St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Confusion likely over Propositions A

In this election campaign, St. Louis area voters will soon hear a lot about two entirely different proposals that are both called "Proposition A," although voters in any particular place will only get to vote on one of them. In an era when media advertising and attitudes transcend the invisible 1876 wall dividing the City of St. Louis from St. Louis County, these separate identically named propositions will lead to much confusion.

In St. Louis County, Proposition A is the proposed amendment to the St. Louis County Charter that would give voters the right to approve or disapprove expenditures of county funds for the new Cardinal baseball stadium in downtown St. Louis, including annual bond payments. That proposition is already confusing enough, since a voter needs to vote "Yes" on this proposition in order to have the right to say "No" to future public stadium expenditures.

In the City, though, Proposition A is the first of four controversial "home rule" amendments to the City Charter placed before city voters. It would restructure the city's financial offices, including the duties of the Office of Comptroller, currently held by Darlene Green, the highest ranking African American holding an elected citywide office.

Many of the people who favor one of the Propositions A are quite likely to be opposed to the other. Even though they can only vote on whichever proposition is on the ballot where they live and not the other, the identity of name is bound to make advertising about "Proposition A" very confusing.

The County finished and published its proposed ballot long before the City, so the City's Election Commissioners had ample opportunity to give the home rule amendments a different name, like Amendment A or Proposition 1 or any number of other names that didn't match what was going on in the county. But they didn't. Actually they couldn't even get the ballot ready in time for the September 21 start of absentee balloting, although everything is in place now. Including the confusion.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Flimsy attacks on Blunt may backfire on Democrats

My fellow progressives often make the mistake of making arguments that resonate well with our own biases but which are so unsupported by fact or logic that the arguments (and the people making them) lose credibility among other voters. A prime recent national example involved the counterfeit military memos about President Bush’s national guard service that were so transparently forged that public attention focused on the forgeries instead of the substance of the matters raised.

Something similar is happening on the state level in Missouri. The Missouri Democratic Party and its “non-partisan” allies (e.g., organized labor and pro-Democrat newspapers like the St. Louis Post Dispatch) are tearing into Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Blunt with a vengeance. Unfortunately, they are going after the wrong issues and losing credibility in the process.

Blunt is the current secretary of state, whose duties include being the state’s chief elections officer. The Dems and the Post have tried to concoct a series of charges designed to make Blunt look like a partisan manipulator of the process. As a progressive, part of me wants to believe the charges, but to any fair-minded person, they just don’t hold water.

The chief complaint is that Blunt asked county clerks to transmit names of voters seeking absentee ballots to Republican campaign workers. In historical context, this is a common practice. Moreover, it was done on Blunt’s campaign stationery, not in his official capacity as secretary of state. A Post editorial cited extremely vague language in a state statute that purports to illegalize contact with voters in possession of an absentee ballot. Even if true, such a law would probably be void because of constitutional protection of free speech. Expressing viewpoints about candidates and issues up for election is clearly the most sacrosanct core of the freedom of speech protected by the Bill of Rights.

The Democrats also criticized Blunt’s attempts to get the proposed “definition of marriage” amendment on the November ballot, instead of the primary election to which Holden scheduled the vote. Blunt actually represented the public interest in his stand, even though helping Republican chances would have been a likely side effect.. A controversial proposal deserves to be decided at an election when more voters turn out, and general elections in presidential years are the elections that always attract the most voters. If Holden’s action in moving up the amendment’s election was correct, why didn’t he do the same with the proposal concerning highway funding (Amendment 3), which he scheduled to appear on the November ballot?

Blunt’s opposition to Democrats’ attempts to implement “early voting” in the City of St. Louis, the state’s most Democratic-voting jurisdiction, is also criticized. Blunt supported the idea for such a plan statewide, but did not implement it because a poorly written law addressed the issue without actually authorizing it to take place. A court ruled that Blunt was correct. For progressives, though, being “fair” is more important than just being “legal.” Blunt wins this battle too, because all but the most partisan hacks recognize the unfairness of special rules to make voting easier for people who vote one way while making all the other voters follow the old, more difficult rules.

Blunt’s attempts to let military voters overseas vote by email, so that election authorities could receive them in time to count them, have also come under fire. Critics charge that voters sacrifice the secrecy of their ballot by doing so. However, Blunt left in place the existing procedure allowing voters concerned about ballot secrecy to vote by mail. While I oppose the war in Iraq, I have to agree that the soldiers over there fighting this unjust war deserve all the help they can get to insure that they have a voice in this election. Democrats are cynically concerned because they fear than this block of votes would be predominantly Republican. They overlook the fact that the military personnel are disproportionately African American, a voting bloc that votes 90% Democratic. Moreover, wouldn’t someone whose life is put in harm’s way with insufficient justification be more likely to question the qualifications of the commander in chief that sent her/him there?

All of these complaints ring hollow, at least in part, because neither the Post, the unions nor the Democratic Party ever complained in the past about other acts that were clearly wrong, but which were done by their allies. Back when being first in line at the secretary of state’s office meant being listed first on the ballot, no one ever complained when legendary incumbent Democrat James Kirkpatrick strolled past the assembled line outside his office on the first day of filing and inserted himself at the head of the line, so that he could be the first to file. Four years ago, Blunt’s predecessor, Democrat Bekki Cook, made up a new rule out of thin air to disqualify Mary Ann McGivern, the Green Party’s candidate for attorney general, from appearing on the ballot, even though Cook’s own official web site listed qualifications for that office that did not include the reason Cook cited for striking McGivern from the ballot.

Perhaps the best example of this hypocrisy is another of the current charges leveled at Blunt. The Democrats are complaining about the use of tax dollars to buy pre-primary get-out-the-vote newspaper ads that featured Blunt’s photograph. This was really pretty minor compared to much larger expenditures of tax dollars by then State Treasurer Bob Holden for television ads promoting Missouri’s tuition savings program (MOST), prominently featuring Holden’s photograph. These ads ran for the better part of Holden’s tenure in that office, including during the heart of his successful 2000 gubernatorial campaign against Republican Jim Talent. They drew not one word of criticism from the Holden-backing Post or any union, and certainly nothing from the Democratic Party. The justification for both Holden and Blunt was the same: utilizing their own high profile endorsement to benefit the cause being promoted. The current state treasurer, Democrat Nancy Farmer, abstains from the blatant self-promotion in her television ads promoting MOST, but she does include her photo prominently on the MOST web page.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Polls understate Kerry's Missouri support

As mentioned at the end of the last post, trends in voter registration and likely voter turnout all favor Democrat John Kerry, and these developments probably aren’t reflected in current poll numbers. The Oracle has noticed that interest in the election is way up among people who ordinarily don’t vote, and that this interest is fueled by their animosity towards President Bush.

Kerry’s “527" allies funded by multi-millionaire Bush-hater George Soros and other well-healed rooters have fueled this coming surge. One such group,, has filled the airwaves with anti-Bush commercials that have helped create the anti-Bush animosity, while being perceived as sufficiently independent from Kerry (wink, wink) to avoid anti-Kerry backlash. Another group, America Coming Together, has seized on this animosity to register thousands of new anti-Bush voters.

These developments have not been fully reflected in the polls. Most polls report percentages of “likely” voters. If these are based on historical patterns, the polls are under reporting this significant block of voters. Historically, both African American voters and voters of all races under the age of 30 vote in smaller percentages than the rest of the electorate. But these voters are much more energized than usual this election, and both groups detest Bush.

Factors mentioned in prior posts intensify these trends here in Missouri. High-profile African American candidacies in Kansas City and St. Louis County and opposition to “home rule” charter amendments in the City of St. Louis are likely to swell African American turnout. Young voters who dislike Bush seem especially energized this year. While young voters are most susceptible to defecting to principled independent or third-party alternatives, the failure of Ralph Nader’s petition drive means there is no progressive alternative to Kerry on Missouri’s ballot.

This means that Kerry’s actual strength (especially in Missouri) is several points ahead of whatever the polls are showing.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Okay, Bush got a bounce, but ...

Okay, so there was a Bush bounce. But the cascading polls indicate that W’s bounce in the polls is going to be very fleeting, with the race back to dead-even well before the debates.

Two polls taken during and the day after the Republican National Convention (Time and Newsweek) showed large Bush gains. The Newsweek poll was specific enough to show that 6-7% of voters had switched from Kerry to Bush by the day of Bush’s acceptance speech and another 5% switched the following day.

But the Gallup and ICR polls taken just a few days later (the weekend following the convention) and the Zogby poll concluded September 2 all showed a mere 2-point bounce. And those polls all concluded before Labor Day, before public attention was directed to pro-labor activities.

Bush’s gains immediately following his acceptance speech are due in part to his performance in the speech. Perhaps his most significant accomplishment was something he didn’t do: the trademark arrogant Bush smirk was gone. He exuded confidence without arrogance, tightly tracing the very fine line that separates the two. Bush and his advisers are to be commended for accomplishing that difficult feat.

Bush accomplished that control of his subtle non-verbal communication very well in the controlled environment of a well-rehearsed speech. Repeating that performance in the less-controlled setting of the debates will be more difficult.

While many observe accurately that Kerry is campaigning very poorly and that his campaign is devoid of any principles, the electoral fundamentals still point to a Kerry win, in spite of Kerry himself. Electoral College analysis (the only count that really matters) still shows Kerry clinging to slight leads in nearly all of the battleground states and a solid lead in likely electoral votes. Moreover, trends in voter registration and likely voter turnout all favor Kerry, and may not be reflected in current poll numbers. More about that in a later post.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Lack of Bush ‘bounce’ will jumpstart Kerry’s bandwagon

Republicans are hopeful that President George W. Bush will receive a post-convention “bounce” in public opinion polls, which would put him ahead of Democrat John Kerry, perhaps all the way through Election Day. The August 29 edition of Dan Rather’s Convention Journal cited “a few widely experienced political pros” estimating this expected "bounce" to be 6-10 points.

But the Oracle doesn’t expect much of a bounce, and the reason has nothing to do with how good or bad the President’s speech or the convention as a whole turns out to be. (This column is published before the September 2 speech.)

This year’s campaign has been very polarizing. Expanding a disturbing trend, campaigns this year have focused on reasons to distrust and dislike the other side. Sadly, instead of policy differences, hatred has been voters’ primary motivator. This has been especially true among Democrats and progressives, perhaps because it was easy and obvious to focus on Bush as the enemy, while Republicans had to wait to see who the “bad guy” would be. The “Anybody But Bush” mantra was chock full of vitriol. Even when ten different Democrats were campaigning against each other, most of their attacks were aimed at Bush. Perhaps most important have been the vicious ads sponsored by “527" organizations like and “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” whose so-called independence from Kerry and Bush enabled them to be less responsible, with less risk of backlash against their favored candidate.

The result of this very polarizing campaign is that most voters have already taken sides, and the intensity of voters’ loyalty to their choices is very high. Polls have remained remarkably constant because there are so few voters who can be swayed from either side to the other. That explains why Kerry received no discernable “bounce” in the polls after the Democratic National Convention, even though the convention went exactly as planned and most news media painted it as a public relations success. The same fate now awaits Bush.

According to USA Today, “Since polling became a routine part of politics, the only other candidate who failed to see any improvement in his standing after the convention that nominated him was George McGovern in 1972.” That observation was made after post-Democratic Convention polls showed no bounce for Kerry. But with Kerry’s non-bounce already long forgotten, the talking heads of the news media may play Bush’s similar disappointment into a momentum-turning event. Rather’s pre-convention prediction helps set high expectations that, when not met, set the stage for negative consequences. It’s never good to be compared to the McGovern campaign.

This is the point at which the fate of the election is handed over to a pathetic segment of the electorate: the Bandwagon voters. These are the folks who treat voting as a form of “personal affirmation” and feel better about themselves if they vote for the candidate who wins. Subconsciously or sometimes even consciously, they seek out who is likely to win, and then vote that way. These are the voters who voted for such ideologically diverse candidates as Dick Gephardt and John Ashcroft in the same election. Yes, these are the inattentive voters who handed the 3rd District Democratic congressional nomination to Russ Carnahan (see the opening entry of this blog (8/5/04), in the section entitled “Bandwagon”).

Until now, most Bandwagon voters have perceived the incumbent president as the likely winner and have told pollsters that they’re either for Bush or undecided. (A recent Zogby poll that pressed “Undecideds” about their leanings shows them breaking to Bush over Kerry, 35%-10%, even though only 23% of them approve of Bush’s job performance.) But when the media play up the unprecedented” lack of bounce for a sitting president, these are the voters who actually will change their minds, the Bush voters who will defect over to Kerry, giving Kerry a sudden and decisive lead in the polls.

In the short term, it’s great when the Bandwagon voters vote with us, and it’s awful when they vote for the other guys. Win or lose, it’s outrageous that our elections are often decided by the shallowest, least informed people in our midst.