State of the Union

Did the IRS Win the Election for Obama?

Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute and a group of colleagues conducted a study which has led him to conclude that IRS scrutiny of Tea Party groups prior to the 2012 election reduced turnout and led to Barack Obama’s victory.

In a new research paper, Andreas Madestam (from Stockholm University), Daniel Shoag and David Yanagizawa-Drott (both from the Harvard Kennedy School), and I set out to find out how much impact the Tea Party had on voter turnout in the 2010 election. We compared areas with high levels of Tea Party activity to otherwise similar areas with low levels of Tea Party activity, using data from the Census Bureau, the FEC, news reports, and a variety of other sources. We found that the effect was huge: the movement brought the Republican Party some 3 million-6 million additional votes in House races.That is an astonishing boost, given that all Republican House candidates combined received fewer than 45 million votes.

Veuger goes on to make a key assumption that I could not find in the study. (The study is about the impact of citizen protests on increased voter turnout, using the Tea Party as its key example. It gives a great deal of attention to the effect of rainfall on the success of protest events, with accompanying mathematical formulas). So I assume this is Vueger speaking for himself and not for his colleagues:

The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5 – 8.5 million votes compared to Obama’s victory margin of 5 million.

But the IRS’s focus on Tea Party non-profits, he says, interrupted that pace of growth. He provides no evidence for that assumption before jumping to another one: the IRS’s interest in Tea Party non-profits must have been at the direction of Obama’s operatives or “it may just be that a bureaucracy dominated by liberals picked up on not-so-subtle dog whistles from its political leadership.”

As a consequence, the founders, members, and donors of new Tea Party groups found themselves incapable of exercising their constitutional rights, and the Tea Party’s impact was muted in the 2012 election cycle.

There are two problems with this conclusion. The first problem is that the popular vote for GOP House candidates in 2012 was 58 million compared to 2010′s 45 million. Instead of being incapable of exercising their constitutional rights, 13 million more Tea Party-influenced voters apparently were very capable of exercising their rights. Of course, 2012 was a presidential election year which always produces a higher vote. But a 28 percent surge in voting can hardly be described as a “muted” impact.

Moreover, the GOP’s share of the 2012 House vote was six million more than in the previous presidential cycle in 2008. Vueger claims the Tea Party should have produced 5-8 million more votes in 2012, and it looks like that’s exactly what it did, substantially increasing the GOP’s totals over 2008 and 2010. So what’s this business about the IRS?

There’s a second problem. The IRS was focused on 501(c)3 non-profits. Veuger quotes one activist, as recounted in the Wall St. Journal:

As Toby Marie Walker, who runs the Waco Tea Party, which filed for tax-exempt status in 2010 but didn’t receive approval until two months ago, recounted recently: “Our donors dried up. It was intimidating and time-consuming.”

The American Ideas Institute, which publishes TAC, is a non-profit. So is the American Enterprise Institute, where Veuger is employed.  So Veuger and I know something about tax-exempt non-profits.

We both know they are not allowed to to engage in political campaigns. He and I can sympathize with any organization whose “donors dried up.”  However, if those donations were expected — in any way — to be used for partisan purposes, the IRS was right to examine them. Non-profits can use tax-exempt money to increase voter turnout as a civic effort. But they are not allowed even to endorse candidates, much less campaign for them. It seems like an oversight on Veuger’s part not to acknowledge that some Tea Party groups in their exuberance were trampling over the clearly painted line that he and I both know so well, thereby assuring the interest of law enforcement agencies such as the IRS.

Peggy Noonan on Friday touted Vueger’s spin on the study (which she clearly did not read) and seemed especially taken with the theory that it was a Democratic voter suppression effort:

Think about the sheer political facts of the president’s 2012 victory. The first thing we learned, in the weeks after the voting, was that the Obama campaign was operating with a huge edge in its technological operation—its vast digital capability and sophistication. The second thing we learned, in the past month, is that while the campaign was on, the president’s fiercest foes, in the Tea Party, were being thwarted, diverted and stopped. Technological savvy plus IRS corruption. The president’s victory now looks colder, more sordid, than it did.

Thinking about it, as Noonan suggests I do, I just cannot find a there there. The Tea Party seems to have contributed to a higher vote for the GOP — measured by the popular vote for the House, which is Veuger’s baseline — in 2012 than in 2008, and much a larger total than 2010. Meanwhile, the Tea Party was not being “thwarted, diverted, and stopped.” The IRS was examining the applications of Tea Party-affiliated non-profits, none of which should have had anything to do with the campaign anyway.

There was a good reason they were being examined. Although we would like to think these citizens groups are as pure as newly fallen snow, the fact issome Tea Party non-profits were clearly breaking the law.

Not for the first time in the last few years, Peggy Noonan needs to take a deep breath. And AEI might want to caution Stan Veuger about using his colleagues’ straightforward scholarly work to extrapolate a case that is not there.

Wick Allison is president of the American Ideas Institute.

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Can Democrats Win Texas? Is the GOP Toast?

Looking at the results of the last three election cycles, it seems impossible. The Democratic Party in the state is a mere ghost organization. Much-heralded demographic changes have not resulted in even a slight increase in Democratic votes. Texas may be a majority-minority state, but unlike, say, in California, Hispanics in Texas do not seem to have a culture of civic participation. They simply do not vote.

Then again, who would have predicted a decade ago that Dallas — once the most Republican major city in America — would become a Democratic bastion? Houston, San Antonio, and of course, Austin are also firmly in the Democratic camp.

This morning Politico reports that Jeremy Bird, one of the architects of Barack Obama’s formidable campaign apparatus, has formed “Battleground Texas,” a group that will raise “tens of millions of dollars” to put the Obama fieldbook to work in organizing block-by-block turnout of neglected and hitherto-uninterested Democratic voters.

It would be foolish for Republicans to underestimate (as they did in the Obama-Romney contest) the power of Obama’s data-based, volunteer-driven organization. Ted Cruz, for one, doesn’t underestimate it at all. As he told The New Yorker in November:

If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’

(Cross-posted, with minor edits, on

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Grassroots? Dick Armey’s $8 Million Payout

Being a patriot has never been so profitable.


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Best Headline of the Day

“America’s 50 Worst State Legislatures”

Hat tip to Mother Jones. The article is here.

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The Real GOP Fiasco: Fairness

Bill Kristol, for once, is right. The Bush tax cuts for the rich have to go.

The election is barely over, but true to form, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have already bungled the next one. Their line in the sand is exactly the wrong way to recast the GOP’s appeal to minorities, women, and working-class whites.

Look at the data. Exit polls showed that voters largely agreed that Romney was a “strong leader” and “had a vision for the future.” But as AEI’s Henry Olsen notes, “Romney lost because he lost among those who chose the remaining characteristic – by 63 points, 81-18. That characteristic? Cares about people like me.” (The exit polls do not include the nine million white voters who showed their opinion by not voting at all.)

Having lost two national elections in which the Bush tax cuts were at issue, the GOP Congressional leadership now seems determined to dig the ditch deeper.

C.S. Lewis begins his classic Mere Christianity by listing phrases we’ve all heard or said: “How’d you like it if someone did the same to you” – “That’s my seat, I was here first” – “Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm” – “Why should you shove in first.” He notes that a child’s first introduction to immorality is when someone cuts in front of him in the school lunch line. The response is instinctual: “That’s not fair.” All moral codes, Lewis says, begin with that one reaction: “That’s not fair.”

The Republican Party can appeal to “Judeo-Christian values” as long as the sun shines and their voices hold out. But they’ve abandoned the most basic moral value of all: fairness. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity. But tell that to minorities, to single women, to working-class whites. Even 44 percent of voters who earn over $200,000 a year voted for Obama, the candidate who promised to raise their taxes.

We all know that eliminating the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy will not make much of a difference in the deficit ($42 billion a year, by most estimates). But anybody who preaches on that point will find himself talking to an empty auditorium. And if raising taxes on the rich is redistributionist socialism, someone should should have told Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan, whose rates on the rich were 91, 70, and 50 percent.

A capital gains tax rate (making money off money) that is lower than the earned income rate (making money off work) is just not fair. Bestowing that rate on hedge-fund managers through a specially designed loophole is just not fair. Allowing the rich to take mortgage deductions for second and third homes, or for homes worth over $1 million, is just not fair. Allowing business owners like me to take myriad deductions that our employees cannot take is just not fair. But, most of all, allowing the wealthy to pay very low tax rates while interest on the war debt accumulates, deficits continue, and middle-class incomes deteriorate is just not fair.

Perhaps McConnell and Boehner have taken their stand on principle. Or perhaps they are still scared of Grover Norquist. Perhaps they truly believe – in contrast to three decades worth of evidence and a recent study by their own Congressional Budget Office – that lower tax rates on the rich actually produce jobs. Or perhaps they’re just waiting for the kind of face-saving compromise Galupo has suggested (and the president is now unlikely to approve). Or perhaps they’re just not very bright.

The reasons don’t really matter. The results are what matter. And they got the results on November 6.

The GOP can recruit candidates with Hispanic surnames, tone down its platform, prep its members on talking points, and try to duplicate the Obama turnout machine. But if it remains the party of entrenched unfairness, it will never win another national election.


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Holding the House: Races the GOP Needs to Win

We’ve worried recently about analyses showing the GOP could lose the House (and what the Democratic leadership would look like as a result).

Robert Dunham at the San Francisco Chronicle thinks a turnover is possible but unlikely:

Because of reapportionment and redistricting, more than three dozen incumbents (of both parties) are fighting for their political survival. Add to that the larger-than-normal number of retirements, which has given each party some good take-over opportunities. And some 20 Tea Party freshmen are trying to prove that their 2010 upset wins were not a once-in-a-political-lifetime aberration. Democrats must gain 25 seats to win a majority in the House of Representatives, and they’re hoping for a Mitt Romney meltdown that discourages GOP turnout. It’ll be tough. Democrats are competitive in some 40 Republican-held districts. But the GOP could stake claim to up to 35 seats currently held by Democrats.

He then lists the ten top competitive House races to watch.

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Dallas Fed President on Why He Opposed QE3

Richard Fisher says we don’t know much about why the economy is stalling, but we do know one thing: liquidity is not the problem.

Our engine room is already flush with $1.6 trillion in excess private bank reserves owned by the banking sector and held by the 12 Federal Reserve Banks. Trillions more are sitting on the sidelines in corporate coffers. On top of all that, a significant amount of underemployed cash—or fuel for investment—is burning a hole in the pockets of money market funds and other nondepository financial operators. This begs the question: Why would the Fed provision to shovel billions in additional liquidity into the economy’s boiler when so much is presently lying fallow?

Despite his opposition, he gives generally high marks to how the Fed has handled the crisis. If you’re looking for the source of the present economic stall, he says, look at your local member of Congress:

[T]hey fight, bicker and do nothing but sail about aimlessly, debauching the nation’s income statement and balance sheet with spending programs they never figure out how to finance.

I am tempted to draw upon the hackneyed comparison that likens our dissolute Congress to drunken sailors. But patriots among you might take umbrage, noting that a comparison with Congress in this case might be deemed an insult to drunken sailors.

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Could the GOP Lose the House? Egads!

Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium is the first I’ve seen to even discuss the possibility, and he’s not an unbiased source. But he’s got data to back it up.

Using all polls and median-based statistics to address issues of outlier data gives the median of D+4.0% that I gave. That translates to a narrow 16-seat Democratic majority in an election held today. This would be an unusual outcome. It would involve a Democratic net pickup of over 30 seats, much more than the typical gain for a re-elected president’s party. But 2010 was also an exceptional wave year for the Republicans. Again, think of the pendulum. In any event, this is what the numbers are currently telling us.

You should review his data sets, polling numbers, and analysis before jumping in — but then you may feel like jumping off a cliff.

Look, I hold no brief for the current batch of House Republicans, including the sainted Paul Ryan. I believe they are hypocritical, hyper-partisan, and unrealistic. No more self-congratulatory group of people ever existed that had less to congratulate themselves on. I mean, voting to repeal Obamacare thirty times? Was that necessary? Meanwhile, a small task like adopting the recommended reforms to save the Postal Service billions of taxpayer dollars languished in the in-box because closing a post office in Pipsqueak, Georgia, might have offended its total population of three.

But, friends, if you think the House Republicans are shallow and ideological, allow me to introduce you to some of the prospective committee chairmen of the House Democrats. For Foreign Affairs, there’s Howard Berman, who wants war with Iran, and the quicker the better. For Natural Resources, Ed Markey. For Energy and Commerce, Henry Waxman. For Education and the Workforce, George Miller. For Judiciary, John Conyers. And for Ways and Means, Sandy Levin (who, while liberal, is at least sane compared to the deposed Pete Stark).

These old warhorses — average age, 73 — embody the calcification of liberalism in America. Obama can be as centrist and pragmatic as some think he has been, but these are the ideologues who will write the laws, and with a Democratic Senate, might even pass a few. This is scary.

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How to Get Your Comment Published

A number of people have wondered why their comments on a particular topic have not shown up on the site. The fact is, they have been excised.

Deciding which comments to allow and which to delete is an imperfect science if it is a science at all (which, come to think of it, it is not). To aid us all in understanding how to set a policy about comments that is fair and understandable, Alan Jacobs has made his first contribution to this site. He has pointed us to John Scalzi’s “How to Be a Good Commenter.”

Here are Scalzi’s 10 questions to ask before making a comment. (For a fuller explanation of each, click on his link above.)

1. Do I actually have anything to say?

2. Is what I have to say actually on topic?

3. Does what I write actually stay on topic?

4. If I’m making an argument, do I actually know how to make an argument?

5. If I’m making assertions, can what I say be backed up by actual fact?

6. If I’m refuting an assertion made by others, can what I say be backed up by fact?

7. Am I approaching this subject like a thoughtful human being, or like particularly stupid fan?

8. Am I being an asshole to others?

9. Do I want to have a conversation or do I want to win the thread?

10. Do I know when I’m done?

To which he adds, “No one said being a good commenter was easy. But the good news is that the more you’re a good commenter, the less you’ll actually have to think about being one before you type. It becomes a habit, basically. So keep at it.”

To which I add, we love having you as a part of our conversation about how to work out a practical conservatism to replace the shambles that is for some reason still called the Republican Party. You are as much a part of this project as we are. Ask Scalzi’s questions of yourself, be fruitful, and multiply.

ADDENDUM: Daniel McCarthy, ever the editor, asks me to warn that sometimes comments are swallowed whole by the spam filter. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and we still don’t know why. (We’re working on that.)

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Caracas, 1958; Benghazi, 2012

On May 13, 1958, the limousine carrying then-Vice President Richard Nixon was attacked by a mob in Caracas. Nixon was on a goodwill tour of Latin America and previously had been pelted with stones and garbage in Lima. In Caracas, the mob got perilously close to overturning his car after smashing its windows while Secret Service agents covered the vice president with their bodies. Only by using a flat-bed truck carrying the press to plow through the crowd was the Secret Service able to extricate the limousine from the mob.

Nixon wrote about those terrifying moments later in Six Crises, his first book, published in 1962.

The response of the Eisenhower Administration was immediately to step up economic aid to Latin American countries, coupled with a diplomatic offensive to improve relations. The move came too late, however. Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, establishing the first Communist country in the hemisphere.

I do not suggest equivalency with the reprehensible murders in Benghazi. I do suggest, however, that America often finds itself beset by forces it neither understands nor appreciates. Our colonialist attitude toward Caribbean and other Latin American countries from the 1890s through the 1950s — including the liberation of Cuba from Spain — was not met with unalloyed appreciation by its citizens. Iraq, Afghanistan, and, yesterday, Libya are not setting a new pattern. Nor were there many Muslims in Caracas in 1958.

Today, Latin America is one of our fastest growing trade partners, with trade increasing 82 percent vs. 71 percent from Asia in the period 1998-2009.

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