Back in the saddle again
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hello fellow history junkies! If you've followed me on Twitter you may already know some of this, but I wanted to put it down here as well. In late December I had a serious medical issue come up that kept me off the computer for awhile. I've spent the last few months recovering and getting a little healthier than I was before. Earlier this week I had tests done that show that hopefully the worst is over and I can start getting back into my old life again. Which is great news because I've really missed some of it and am getting tired of sitting on the couch watching Maury reruns all day!

So thank you all for your patience with me. If I haven't answered your emails I hope you understand and can forgive me. I'm usually really good about that sort of thing. I can't wait to jump back into this site as we near the 18-months-to-Presdent-Elect-2012 mark. I've got so much to do. Behind the scenes I want to finish updating all the historical data and pages and maybe add a little more interactivity to things as well. And I've gotten the same question sent to me by several different people in the past few days (class project? contest somewhere?) so I'll get an answer to that up as soon as I can. Finally, I need to move to a new blogging system so I can eventually update this thing more often!

Thanks again for your understanding.

Greatly exaggerated
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When a reporter was sent to follow up on a rumor that Mark Twain had died the famous humorist replied, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated". It seems rumors like that proliferate in politics as well. Two years ago, reputable media around the country asked if the election of Barack Obama signaled the end of conservatism and the Republican Party. Like Twain, I had a good laugh over that. I knew the Republicans would bounce back and here just two years later they are on the verge of some historic gains. How could I be so sure while the press was writing obituaries? Because, as another famous saying goes "What is Past is Prologue". And you don't even have to go back very far for evidence.

In 1991, President George Bush was riding a huge surge in popularity. Some polls had him over 80% approval. Saturday Night Live had a memorable faux debate among popular Democrats who fought each other not to be the guy who loses to Bush! But after Congressional Democrats convinced him to compromise with them and break his tax pledge, critics on the right and left hammered him and he lost his re-election bid.

In 1994, things were not looking good for President Bill Clinton. His approval numbers were at their all time low. The Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. And some people were already murmuring about a possible one term presidency. But Clinton was a fighter and a pragmatist. He took his lumps then used them to his advantage by working with the Republicans on popular issues and other areas where they could find common ground, but holding his own on issues where he believed he had the upper hand. Two years later what had looked like a disaster in the making propelled him on to become the first Democrat elected to two terms since Franklin Roosevelt.

The early 2000's were a roller coaster ride of the conventional electoral wisdom getting undone and redone several times over. After an election where the winner did not win a plurality of popular votes for the first time since 1888, most assumed President George W. Bush would not buck the historical trend of popular vote losing presidencies only lasting one term. But less than a year later that was all turned on its head when Americans united behind him after the terror attacks of 2001. He had historic approval ratings, and for awhile it seemed he would have no problem carrying that goodwill through his first term and into a second. However, an unpopular war brought his numbers back down to earth. But this election switch-a-roo wasn't done yet. Senator John Kerry looked like he would be able to easily ride the tide against Bush into the White House in 2004. In fact on election day some in the Democratic Party were already picking out curtains! In the end Bush was able to not only win, but get an actual majority of popular votes – the first time that had occurred since 1988.

So the next time you hear the media tell you that one party or candidate is down and out (and you might just hear it tomorrow morning about Obama), remember this other Mark Twain quote:

"It has become a sarcastic proverb that a thing must be true if you saw it in a newspaper. That is the opinion intelligent people have of that lying vehicle in a nutshell. But the trouble is that the stupid people – who constitute the grand overwhelming majority of this and all other nations – do believe and are moulded and convinced by what they get out of a newspaper, and there is where the harm lies."

National popular vote scheme
Thursday, July 29, 2010

In politics one way opponents vilify a plan or proposal they disagree with is by calling it a scheme. Other than the cheeky headline of this post I'll refrain from going that route!

An anti electoral college group is pressing state legislatures around the country to pass bills that would award their states' electoral votes, not to the popular vote winner of their state, but to the national popular vote winner. The bills would only take effect if enough states pass it to equal the number of votes needed to win the presidency. Right now that number is 270. The campaign has gotten their law passed in five states with another just a friendly governor's signature away from making it six. Those six states hold electoral votes totaling 73. So this is not something that is going to imminently effect any election. But they are steadily marching forward.

As long time readers know, I am a vocal proponent of the current system. This website advocating for the electoral college was started BEFORE the 2000 elections. I was even asked the week before that election about the possibility (some in the media were contemplating) of Gore winning the electoral college but losing the popular vote. My response was that Gore would be the undisputed president and Republicans would have to live with it! So I think that gives me some pretty strong credibility as an unbiased and nonpartisan figure in this debate. Unfortunately most of the current debaters of this issue seem to have only taken notice in the past decade and have let their feelings towards their preferred candidate in 2000 affect their judgment. Case in point, the map below shows the six states that have taken the lead with this proposal. None of them have voted for a Republican presidential candidate in the past two decades. So this appears to be more of a partisan debate than a scholarly or philosophical debate. And, again as long time readers know, I don't do partisan arguments here.

But I do want to quickly question them on this. One of the points made by proponents of this plan in just about every article written this week on the subject has been that in the electoral college system candidates on both sides of the aisle ignore states that are expected to easily go to one party or the other and instead focus on a smaller set of battleground states. My reaction to this is—good! Why is that a bad thing? None of these articles explain how getting rid of this would benefit voters. So let's examine the claim. Going to a popular vote system would mean candidates would spend more time in states like Utah and Massachusetts. So we'd get to see, using 2008 as an example, more of Obama in friendly liberal states and McCain in friendly conservative states. (Or, less likely, we'd see both candidates facing hostile, purely partisan crowds in states they have no chance of winning. Not gonna happen!) Undecided states where voters might ask tougher but fair questions would see less of the candidates. And that is a good thing?


Slow season
Thursday, July 15, 2010

Midterm election years are not the most interesting for those already looking toward presidential election years! Until we see what voters have to say this November it is hard to predict what may happen in two and a half years. And even then, two years is an eternity in politics.

Blog updates may be slow but work behind the scenes is ongoing. I'm working on some changes to the backbone of the site that will make updates much easier. So, no, I haven't forgotten the site. But things will get much more busy as we get past the Congressional elections.

First look at the 2012 map
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

We are now 1,000 days away from the next presidential election. While it is still way too early to do a serious electoral map analysis, that won't stop us from taking a first look at a possible 2012 map just for "fun"!

One important note: the electoral map could see some changes after this year's census. The trend has been that the more populous states are losing people to the less populous states -- a trend that could cause the Democrats to lose some votes. For now, we'll stick with the electoral numbers as they currently stand for each state.

President Barack Obama has seen his poll numbers plummet. He faces major criticism from both the left (for moving too slow) and the right (for moving too fast). More troubling is the fact that he is losing support from the middle and the "independents" who seem to believe he may be reaching farther than they expected based on the centrist tone he had during the campaign.

In 2008, Obama won the states in dark blue and light blue on the map below. The states in light blue are ones Obama needs to watch out for. Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are the least safe of the solid states, while Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa are the most solid of the states he could lose. For our purposes at the moment let's go with the map as is below (which as it turns out is the John Kerry 2004 map).

Several of the light blue states (IN, NE, NC, VA) have a fairly solid Republican track record in recent elections, but a charismatic Obama was able to take advantage of incumbent fatigue among independents and somewhat less than enthusiastic support among some conservatives for their candidate to pick them off. Right now it appears Obama would definitely lose these states if the election were today.

The other states (CO, FL, IA, NM, NV, OH) have flipped between the parties over the years, though most usually end up on the Republican side. For the same reasons listed above Obama was able to more easily pick up these states with the help of a larger Democratic base. These will be the battleground states Obama will need to fight to defend in 2012.

If Obama were to lose all the light blue states, he would lose his bid for re-election 286-252 (270 are needed to win). This is actually not a bad map for Obama. Only 18 electoral votes down with 10 states representing 113 votes available, I'd rate his re-election as probable right now -- but only just. My guess is Obama has 278 votes right now, picking up only 26 of the 113 on the table.

Obama also has another thing going for him. This drop in popularity (which really isn't too bad, just a few points under 50%) has come at the beginning of his term with plenty of time to still climb back up the polls. With mid-term elections this year, a Republican take over of at least one house of Congress is possible. In fact, losing in the mid-term might be a blessing in disguise. Obama could do as Bill Clinton did in 1994, and use the opportunity to move to the center and work with his opponents to get some things they can agree on done -- while getting most of the credit. Or he could continue as he has on the more liberal side of the fence then spend the last two years of his first term using the bully pulpit of the presidency to tell voters a Republican-led Congress is to blame for any gridlock.

The only thing for certain is that 1,000 days is a long time away and anything could happen.

Obama's travels and the Electoral College
Thursday, January 21, 2010

You might think politicians in Washington these days don't see eye to eye on anything. But whether Republican or Democrat, whether in the first year of a term or the last, politicians of all stripes are always thinking about their next election. Here's an interesting look at how even something as seemingly innocuous as presidential travel can actually have an electoral tilt to it.

CNN has a look at Obama's first year "by the numbers". According to the piece Obama has visited 28 states during his first year in office. (The AP says 29 and CBS says 30, but neither of them list which states those are so for our purposes we'll stick with CNN.) Hmmmm, there's something familiar about that list! Of those 28 states, Obama won 21 of them (75%) in 2008. Of the other 7 states he visited, 4 aren't averse to Democratic candidates having voted for Clinton in the 1990's. Obama only visited 3 states that are solidly Republican and where he probably has no shot of winning in 2012.

One year ago today: The DC Double Flub
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One year ago today we swore in our first black president. An historic moment in U.S. history! But based on the emails I got at the time many people were in no mood to put politics aside for even a day. President-elect Obama and Chief Justice Roberts had a tough time getting through the oath of office. And partisans on both sides came out swinging. "Did you see Obama mess up the oath!? He's not really president because of that, right?" and "Did you see Roberts mess up the oath!? I bet he did it on purpose!" are representative what people were telling me. Check out the FAQ page for more info on how it all was sorted out and to listen to audio of the original oath and a do-over done the next day.

Inauguration of the blog
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Welcome to Unpledged Elector, the blog of President Elect. I'm the webmaster here, James R Whitson. It's January 20th and I thought that date was a good opportunity to restart the site after our post-election hiatus.

In the past I have worked very hard to avoid the appearance of partisanship in this blog. This year I'm throwing that out the window. I will continue to be unbiased as always. But I'm not going to worry anymore about the the appearance of being unbiased! For example, in the past I've been careful to ensure that I kept positive and negative posts about each party and their candidates fairly even. Now I'm just going to post them as they come. If five negative stories in a row about the Republicans come up, I'm not going to go out of my way anymore to try to balance that with negative stories about the Democrats. If Obama has a slip-up, I'm not going to go look for a Palin gaffe to even things out. I hope you'll agree that this is not a biased manner of doing things in any way. I remain apolitical here, and have no desire to "preach" party ideology to you. But I also will not pander to you by trying to be "impartial" based purely on number of posts for or against your side!

Before signing off, a quick explanation about the name of this blog. When first imagined by the framers of the Constitution, electors were supposed to be independent thinkers, unpledged to any one candidate, who were expected to use their own judgment and deliberate over the choice for President. That plan did not last long! But the idea was noble. I want this blog to have the same policy as the site in general - no partisanship, bias, or spin. I want to discuss politics but not from a liberal or conservative point of view. I'm not bound to any party or candidate and my judgment is not clouded by partisanship. I am your unpledged elector.

I've still got some tweaking to do with the blog (adding things like permalinks for example!) so apologies that not everything is done yet. And thanks for visiting the site! I'll be back very soon to talk with you again!

If you have any questions, comments, gripes, error reports, corrections, etc.,
feel free to send them to email@presidentelect.org.

original content and graphics unless otherwise noted
© 1999-2012 James R Whitson