Bramson’s Election Musings – Viewer Guide

By Noam BramsonVoting 2014

I don’t watch much TV — Game of Thrones, Top Chef on DVR.  That’s about it.  So I’ve been pretty disconnected from the ongoing campaign, which is playing out primarily in 30 second advertisements.  Then the other day, I turned on the box for a few minutes.

Whoa!

Heated charges, ominous voice-overs, dire warnings that the end cometh if Candidate X somehow attains public office.

There’s nothing new about this.  We get it every election nowadays, and I was up to my ears in it myself when I ran for County office last year.  But it gets worse with each cycle, as more money gets poured into the process.

It’s easy to understand why so many people feel disgusted by it all and swear off politics entirely.  But if you want to be a responsible citizen in a democracy, that’s not a good option, so I got to thinking about how to sort through these ads and determine which are worth our attention.

First, step back for a moment and consider how, in an idealized world, we would cast our votes.  In this fantasy scenario, every one of us would have perfect knowledge of how the election of one candidate or another would shape the actions of our government, we would be able to predict with perfect accuracy the consequences of our vote, and then we would cast ballots in order to best advance our own interests and values.  In other words, we’d behave like rational actors in classic economics theory.

Well, even if such perfect knowledge were attainable (and it’s not), who has the time?  So, in the real world, we use short-cuts.  We vote for the candidate who belongs to our party, or the candidate who was more cogent in a debate, or the candidate we met at the supermarket, or the candidate who seems like less of a jerk.  All those 30-second ads are aimed at influencing our shorthand, sometimes emotional, impulses.

And the more I reflected on those ads, the more I concluded that the usual standards for judging them — whether they are positive or negative, whether they are nasty or polite, even whether they are 100% truthful or cut some corners with the facts — kind of miss the point.

The better standard is whether an ad moves us closer to or farther away from that ideal, perfect understanding.  Does it connect our vote to future actions and consequences, or does it draw our attention away from future actions and consequences.  In short, does the ad clarify our real choice, or does it insteadobscure our real choice?

How can you tell one from the other?  There’s no foolproof method, but there are a couple of tests that make sense to me.

One, is the ad mainly about who a candidate is or mainly about what a candidate has done and will do?  Anyone can make claims about character, pro or con, and such claims rarely have much to do with the responsibilities of an office-holder.  Give more weight to ads that focus on deeds and plans.

And, two, is the ad about consequential topics or about minor side subjects?   If you’re on the wrong side of the big issues, you try to make the election a referendum on the trivial.  So beware of ads that focus on second or third rank nonsense with short-term emotional punch and no long-term relevance.

Apply these tests, and ads can start to look very different.  A nasty commercial that goes after Candidate X for positions on important public policy may be unpleasant, but it can help clarify our choices.  A gauzy, upbeat commercial featuring the testimonials of Candidate Y’s family may be nice, but it can obscure our choices.

Of course, a lot of this is a matter of opinion.  It would be hard, for example, for a media outlet to subject political ads to an objective clarity-meter, like the more familiar (and largely ineffectual) truth-meters.  But I still find this to be a helpful framework for my own use, and maybe it will be helpful for you, too.

So next time you see an ad for or against a politician, before deciding whether you agree or disagree with the position expressed, before deciding whether the ad leads you to think better or worse of the candidates, ask yourself a more basic question: does the topic of the ad even matter in the first place.  Does it matter to your life, to your family’s life, or the life of your community and country.

If the answer is no, then tune it out.  And if enough of us do just that, it won’t necessarily make our politics less nasty or less polarized, but it might make our politics more relevant, and that would be a step forward.

Guest Blogger Noam Bramson is the Mayor of New Rochelle

NERVOUS NITA SPENDS $1M AS ANGRY SUBURBANITES AID ASTORINO

By Ryan Karben

Seething suburban voters are threatening the re-election prospects of longtime Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) and markedly constraining the margin of victory for Governor Andrew Cuomo. The vaunted Democratic get-out-the-vote operation will likely carry the day in the end, but it is battling some of the most pissed off people in America.

Affluent and Angry for Astorino

Money certainly isn’t buying happiness for affluent suburban voters- and their discontent may be enough to allow Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino to deliver an embarrassing loss to Cuomo in Westchester County, where Astorino is the current chief executive and Cuomo lives. Cuomo carried Westchester with 66% of the vote in 2010.

Westchester residents and other voters in the New York City suburbs are super-sour about the state of the union. According to a survey conducted ten days ago by the Siena College Polling Institute, 69% of suburban voters think the United States is going in the wrong direction.

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(And the more you make, the more pessimistic you are- voters making more than $100,000 are 40% more likely to think things are going poorly than those making $50,000 or less.)

Despite their persistent foul mood about the nation’s direction, Sienna’s pollsters found as recently as a month agothat suburban voters still believed New York State was going in the right direction.

But the newer data shows that suburbanites are gloomy about New York too. Last week, Siena reported that voters in the suburbs now believe the state is headed in the wrong direction by a margin of 53 to 40.

Even in economically challenged upstate, voters who believe things are in the state are going in the wrong direction only narrowly edge those with a positive view. And it’s a world away from New York City, where voters who believe things are going well outnumber those think they aren’t by a 20-point margin.

This suburban angst steams from a politically toxic brew of relentless property tax hikes, anxiety over diversifying schools and shock over seemingly ceaseless land development. Despite a Cuomo-enacted 2% cap on property tax increases, well-to-do retirees and new suburban homeowners both blame state government for property tax bills exceeding $15,000 a year.

Intensifying suburban discontent is lifting Astorino’s suburban support. Astorino now edges out Cuomo by 2 points in the suburbs (46-44) after trailing him in the region by 19 points (33-52) in September.

That means nearly every suburban voter who made up their mind in the past four weeks opted for Astorino. The Republican made six stops in Suffolk County Sunday and may put the county in his win column on November 4th despite a nearly certain statewide loss.

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Will Silver Be Correct Again In Election 2014

ELECTION 2014

ELECTION 2014

It’s two weeks until Election Day, and I’m curious whether statistician Nate Silver will be correct again this year? Silver runs the popular blog www.fivethirtyeight.com and bases his election predictions more on the laws of probability than political analysis.

In the 2008 presidential election, Silver correctly predicted 49 of 50 states and followed that with a perfect 50 of 50 states in 2012. Silver became popular on the political left because in both elections he predicted that President Obama would be the winner and his blog appeared to a wider audience in The New York Times. Ironically, I noticed some recent left wing social media criticism of Silver because of his 2014 predictions.

In 2012, I believed the GOP talking heads that claimed the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney to be closer than the polling indicated and actually thought Romney might win. I was wrong, but Silver was right, and he became known as the most accurate forecaster in the country. Silver’s 2014 analysis is getting a lot of attention because he predicts that Republicans have a 65% chance of taking back the US Senate (LINK:  www.fivethirtyeight.com/interactives/senate-forecast). I also expect a GOP Senate win on November 4 based on the current polling, but recognize that a lot can happen in two weeks and believe some races are still too close to call.

Jim Maisano
Jim@FreeVoter.com