Archive for June, 2007

h1

Where is the American Tony Blair?

June 28, 2007

Could a McCain-Lieberman ticket recapture the American political centre?

mccainliberman2.jpg

One of the paradoxes of modern American politics is while the political discourse has become ever more polarised and both the major parties have drifted ever further from the centre, the one foreign political figure universally respected in the United States is Tony Blair. Indeed, the last time his popularity among the American public was polled by Gallup, at the start of March, nearly two thirds had a favourable impression of him while only one in five Americans had an unfavourable opinion of him. This contrasts with the abysmal popularity of Bush (favourable rating 33; unfavourable 62) and even the ratings of the major candidates for 2008 such as Rudolph Giuliani (61/24), John McCain (50/30) and Hillary Clinton (50/47). Indeed, it has become almost a cliché that if Blair was not constitutionally barred from running there would be a clamour to draft him for the White House. Therefore, it seems logical to ask which candidate on the American political scene can best attempt to follow in his footsteps, or at least which politician can catch the political centre.

The most obvious place to begin such a search would be with the candidates for the Democratic nomination. However, there is no American equivalent of the government’s respect agenda, a general hostility among the Democrat candidates to free trade and surprisingly little talk about social exclusion and even less about the future of public services or pension reform. It also goes without saying that on the one issue that has defined political debate on both sides of the Atlantic, namely Iraq and the struggle against Islamist terror, there seems to be no support for standing up for democracy. The only areas of agreement with their counterparts across the Atlantic are minor issues such as civil partnerships, hardly the fundamental issues facing America. Similarly, the Republicans have moved even further out into right field than usual, with no ideas (or even awareness) for solving either the social problems gripping America or the budgetary consequences of Bush’s fiscal recklessness. Even on the issue of there are signs that they may be reverting to their isolationist roots with Sam Brownback, and now Mitt Romney, qualifying their support for a continued presence in

However, there is one serious candidate who breaks away from this mould, the maverick senator John McCain. His support for action on global warming, pension reform and an interventionist foreign policy overlaps with that of Tony Blair. In addition, his attempts to work with Democrat Senators on attempts to reform immigration, healthcare and campaign finance show his dedication to the important issues that affect everyday Americans. Indeed, the respected magazine National Journal puts him smack the centre of the Senate based on last year’s voting record. However, McCain is still no Tony Blair. After all, he may have opposed Bush’s tax cuts and proposed a commission on healthcare, but he doesn’t intend to reverse them and he hasn’t put forward specific proposals of his own (though he hinted at support for universal healthcare in his 2000 campaign). However close McCain came to leaving the Republicans in 2001 or joining Kerry’s ticket in 2004, he has remained a Republican. Despite the fact that he has been a senator since 1984, McCain began his bipartisan cooperation only in the mid nineties. At the same time a lacklustre and confused campaign means that he has both lost his frontrunner status and much of his previous support.

However, despite his shortcomings he still remains the candidate closest to the political centre (barring a re-entry by Mark Warner) and by far the candidate with the strongest character and integrity. McCain first needs to accept that he is never going to capture a large proportion of the most ideologically driven Republican primary voters and that trying to appeal to them will be counterproductive. If he wins the nomination selecting Joe Lieberman as his running mate (the American politician whose views coincide most closely with Tony Blair) would also demonstrate his centrist credentials. Although they disagree on as many small issues, as one would expect of a moderate Republican and a moderate (Independent) Democrat, they have a remarkable record on the big issues. They have sponsored legislation together on the environment, gun control and Iraq while Lieberman has worked with other Republicans to increase immigration of skilled workers. If they stick to foreign policy and the domestic problems, which both President Bush and Nancy Pelosi have left unaddressed, such a ticket could be unbeatable. In any case the evident respect that the American public have for international political figures like Tony Blair should demonstrate to both sides the importance of confronting pressing concerns while speaking to the centre and adopting a foreign policy which is not afraid to stand up for freedom.

Advertisements
h1

Democrats and the Curse of the Frontrunner

June 26, 2007

Should we treat Hillary Clinton’s lead in the opinion polls with a pinch of salt?

 vert_hillary_clinton_ap1.jpg

As yesterday’s article about the Democratic nomination makes clear that I believe that Hillary Clinton is, and should be, regarded as the favourite for the Democratic nomination. However, the Democrat field is notorious for being one with a track record of frontrunner failure. Looking at the Gallup archive for opinion polls in the summer before the primaries I found the following:

1951 – A poll on May 24th had Dwight Eisenhower leading Truman. Adlai Stevenson was not among the ten possible candidates listed in the poll.

1967 – By July 18th Lyndon Johnson was leading Robert Kennedy by over 6% with no other candidate having declared.

1971 –Polls in April and June had Hubert Humphrey and Ted Kennedy leading the field with George McGovern in single digits.

1975 – A poll on May 5th had Hubert Humphrey as the frontrunner with Jimmy Carter on 1.25%, behind over twenty other possible candidates.

1979 – A poll on August 10th had Ted Kennedy ahead of President Carter by over 25%.

1987 – A poll on July 13th had Jesse Jackson in the lead, slightly ahead of Michael Dukakis.

1991 – As late as June 29th Paul Tsongas was the only declared candidate. In a list of candidates people would like to see run, Bill Clinton was sixth with only 1.75% (13 respondants in total) wanting him to enter the race.

2003 – Joe Lieberman was the undoubted frontrunner in the first half of 2003. Even by July 12th he was still in the lead by four points. John Kerry, was in fourth place behind Dick Gephardt and Al Sharpton.

So in eight out of the 12 post-war elections for which we have polls for (there were no polls covering the Democrat nomination in the summers of 1947, 1963 or 1995) the candidate who was leading in the polls during the previous summer or late spring did not win the Democratic nomination. So, what conclusions can we draw from this? The obvious conclusion is that the Democratic primaries are indeed extremely fluid and that trailing candidates can come back (Carter, Dukakis and Kerry are obvious examples) while obscure candidates can rise to the top provided enough ‘big guns’ decide to withdraw (McGovern, Carter in 1976 and Clinton are obvious examples).

However, the temptation to simply use past form should be resisted. Hillary Clinton, barring an unforeseen event, is simply not going to withdraw (as in 1952, 1968, 1972 or 1976). Nor, like Lieberman in 2004 and Jesse Jackson in 1988, her support built upon the fact that she has superior name recognition. In fact the best analogy is with 1984, one of the few cases where the frontrunner managed to win the nomination, where Walter Mondale used his establishment status and better organisation to win beat Gary Hart.

h1

Road to the White House: Part Two

June 25, 2007

Handicapping the Democratic Nomination at this stage

In contrast to the Republican race, the Democrat contest is between Hillary Clinton and the rest of the field. Only the possibility of Al Gore entering the race muddies the water a little bit

Hillary Clinton – Hillary has the name recognition, the money, the support of the Democrat establishment and she leads in the polls. She also has a formidable organisation (including several of the brightest minds in the business). Her response to Obama’s criticism of her position on outsourcing and her call for unity during one of the early debates demonstrates her ability to win the ‘spin wars’. She also has a natural constituency and if she gets the nomination it is to see her getting less than 45% of the vote. However, although her strategy of avoiding the worst of the left wing grandstanding over Iraq is a shrewd electoral strategy it means than many on the left dislike her. At the same time there is a general recognition that she is a divisive character and even if Bush remains unpopular her national support has a natural ceiling of 55%. If she were facing a stronger field her chances would be a lot less but given the field the estimated chance of her winning the nomination is around 60%. Price on Intrade.com 48-50. UNDERPRICED

2. Barack Obama – In many ways Barack Obama is like Gary Hart in 1984 (though obviously without Donna Rice). He is running against an establishment figure with a liberal voting record who doesn’t generate much enthusiasm. Similarly, although he is slightly to the left of Hillary and is light on policy there is the perception that he is ‘a new kind of Democrat’. However, his record makes Hart look experienced and his candidacy seems to be a demonstration of the ‘audacity of hype’. We should also remember than Hart was not able to beat Mondale for the nomination. Expect him to do well enough in the contest to make a convincing case for the vice-presidential spot. Estimated chance of winning is around 20%. Price on Intrade.com 30-31. OVERPRICED

3. Al Gore – If there is one candidate who could upset everything for Hillary it is Gore. Gore has the experience and has the support of the Democrat left for his antiwar and pro-environment stance. He also has a greater appeal to the South than either Obama or Clinton. However, he has stated several times that he doesn’t intend to run (although a late entry would be his best strategy). The only effect that his candidacy might have is on the vice presidential tickets since he would siphon support away from Obama and his presence could deter Joe Lieberman from joining a fusion or ‘national unity’ ticket with the Republican nominee. Estimated chances of winning the nomination is around 10%. Price on Intrade.com 9-10. FAIRLY PRICED

4. John Edwards/Bill Richardson – Although there is certainly place in the Democrat race for a centrist who is willing to address the big issues and stand up for a strong foreign policy both Edwards and Richardson have moved away from the centre. Edwards might have started out addressing the issue of poverty but his decision to use campaigns funds for grooming has undermined his credibility. Richardson might be a savvy choice for the vice presidential spot. Estimated chances of winning the nomination are around 5% each. Price on Intrade.com 5-6 (Edwards) & 2-3 (Richardson) FAIRLY PRICED/UNDERPRICED

5. Biden, Dodd, Kucinich, Gravel et al – The only interesting thing that could change the race is if Mark Warner re-entered the race (which is unfortunately unlikely). Apart from that the fringe candidates can be ignored.

h1

Road to the White House: Part One

June 24, 2007

Handicapping the Republican Nomination at this stage

Essentially the race is a three way tie between Rudolph Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain with Fred Thompson slightly in the lead. Mitt Romney and other are trailing far behind at the moment.

Fred Thompson – The only social and economic conservative in the race who has a chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the national elections. A charismatic candidate who has made the strategically clever decision to avoid the expenditure of money and time that an earlier start to the campaign would entail. His response on the immigration issue was a master class in triangulation, keeping in tune with the Republican base while shifting the emphasis to sovereignty rather than simple immigrant bashing. However, he is light on experience and he has little to say on the key issues of the day. Estimated chances of winning the nomination is around 35%. Price on Intrade.com 29-31. SLIGHTLY UNDERPRICED

Rudy Giuliani – Most people, including myself, believed that his (relative) social liberalism would mean that he would have fallen from frontrunner status by now. However, it seems that either a general social liberalism is no longer such a bar to a potential Republican nominee, the leadership he showed (or was perceived to have shown) during 9/11 outweighs such considerations or the Republicans believe that he is the only candidate who can win. Most likely it is a combination of all three. However, it might just be that Republican voters are not paying attention at this stage and when the contest begins in earnest (probably at the start of September) he will lose. Estimated chances of winning the nomination is around 30%. Price on Intrade.com 30-31. FAIRLY VALUED

John McCain – In terms of background, electability and his ability to address the big issues he is the strongest candidate. However, his decision to hire managers and consultants from the establishment has proved disastrous. In an era where political opinion has moved to the left he seems to be using the rhetoric of George Bush in 2000, alienating his supporters without winning him any new friends. Consequently he is languishing in the polls and one source has described McCain’s campaign as, ‘a biplane on fire and spiraling down’. However, since McCain survived a literal plane crash he can surely survive a metaphorical one. The only question is whether he understands the radical surgery that he will need to perform on both his staff and his policies if he is to regain the maverick status. His continued support of immigration reform and the reconstruction of demonstrates that he hasn’t left his maverick status behind. The only question is whether he can extend the same logic to his tax and healthcare policies. Estimated chances of winning the nomination is around 25%. Price on Intrade.com 9-11. UNDERPRICED

Mitt Romney – Although Romney has a strong position in New Hampshire and he has no problem raising funds his campaign is going nowhere fast nationally and his decision to downplay his only asset, his healthcare plan, in favour of a conversion to social conservatism will win him no friends. McCain’s sarcastic comment that Romney should get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn’, encapsulates Romney’s hypocrisy on immigration, his attempts to appeal to social conservatives and the ultimate futility of nativism. Essentially Romney can be dismissed as Giuliani without 9/11 or Giuliani’s charisma. Estimated chances of winning the nomination is around 5%. Price on Intrade.com 9-11. OVERPRICED

5. Brownback, Huckabee, Tancredo, Paul et al – With a field of eleven it seems inevitable that many will drop out relatively soon. Unless the Republican party have completely taken leave of their senses I can’t see Ron Paul or Tom Trancredo being nominated and even the boldest commentators agree that Sam Brownback is out of sync with the national mood. The only candidate I can see being even a minor factor is Mike Huckabee but even that is an extreme long-shot. Estimated chance of any of them winning the nomination is around 5%.

Therefore McCain seems a solid tip while Romney should be avoided.

h1

Why Bloomberg Won’t Win

June 22, 2007

Four reasons why the Mayor of New York should be ingored by savvy punters

Bloomberg doesn’t stand for much – For a candidate who attacks the Republicans and Democrats for failing to address the big issues, Michael Bloomberg has surprisingly little to say. Both supporters (like myself) and opponents of the reconstruction of Iraq believe that the next President needs to have a clear plan of action. However, although Bloomberg has criticised both supporters and opponents of the war for their lack of a plan he has remained quiet on what he plans to do. Indeed, when pressed to commit to a position he stated that, “its not a local issue and I don’t have anything to say. Similarly, he has failed to address any of the other issues.

2. He’s not that popular – Third party candidates usually fall into two categories; serious contenders and protest votes. In the former categories are candidates with enough initial popularity to make them serious contenders, which is usually about 25%. Examples of these are Jon Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992 (John McCain would have started out with this level of support had he run in 2000 or 2004). This is important because in a FPTP system like America’s voters will eventually desert candidates who have no realistic chance of winning. Candidates who fail to maintain this level of support, like Anderson in 1980, or don’t have the support in the first place, like Henry Wallace in 1948 and Ralph Nader, will simply become irrelevant, except as spoilers. The latest polls, by FOXNEWS and SurveyUSA show that Bloomberg has about 7% support in a hypothetical match-up with Giuliani and Clinton.

3. You can’t simply write a cheque for the Presidency – The cliché that American politics is solely about the money, although partially true, is wildly exaggerated. Fundraising may be a necessary chore for all candidates but they are an essential part of building support. Getting 100 people to come to $10 barbecue may raise the same as one $1,000 donation but those who donate are more likely to contribute their time and effort and ultimately vote for the candidate. The candidates who have managed to leverage a personal fortune into success have all sought funding from elsewhere. JFK made a special point of building a network of supporters while Perot didn’t run until a massive volunteer effort had put him on the ballot on all state. Politics is littered with self financed vanity candidates, such as Steve Forbes, while the fact that Howard Dean had more funds than either Kerry or Edwards in 2004 didn’t help him one bit. If it cost $70m to pull his mayoral campaign back from a 10 point deficit in 2005, the amount of money that Bloomberg will need to even become a semi-credible force in American politics will possibly too much for even his fortune.

The charisma factor – One of the most important assets that any politician can have is the ability to inspire loyalty and a compelling enough narrative to justify why he (or she) should be elevated to the most important position in the free world. On the Democrat side Hillary appeals to those who want a return to the Clinton era while Barack Obama has the audacity of hype. Similarly, John McCain has a compelling narrative as a war hero and a maverick and Giuliani has the events of 9/11. Although Bloomberg has enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur and a solid term in office as mayor of New York he has not done anything to distinguish him from the other ranks of self made millionaires or local politicians. Indeed, his journey from Democrat to Republican to Independent, because it was marked by political necessity rather than a change in convictions or alienation.

I believe that Bloomberg’s resources could get him media attention and might possibly get him into double digits. However, not only does he have no chance of winning, his role in the Presidential race can only be a negative one, by preventing the possibility of a viable independent ticket.

h1

The Political Tipster Begins

June 22, 2007

This is a site dedicated to betting on current events and general political commentary. The author is a British postgraduate student doing research on Economic History at the London School of Economics. He can be contacted at tipster@politicaltipster.com.

Important Disclaimer:  Use any advice given here at your own risk and don’t gamble what you cannot afford to lose. Columnist(s) may have positions in wagers mentioned. Prices quoted are correct at time of going to press.