Sabato's Crystal Ball

Notes on the State of Politics

U.Va. Center for Politics September 22nd, 2011

Some short takes on what’s going on in the world of politics:

Ponzi scheme comments might not hurt Perry… in primaries

During the Tea Party debate last week, Mitt Romney harshly criticized Gov. Rick Perry for his description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme.” Romney went so far as to call Perry’s description “unnecessary” and “frightening to many people.”

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll, however, found that voters — and especially Republicans — might not be as frightened as Romney thinks (or hopes). The poll found that, among Republican respondents, only 19% were less likely to support Perry due to his comments, while 43% say the comments either made no difference or will make them more likely to support the Texas governor.

While his comments will most likely not hurt him in the primaries, they could be more consequential in the general election if Perry receives the nomination. The same poll found that 32% of Independents are now less likely to support Perry. If Perry hopes to win in November 2012, he will have to tone down his comments in order to appeal to this critical group of voters.

- Tim Robinson

The Democrats’ built-in big state advantage

A recent Field Poll of the state of California showed President Obama with middling approval ratings there — only 46% of those polled approved of his performance. But does that mean the Golden State will be competitive next November? Almost assuredly not, unless the eventual Republican nominee is rolling to a 400-vote-plus romp in the Electoral College. Even with Obama’s sub-50 approval, he leads Republican front-runners Rick Perry 54%-35% and Mitt Romney 51%-38% in the poll.

California, with its 55 electoral votes, is a Democratic stronghold these days, just like Texas, with 38 EVs, is a Republican stronghold. Those two states, combined with the four other states that have 20 or more electoral votes — New York (29), Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20) and Illinois (20) — account for 191 electoral votes, or about two-thirds of those needed to win the presidency. What makes things difficult for Republicans as they try to put together a map with the necessary 270 EVs, is that four of these six states — CA, NY, PA and IL — have supported the Democratic candidate in the last five presidential elections.

That means Florida — tied with NY for the third-most electoral votes — is essentially a must-win for any Republican candidate. Otherwise, President Obama would win 153 electoral votes from five of the nation’s six largest states — and be more than halfway toward the 270 he needs for a second term.

- Kyle Kondik

“Fair share” from the rich? A not-so new idea

Earlier this week, President Obama threw some red meat to his base — and pushed a concept that polling appears to support — by proposing a tax increase on people making more than $1 million per year.

In conjunction with the effort, the president’s reelection campaign cut an ad showing wealthy people at a cocktail party and noting how some major corporations don’t pay any taxes at all.

Oh, wait a second, sorry — we got confused. This is actually a link to a 1984 Mondale-Ferraro ad, in which the Democrats sounded similar themes about rich people benefiting from tax cuts and how they should have to pay their “fair share.”

It just goes to show that, in politics, everything old is new again.

Of course, President Obama can only hope that his appeal to raise taxes turns out better than Mondale’s, who ended up losing 49 states to Ronald Reagan in 1984.

- Kyle Kondik