Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fear and Panic, Minnesota Republican Style

    Fear and panic may be the words for now to express how Republicans, conservatives, and business leaders such as Charlie Weaver view the coming 2013 Minnesota legislative session.  The fear and panic is that with the DFL having control of the legislature and all of the constitutional offices, businesses and the affluent will face higher taxes, the economy will go to ruin, and the Chamber of Commerce will not be able to pursue objectives such as restructuring teacher tenure,   public sector pensions, or state government in general.

Have no fear though, it is unlikely that the DFL control will live up to your anxieties for many reasons.

First, this is not the DFL Party of Humphrey, Mondale, Freeman, and Wellstone.  This is a DFL party headed by a pro-business governor and a party firmly rooted in the Twin Cities suburbs such as Edina. These districts are business-orientated and affluent and it is unlikely that DFLers from areas such as Edina will stray far to the left.  Democrats elected in these suburbs are not liberals, they won tight races in swing districts and any serious move to the left will cost them their seats and possibly a House majority in 2014.

Second, were the DFL majority moving to the left it would have made John Marty chair of Health and Human Services.  Marty, who supports a single-payer health insurance program, has the seniority to receive this chair but was passed over for this position.  Don’t look to see the DFL push real progressive positions.

Third, a DFL governor and coalition already demonstrated this year its pro-business attitude when it gave the Vikings and the business community a new stadium.

Fourth, the business community has already overreached and many of its goals are beyond what they should be addressing.  Issues such as teacher tenure are beyond what the business community should worry about, especially if it concerned about the quality of K-12.  If the latter is the issue, then lobby for early-childhood education, fully funding K-12, addressing racial disparities in schools, and providing teachers, parents, and students with the support they need for kids to succeed. 

Finally, live in reality.  Consider the last time the DFL controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the Minnesota legislature.  It was from 1987 to 1990 when Rudy Perpich was governor.  Wanting to make Minnesota the brainpower state, the governor pushed for reforms in K-12 that helped make sure the state’s schools were among the best in the country and students tested at or near the top in national performances.  It was a time when Minnesotans and businesses were among the highest taxed in the country, and also a time when Minnesota had one of the highest median family incomes in the nation, lowest crime and incarceration rates, and a high concentration of Fortune 500 companies.

Additionally, consider the unemployment rate during those four years.  While the national average was 5.7%, in Minnesota it was 4.7%.  Compare that to October, 2012, with a Minnesota unemployment rate of 5.8%.

Unemployment Rates
Year            USA        MN
1987            6.2        5.1
1988             5.5        4.3
1989             5.3        4.4
1990             5.6        4.8
4 yr Avg        5.7        4.7

Oct 2012         7.9        5.8

Perpich opened up the International Trade Center in St Paul, and under him and the DFL control of the legislature, Dayton-Hudson Corporation (now Target) was able to pressure them to hold a special session in 1987 to change Minnesota corporate law to prevent them from being taken over by Dart Corporation.

The point?  Minnesota and its businesses did not do so badly under the last time when the state was under DFL control.  Now, 23 years later, a more moderate and business-friendly DFL is in charge.  The evidence does not support the panic and fear the business community has and, in fact, it may find a supportive party willing to accommodate them in many situations.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

After the revolution? Recommendations for the Minnesota DFL

Note:  This blog originally appeared in Politics in Minnesota on November 15, 2012.  Please consider subscribing to that publication for news on state politics.

You say you want a revolution?  Well it was not quite that, but November 6, gave Democrats control of the Minnesota legislature and governorship for the first time since 1990.  In fact they occupy all the constitutional offices. Dayton can move his agenda and the DFL can push its priorities.  But less one think that it is now Christmas time for the DFL, there should be some caution in the moves that the Democrats take.
    Yes, the DFL should move an agenda that is Democrat.  Single-payer health insurance, legalizing single-sex marriage,  and commitments to education should guide what the DFL do.  But the political revolution is less than meets the eye.  It is less a mandate for the DFL than it was a rejection of the Republicans.  Republicans overreached.  Kurt Zellers and the Republicans promised that it would simply be jobs and the economy and they failed.  They failed first to get the state’s fiscal house in order.  Yes Republicans claim they balanced the state budget without taxes increases but that is wrong. To “balance” the budget they borrowed approximately  two billion dollars from K-12 and another $700 million from the tobacco endowment.  All this was one time revenue that must be repaid.  The budget deal did nothing to solve a structural deficit problem and the State walks into the 2013 with a yet to be determined real deficit of several billion dollars. Moreover, the balance they claim came with a government shutdown and a loss of the state’s triple A rating.
    But beyond failing at jobs and the economy, the Republicans overreached.  They debated social issues and placed a Marriage Amendment on the ballot.  They sought to rig elections  in the future with a voter Id amendment.  They also debated amendments on abortion, right-work laws similar to those enacted in Wisconsin, and taxes.  The Republicans, hungry for power, saw their legislative majorities as the opportunity to pander to every one of their constituencies and enact every crackpot idea their supporters had.  They foolishly thought 2010 was a mandate when it was simply a rejection of Democrats.  The Republicans sought to take over the state for their own interest, not to govern or lead it for all of us.  And they paid the price on November 6.  Everyone can see this except for the outgoing Republican leadership who are still in denial about the election and their bad performance.
    The Democrats need to avoid the same mistake. They need to lead and govern and not pander.  They too will have pent up demand for many groups wanting it to be their turn now.  The first advice is that Democrats must prove that they can be trusted with the taxpayer’s money.  They must show they are better at handling the state’s finances and economy than were the Republicans.  Given the last biennium, this is a low bar.  But this is the time for the DFL to do the budget right, make the tough choices, and really clean up the budget without any shifts or gimmicks that have been the norm for over a decade.  What might this include?
    The first order of business is developing a honest budget process.  Repeal the foolish 2002 law that counts inflation for the purposes of revenue but not obligations.  Additionally, ban shifts and other short term or one time revenue fixes.  These gimmicks hide the real structural deficit in Minnesota which is probably in excess of $4 billion.   Part of creating a honest budget process may go so far as completely reforming it from scratch.  Change the timing when the fiscal forecasts are issued so that budget work can start sooner. Set earlier committee deadlines or fiscal targets.  Follow the practice of Wisconsin and create a joint legislative committee to do the budget.  Or even change the budget from even to odd years to give legislators one year to learn their job before doing the budget.  Right now we have too many rookies doing a major fiscal job in ignorance.
    But other budget fixes could also include creating an automatic continuing resolution that keeps the current budget in place if no agreement is reached.  This is what they do in Wisconsin and it will avert future government shutdowns.  But reform to the governor’s unallotment authority is also needed to prevent future power grabs as seen under Pawlenty. Fiscal reform also means paying back the money to K-12 and on the tobacco endowment.  If the Democrats can do all this, they have accomplished a lot.
    But all this structural reform requires real budget choices too, while at the same time advancing DFL priorities that serve the interests of Minnesota. Governor  Rudy Perpich got it right when he said it wanted Minnesota to be the brainpower state.  He wanted Minnesotans to be the best educated state in the country.  There are powerful correlations between education and economic development.  The single best investment a state can make is in education.  Thus, repaying money owed to K-12 makes sense, but it is not a blank check.  Minnesota has horrible racial disparities in terms of graduation and learning outcomes.  The racial disparity overlaps with class and poverty.  Better education is not simply about class size, it is making sure that students come to school prepared to learn.  This means healthy, clothed, and well-fed.  Attend to the social service side of education.  Attend also to funding early-childhood education and give students the head start they need.
    But do not ignore workforce training for adults.  The State needs better partnerships with business and higher education and community colleges to make it affordable for people already in the workforce to get new or additional training. Here is where adjustments to the Minnesota tax code make sense.
    Minnesota also has an aging infrastructure.  We already wasted money on a Vikings stadium that could have been better spent on roads and bridges.  Do bonding to alleviate the increased congestion in the Twin Cities making commutes increasingly time consuming and commerce difficult.  But bonding to improve the internet infrastructure in greater Minnesota is also essential.  Level the playing field between brick businesses in Minnesota and Internet businesses by passing the bill that was debated last session.
    What else should the DFL consider? It is inevitable that the wealth should pay more in taxes to fund the state.  There is little empirical evidence that such taxes will hurt or deter job growth, and a lot of evidence that they are in the best position to help foot the bill for many amenities from which they benefit.  The DFL should also move forward to fully implement the Affordable Care Act and perhaps even other reforms to provide more health care for all in Minnesota. 
    The advice for Democrats is thus simple: Do not confuse Republican rejection with Democrat mandate.  Don’t overreach, attend to the economy and budget first, remember your principles, and use them to build a foundation for other changes once broad support has emerged.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Beyond Citizens United: Fixing the American elections system

Note:  Today's blog originally appeared in Minnpost on November13, 2012.

In post-election statements, both Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep.-elect Rick Nolan called for campaign finance reform. They singled out the role of big money and negative ads in campaigns, demanding among other things, an overturning of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Campaign-finance reform is needed, but the American election system is broken, demanding even broader changes beyond reversing Citizens United. These changes extend to the role of money in politics, voting, and the quality of political debate and information.

Money and politics

Citizens United is one of many Supreme Court decisions that try to define the role of money and speech in American elections. Concern that money corrupts the political process goes back to the 19th century. Beginning in 1907 with the Tillman Act, federal law made it illegal for corporations to make direct political contributions to candidates for federal office. In 1947 the Taft-Hartley Act did the same for labor unions.

Many states have similar laws. The concern, especially with corporations, as Chief Justice Rehnquist once stated in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978) is that the government might reasonably fear that a  "corporation would use its economic power to obtain further benefits beyond those already bestowed."  The task is now to prevent the conversion of resources amassed in the economic marketplace from corrupting the political marketplace.

What Citizens United actually did was to say that corporations (and unions) have a First Amendment right to make direct expenditures from their treasuries to make independent expenditures to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate for office. The decision did not overturn the ban on direct contributions to candidates, but it overturned laws  that made it illegal for corporations to spend money independently to support a candidate for office.

Is Citizens United responsible for the $6-8 billion election cycle spending that just concluded? Yes and no. Prior to Citizens United, corporations already had lots of ways of getting around the law. They could do issue ads that attacked candidates but did not expressly urge their election or defeat. They could set up political action committees. They could fund get-out-the-vote, voter-registration, and voter-education programs. Individual corporate officers could give money. There were many ways around the law.

Citizens United did not necessarily mean that more money would go into elections; instead it meant that money would enter in different ways and with less transparency. Given that it was illegal for corporations to make express advocacy independent expenditures before Citizens United, when the Supreme Court declared that ban unconstitutional there were no laws in place to force corporate disclosure.  The intensity and closeness of the 2012 elections probably explains how much money was spent; Citizens United tells us about why, in part, we do not know who spent it.

In addition the Citizens United decision was built upon in a 2010 Court of Appeals decision, v. Federal Election Commission, that allowed for the creation of Super PACS that could accept unlimited political donations from corporations, unions and individuals to engage in independent expenditure express advocacy. With limited disclosure and often innocuous sounding names, these groups provided another outlet for money.

Finally, the transparency problem with money was exacerbated in 2012  by the misuse and hijacking of nonprofits. Basically, there are two types of nonprofits under the federal tax code. Entities classified as 501(c)(3)s are prohibited from engaging in partisan politics as a condition of donations to them being tax deductible. But contributions to nonprofits classified as 501(c)(4)s are not tax deductible, and they may engage in partisan politics  and endorse candidates for office so long as that political activity is not a major purpose of their activity.

There is extremely limited disclosure required on nonprofits in terms of donors, and there are no contribution limits to them. Corporations and wealthy donors used them as laundering mechanisms to escape disclosure requirements.

So what could be done on campaign finance? More disclosure is needed and efforts to pass the Disclose Act to force that is a first step. But partisan opposition to it in Congress has prevented that. Overturn Citizens United? That requires a constitutional amendment and that means two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate and ratification of three-fourths of the states. Little chance there. The Supreme Court could reverse itself, but unless President Obama can replace a conservative Supreme Court Justice, that option, too, looks unlikely.

Yet President Obama could act on his own to mitigate some of the problem. He could issue a procurement rule barring corporations from making express advocacy independent expenditures  above a certain dollar amount as a condition of bidding on federal contracts.  Here the issue is about conflict of interest.

Additionally, he could direct the Securities and Exchange Commission to engage in rule-making to require shareholder assent before expending money for political purposes. The issue here is protecting the First Amendment rights of shareholders not to have their money spent for political causes they do not support.  This rule would parallel those already found with unions and their members.

Third, Congress could change the tax code to require more disclosure for nonprofits that use money for political purposes. The president alone might also be able to direct the IRS to do that.


The defeat of the voter ID amendment is a rare victory in the battle to fight the second great wave of disenfranchisement in American history. The first wave was after the Civil War and when  Reconstruction ended. It ushered in the Jim Crow era and a 100-year effort to prevent African-Americans from voting.

Voter ID, based on the erroneous claim of widespread voter fraud, is one part of this disenfranchisement. Across the United States in the last few years many states have enacted voter ID and other laws such as cutting back on early voting and restricting voter registration  drives. Pre-election voting-rights litigation was significant in 2012. The United States effectively has 50 different state laws regarding voting. Were it not that Obama won the 2012 presidential race so decisively, problems this year in Florida would be holding up the election results yet again.

One solution is to use federal voting rules and procedures. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate federal elections. Congress could construct rules regarding voter eligibility, ban voter ID, allow for early voting, or whatever else it wants to do. Uniformity and fairness across states in elections too.

Political speech and rhetoric

The final critique is that political campaigns have become too negative and nasty. Maybe. They are tame by comparison to the 19th century. But there are limits regarding what can be done to regulate political speech.  The Supreme Court correctly in its 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan gave broad First Amendment protection to speech that criticizes public officials and candidates. A free society should encourage robust political debate, and it should be the people and  not judges or government officials who decide what is true. Moreover, attack ads will continue to be used so long as they are effective and voters respond to them.

The bigger problem now is that voters have developed partisan choices when it comes to the consumption of news. The world is increasingly divided between FOX and MSNBC. It seems all of us want our own truth now. The rise of the new and social media has done little to encourage voters to seek out alternative information.

One solution to this would be to reinstate the fairness doctrine and vigorously enforce the equal time doctrine, requiring television and radio to offer opposing viewpoints. The public has a First Amendment right to a diversity of viewpoints and broadcasters, as a condition of holding a license, should be required to honor this.

Overall, Klobuchar and Nolan are correct that the American elections system is a mess.  But the causes are varied and the fixes more complex than they realize.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Now What? Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage in Minnesota

    The Marriage amendment was defeated and Democrats took control of both houses of the Minnesota legislature and also control all the executive branch constitutional offices.  Advocates of same-sex marriage say the time is now and that the DFL should not simply repeal the Minnesota  Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) but move directly to legalize same-sex marriage.  Should that be at the top of DFL agenda come January?  Reasons bode in favor and against this choice.

The cause is worthy.  This is a major civil rights issue not a political question.  As Vice President Dick Cheney said:  “Freedom means freedom for everyone.”  It is wrong and impossible to say to one group: “Wait, Wait, the time is not right.”  But the fact is, the next move on same-sex marriage in Minnesota may be more complex.

Strike while the iron is hot and the momentum strong, according to GLBT activists.  Momentum is important.  It might also be that the time to act is now, that this is an issue that is the right thing to do even if it means losing the majority in the House in two years.  Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights bill fully cognizant, as he said, that it would cost the Democrats the South.  He signed it and it did.  Maybe the DFL should demonstrate the same courage.  That is a reasonable position to take and maybe worth it.

But voter rejection of the Marriage Amendment does not necessarily mean majority support for same-sex marriage.  Lots of people voted against the amendment for lots of reasons and not all for the reason that they supported the rights of same-sex couples to marry.  Some thought the amendment route was wrong or that it was not needed because of DOMA and a court decision in Minnesota making it illegal for same-sex couples to marry. Yes it is the case that the right to marry should not be contingent upon majority assent. But it is not clear the public supports this next step yet.  It is also not clear the DFL have the votes to secure legalization.  It is also the case that election of a DFL majority in the legislature was more of a rejection of the Republicans than support for the Democrats.  Cautious minds might bode against this strategy for fear of backlash or overreach.

But even if the votes are not there now, begin the battle.  Introduce the legislation and work on public opinion.  So many times the rule at the capitol is that laws do not pass the first year.  Again a reasonable strategy.

So what should the DFL do?   There are four options.

Option one is seek GOP support for legalization and only pursue with their support.  The GOP nationally and in MN are in bad shape, out of touch demographically and  way behind the times in support from young people because of gay rights and same-sex marriage.  Follow the path of New York State and move for bipartisan support.  Let Republicans join in sponsoring the bill.

Option two is to legalize same-sex marriage in all but name.  Pass domestic partner legislation regardless of sexual orientation or marital status.  This is not marriage rights but it grants benefits  to couples even if they choose not to marry.  This approach might be more acceptable to many Republicans, but not necessarily to marriage equality advocates.  This is a half-way step that  perhaps builds momentum for full marriage equality.  Conversely, for some this is government getting o ut of the marriage game altogether and maybe that is a viable route.

Option three is wait for the US Supreme Court.  It will been soon–perhaps sooner than many think–that it will strike down bans on same-sex marriage under the US Constitution.  I have argued for two years that Justice Kennedy will do that in a 5-4 vote before he leaves the Court.  Or maybe he or another conservative justice will retire under Obama’s presidency and provide the fifth vote for this.

Option four is do nothing.  This sounds cautious but Obama paid a price with young people in not moving vigorously on gay rights.  If the DFL does nothing it too risks backlash within its own party and among supporters.

All four options carry risks and the DFL cannot avoid making a choice.

Final thoughts on the Amendments:  Supports of the two constitutional amendments got everything they wanted but still lost.  They said they wanted the people to decide and they did.  They got their preferred wording (title and description)  on the Amendments and they lost.  Now the claim is that  there were lies and disinformation by opponents.   The reality is that they lost in the marketplace of ideas.

Announcement:  Since 1999 I have been a professor at Hamline University in the School of Business teaching graduate students.  I am pleased to announce that beginning in the fall 2013 I will be moving to the Hamline University Department of Political Science where I will be again teaching undergraduate students.  I have enjoyed my time in the School  of Business but it will be exciting to be back in political science working with undergraduates again.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A mandate or a rejection? Lessons from the 2012 elections

 Today's post appeared as a guest commentary on November 7, 2012 in Minnpost.

For a year that was not supposed to be theirs, the Democrats appeared to do well across the country and in Minnesota. But while the Democrats may conclude that it was a mandate for them, it is possible that their success was more a rejection of the Republicans. The election returns thus provide important lessons for both of the parties both across the country and in Minnesota.

At the presidential level, President Barack Obama scored a decisive Electoral College victory but a narrow popular-vote win (50%-48%, according to the New York Times). His margin was far less than in 2008, and the total number of votes he received in 2012 was 60 million compared to 69.5 million. Not the numbers of a mandate.

In so many ways this was a campaign he should have lost. Obama had economic numbers that doom most presidents, the public did not like his handling of the economy, and Obama never articulated the case for why he deserved four more years.  All this Mitt Romney seized on in his campaign. But Obama won because the public never really liked Romney as a person, he never connected with the average voter, and he, too, lacked a compelling narrative for why he should  be president. In too many ways, the rival arguments for Obama and Romney as to why they should be president came down to “I am not the other guy.”

Moreover, Romney proved to be a horrible campaigner. In the end he only won one swing state. Obama out-organized Romney and used better math and tracking to locate voters. One of the major stories in 2012 is that the polls called it exactly correct nationally and across the states. Republicans were in constant denial about the polls but they were wrong. Moving forward they need better field operations and campaign information.

The soul searching for the Republican Party thus begins again, much like four years ago.  In 2008 the conclusion was that McCain was not conservative enough, so in 2012 the GOP base – now dominated by Tea Party activists – toyed with Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum before settling on a candidate who did not enthuse them or the American public.

Romney: a caretaker candidate

Romney was a caretaker candidate en route to the 2016 elections. The Republicans are an old, white, Christian, anti-gay and anti-immigrant party out of touch with the changing American demographics. But instead of dealing with that they will move further to the right, making Paul Ryan the obvious frontrunner for 2016. He was one of the few Republican winners.

The congressional elections represented lost opportunities for Republicans. There were 33 Senate races with 23 seats held by Democrats. Republicans lost Senate races in Missouri and Indiana that they should not have. They did it by nominating candidates so out of touch with mainstream America, or with retreads such as Tommy Thompson, that even weak Democrats won.

The Senate also witnessed the loss of some moderates such as Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe. The result is a more polarized Senate with more conservative  Republicans. Democrats still have control, again by default. Finally, the House represents little change from the existing one, with no party taking comfort that they achieved a real victory. More gridlock is the message, along with the reality that the 2014 elections are now less than two years away.

The most interesting of surprises: Minnesota

Minnesota turned out to be the most interesting of all surprises. The Republicans were routed. They had won surprise control over the Legislature in 2010 with talk of jobs and the economy. They failed to deliver on it, and balanced a budget with gimmicks and a government shutdown. They overreached with social issues and pushed an elections amendment and marriage amendment. Both amendments represented a go-for-broke strategy to change the Constitution permanently, and the public rejected the amendments along with the Republicans.

It is possible that this overreach cost Chip Cravaack his seat and almost unseated Michele Bachmann. Bachmann should have won big in a tailor-made district for her, coupled with her money and name recognition advantage. It is doubtful she will be chastened by her narrow escape, but she certainly is a weaker leader for the Tea Party and less a 2014 Senate threat to Sen. Al Franken than before.

Republicans have handed to the DFL the keys to the Minnesota government.  Democrats control all the constitutional offices, including the governor and the Legislature. This is the first unified party control since 1990. Dayton can potentially move his agenda finally, but the Democrats  should heed the lessons of the Republicans in that they need to be cautious about claims of mandates. They may have won simply because the Republicans were inept and awkward, embracing issues that fail to appeal to mainstream and centrist Minnesotans.

The mandate is not here for Democrats. Nor is there a mandate for the Republicans. Neither should assume that the election returns mean the public is happy with them.  The public still wants a change, but perhaps not the type that either party wants to consider for themselves.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Day After the Election: Excuses

Come the day after the election there is a fantasy many of us have that the losing side  in the presidential race will tell the winning side that it was a hard fought and close campaign but that the winner won fair and square.  Unfortunately that will not occur, especially in light of all the pre-election litigation and legal posturing.

Assuming Obama wins, I suspect the argument Republicans make is that the election stolen.  Assume Obama wins close races in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Republicans claim that were it not for a court suspending or invalidating voter ID in those states Romney would have won.  Obama’s victory was a product of fraud.  In Ohio the message will be that the courts allowed too many provisional ballots and therefore fraud occurred, and in Florida they will argue that relaxation of some of the restrictions on voter registration and early voting will be the cause of ineligibles voting.  A few will also point to how mediocre a candidate Romney was, but the big issue will be fraud.

Conversely, on the slight chance that Romney wins, the cry will be that voter suppression across these states is the reason for the loss. A few will point to how mediocre a candidate Obama was, but the big issue will be voter suppression.

I am suspecting these talking points are already being cued up by members of this listserv and the two parties in anticipation of efforts to justify litigation, delegitimize the winner, and prepare us for the fact that on November 7, we will be less than two years away from the next elections.

Tocqueville got it right: “There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.  Consequently the language of everyday party-political controversy has to be borrowed from legal phraseology and conceptions.”

Election 2012: Politics in the Age of Division (And final predictions)

    Note:  This blog is based on my November 2, 2012 talk to the Minneapolis Rotary Club.  I have spoken to them many times in the past and they have always been a warm and gracious club to address.

     The polls perhaps say it all.  We have a closely divided race nationally for the presidential race.  In fact, go back six months ago and Obama and Romney were essentially tied at about the same place they are now.  Except for one month between the Democrat National Convention and a period after the first debate, the polls have been stable, revealing a stable yet clearly split electorate.
    I see other signs of division in the scores of individuals who come up to me and express fear that the country faces ruin if Obama is elected, or is it Romney?  The political ads make it seem like the end of the world or Armageddon is near. Facebook postings seem almost like rants and raves and if you are like me, I have seen one too many posts about politics or candidates that border on the lunatic, referencing or posting information whose veracity is at best questionable.
    People ask me if this is the most divided politics has ever been. No, think Civil War.  Additionally, the 19th century was meaner.  We often look at the past through halcyonic or rose-colored glasses thinking the past was more kind and gentle than it is now.   But despite that, politics does seem more divided, nasty and conflicted than in recent memory. Why?  Several factors point to the divide that we see this year and this division has implications for the election.

The transformation of American party politics.  The is some truth about a red and blue America and it starts with the change in traditional party structures.  American political parties used to be more coalitional and regional than they are now.  Parties were more likely to be mixed ideologically.  When I grew up in New in the 1960s my governor was Republican Nelson Rockefeller.  One Senator was Republican Jacob Javits, the other was Democrat Bobby Kennedy.  The lost liberal?  Javits.  The most conservative, Kennedy. 
    The Democrat and Republican parties had liberals, moderates, and conservatives in them.  Minnesota once had a pro-choice republican Governor in Arne Carlson and a pro-life DFL governor in Rudy Perpich.  Neither of those individuals could secure their party nomination today.   The two main parties in Minnesota and across the country have become more ideological and national, much more like European style political parties.  We see a disappearance of moderates in the two parties.  There is a rise of straight party line votes in the Congress, and a rise of straight party line votes in the MN legislature.  Both parties have moved to the right, the Republicans more so.  They have moved from the party of Eisenhower to that of Rockefeller, Nixon, Reagan, and now the Tea Party.  There are no more Hubert Humphreys and Paul Wellstones in the Democrat Party.  As a result, the two parties are further to the right and further apart than ever.

Party Membership and generational divide.  The Democrats and Republicans are a tale of two parties The GOP are older, whiter, male, more Christian, and part of the Silent generation along with some older Boomers.  They vote against gay marriage, abortion, immigration, and favor smaller government.  The Democrats are younger, more female,  less white, less Christian, and they represent the  Millennials and Gen Xers. They favor gay rights, choice, immigration and diversity, and more government.  The two parties represent two generations and world views, and party of the intensity right now is a demographic contest witnessing the passing of power from one generation to another.  It also represents a racial polarization the greatest since 1988, and an identity shift as America moves from a White Christian nation to something else.

Political Geography.  Politics and geography now overlay and intersect.  It is not just red and blue states but red and blue neighborhoods.   There is a political sorting of living space by geography.  We increasingly have Democrat and Republican neighborhoods.  We are divided politically by rural and urban.  The result is a decline in the number of real marginal or swing districts and such a problem is only accentuated by redistricting in some states (or conversely, even the best redistricting cannot overcome the political sorting we are experiencing).  There are only 50 or so competitive seats in Congress, and 25 or so competitive seats in MN Legislature.  The remainder are certainties for either of the two major parties.  Partisan districts create less incentive to compromise, reinforcing  polarization.

Evidence of political polarization by public.   The public is polarized.  In Minnesota support for the marriage and elections amendments divides almost perfectly by party.  Two sides have their own versions of truth.  But the division goes to our consumption habits .  Each party has its own network to watch–MSNBC and Fox News–giving each side its own version of the truth.  The produces we consume reveal our political preferences.  Our geography reveal our political preferences.  Thus, combine target marketing data, GPS, and politics and we see in 2012 the use of very specific marketing to seel candidates. 

Implications for 2012
Overall, the polarization, if not as great or significant as the Civil War, is still significant.  How does it affect the 2012 presidential?  First, the choice of Obama and Romney is not great and neither seems to have a clue about what to do with the economy.  But the polarization makes it impossible for third party candidates such as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein to gain any attention or momentum.  Fear of voting for one’s hopes and it electing one’s last choice dooms alternative politics.

Having said that, for months the race for the presidency was simply a set of three numbers: 10/10/270.  Ten percent of the voters (the undecideds)  in ten states would determine who gets 270 electoral votes and win the presidency.  Now the race is 5/7/270.  Five percent of the voters in seven states will decide who wins the presidency.

The original ten swing states were:
New Hampshire
North Carolina

In those 10 swing states, the Associated Press has argued that it is up to about 106 battle ground counties. How many voters are we talking about that might influence the election of president?
Assume 5% undecided in those ten swing states and the number is 1,835,599 voters.
Assume 8% undecided voters in those ten swing states and the number is 2,936,958 voters.

Now assume North Carolina and Nevada are no longer swinging, we have eight swing states.  In the remaining swing states on average 4.9% undecided according to polls in Real Clear Politics on October 25.  My estimate then is that between 1.500,000 and 1.835.599 voters will decide the election, with the focus being on about 11 counties across the country where the battles are really taking place.  These counties in my estimate are:

Arapahoe County, Colorado
Bremer County, Iowa (Waverly)
Chester County, PA  (some have told me this is not swinging this year, though).
Hamilton County, Ohio
Hillsborough County, NH
Hillsborough County, FL (Tampa)
Jefferson County, Colorado
Pinellas County, FL
Prince William County, Virginia
Racine County, WI
Winnebago County, WI

Finally, now assume in 2012 that the estimated eligible voter population is 222,000,000.  In 2010 it was 217,000,000, and in 2008 it was approximately 212,000,000 with about a 63% (131 million voters) turnout.  Assume again about 63% voter turnout this year due to high interest and intensity in the race.   The average of 1.500,000 and 1.835.599 voters (total number of undeceived swing voters in the swing states) is approximately 1,650,000.  Divide that number by the estimated eligible voting population in 2012 (222,000,000) and this means that approximately 0.74% of the eligible voting population will decide the presidential election.

In fact, if I wanted to pick one county where the race for the presidency comes down to, it is look to what happens in Hamilton County, Ohio.  Whoever wins it wins Ohio and then the presidency.  This shows the polarization we face in this country when such a small number decides who wins.

Final Predictions
Presidency:  Back in March I said Obama would win with 272 electoral votes. He still wins but with 290-305 electoral votes.  He also will get around 50.5% of the popular vote.

US Senate: Democrats retain control with 51 seats.
US House: Republicans retain control but with a slightly narrower margin.

Minnesota Congressional Delegation: No change.  Nolan and Cravaack is too close to call but a slight nod to the incumbent.

Minnesota House: DFL or GOP control by one seat for either and a real chance of 67-67.
Minnesota Senate: Republicans retain close control.

Marriage and Elections Amendments: Both pass.