Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obama vs. Romney 3 - the grades

Our political communications professor, Allan Louden of Wake Forest University, is back with his students to break down and grade the final presidential debate. 

Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, graded speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. His analysis was one of our most popular features at the O during the 2008 election, and this year, he's added a student perspective.

First, here's Louden:
It has been several hours since the third presidential debate from Boca Raton, Fla. - another late night, as it was for those watching baseball or the NFL, likely larger audiences. Many sports fans and political junkies may still be sleeping, a state of consciousness not markedly different than watching the debate last night.

observed the debate with 80 Wake Forest University alumni in Washington, a sedate crowd most any time, their response, fitting to the debate, was at best tepid. Following the debate I queried the gathering for an instance of something new learned from the debate“ roundly greeted by blank stares.

I’m not sure if the baseball or NFL football game were dominated by defense, but the presidential debate sure was, the campaigns in “replay” mode, opting for the safe ground of voter reinforcement not conversion.

There was one exchange in the debate that did rile the assembled. President Obama in an exchange on defense spending lectured Romney: you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — (laughter) — because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
The exchange may puzzle fact checkers as we still do have bayonets (and a few horses) in the army, but it also serves as a container for the debate. Romney branded the president with softness, and Obama lectured his opponent of how the world looked from the presidential pedestal.

Obama was overall presidential, helping his case, but scolding Romney that submarines exist had unflattering, mocking quality.

Voters were not the winner in this debate. The first two presidential debates had moments of insight with occasional new ground uncovered. This debate was more a compilation of greatest hits from TV spots, stump speeches, and practiced town halls.

Third debates seldom have staying power. The exchange from Lynn College in Florida will prove the rule. The news tomorrow, barring an international incident, will be who has the buses loaded on the way to early voting (or who has the bases loaded in the World Series).

Grades: Obama C+, Romney C+


April Walsh: I felt President Obama was stronger than he appeared in the past two debates. Even so, he spent a great deal of the debate on the defensive. Romney reined back his aggressive style. This debate was less theatrical than the past two. Based on the change in tone the viewer would assume that the candidates would talk more about the direct issues at hand. However, both Obama and Romney managed to cater the questions to their own agendas. The foreign policy debate quickly became about domestic issues.

Sam Swank: I agreed with April to the extent that Romney was less hostile this time around whereas Obama increased his aggressive demeanor. Obama gave Romney many opportunities to verbally brawl but Romney maintained his defensive stance.  I felt like Romney could do this because he had proven he could be the aggressor and show flare. Tactfully, Romney came out on top.

The power of social media and its influence on the youth of America is eye opening. Throughout the debates, more and more college students were tweeting their thoughts about each candidate. The top trending term on Twitter the morning after is #debate. Students were tweeting about everything from the candidates’ facial expressions, word choice and policy basics. 

The consensus seemed to be that viewers were disappointed that this debate wasn’t as entertaining as the past two. Facebook statuses were also extremely popular. My generation has chosen to share its political views in very personal settings. Most of the statuses were humorous but also endorsed a particular candidate. The power of this is that students are looking at what their friends are posting on Facebook or Twitter and being influenced by their opinions. Students who aren’t actively watching the debate or learning about each candidate’s platform are now making their decisions based on what funny hand gesture Romney made or a tweet that emphasizes “#NObama.”

Delon Lowe: I felt like President Obama, having firsthand experience in dealing with foreign exchanges came off more aggressive. Romney, however still managed to come off as Presidential with his dialed back demeanor. The two candidates pretty much stalemated each other with these debates. Both candidates pretty much rallied their bases for a bit and worried their base. 

Grades: Obama B, Romney B.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Biden vs. Ryan - the grades

Welcome back to our political communications professor Allan Louden of Wake Forest University, along with his students, who are here to break down last night's vice presidential debate. 

Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, graded speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. His analysis was one of our most popular features at the O during the 2008 election, and this year, he's added a student perspective.

So how did Joe Biden and Paul Ryan do? Louden goes first, followed by his students, followed by their final grades. 


The 90 minutes of  “political enlightenment” emanating from Kentucky was a distinctly unpleasant experience; having that uncomfortable feeling of witnessing friends bicker, showing disregard. Vice Presidential debates have the power to overshadow the main events, as when Cheney and Lieberman met on the same stage in 2000, or Benson evoked Kennedy in Omaha. This debate felt like the warm-up act, uplifting Obama and Romney as heads of the ticket.

So what happened? Who won?

The debate likely will be remembered as largely a draw, each candidate resonating with their base, each confirming voter’s shared sense of persona, each having moments, but also disappointment; all within a very short media cycle

It could be credibly observed that debate winner and the debate loser was the same person, Joe Biden. Biden animated enough to perhaps stem the campaign drift, but he embarrassed with paltriness seemingly unfit to his office. He was more aggressive, often interrupting, animated to the point of crossing from impolite to insolent. He split his time between sounding knowledgeable and disgorging political claptrap. He flexed from calm reason to scolding father.

Ryan did not lose, holding the line, raising doubts, all without gaffes; crossing some threshold. But neither did he win, sounding too often the exponent of partisan frames, competent but not fresh. It is possible to get bored midstream in an answer, even as it demonstrates the source’s knowledge. Ryan remained wonkish even when wrapped in personal stories. He stood his ground, but seldom surged to a memorable tenor.

In most debates there are flashes when we’re rivited, when we forget our self-awareness that we are watching the debate. In this debate I was ever mindful of being an observer.

The students:

Lillis Hendrickson on the candidate’s response to the opening question on Libya:

The beginning of the vice presidential debate opened with a discussion on the death of ambassador Chris Stephen in Benghazi, Libya and the “massive intelligence failure” that it represented on the part of the United States. Biden began by asserting that the government is currently working to figure out who planned this attack and why, which he said is much more than Governor Romney’s action of “holding press conferences.” 

Ryan came back with an attack on defense cuts, drawing incredulous smiles and headshakes from Biden,  who dubbed Ryan’s assertions “a bunch of malarkey,” citing evidence of the end of the War on Iraq during Obama’s administration and the upcoming withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014.

Ryan tried to downplay his support of defense by reducing his position to that of “peace, democracy, and individual rights.” That sounds like something I’d be on board with, but it was undercut by his qualification that under Romney, troops in Afghanistan would be beginning their exodus in 2014. 

Overall, the candidates stuck to the question at hand, and answered each other on a fairly point-to-point basis.

Brandon Ng on the discussion of Iran and Foreign Policy:

As soon as moderator Martha Raddatz introduced the topic of Iran into the debate, both Ryan and Biden came out swinging. On the issue of preventing Iran from amassing and constructing weapons of mass destruction, Ryan immediately questioned Obama’s “watered down sanctions” on Iran and claimed they were closer to possessing nuclear weapons because of Obama’s policies. He worked very hard to discredit Obama’s foreign policy by hammering the point that Obama has not protected Americans who are overseas, and allowed Iran to gain grounds on producing nuclear weapons.

However, Biden literally laughed off Ryan’s claims and aggressively and decisively maintained that the Obama government has not, and will not, allow Iran to posses nuclear weapons. While both candidates have been aggressive all evening, Biden’s passion was bursting from the seams, and his voice overpowered Ryan’s. He was comical and seems to be more at ease than his counterpart, Paul Ryan. While both represented their sides well, I give Joe Biden the unanimous decision over Paul Ryan.

And bringing it back to domestic policy, April Walsh responds to the candidates handling of Medicare and Social Security: 

The Medicare/ Social Security issue remains a hot topic. Paul Ryan attempted to show how the Obama Care board will not only be a waste of time and money, but also energy and human lives. Ryan claimed that the qualifications for the board don’t even include past medical training. To further persuade the audience, Ryan claimed that money for Obama Care is taken from Medicare and will continue to do so each year. The fact checkers must be going crazy. 

Joe Biden retaliated by stating that Republicans don’t even like Medicare. Biden continually tried to turn the discussion to a matter of trust. Who do we trust to take care of our health: Romney’s voucher or Obama’s board?

Undoubtedly, the strongest responses from the room were after Vice President Biden’s use of the word, “malarkey,” and his statement to Mr. Ryan, “Oh, so you’re Jack Kennedy now?” The tone reflected a curious mix of disbelief and humor in the tone Biden used toward his opponent. The constant smiles and chuckling created a rather peculiar mix of policy and heckling at times, but at the end of the 90 minutes, both candidates crafted strong points and held their ground. 

Perhaps the strongest moments of the debate were at the end, when Martha Raddatz questioned the candidates about their religious beliefs, and finally, after one 90 minute presidential debate, and another 83 minutes of the vice presidential debate, women’s issues were finally approached. The stage has been set for the second and third debates now, with Biden creating momentum for the president after his dismally quiet performance last week, and new issues have been introduced that will undoubtedly be addressed in the next two weeks.


Vice President Biden: A-
Congressman Ryan: B+

Contributors: April Walsh, Brandon Ng, Lillis Hendrickson, Jessica Pic, Dr. Allan Louden.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Obama vs. Romney - the grades

We're happy to welcome back political communications professor Allan Louden of Wake Forest University, along with his students, to break down last night's debate. 

Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, graded speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. On Wednesday, he and his students took a slightly different approach to the first 2012 presidential debate.

Their analysis, from Louden, along with a grade:

Read more here: http://obsdailyviews.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-professor-is-back-grading-dnc.html#storylink=cpy

Watching a debate in a room of 150 students, each responding in real time with instant polling, is an illuminating experience. Viewing in the collective often tells you when the “Ah Ha” moment happens, that clip which scripts the next day’s news. That moment never happened. 

Why? It could be because, unlike the “debates” we have become accustomed to, the audience
witnessed an actual debate. There was clash, evidence, and reasons. Amazing, a debate that focused, had genuine exchange, and its preponderance was substance. 

It appears that when presented with argument audiences actually reach conclusions that reflect what happened, not their preconception or partiality. 

Following national trends reported in post-debate coverage, the students entered the debate narrowly approving Obama, but were comfortable in judging that Romney won the debate. Students, clickers in hand, recorded:

Who do you favor going into the debate: Obama 57%, Romney 43%
Who did a better job in the debate: Obama 44%, Romney 56%

Students rallied when answers suited their interests (Who do you trust more to do the right thing for public education? 70% Obama–30%. Romney) yet also rated Romney higher on other questions. The evaluation, a mixed bag, seemingly reflected what transpired on the stage. 

More than half viewed Romney more favorably after the debate, but a vast majority said they were unlikely to change their votes in the election. They found Romney more aggressive but also his tone was appropriate. 

Who won? 

The big winner was the students' (and by inference voters') rationality, demonstrating they understood reasons, and resolved arguments based on the exchange. The other winner was the format, which solicited on point comparisons, rewarded specificity, exposing over-claims that populate press and advertising.

Concerning which candidate won or lost, however, the majority of students favored Romney’s debating. They believe that the GOP candidate succeeded in controlling the terms and framing of the economy debate. Students were oft to applaud Romney’s ability to answer on-point Obama’s objections to his platform, specifically his ability to root out individual arguments while navigating the narrow time limits of the debate format.

“716 billion dollars cut from Medicare…50% of doctors won’t take any more Medicare patients…Obamacare will cost middle class families $2,500 more a year,” Junior Communications major Ryan Heuler recounted from the debate. “Romney had a list of attacks on the president about his policies while providing statistical evidence as well as projections about every topic. He made it very clear that the point he wanted to get across to the people was that Obama’s policies have clearly failed us and there is no evidence that proves him otherwise.”

Even the most ardent Obama supporters were caught off guard by Romney’s success at navigating the format. Taylor Harvey, Senior Political Science major, described Obama’s performance as ‘lackluster.’ He observed, “Throughout the debate, Obama often declined to address Romney’s attacks, instead choosing to go into great detail on the policy proposals he has promoted over his first four years. This approach came across as laborious and professorial, two traits many political commentators emphasized the president needed to avoid to have a successful debate.”

Within their assessment of Romney’s ability to control the flow of the debate, many students commented on the wide disparity in speaking styles between the two candidates, with most favoring Romney’s more aggressive approach. For many, Romney’s hard-nosed approach had Obama reeling early, putting him on the defensive for a large portion of the debate.

“From start to finish Governor Romney was the clear aggressor, and I think that was of great benefit to him. If Romney can continue to have this success, independent and undecided voters will without a doubt lean to Romney,” Ryan Bauder, Sophomore History major observed. “Romney also managed to thwart critics on whether he would be able to connect with viewers and if he would be viewed as presidential. After this evening’s debate there is no question he answered these with a resounding yes.”

Within that vein, many students walked out of the debate wishing for something more from Obama. “It was surprising that Obama had very little star quality since his performances are consistently exceptional,” April Walsh, Junior English major, commented. “After a powerful speech about moving the nation forward at the DNC, it seemed as though all Obama did during the debate was take a step backward. Even though he was polished and well mannered, it was very transparent that the president was easily irritable.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether this strategy is sustainable throughout the course of the debates. While the students favored Romney’s debating overall, they recognized some holes in various policy explanations and hope to get a better sense of Romney’s overall platform before making any final judgment about the two candidates.

Romney – A-
Obama – B+

The first debate - our reaction

What did the O's editorial board think of Wednesday night's debate? Our early takes: 

Taylor Batten:

Democrat James Carville summed up Wednesday night's presidential debate best: Mitt Romney looked like he wanted to be there. Obama didn't.

Each candidate scored points on specific topics, but Romney's approach was more effective. He aggressively took the fight to Obama without coming off as snide or petulant. Obama, meanwhile, was sharp at times but in what was probably an effort to appear above the fray, he mostly was listless at worst or professorial at best.

Romney came in needing to win, and Obama came in needing not to lose, and that is precisely how each approached the debate.

Obama fumbled a huge opportunity by never mentioning Romney's "47 percent" comments. Those remarks at a Florida fundraiser in May had hurt the Republican, his own pollsters have said, and Obama could have connected with undecided voters by portraying Romney as a super-wealthy businessman who has written off half the country.

Instead, Obama came off as defensive, nipping at Romney on policy specifics while spending too little time convincing voters that he is the man to turn the economy around going forward.

Moderator Jim Lehrer had little control of the debate. Oddly enough, though, that may have made the event more substantive and interesting. It let the candidates go at it instead of being reined in by a more rigid format.

Some notable moments from the debate:

-- Neither was convincing that he could tackle the nation's budget deficit. Romney said he would name specifics, then came up only with cutting (miniscule) funding for PBS and repealing Obamacare (which the nonpartisan CBO says would add to the deficit). Obama, meanwhile,
applauded the Bowles-Simpson plan -- the very plan he ignored at its key moment. Obama did score a point when he reminded viewers that Romney said he would reject a deal that included $1 in tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts.

-- Obama won on Medicare. He effectively raised doubts about Romney's voucher plan, while Romney hammered Obama on cutting $716 billion from Medicare -- the same $716 billion his running mate, Paul Ryan, wants to cut.

A barb from Romney that might work: Obama supports "trickle-down government." A line from Romney that won't work: "I like coal."

At times, the candidates said the opposite of what you would expect. Who do you think said these things?

-- "I'm not looking to cut massive taxes and reduce money going to government. ... I will not reduce the share paid by high-income Americans." -- Romney, not Obama

-- "Regulation is essential." -- Romney, not Obama

-- "The genius of America is the free enterprise system." Obama, not Romney

The bottom line: Extreme partisans won't budge from their guy, but the handful of voters who can still be persuaded are probably leaning toward Romney after Wednesday night.

Fannie Flono: 

Maybe President Barack Obama was distracted Wednesday. After all, he and wife Michelle were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Or maybe his team decided the best possible debate strategy was to act "presidential" and stay above the fray. Or maybe he just didn't want to come across as the angry black man. Whatever the reason, Obama appeared lethargic at times and too reticent in the first presidential debate - although at points he seemed to rein himself him from
challenging Romney. So maybe it was a strategy - a bad one, if so.

Republican Mitt Romney, on the other hand, was like a bulldog, making his case boldly and putting Obama on the defensive quite effectively. Romney won the debate, and with the race tight in the polls, he's given himself a wedge to manage and overcome campaign missteps that have been persistently gnawing at him. He should be happy with his performance though he'll face challenges from fact checkers about several of his assertions and his shifting positions.

Obama though lost this debate as much as Romney won it. He made his best showing in defending Obamacare - effectively pointing out that is was pretty much a clone of Romneycare in Massachusetts and that hasn't turned into the job killer and costly boondoggle Romney says Obamacare will turn into. But he missed opportunities to go on the offensive against Romney. There was no mention of Romney's infamous "47 percent" gaffe, immigration or other issues Romney was vulnerable on.

Romney came off as more confident, energetic and aggressive. The debate itself got pretty dense with a lot of detailed information being thrown around. Some of it was lost on the average viewer who
hasn't been following the race and knew little about each candidate's proposals. The debate wasn't managed very well by moderator Jim Lehrer but that might have been the format's problem. He was frequently run over by candidates ignoring him. In any case both candidates are probably looking forward to the next debate. Obama for redemption, Romney to gain more ground with another win.

Peter St. Onge:

This wasn't the 47 percent guy, stumbling from one gaffe into another. It wasn't the candidate who made independents uneasy by giving himself up to the extremes of his party. The Mitt Romney that debated Wednesday night was the nominee moderates in each party hoped for long ago. He won the debate in a rout.

From the start, Romney sought to calm voters who may have grown uncomfortable with him. He told middle-income Americans more than once that they would not bear the pain of his tax plan, declaring plainly: "I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle income families."

Alternately, he was piercing, but pleasantly so, when explaining to those voters why they might be disappointed in the man they voted for in 2008. He reminded viewers of the promises Obama hadn't kept on insurance costs and the debt - and when Obama objected, Romney said: "But you've been president for four years, you've been president for four years." It was a line, delivered almost plaintively, that tapped into the frustration Americans feel with a stagnant economy.

Obama, meanwhile, was listless - more professorial than passionate. In the two biggest moments of this election - his DNC speech and this debate - he's been flat. His strongest moment: telling viewers that Romney had made several fine promises during the evening but wasn't backing them up with details. It was a theme Obama could've returned to several times, but didn't. And inexplicably, he didn't remind voters that only one candidate on the stage said that 47 percent of the country didn't take personal responsibility for their lives.

Romney took full advantage. Presidential challengers get an immediate bump from the first debate. Put Mitt Romney on the stage with the president in Denver, and he is momentarily not the guy who trails in battleground states, not the guy whose campaign was already getting postmortems from members of his own party. He is one of two candidates who could be president next January.

It was Romney's job to take advantage of that Wednesday. He did so and more. He was sure-footed, appropriately optimistic about his country, willing to express policy in big picture frames that resonate with voters. In doing all of that, he not only won the debate Americans care about more - domestic policy - but presented himself to doubters as a legitimate choice. A reasonable choice.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

N.C. early voting? Advantage to Republicans

It's not just the presidential candidates debating tonight. In North Carolina, gubernatorial candidates Pat McCrory and Walter Dalton square off in Durham at 7 p.m. Watch it on public TV stations in your area as well as WCNC and WSOC in Charlotte. It will be rebroadcast an hour later on Time Warner Cable's News 14.

Before you watch, take a gander at the Civitas Institute's information on early voting. In person early voting doesn't start until Oct. 18 so we're talking absentee ballots and military voting. Even so, McCrory, the Republican, has a commanding lead in the polls over Dalton, the Democrat, and the early voting trends seem to bolster that lead. More than 10,000 Republicans had voted as of Oct. 1 - that's nearly double the 5,600 Dems who've voted. A little over 3,600 unaffiliated people had voted. Nearly 20,000 total have voted.

Whites way outnumbered blacks in voting early - 17,412 vs. 1,533. Females edged men at 11,028 vs. 8,550. And Mecklenburg County leads in early voting with 2,402. Guilford County is next with 1,371. Forsyth and Wake were next.

Civitas compared those results to 34 days before the election in 2008, and it shows a big increase in total voting: It was  a little over 12,000 four years ago. Republicans still outnumbered Dems but not by as much - 7,059 to 3,417. Females still outnumbered males but by a much slimmer margin: 6,974 to 5,202. And whites still swamped blacks - 10,996 to 864.

Early balloting so far has already topped President Barack Obama's vote margin win North Carolina in 2008, with Republicans predominating. Pundits say the GOP learned a lesson from four years ago when registered Democrats reportedly made up nearly half the early votes cast (that's including in-person, one-stop early voting) and Republicans made up just a third.

In person early voting ends Nov. 3, and it will be interesting to see what the final result is this time.

- Posted by Fannie Flono

Meet Mitt's garbage man and garbage woman

With the presidential debates only hours away, both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are no doubt in fast and furious last minute preparations. But surrogates and supporters are fighting it out on a stage that might have more clout - online and TV ads.

The labor union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has unveiled three Web spots tacitly supporting Obama that are creating a stir. They take advantage of Romney's controversial videotaped comment about the "47 percent " - Americans he said he didn't need to care about because they were dependent on the government and preferred to stay that way.

Two of the ads focus on sanitation workers - one a black man, the other a white woman - who say they picked up garbage on Romney's street. The other is a Latino man who repairs fire trucks. All take issue with Romney's positions.

The spots begin, "Meet Richard Hayes," "Meet Temo Fuentes," "Meet Joan Raymond." The ending tagline on each is "Meet the people who make America happen. Mitt Romney doesn't care about them."
- Posted by Fannie Flono

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A temporary loss for voter ID

A Pennsylvania judge has blocked a key part of the state's voter ID law until after the 2012 election, allowing voters to cast a ballot on Nov. 6 even if they don't have photo identification. The decision is a loss for Republicans in the state who saw the law helping Mitt Romney by disenfranchising black and elderly voters. But it's not quite a victory for Democrats. 

Judge Robert Simpson, who initially upheld the voter ID law earlier this year, changed his mind after being nudged last month by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reconsider. The justices weren't satisfied that the new law would provide alternative forms of identification to voters who didn't have an ID. Simpson agreed Tuesday, ruling that voters wouldn't have enough access to IDs by November. 

Simpson didn't invalidate the voter ID law, however, in fact allowing election workers to ask for an ID at voting sites. (Voters who don't have one will still be allowed to vote without having to cast a provisional ballot.) By not rejecting the law, Simpson is telling state officials that they need to come up with a way to get IDs in the hands of those who don't have them. That's essentially what federal and state judges have ruled in cases recently in Texas and Wisconsin.

As we said an editorial, the key is fairness. Lawmakers would have more credibility if their bills and laws addressed areas where fraud occurred more often, such as voter registration. But at the least, they should make sure legislation helps voters meet ID requirements by allowing alternative forms of identification such as utility bills and student IDs. If the idea is really to protect the vote, not exclude people from it, that's the appropriate route to take. 

Peter St. Onge


What's your voting dealbreaker?

Is there one issue, above all others, that a candidate has to satisfy before getting your vote? Interesting discussion revolving around a column from The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, a progressive who proclaims that he's not voting for President Barack Obama, as he did in 2008.

Actually, he says it in stronger terms. In Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama, Friedersdorf says:

Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn't "precise" or "surgical" as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. 
Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama's kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did.  

Friedersdorf isn't voting Republican, either, by the way. But for him, the drone policy is too much to ignore. It's an absolutism that seems uncommon, but is it? Most of us have issues dearer to us than others - abortion, immigration and gay rights are among those we hear about often from readers. But for election years in which the economy is a primary concern, those issues tend to become more supplementary.

Some commenters said in response to Friedersdorf that having dealbreakers in a two-party system is irrational. I'd say "impractical" is the better word. Voting, for most, seems not to be an exercise of eliminating candidates issue by issue. It's choosing the person who would most often make the decisions you feel are correct, with a thumb on the scale for issues you feel are more critical. And those can change, too. If you're a fiscal conservative and social progressive, the former probably carries more weight this election than others.  

Or, maybe not. Friedersdorf says we're less utilitarian than we think - that if President Obama were caught on tape uttering anti-Mexican slurs, or if Mitt Romney were to utter a racial slur at Wednesday's debate,  many of their supporters would consider it a dealbreaker. But standing behind that voting touchscreen, making a choice no one will see, I wonder if even then, pragmatism might win out over principle.

Disagree? What's your dealbreaker?    

Peter St. Onge  


Monday, October 1, 2012

Why one newspaper changed its death penalty position

The Sacramento Bee has supported the death penalty since the paper's founding more than 150 years ago. But last month it reversed that position.

Californians will vote in November on whether to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole. In researching Proposition 34, The Bee's editorial board decided the state's death penalty system was irreparably broken. The paper ran a weeklong series examining the unequal application of capital punishment, the lack of evidence that it has a deterrent effect, Texas's record in carrying out the death penalty and why a switch to life without parole would be a better approach. The series, at www.sacbee.com/deathpenalty, elicited a large reader response.

North Carolina has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty for several years now, but it is still on the books.

The Observer's editorial board has long opposed the death penalty. We believe it is more expensive even than life without parole. More importantly, we believe it is morally wrong for the government to kill people, the application of the death penalty is unfair and inconsistent, and the horror of the possibility of executing an innocent person outweighs any benefit.

-- Taylor Batten

Obama, Romney deadlocked in North Carolina

The day before Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Charlotte and Asheville and two days before what could be a crucial debate, a new poll shows Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are dead even in North Carolina, 48 percent to 48 percent.

The poll from Public Policy Polling shows Romney with a 54-36 lead among independents, a lead he'll likely need to maintain to win the state. PPP says that in 26 polls dating back to November 2010, Obama and Romney have been within three points of each other 25 times. This poll was conducted Sept. 27 to Sept. 30.

Another pollster, Rasmussen Reports, has consistently had Romney with a small but certain lead in North Carolina. A Rasmussen poll from Sept. 13 had Romney up 51-45. But the RealClearPolitics average of polls over the past month puts Obama up 48-47.

A loss in North Carolina would be devastating to Romney's hopes. Fewer than 10 states are truly in play, and Romney needs most of them to win, current polls suggest.

The PPP poll suggests there are very few undecided voters and the outcome will hinge on which side is more motivated. Obama needs black voters and young voters to turn out the way they did in 2008. Romney needs independents to turn out and break his way. The PPP poll found that 69 percent of Democrats say they are "very excited" about voting, compared with 58 percent of Republicans. Slightly more people disapprove than approve of both Obama and Romney, the poll showed.

UPDATE: Another poll out today shows Romney with a slight edge, 50-46. The poll by American Research Group was conducted with 600 likely voters Friday through Sunday. Its sampling error was plus or minus four percentage points.

-- Taylor Batten