Friday, August 29, 2008

The Stadium Speech

Helluva speech delivered by Obama. I'm not a huge fan, but he did well. But I couldn't get over this observation: we may elect a motivational speaker as president.

That image of him on the stage, surrounded by two huge screens, the columns, the plants, the whole thing smacking of a motivational speaker. I could not get around that. Maybe it's just me.

I usually post political knowledge stuff but it's the silly season, so I'll have a go at McCain when he gets rolling in the GOP convention. My VP prediction for later today: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. It's the kind of quirky thing you'd expect of McCain, plus she's a woman (drawing the Hillary crowd? seems doubtful), has a compelling personal story (especially about her kid), is a social conservative (helping McCain with those folks). Anyway, she's my dark horse pick. We'll know in about three hours how wrong I was.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Knowing Obama

Tonight is Barack Obama's big speech, his night to shine, his (as some GOP wags call it) Temple of Doom. Temple? We've got 75,000 people in a football stadium, we've got Greek columns, we've got the Temple to Obama (yet another GOP line, the Republicans are having some fun with this). The Obama camp is busy today downplaying his speech, lowering expectations, spinning it down up until the point it's over and they spin it back up again. Gotta be disorienting.

The speech will go a ways toward solidifying who Obama is in the minds of many voters, or at least the ones who tune in tonight. What people know will be influenced not only by how well he does, but how well the pundits say he did.

And then it starts all over again, this time with John McCain.

How much do these speeches define the candidates in the American mind? Not all that much, not for the undecided, but energizing the base is a big deal too.
When the polls come out we'll know a bit more.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Madonna, McCain, and ... Hitler?

Madonna is catching criticism for her concert footage that (I'm told) compares John McCain to Hitler and Robert Mugabe. The comparison is "outrageous, unacceptable and crudely divisive all at the same time," says the McCain campaign.

You bet.

I qualified my first graf with the "I'm told" because I looked at the YouTube video and see the comparisons but I also see flashes of other famous people, positive and negative. But hell, everyone loves a controversy.

You can watch the video yourself. See below. The music? Dull.

This is just a blip on the campaign spew, over in an hour, forgotten, with no real effect on what people know about the campaign. But I couldn't resist.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Joe Who?

Fifty-three percent of Democrats don't have enough of an opinion about VPstakes winner Joe Biden to have an opinion about the long-serving U.S. senator, according to one poll. Another poll of Americans has 23 percent who say they've never heard of him and another 28 percent don't have an opinion.

Joe Who?

Obviously anyone who has watched politics and policy closely know who Biden is, and to be honest it's not even Labor Day yet, so a huge chunk of Americans have other things to worry about -- like the cost of gas or kids starting school. Joe Who? is a perfectly reasonable response by many.

McCain's up next. Mitt Who?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Informed vs Feeling Informed

I've always been fascinated by the tension between being informed and feeling informed. In other words, lots of people think they're politically informed when, by most objective standards, they're not.

In psychology you'll find concepts like tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon or feeling of knowing. These are kinda cool but they don't really apply to political knowledge, except maybe in rare cases. They are often situations where you know an answer but can't quite dig it out of your brain and provide it (yeah, getting older here, see this more often).

Self efficacy or, from the political science folks, internal efficacy, do a better job of capturing what I mean. Broadly speaking, these have to do with a sense of competence. Do I feel adequate in keeping up with the complexities of public affairs and politics.

Most people say, yeah. But a lot don't.

Since 1948 there's been a slow, slight decline in how people answer whether politics is too complicated for them. About of third of U.S. voters now agree it's too complicated.

But I've never been happy with internal efficacy as a measure of perceived knowledge. Related concepts, but distinct. Or at least I think so. I've used internal efficacy in my own research as a surrogate of perceived knowledge, which to me is more particular, more specific, getting at an estimate of how much information one has about a candidate or campaign or the political world at large. Internal efficacy is broader, more about one's overall capacity to make sense of the world. I might have low perceived knowledge on something, but I could be damn confident in my efficacy at finding stuff out and becoming informed.

An Aside: yes, this is getting kinda PhDweebish and doesn't' have anything to do with McCain, Obama, or who they choose as vice presidents. Like everyone else I'm waiting to hear the news, though it almost never matters who the VP is in the long run.

OK, Hollander, but so what? If people feel informed, if they sense they are adequately informed, then they will be less likely to attend to the news, to the media, to new information. They're full. And certain media can create this sense of being full, kinda like empty calories from a soft drink, and not eat their veggies (i.e., news). That's the consequence: people will fill up on empty, funny, silly stuff and feel informed when, perhaps, they're not.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Flight from Local News?

No one is hurting more than newspapers, in both advertising and circulation loss. You'd think that people have suddenly lost interest in local news, the one niche newspapers own.


A new Pew poll includes a question asking how much people follow local news. The percent who said "most of the time" hasn't really changed from 1998 - 2008. In 1996, 61% said they follow local news "most of the time." By 2008 that number is down only to 58%. Not much change, probably within the margin of error. So if interest in local news remains relatively strong, wassup? Newspaper readership and local TV news viewership in the same period have both dropped dramatically.

First, it's the large metro papers that are bleeding readers and advertisers. Weeklies are holding fairly steady. Large papers have a harder time today feeling "local." And few people report going online for local news, so we can't blame the Net. It's a complicated problem, this continued appetite for local news at the same time the major provider of local news -- the hometown paper -- is seeing drastic drops in readers.

How does this connect with what people know? Fewer reporters mean local politicians will get away with murder, or the political version of that. People will be less informed about what local government is up to, and it seems local blogs are not really filling that void. Not yet, at least. So how do people explain an appetite for local news but not buying the paper?

That's a damn good research question.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Political Knowledge Numbers

Those Pew people always crank out the best data. Their most recent report, which can be mined for many blogs, includes three knowledge questions and breaks down the results by various demographics and media use patterns. The link to the actual report is on an earlier blog.

First, the basics. The three questions asked respondents to identity Condi Rice (secretary of state), Gordon Brown (Brit prime minister), and which party controls the House of Representatives. People did better on Congress, less well on Rice, and least well on Brown. No surprise there. Men outscored women, even on the Condi Rice question, which kinda surprised me. GOPers do better than Dems, older people do better than younger people.

And then there's this long list of TV networks, programs, magazines, news sources, and so on and so on, comparing knowledge. Now this stuff really matters little unless you control statistically for all the demographics that predict who reads National Enquirer versus The Atlantic. In Pew's defense they try to do this, bluntly, by breaking down college grads versus non-grads.

The table is a bit confusing at first glance, but makes sense once you give it some thought. Elite media draw higher educated audiences and do much better than supermarket tabloid readers. CNN and Fox have demographic differences but those people do about the same on this test of knowledge.

Here's a fascinating bit of trivia: Hannity and Colmes has a lower educated audience, but those viewers do damn well on the knowledge test. Love the show, hate the show, it's doing something right.

There's a load of material here I want to get into. Saving it for later blogs.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where People Get Their News

New Pew numbers, no surprises. Traditional media use aiming for the x-axis, use of the Internet going up toward whatever the hell is parallel to the x-axis but higher.

The report does a nice job of typing people: integrators, new newsers, traditionalists. The bad news? The decline in print outpaces the gains in online news consumption.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Who's to Blame?

An interesting article looks at the role of political sophistication and assigning blame about Hurricane Katrina. The abstract sums it up nicely: more politically sophisticated Louisiana residents were less likely to blame the federal government or the president for the lousy response to the storm than were residents of less political sophistication.

The authors use eight political knowledge items to measure sophistication. Fine, though others criticize this as tapping only one of many dimensions of this concept. I tend to agree with the knowledge approach as being adequate. Not great, but okay.

A multivariate model (meaning various factors statistically control for one another) looks at what predicts the likelihood of blaming the president for the Katrina response. Being evacuated, being older, and being Republican (no surprise) were associated with being less likely to see the president as "among those most responsible" for the sucky response. Even with all these other variables controlled for, people with greater sophistication (i.e., political knowledge) were less likely to blame the prez and instead spread the blame around to state and local officials.

What's this mean? Are politically knowledgeable people fans of George W. Bush? No, probably not. These people are more likely to understand the responsibilities and failings of various levels of government rather than rely on a single anchor, like the prez, as a reason for crappy response to a national tragedy. My own take is this: less sophisticated people look for an easy way to make sense of the world, and blaming the president (whether deserved or not) is one of those.

We're all to some degree cognitive misers, we all to some degree use mental shortcuts to make sense of the world. The less we know, the more important these become.

How do the media fit in this? Journalists love focusing on individuals, or finding people willing to blame individuals. The complexities of the process don't work, especially on TV, and the "blame game" that goes on in our highly partisan times also plays right into this. Some people, though, see a bigger, more complex picture. Not to say the Bush Administration had a clue in Katrina. It didn't. But neither did a lot of others at the state and local level.

Full Disclosure: my wife is a Cajun from south of New Orleans.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hillary and the Pollsters

Although my title sounds a little like the name of a mediocre rock band, and although it's misleading since this seems to be from a handful of Clintonaholics and not the senator herself, there is something going on. I'd mentioned in a post yesterday after hearing for a few days about some of these emails to pollsters wanting them to include Hillary Clinton in their presidential horserace polls.

Someone at the Huffington Post has picked up on this, which means if there is any gas in the tank it'll trickle to the big boys in a day or two.

I'd be tempted to blame this on a crazy or two out there, refusing to accept defeat. Or maybe Rush Limbaugh is behind it since he pushed Republicans to vote Hillary and keep things stirred up. There are rumors of Clinton's name being put in nomination at the convention, so this dovetails nicely with that, if you happen to be a conspiracy buff.

I'm not.

But it's fun as hell.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Favorite Songs and Super Heroes

As has been breathlessly reported over the last couple of days, we now know the favorite songs of McCain and Obama. The results are disturbing.

John McCain has two ABBA songs in his top five and Obama has no ABBA songs. Obama includes a song by the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. Winner: Obama

Obama likes Spiderman and Batman. McCain lists only Batman. Marvel Comics always beats DC Comics. Winner: Obama.

ABBA? Sheesh.

Now the journalist part of me suspects the two camps played a role in picking these songs. ABBA's Dancing Queen opens a whole new demographic for McCain to pursue, and I'm not going any further with that one. Springsteen is known for thoughtful, working class stuff, so picking a song from The Boss makes good sense for Obama(though he picked "I'm on Fire" instead of something really kickass, like "Thunder Road." Go figure.). And anyone who picks "Gimmer Shelter" by the Stones can't be all bad. Helluva tune.

What people know is in part issue stances, in part character, and in part when it comes to presidential candidates a sense of the person. I'm not sure ABBA was the way to go for McCain.

Later today, if possible, I want to blog about a quiet movement by some folks to get pollsters to include Hillary Clinton in pre-election polls, at least until the conventions are over. It's fascinating stuff, these emails to pro pollsters asking them to include her name, suggesting that maybe it's not so over after all. They note Obama's poll numbers against McCain seeming to slip. Again, fascinating. Hopefully will have more later.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Journalism and Prestige

I am happy to report that journalists are better liked! In 2007, only 13% of Americans granted "very great prestige" to the job of journalist. This year, a dramatic increase to 18%.

Firefighter remains #1, with scientists, doctors, and nurses close behind, all in the mid-50s in percent.

The sad thing? Journalist ranks behind members of Congress and lawyers. Lawyers? Hell, that's downright embarrassing. The lowest prestige tested was for real estate agent, with 6% of Americans granting it great prestige, probably all of them Realtors or family of Realtors.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Obama Fatigue

It's still only August, and apparently people are tired of at least one candidate -- Barack Obama.

Some 48% of Americans say they've seen and heard too much about the Illinois senator and presumptive Dem nominee, according to one recent survey. In part this is a function of all that coverage from his trip overseas. In part it's him and his wife appearing on the cover of nearly every magazine published in the western world. In part it's because poor John McCain struggles to get any media love. After all, the same survey finds only 26% say they've been exposed to too much about the Arizona senator and GOP likely nominee.

What does this mean in the long run, as we get past Labor Day and into the campaign proper? Maybe people are just sick of all the politics, but to be honest I'm surprised that many are paying any attention at all, at least enough to be "fatigued" by the coverage. We seem to be getting ads earlier than usual and that's invading our entertainment time. Maybe that's part of it. Or maybe the gloss is rubbing off the Obama "change" campaign, at least enough to make some people just a little tired.

Can you be overexposed as a candidate for the presidency? Can you peak too soon? No, and yes. A contradiction, but absolutely you can peak too soon. As poll numbers edge down, they feed on themself, as does the all-important $ in campaign funds.

The Obama folks gotta come up with an answer for this, because you can be damn sure the McCain people right now are attacking him on this and a number of fronts, and quite well. What people know about the campaign may turn out to be more a case of what they're sick of hearing about.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Obama, McCain, and Abortion

One out of 10 voters think Obama is against abortion, and 17% think McCain is for legalized abortion. Kinda stunning numbers, given the history and party identification and all the rest.

So who is right, who is wrong? Party identification doesn't seem to affect being correct on either candidate's abortion stand, according to a Pew poll. GOPers and Dems and Indies are all about the same. Ditto for men versus women.

But age and education, those tell a different story. And a surprising one.

18-29-year-olds are better able to identify correctly Obama and McCain's abortion positions than are oldsters. This goes against the grain of most political knowledge findings in which age is positively associated with knowledge. The education results bring us back to familiar territory: the more educated, the more accurate. Whew!

Finally, the "unaffiliated" in terms of religion are more accurate than the various other religious categories created by Pew (evangelical Prod, mainline Prod, and white non-Hispanic Catholics). This is perhaps misleading since, especially evangelical Protestants, tend to be of lower education levels. Control statistically for education and this probably disappears.

The nut graph? A lot of people misread the candidate stands on at least one significant issue, in general the less educated and older folks out there. How this is turned into votes, no one can say, because this is probably the same group of tuned-out people you won't see in line on election day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Power of Names

Some presidential trial heat polls ask about just the two major candidates, McCain and Obama, and then lump other responses in the dreaded "other" category.

Others ask the names. So, does it make a difference? Let's take a look at two polls, asked more or less at the same time.

The Pew Center asked:

"Now, suppose the 2008 presidential election were being held TODAY. If you had to choose between [see below], who would you vote for?" If other/unsure: "As of TODAY, do you LEAN more to [see below]?"

Only two names were provided in random rotation: McCain and Obama. The number of unsure/other is 12%.

The Research 2000 for news media client poll asked:

"If the election for president were held today, who would you vote for if the choices were between Barack Obama, the Democrat, John McCain, the Republican, Bob Barr, the Libertarian, or Ralph Nader, an independent?"

In this case we're presented the names of Barr and Nader (but not Cynthia McKinney, a Georgia girl running for the Greens). The other/unsure? 5%.

My point? Offering more alternatives may influence the numbers, especially if you are a minor , i.e., third-party, candidate. Can't get no public opinion love if you ain't even mentioned. Plus, if you don't mention other candidates, you artificially inflate the unsure votes.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Americans take pride in not really worrying about what the world thinks about them. Especially France.

Well, the times they are a changing.

The Pew Center, who does all the best polling, for the first time ever finds a majority of Americans believe it's important that the U.S. has lost respect in the world. The results are quite interesting. In 2004, 43% thought it was a big deal. In 2008, 56% think it matters. Among those who think the U.S. has lost respect in the world, the number of people who see it as a "minor problem" has dropped dramatically, from 23% to 14%. Wow.

Maybe we're thinking a little more internationally after all, or the drumbeats of (especially) Democrats are having an effect on the general public.

Ambrose Bierce said: "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." Perhaps it's also God's way of teaching Americans to worry about how they are perceived overseas. Maybe all we want now is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Sing it, Aretha!