawn districts, more than 100 new members of Congress were elected. That compares with 53 new members after the 2002 elections, the last elections that followed redistricting, but a time when Congress was much more popular.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teacher Unions

Previous posts have analyzed the political role of public-employee unions, especially those representing teachersThe New York Times finds a change in political strategy by teacher unions:
In all, teachers’ groups donated $1.23 million to Republican state candidates through June 30, according to theNational Institute on Money in State Politics.
While donations to Democrats still far outweigh contributions to Republicans, the proportion of union money going to Republican candidates this year, just over 8 percent, has doubled since the last election cycle, according to the institute. In some states, the increase has been steeper. In Ohio, the proportion of contributions to Republicans jumped to more than 21 percent this year from less than 1 percent in 2010. Similarly, in Illinois, where 16 percent of donations went to Republicans in 2010, the proportion has increased to 22 percent.
“The notion that just because you’re a Democrat” you can take the teachers’ unions for granted has changed, said Jim Reed, director of government relations for the Illinois Education Association.
Cameron Joseph writes at The Hill:
Mitt Romney took shots at the teachers' unions but otherwise struck a softer tone on education on Tuesday, calling for higher teacher pay and even complimenting President Obama's secretary of education.
Romney called for allowing parents to pick which school they enrolled their children in and for tying some portion of teachers' pay to merit-based testing while downplaying the importance of classroom size, staples of GOP policy orthodoxy.


But while he criticized teachers' unions and their ties to Democrats at NBC's Education Nation forum in New York City, he didn't take quite as sharp a tone as he previously had on teachers' unions and emphasized increasing new teacher pay in order to attract better talent to the classrooms.
"The person sitting across the table from them should not have received the biggest contributions from the teachers' union itself," Romney said when asked about the recently concluded Chicago teachers' strike, taking a shot at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former White House Chief of Staff.
In 1999, Obama had an intriguing side comment on teacher unions:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Opinion on Government and the Economy

Previous posts have examined public opinion on economic policy and the role of governmentThe Pew Research Center finds that more voters still favor a smaller government with fewer services than a bigger government with more services. 
Currently, 56% say they would rather have a smaller government providing fewer services; 35% prefer a bigger government. These opinions have changed little over the course of Obama’s presidency. In October 2008, however, opinion was more evenly divided (46% smaller government vs. 40% bigger government).
Gallup finds something similar:
Americans say there is too much (47%) rather than too little (26%) government regulation of business and industry, with 24% saying the amount of regulation is about right. Americans have been most likely to say there is too much regulation of business over the last several years, but prior to 2006, Americans' views on the issue of government regulation of business were more mixed.

The collapse of Lehman Bros., the failure of the secondary mortgage market, and other business problems in 2008 and 2009 might have been expected to increase Americans' desire for more government control of business and industry. But that was not the case. Americans' views that there is too much government regulation in fact began to rise in 2009, perhaps in response to the new Obama administration and new business regulation policies such as Dodd-Frank, reaching an all-time high of 50% in 2011 before settling down slightly this year to 47%.
There has been little change since 2003 in the percentage of Americans saying there is too little regulation of business. The changes that have occurred in recent years have involved shifts between the percentages choosing the "too much" and "about right" alternatives.
The Reason-Rupe poll finds:
As the presidential candidates debate the role of government, the Reason-Rupe poll finds 55 percent of Americans believe the federal government has too much influence over their lives, 36 percent say the amount of influence is about right and just 7 percent say the government does not have enough influence.
Over two-thirds, 67 percent, of likely voters say it is not the government’s responsibility to reduce income differences between Americans, while 29 percent say it is the government’s responsibility. Similarly, 61 percent of likely voters tell Reason-Rupe that today’s levels of income inequality are an acceptable part of America’s economic system, 35 percent say income inequalities need to be fixed.

Today, 59 percent of voters believe all Americans have equal opportunities to succeed, whereas 39 percent do not believe everyone has equal opportunities.
When asked if they are better off than they were four years ago, 44 percent of likely voters feel they are better off, 41 percent say worse off.

A majority of Americans, 57 percent, support raising income tax rates on incomes over $250,000. However, the very same number—57 percent—says the top 5 percent of earners shouldn’t have to contribute more than 40 percent of the total federal income taxes paid to government. In 2009, the top 5 percent of earners contributed 59 percent of total federal income taxes paid.

Restrictions on Religion

In a recent report, the Pew Research Center documents a "rising tide of restrictions on religion" across the world. A sidebar in the report indicates even the United States is not immune:
During the period from mid-2009 to mid-2010, a number of the sources used in the study reported an increase in the number of incidents at the state and local level in which members of some religious groups faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. This included incidents in which individuals were prevented from wearing certain religious attire or symbols, including beards, in some judicial settings or in prisons, penitentiaries or other correctional facilities. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that it was pursuing a lawsuit in federal court against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and various California officials on behalf of a Sikh prison inmate who, in March 2010, had been ordered to trim his facial hair in violation of his religious beliefs. The Justice Department said the state’s inmate grooming policy “imposed a substantial burden” on the man’s ability to exercise his faith.2
Some religious groups in the U.S. also faced difficulties in obtaining zoning permits to build or expand houses of worship, religious schools or other religious institutions. For instance, in May 2010, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the Boulder County Commissioners had discriminated against the Rocky Mountain Christian Church by denying it permits to expand its school and worship facilities even though the commissioners had issued permits to a nearby secular school for a similar expansion.3 The appeals court agreed with the lower court that the commissioners’ actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which protects individuals and institutions from religious discrimination in land-use decisions and protects the religious rights of prisoners and other persons confined to institutions.4 The Justice Department — in a report marking the 10th anniversary of the passage of RLUIPA — noted that 31 of its 51 land-use investigations from 2000-2010 involved Christian groups; most of the remaining 20 investigations involved religious minorities, including Muslims (seven investigations), Jews (six), Buddhists (three) and Hindus (one).5

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oops!

Texas Tribune reporter Jay Root has written an excellent book about Rick Perry's disastrous presidential campaign.  It is full of wise observations about journalism and campaigning in the age of Twitter.


Checkers

Sixty years ago today, Senator Richard Nixon (R-CA) made a classic national television broadcast.  The Richard Nixon Foundation explains:
Sixty years ago, Richard Nixon was fighting for his political survival. The press accused of him of misusing a fund – which was created by his supporters to reimburse him for expenses – for personal benefit. In what would later become one of his favorite phrases, RN decided to “seize the moment” and combat the charges by taking his case directly to the American people. In an unprecedented release of personal finances, he diligently outlined his family’s personal expenses in great detail, denying any improprieties but refusing to give up one gift: his girls’ little Cocker Spaniel Checkers, which gave the speech its now-legendary moniker.
At The Atlantic, Lee Huebner explains why leading communication scholars ranked it among the top speeches of the century.
The "Checkers" speech wins this high rank for one stand-out reason: It marked the beginning of the television age in American politics. It also salvaged Nixon's career, plucking a last-second success from the jaws of abject humiliation, and profoundly shaped Nixon's personal and professional outlook, convincing him that television was a way to do an end-run around the press and the political "establishment."
Perhaps most interestingly, the address foreshadowed the emergence of a new conservative populism in America, emphasizing appeals to social and cultural "identity" rather than economic interests. The trend would ultimately end the domination of the New Deal Democratic coalition and create a base for Reagan Republicanism and its extended aftermath.
Here is a complete video of the speech:

 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Navy to World: Do Not Talk Like a Pirate

Wednesday, September 19, was "Talk Like a Pirate Day."  In observance of its very real anti-piracy operations, the US Navy had the most awesome Facebook post of the week:


The Vanishing Internet

If you have tried to do historical research online, you quickly trip across broken links.  The Internet Archive is one partial solution, but Rebecca J. Rosen writes in The Atlantic that it is not enough:
There is a well-known thrill that comes from watching -- nearly in real time -- as big news unfolds on Twitter. Millions upon millions of people pass information around, celebrate it, mourn it, and discuss it. How will this whole process look to historians of the future? Will they be able to recreate and understand what it was like?
The question goes beyond the archiving of the tweets themselves (something the Library of Congress has taken a lead on), though that matters too. But the tweets are only part of the story; where their links bring readers to also needs to be preserved, and that's not happening fast enough, according to a new study (pdf) from Hany M. SalahEldeen and Michael L. Nelson at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
They looked at some one million tweets from six historical events over the past three years (Iranian elections, Michael Jackson's death, the H1N1 outbreak, Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, the Egyptian revolution, and the recent Syrian uprising) and found that archiving is not keeping apace with the web's fast turnover -- as time progressed, the webpages linked to became increasingly unavailable. "We estimate that after a year from publishing about 11 percent of content shared in social media will be gone," they write. "After this point, we are losing roughly 0.02 percent of this content per day." [emphasis added]

An Overlooked Disaster

Our chapters on mass media and national security point out that American news organizations have drastically curtailed their international reporting staffs.  One result is that many events overseas -- even those involving Americans -- get only the most superficial coverage.  At The Atlantic, John Hudson writes:
The Taliban attack on an air base in southern Afghanistan on Friday [9/14] drew coverage for the way the insurgents cloaked themselves in U.S. army uniforms to gain a tactical advantage, but few have taken note of the historical proportions of the damage inflicted. John Gresham, at the Defense Media Network, has published a detailed account of the attack on Camp Bastion, in which two Marines were killed, six U.S. Marine Corps jet fighters were destroyed, and two more  "significantly" damaged. Those facts were all carried in most reports, but if that just sounds like a typical damage report from a decade-long war, you're wrong. Gresham explains the devastating damage done to VMA-211, the name of the Marine Corps attack squadron that was most affected last week, noting that it is "arguably the worst day in [U.S. Marine Corps] aviation history since the Tet Offensive of 1968." Or you could go back even further. "The last time VMA-211 was combat ineffective was in December 1941, when the squadron was wiped out during the 13-day defense of Wake Island against the Japanese."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Distrusting the Media

Previous posts have discussed the public's attitudes toward the mass media -- mostly negative.  Gallup reports:
Americans' distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004.

...
This year's decline in media trust is driven by independents and Republicans. The 31% and 26%, respectively, who express a great deal or fair amount of trust are record lows and are down significantly from last year. Republicans' level of trust this year is similar to what they expressed in the fall of 2008, implying that they are especially critical of election coverage.

...
On a broad level, Americans' high level of distrust in the media poses a challenge to democracy and to creating a fully engaged citizenry. Media sources must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans, the majority of whom see the media as biased one way or the other. At the same time, there is an opportunity for others outside the "mass media" to serve as information sources that Americans do trust.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bridget Mary McCormack

CNN reports on how a Michigan judicial candidate got a big-time boost from Hollywood and social media (and gave a lesson on election procedure):
Bridget Mary McCormack, whose sister Mary McCormack played deputy national security adviser Kate Harper on NBC's television series "The West Wing," is on the ballot this fall in Michigan as a nonpartisan candidate for the state's Supreme Court.

Her campaign "The Bridget Mary McCormack for Justice Campaign" has paid for a YouTube video that has the show's cast reprising their roles as West Wing problem solvers focusing on the thorny issue of the nonpartisan section of the ballot, and one particular cast member's sister who happens to be on it.
Hoping to boost November turnout for candidate McCormack and to drive general nonpartisan ballot voting awareness, the "West Wing" star and her former cast mates shot two versions of the four minute video which taps into several quintessential moments from the hit show. One version focuses strictly on promoting nonpartisan ballot awareness and the other also advocates for McCormack.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the campaign does not plan to air the video as a paid advertisement.

Declining WASP Power

For the first time in history, no member of a major-party ticket is a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). President Obama is African American and his opponent is Mormon.  Their running mates are Catholic.  At NPR, Alan Greenblatt writes:
There are plenty of white men with power in this country, but it's become harder to find a WASP holding onto one of the top rungs of the political ladder.
The State Department was once dominated by old-stock aristocrats but hasn't been led by a white man since 1997. Among the four top congressional leaders, only one is a WASP — Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who happens to be married to an Asian-American.
The Supreme Court, for the first time in its history, does not boast of a single justice who is Protestant. Instead, there are three Jews and six Catholics — one of them Hispanic, one of them black. And since the 2009 confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor, the court also includes three women justices for the first time ever.
"Not a single group can hold onto power in any particular institution going forward," says Guy-Uriel Charles, founding director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics. "This reflects the fact that we are much more of an open society than we were previously, but we are also a society that by the numbers is increasingly diverse."

The Incumbency Advantage

Even in tough economic times, incumbent presidents have certain political advantages. The New York Times reports:
Every president lives at the intersection of policy and politics, never more so than during a campaign season. Locked in a tight race with Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama and his team have been pulling every lever of the federal government within reach, announcing initiatives aimed at critical constituencies, dispatching cabinet secretaries to competitive areas, coordinating campaign events to match popular government actions and forestalling or even reversing other government decisions that could hurt the president’s chances of a second term.
On Friday, Mr. Obama will designate Chimney Rock in Colorado a national monument, preserving thousands of acres and aiding tourism in another swing state, a decision shared Wednesday with a Denver newspaper. When he flew to Iowa last month, Mr. Obama arrived just as his administration announced drought relief for farmers and released a report promoting his support for wind power. After critics attacked him for inhibiting oil and gas production by considering an obscure lizard for the endangered species list, the administration decided it wasn’t so endangered after all.
The Chimney Rock move comes 16 years after President Clinton did something similar during his own reelection race.  Carl Cannon reported on September 19, 1996:
Hoping to galvanize his support among conservation-minded voters, President Clinton yesterday declared 1.7 million picturesque acres of federal land in southern Utah a national monument.

"Seventy miles north of here lies some of the most remarkable land in the world," Clinton said, bathed in sunlight and framed by the spectacular South Rim of the Grand Canyon. "Today, we are keeping faith with the future."
...
The decision was denounced by Republican leaders, especially those in Utah, as an election-season stunt. They argued that the move was intended to shore up Clinton's support among environmentalists in Western states such as California, Colorado and even usually Republican Arizona.
Clinton carried California and Arizona, and came very close in Colorado. His gambit inspired a story on The West Wing:
BARTLET [to Josh] What have you got?
JOSH The Antiquities Act. You're gonna establish Big Sky National Park. 
Bartlet laughs at the idea.
JOSH Yeah.
BARTLET I can do this?
JOSH Yeah.
BARTLET You understand it's a bunch of rocks, right?
JOSH I'm sure someone with your encyclopedic knowledge of the ridiculous and dork-like will be able to find a tree or a ferret that the public has a right to visit. 
As was often the case, the show took liberties with the facts.  Under the law, presidents can designate national monuments, not national parks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Congress.gov

Another research resource has gone online.  The Washington Post reports:
If you have ever looked for legislation online, you’ve likely encountered the THOMAS database and, well, groaned.

The database, a vestige of Web 1.0 in many ways, went live in January 1995 with just three weeks between the time the database was requested by the 104th Congress and its launch.

But all of that changed Wednesday when the Library of Congress, in conjunction with the Senate, House of Representatives and Government Printing Office, announced the launch of Congress.gov.
Brendan Sasso writes at The Hill:
The site, which offers bill summaries, bill texts and vote tallies, will eventually replace THOMAS, Congress's current legislative database.
Congress.gov offers a host of improvements over the old service. The site is now accessible on mobile devices and features live and archived video of floor debates. The Library of Congress also cooperated with the House and Senate to provide profiles and biographical data of every member of Congress, along with information on all the bills they have introduced.
The new site features a dramatically overhauled search engine, which allows users to search across numerous years. THOMAS required users to specify a particular congressional session.

Search results are now sorted by relevance instead of bill number. Users can narrow the results by choosing to view measures only from particular parties, committees, years or other categories. 
It includes instructional videos.  Here is one:

TV News Archive

Thanks to the Internet Archive, the use of video for online research just took a big step forward. PC World reports:
Most people use the Internet Archive to find out what the Web once looked like.
But now the site has an additional function: TV News Search & Borrow, which stores a collection of 1000 national news shows with some 350,000 individual programs dating back to 2009. The site will continue to add new programs 24 hours after they air.
The new project is meant to “help the American voter to better be able to examine candidates and issues” before the November presidential election, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle told the New York Times. Fox, CBS, PBS, CNN, and other national news networks will be represented, as will local newscasts from stations in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Free Speech and the Anti-Muslim Video


At The Los Angeles Times, Sarah Chayes argues that the First Amendment does not protect the YouTube video that was the pretext for violence in the Mideast.  She writes:

While many 1st Amendment scholars defend the right of the filmmakers to produce this film, arguing that the ensuing violence was not sufficiently imminent, I spoke to several experts who said the trailer may well fall outside constitutional guarantees of free speech. "Based on my understanding of the events," 1st Amendment authority Anthony Lewis said in an interview Thursday, "I think this meets the imminence standard."

Lewis is neither a lawyer nor a constitutional scholar.  He is a former reporter whom Noam Chomsky described as at “the far left of the spectrum.”

Eugene Volokh, who actually is a First Amendment scholar, has a different view:
In recent days, I’ve heard various people calling for punishing the maker of Innocence of Muslims, and more broadly for suppressing such speech. During the Terry Jones planned Koran-burning controversy, I heard similar calls. Such expression leads to the deaths of people, including Americans. It worsens our relations with important foreign countries. It’s intended to stir up trouble. And it’s hardly high art, or thoughtful political arguments. It’s not like it’s Satanic Verses, or even South Park or Life of Brian. Why not shut it down, and punish those who engage in it (of course, while keeping Satanic Verses and the like protected)?
I think there are many reasons to resist such calls, but in this post I want to focus on one: I think such suppression would likely lead to more riots and more deaths, not less. Here’s why.
Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated. (Relatedly, “once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane.”) Say that the murders in Libya lead us to pass a law banning some kinds of speech that Muslims find offensive or blasphemous, or reinterpreting our First Amendment rules to make it possible to punish such speech under some existing law.
What then will extremist Muslims see? They killed several Americans (maybe itself a plus from their view). In exchange, they’ve gotten America to submit to their will. And on top of that, they’ve gotten back at blasphemers, and deter future blasphemy. A triple victory.
Would this (a) satisfy them that now America is trying to prevent blasphemy, so there’s no reason to kill over the next offensive incident, or (b) make them want more such victories? My money would be on (b).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Constitution Day 2012

On Sept. 17, 1787, a small cluster of American notables who had been meeting behind closed doors in Philadelphia went public with an audacious proposal. The plan, signed by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and 37 other leading statesmen, began as follows: "We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Of course, on Sept. 17, nothing had yet been ordained or established. The proposal was a mere piece of paper. But what happened over the ensuing year, in special elections held in every state, made the opening words flesh: We, the people of the United States, did in fact ordain and establish the Sept. 17 proposal.
This was big news on the world stage. Before the American Revolution, no regime in history — not ancient Athens, not republican Rome, not Florence nor the Swiss nor the Dutch nor the British — had ever successfully adopted a written constitution by special popular vote.
The people did not vote directly on the document itself.  Rather, they chose delegates to special ratifying conventions.  The National Archives provides more detail:
On September 17, 1787, a majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention approved the documents over which they had labored since May. After a farewell banquet, delegates swiftly returned to their homes to organize support, most for but some against the proposed charter. Before the Constitution could become the law of the land, it would have to withstand public scrutiny and debate. The document was "laid before the United States in Congress assembled" on September 20. For 2 days, September 26 and 27, Congress debated whether to censure the delegates to the Constitutional Convention for exceeding their authority by creating a new form of government instead of simply revising the Articles of Confederation. They decided to drop the matter. Instead, on September 28, Congress directed the state legislatures to call ratification conventions in each state. Article VII stipulated that nine states had to ratify the Constitution for it to go into effect.
Beyond the legal requirements for ratification, the state conventions fulfilled other purposes. The Constitution had been produced in strictest secrecy during the Philadelphia convention. The ratifying conventions served the necessary function of informing the public of the provisions of the proposed new government. They also served as forums for proponents and opponents to articulate their ideas before the citizenry. Significantly, state conventions, not Congress, were the agents of ratification. This approach insured that the Constitution's authority came from representatives of the people specifically elected for the purpose of approving or disapproving the charter, resulting in a more accurate reflection of the will of the electorate. Also, by bypassing debate in the state legislatures, the Constitution avoided disabling amendments that states, jealous of yielding authority to a national government, would likely have attached.
Over the weekend, I watched Seven Days in May for the nth time.  A nice bit of dialogue from Rod Serling's script:
President Jordan Lyman: I know what Scott's attitude on the treaty is, what's yours?
Colonel Martin "Jiggs" Casey: I agree with General Scott, sir. I think we're being played for suckers. I think it's really your business. Yours and the Senate. You did it, and they agreed so, well, I don't see how we in the military can question it. I mean we can question it, but we can't fight it. We shouldn't, anyway.
President Jordan Lyman: Jiggs, isn't it? Isn't that what they call you?
Colonel Martin "Jiggs" Casey: Yes sir.
President Jordan Lyman: So you, ah, you stand by the Constitution, Jiggs?
Colonel Martin "Jiggs" Casey: I never thought of it just like that, Mr. President, but, well, that's what we got and I guess it's worked pretty well so far. I sure don't want to be the one to say we ought to change it.
President Jordan Lyman: Neither do I.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Occupy, RIP

Previous posts have tracked the rise and fall of the "Occupy" movement. The Los Angeles Times offers an obituary of sorts:
On Monday, a year will have passed since activists took over the park near the symbolic heart of American capitalism, sparking a movement with offshoots in Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere around the world.
But the movement has yet to have a broad tangible effect, leaving some to wonder whether it will fizzle.
Polls have shown that the public generally supports Occupy's message but not its disruptive tactics. A majority of respondents in one poll this spring said the movement had run its course.
As the Occupy movement turns 1 year old, its primary target — Wall Street — keeps churning out scandals. Major banks have been caught rigging key interest rates, laundering money and taking risky bets that lose billions of dollars.
Yet the movement cannot claim any new policy, law or regulation as its own. Unlike the Tea Party on the political right, there is no cohesive Occupy group promoting candidates in November's national election.
"After the media effects wore off, a lot of politicians just figured out that these people weren't going to matter," said Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard who co-wrote a book about the Tea Party.
"Politicians pay attention to people who vote or who organize and spend money in elections," Skocpol said. "That's what Tea Party did and does, and that's what Occupy doesn't do. I don't think it matters very much anymore."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Fed and Grim Numbers

Our chapter on economic policy discusses the goals of the Federal Reserve.The New York Times reports:
When the Federal Reserve’s vice chairman said in a 1994 speech that the central bank “had a role in reducing unemployment,” colleagues were publicly dismissive. The very word “employment” did not appear in a policy statement until 2008. The Fed was focused on inflation, officials said time and again.
That era is over. The signs have been there for some time, but they are now unmistakable. Ben S. Bernanke, the Fed’s chairman, made clear on Thursday that job creation is its primary concern for the foreseeable future.
The remarkable transformation of the Fed’s priorities is partly a response to the grim reality that more than 20 million Americans cannot find full-time jobs. It is made easier by the fact that the Fed has been so successful in stabilizing inflation right around the 2 percent annual pace that officials consider most healthy.
But as circumstances have changed, so has the Fed itself. Under the leadership of Mr. Bernanke — with considerable prodding and support from a board almost entirely appointed by President Obama — the central bank has gradually concluded that it has a responsibility to act more forcefully, and, equally important, that it has the ability to spur job creation directly.
AP reports:
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped to the highest level in two months, although the figures were skewed in part by Hurricane Isaac.
Applications increased by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 382,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's up from 367,000 the previous week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased for the fourth straight week to 375,000.
Isaac made landfall as Category 1 hurricane on Aug. 28 in southeastern Louisiana and was later downgraded to a tropical storm. It disrupted work in nine states and boosted applications by roughly 9,000, Labor officials said.
Applications for unemployment benefits reflect the pace of layoffs.
...
Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said that after excluding the impact of the hurricane, applications are likely closer to 370,000. Still, the job market has shown little vigor this year.
Overall, the news is not good.  Bloomberg reports:
Industrial production in the U.S. unexpectedly fell in August by the most since March 2009, highlighting risks to the economic outlook a day after the Federal Reserve boosted record stimulus.
The 1.2 percent decrease at factories, mines and utilities followed a revised 0.5 percent gain in the prior month, figures from the Fed showed today. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 81 economists called for no change. Another report showed purchases cooled at retailers excluding auto dealers and gasoline service stations.
A global economic slowdown is restraining demand for U.S. exports, making it harder for companies like Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN) and Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) to expand sales. Manufacturers are also challenged by the prospect of budget cuts and tax increases set to take effect at the end of the year and consumer spending that’s hampered by 8 percent unemployment.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Social Media and the Mideast Crisis

Social media have played a central part in the unfolding crisis in the Mideast.  Politico reports:
The Internet tools of the Arab Spring have become the weapons of a new Arabian nightmare playing out at American diplomatic missions across North Africa and the Middle East.
Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that spread an obscure movie trailer depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad in offensive ways are facing a clamp-down from governments and even Internet companies in some cases.
Google-owned YouTube has blocked access to the video from inside Libya and Egypt. President Hamid Karzai has set up a firewall to prevent Afghans from viewing YouTube videos at all. And the U.S. Embassy in Cairo deleted its own tweets about the video after they became part of the political debate in the American presidential election.
The Atlantic reports:
American diplomat Larry Schwartz has gotten himself into some trouble this week. A senior public affairs officer at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Schwartz on Tuesday wrote a much-discussed memo stating that the embassy "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," as well as several defensive tweets, some of which he later deleted. For example: "This morning's condemnation (issued before protests began) still stands. As does condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy." Romney condemned the "apology," as he described it, and the White House quickly disavowed the memo.

State Department officials back in Washington, it turns out, had reviewed the memo and explicitly told Schwartz not to publish it, which he did anyway. "Frankly, people here did not understand it," a State Department official told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin. "The statement was just tone deaf. It didn't provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about 'continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'"

Tuesday's controversial tweets from the @USEmbassyCairo account, which Schwartz reportedly runs, were unusually provocative and political but otherwise generally consistent with the feed's noticeably conversational tone. American embassies across the globe have taken to Twitter over the last year or two, an impressive soft power outreach to citizens of foreign countries, but the Cairo feed has stood out. Other feeds, even when they tweet frequently, tend to take the staid tone of official diplomacy, tweeting press releases, quotes from U.S. officials, and relevant headlines. 
The Washington Post reports:
The White House asked YouTube on Tuesday to review an anti-Muslim film posted to the site that has been blamed for igniting the violent protests this week in the Middle East.
Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House has “reached out to YouTube to call the video to their attention and ask them to review whether it violates their terms of use.”

However, the video remained on the site as of Friday afternoon, and it is posted many other places on the Internet.
Messages to YouTube, and Google, which owns the site, were not immediately returned Friday. On Wednesday, a YouTube spokesperson said the video “is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Facebook and Turnout

Previous posts have discussed voter turnout and social media. Nature reports:
Just how much can activity on Facebook influence the real world? About 340,000 extra people turned out to vote in the 2010 US congressional elections because of a single election-day Facebook message, estimate researchers who ran an experiment involving 61 million users of the social network.
The study, published today in Nature1, is the first to demonstrate that the online world can affect a significant real-world behaviour on a large scale, say the researchers. But the closest Facebook friends exerted the most influence in getting users to the ballot box.
Some people think there is no way that the online world can have an effect on real life; others argue that social media is so influential that the Arab Spring was catalysed by networking sites, says James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study in collaboration with Facebook's data-science team.
“Our study shows that the truth is somewhere in between: online networks are powerful ... but it is those real-world ties that we have always had that are making a difference,” he says

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that in 2011, median household income declined, the poverty rate was not statistically different from the previous year and the percentage of people without health insurance coverage decreased.
Real median household income in the United States in 2011 was $50,054, a 1.5 percent decline from the 2010 median and the second consecutive annual drop.
The nation's official poverty rate in 2011 was 15.0 percent, with 46.2 million people in poverty. After three consecutive years of increases, neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the 2010 estimates.
The number of people without health insurance coverage declined from 50.0 million in 2010 to 48.6 million in 2011, as did the percentage without coverage - from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011.
These findings are contained in the report Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Surveillance

AP reports:
The Obama administration maintains it is unable to say how many times one of the government's most politically sensitive anti-terrorism surveillance programs — which is up for renewal this week on Capitol Hill — has inadvertently gathered intelligence about U.S. citizens.
In a briefing for reporters on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Tuesday that the program designed to monitor international communications by terrorist suspects has collected an extraordinary amount of valuable intelligence overseas about foreign terrorist suspects while simultaneously protecting civil liberties of Americans.
Originated by the George W. Bush administration, the program was publicly disclosed by The New York Times in 2005 and was restructured in 2008 to provide oversight by a secret federal court and with additional oversight from Congress.
Civil liberties groups and some members of Congress have expressed concern that the government may be reviewing the emails and phone calls of law-abiding Americans in the U.S. who are at the other end of communications with foreign terrorist suspects being monitored abroad.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Anti-Terrorism

Tomorrow is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Los Angeles Times reports on a unique way in which citizens are aiding the war on terror:
Working from a beige house at the end of a dirt road, Jeff Bardin switches on a laptop, boots up a program that obscures his location, and pecks in a passkey to an Internet forum run by an Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda.

Soon the screen displays battle flags and AK-47 rifles, plus palm-lined beaches to conjure up a martyr's paradise.

"I do believe we are in," says Bardin, a stout, 54-year-old computer security consultant.

Barefoot in his bedroom, Bardin pretends to be a 20-something Canadian who wants to train in a militant camp in Pakistan. With a few keystrokes, he begins uploading an Arabic-language manual for hand-to-hand combat to the site.

"You have to look and smell like them," he explains. "You have to contribute to the cause so there's trust built."

Bardin, a former Air Force linguist who is fluent in Arabic, is part of a loose network of citizen "hacktivists" who secretly spy on Al Qaeda and its allies. Using two dozen aliases, he has penetrated chat rooms, social networking accounts and other sites where extremists seek recruits and discuss sowing mayhem.

Over the last seven years, Bardin has given the FBI and U.S. military hundreds of phone numbers and other data that he found by hacking jihadist websites. A federal law enforcement official confirmed that Bardin and a handful of other computer-savvy citizens have provided helpful information.

At CBS, 60 Minutes interviewed a member of the SEAL team that killed bin Laden.  A clip:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Third Parties in 2012

Our chapter on political parties discusses the potentially pivotal role of third-party and independent candidates. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:
"The votes that Ralph Nader received in several states in 2000 would have been enough to give Al Gore an electoral college victory," said Adam Schiffer, a political science professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. "Had even one-fifth of Nader's voters voted for Gore instead, Florida would not have needed a recount."
Nader earlier this year said that third-party candidates play an important role in the electoral process.
"I think it's competition," he told MSNBC earlier this year. "I think it's new agendas, new ideas, that are supported by a large number by the American people.
"And I think, above all, it respects the voters by raising their expectation level," he said. "That's the history of small parties."
Texas billionaire Ross Perot, running as an independent, affected the 1992 presidential race -- which pitted then incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush and Democratic then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
Clinton won with nearly 45 million votes to Bush's more than 39 million votes. Perot picked up more than 19 million votes in that race.
"Many observers credit Ross Perot with tipping the 1992 election to Clinton, but the best scholarly analyses of polling data dispute that conclusion," Schiffer said.
What of 2012?  The New York Times reports:
There is one factor in the campaign that has yet to get much attention but could influence the outcome: third-party candidacies in many states, most notably that of former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee.
Mr. Johnson, who argued for free markets, fewer wars and the legalization of marijuana during his brief run for the 2012 Republican nomination, hardly shows up in polls. But he is on the ballot in more than three dozen states and is trying for more.
Mr. Johnson shares some of the cross-party appeal of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who complimented him publicly last week. Advisers said Mr. Johnson’s potential for cutting into Mr. Romney’s support was greatest in Florida, where Mr. Romney is basically tied with Mr. Obama, but could also have an impact in Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
They said Mr. Johnson’s potential to eat into Mr. Obama’s support was greatest in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin.
Republican officials have already tried to challenge Mr. Johnson’s place on the ballot or are trying to in states including Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Many of the challenges have failed — courts recently rejected efforts to throw him off the ballot in Virginia — and Roger Stone, a Republican Party veteran who is advising Mr. Johnson, said he was optimistic that Mr. Johnson would qualify in all 50 states.
The Republican Party of Virginia also failed in a bid last week to remove former Representative Virgil Goode from the presidential ballot there. He is the nominee for the Constitution Party and could draw disaffected Tea Party adherents away from the Republican Party.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dirty Politics, 1940

FDR recorded some of his White House conversations.  In August 1940, he spoke to aide Lowell Mellet about his campaign against Republican Wendell Willkie.  He raised the possibility of launching a whispering campaign about Willkie's illicit affair.  Democrats never executed the plan, in part because Willkie ran a generally clean campaign and in part because FDR had his own vulnerabilities on that subject.
FDR : Uh, Lowell, on this … ah … thing. I don’t know if you remember, we were talking about the story… and so forth and so on. There was a fellow once upon a time who was named Daugherty, and he helped to run Harding’s campaign against the Democrats. He was slick as hell. He went down through an agent to a Methodist minister in Marion, the town where Harding’s mother and grandmother came from. This friend of Daugherty’s got hold of the Methodist minister and told him the story about Harding’s mother having a Negro mother. In other words, Daugherty planted it on the Methodist minister, who was a Democrat, and showed him certain papers … that proved the case. The Methodist minister, who was a Democrat, got all upset and he started the story all over the place. The press took it up, and it was the most terrific boomerang against us .
Now I agree with you that there is… so far as the Old Man [presumably F.D.R. himself] goes, we can’t use it…. [Here the tape becomes momentarily—and maddeningly—unintelligible.]
[We can] spread it as a word-of-mouth thing, or by some people way, way down the line . We can’t have any of our principal speakers refer to it, but the people down the line can get it out [he rapped on his desk]. I mean the Congress speakers, and state speakers, and so forth. They can use the raw material…. Now, now , if they want to play dirty politics in the end, we’ve got our own people…. Now, you’d be amazed at how this story about the gal is spreading around the country….
MELLETT : It’s Out….
FDR : Awful nice gal, writes for the magazine and so forth and so on, a book reviewer. But nevertheless, there is the fact . And one very good way of bringing it out is by calling attention to the parallel in conversation…. Jimmy Walker, once upon a time, was living openly with this gal all over New York, including the house across the street from me…. She was an extremely attractive little tart…. Jimmy and his wife had separated—for all intents and purposes they had separated. And it came to my trial—before me was Jimmy Walker, nineteen hundred and thirty-two, and Jimmy goes and hires his former wife, for ten thousand dollars, to come up to Albany on a Saturday—Jimmy was a good Catholic and he hadn’t been to church in five whole years—and he paid his wife ten thousand dollars to go up there, to Albany, on a Friday afternoon, after my trial had finished for the week—we were to go on on Monday. Jimmy had never spent a Sunday in Albany in his life, but Mrs. Walker comes up to Albany, lives with him ostensibly in the same suite in the hotel, and on Sunday the two of them go to Mass at the Albany Cathedral together. Price? Ten thousand dollars ….
Now, now Mrs. Willkie may not have been hired , but in effect she’s been hired to return to Wendell and smile and make this campaign with him. Now, whether there was a money price behind it, I don’t know , but it’s the same idea….
FDR's overt campaign was rough enough.  Here is what he said in Brooklyn on November 1, 1940:
Something evil is happening in this country when a full page advertisement against this Administration, paid for by Republican supporters, appears—where, of all places?— in the Daily Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party.
Something evil is happening in this country when vast quantities of Republican campaign literature are distributed by organizations that make no secret of their admiration for the dictatorship form of government.
Those forces hate democracy and Christianity as two phases of the same civilization. They oppose democracy because it is Christian. They oppose Christianity because it preaches democracy.