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22
My last blog raised the possibility that big money and negative TV ads increase voter turnout. Now let’s consider the radical idea that the same two evils have another happy effect: increasing the level of voter information.
 
Denouncing the money and the ads, an N&O editorial said, “The ‘assault ads’ that bombard the viewer with dubious claims about the other candidate aren’t about informing voters at all but about appealing to the worst instincts of Republicans and Democrats, going for the emotional jugular.”
 
True, the ads go for the jugular. But is it true they don’t inform voters?
 
Actually, if you paid attention to every single ad in the U.S. Senate race, all the candidate ads and outside-group ads, you’d know everything there is to know about both candidates, good and bad: their voting records, their attendance records, their positions on issues, their past statements, their business records, you name it.
 
Now, are all the ads true? Of course not. They slant and distort. They gild the lily and stretch the truth. As do all paid ads, whether for cars, brokerage companies or weight-loss products.
 
But that’s not true of just “assault ads.” Sometimes the biggest lies are in the positive ads. See the ad where the Duke Energy President talks about the company’s commitment to the environment? That’s a positive ad. Do you believe that everything he says is true?
 
No, because we’re smarter than that. Smart enough to sift through what we hear and make up our own minds.
 
Of course, we’re not all paying attention to every ad. Maybe we’re like the Walmart moms that Rob Christensen wrote about: “Despite all the TV advertising, the moms could not recall much about Hagan or Tillis. They could only remember a few of the TV ads, other than they were bashing each other. These are busy people whose lives revolved around their families and their jobs, and watching the news didn’t seem to be a high priority, and they have only a passing interest in politics….Several mothers said they planned Googling for information on the Internet on election eve.”
 
That makes sense. Because everything on the Internet is true. Unlike TV ads.

 

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22
As good citizens, we all know that these two truths are self-evident in politics. First, as both editorial writers and Walmart moms agreed in the paper today, big money and “assault ads” are bad. Second, (as everybody but the Republican legislature, Governor McCrory and the State Board of Elections apparently think) higher voter turnout is good.
 
But suppose the thing we believe is bad produces the thing we believe is good? Suppose more money and more “assault ads” actually increase voter turnout? Suppose more “bad” produces more “good”?
 
Damon Circosta at the Fletcher Foundation started this with a Facebook post yesterday: "Serious question: with a 100 million dollar senate race, awareness of the election has to be pretty high compared to other recent midterms. If (generally speaking) higher turnout is said to benefit Dems, and the supposition that the sheer volume of ads both positive and negative cancel out each other's message, could such unprecedented spending, even if half of it is aimed at defeating Hagan, reached a point where all of this advertising simply serves as a turnout driver and as such a net positive for the incumbent?"
 
Laura Leslie at WRAL responded, “Actually, negative ads tend to suppress turnout, not drive it. Rs are already more likely to turn out for a midterm than Ds. I don't think it will turn out to be a net positive for Hagan. Research is mixed but mostly shows that negative advertising increases turnout, though not by much.”
 
Then the political science professionals jumped in.
 
Steve Greene at N.C. State said the research is “inconclusive and contradictory.” He cited one article that “claims that there is no demobilizing effect of negative ads.”
 
Will Cubbison at George Washington University gave us some interesting stats: “For comparisons sake...1984 with Helms-Hunt (almost this much money, highly negative ads) had 69% turnout. 1980 had 67% and 1988 had 62% so severe limits to effects.”
 
Now, I’m not a political scientist, but it does look to me like turnout was higher in 1984.
 
And if turnout is higher this year – and if your candidate wins – are big money and negative ads really so bad?

 

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21
Here’s the worst thing about all those negative political ads on TV: They mirror our national psyche right now.
 
You can blame the politicians and their consultants. But they’re giving you what they know works on you: fear and anger.
 
On both sides.
 
Democrats are angry about the North Carolina legislature for what it’s done on education, fracking, coal ash and voter suppression.
 
Republicans are angry about taxes, spending, gay marriage and the fact that Barack Obama is still President.
 
We’re all angry about something that government at some level has or hasn’t done.
 
And we’re all scared. We’ve been scared since 9/11. We’ve been scared since the 2008 crash, and we’re scared because the economy hasn’t come back stronger.
 
Now we’re scared about ISIS. And we’re in a full-scale freakout about Ebola.
 
The campaigns are just holding up a mirror. And we don’t like what we see.

 

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20
The paper’s print-edition changes were up for discussion at breakfast. Jim likes it: “That’s how I used to read the paper: front page first, then local and state news and Under the Dome. Now they’re all right there at the front.”
 
Gil’s not so happy. “My wife and I used to divvy up the front section and the local section. Now we have to fight over one section.”
 
But Patty nailed the real issue: “Why didn’t they just come out and say they did it to save money?”
 
In the time-honored tradition of editors talking to readers, John Drescher said the change “gives us more flexibility to use our space better” and “we’ll get the news to you in whichever form you prefer.”
 
Well, that’s not the entire explanation. The N&O is fighting incredible economic headwinds – and a plunge in print ads. They should be upfront about that, just as they would press somebody in government or business for more.
 
In truth, Drescher & Co. aren’t giving themselves enough credit. Because they’re still giving us great journalism despite the challenges. Take the Page One story about a chain for-profit charter schools getting millions of our tax dollars, which ran the day the new format debuted. The story came from Pro Publica, which calls itself “an independent, non-profit newsroom.” That’s a smart partnership when resources are overstretched and the staff is overworked.

In the months and years ahead, we’ll see more independent, nonprofit groups filling the gaps in subjects where newspapers have cut back, like education and politics.
 
In the meantime, good for the N&O for being creative. Good for them for still producing in-house investigative journalism like Mandy Locke’s Contract to Cheat series. And good for them for still delivering a print edition to our driveways when we could see exactly the same thing on our computers and tablets and save us all money.
 
Just give us the story straight. We get it, and we appreciate it.

 

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17
In the state where President Obama had his closest win in 2008 and his closest loss in 2012, why wouldn’t the U.S. Senate race be tight as a tick?
 
Carter has posted a great series of blogs about the race (although he’s wrong on the education issue). My other favorite blogger, Thomas Mills, weighed in on the “State of the Race.” I’m up!
 
Without the benefit of a good poll (see my blog yesterday), I’m guessing. So I base my guess on watching what the campaigns are doing – and trying to decipher what they think is happening.
 
First Hagan. Her real feat is that she’s even in this race, let alone tied or just ahead. Given that it’s Obama’s second midterm election and given how low his job ratings are, she could be toast. But she and her team have run a great campaign, far better than Tillis’. They made Tillis and his legislative record the issue. Now, as they fend off the last-minute attacks that feed on fears about ISIS and Ebola, they are focused like a laser on women: yes, issues like defunding Planned Parenthood, but also education, health care, minimum wage and special interests vs. the middle class. They know that women will decide this election, especially women in the big counties. And they have a huge field operation that is also focused on those voters, as Thomas notes.
 
Tillis’ team looked for a long time like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Now they think they’ve found the target: national security. They believe voters will vote against Hagan because she missed a hearing on ISIS, and they either have evidence it works or have convinced themselves it works.
 
(Of course, if members of Congress going to congressional hearings kept us safe, we’d be safe from ISIS, Ebola and everything up to and including “Zoos: Wild Animal Attacks.” Congress has about a 16 percent approval rating. Do we care who in Congress goes to what hearings to pose, preen and pontificate?)
 
The question is whether new and insiderish information now, when voters are saturated in ads and conflicting claims, will cut through. And Hagan’s response is, in effect, that she went to ISIS hearings more often than she voted with Obama.
 
Which brings us to Obama. Now, I think he’s been a great President. He stopped an economic meltdown, started a recovery, reduced the deficit, gave millions more people health care and kept us from doing stupid things overseas – all in the face of Republican die-harders who would wreck the country just to oppose him. But he does it with so little passion he looks passive. He has made the challenge for Hagan and other Democrats immeasurably harder. Especially as we go through our media-induced Great National Ebola Freakout.
 
For all of you souls in the campaign war rooms, I feel your pain. I’ve been there through those long final days. Sometimes we knew we were winning, sometimes we knew we were losing and sometimes we didn’t know what the hell was happening.
 
But it will be over in 18 days. Then you can enjoy all us bloggers, commentators and Wednesday-morning quarterbacks picking you apart.
 
Salut!

 

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17
You have to give Kay Hagan credit: A year ago the Swing Voters were ready to roll down the track and vote her out of office – and for a year Hagan kept those voters out of Thom Tillis’ camp.
 
The one big change in the Senate race – Tillis’ rising unpopularity with Independents – was all Kay Hagan’s doing.
 
On the other hand, Hagan had problems of her own: She’d been sitting at 43% or 44% or 45% of the vote for months. She’d kept Tillis from moving up. But she hadn’t moved up either. She was just as stuck as Tillis. Only in a different way.
 
The other day I had a repairman in the office and he said, You’re in politics?
 
I said, I’m afraid I have to plead guilty to that.
 
And he said, You know, we’re in a mess. We’re headed for a war and we ain’t got a leader in sight.
 
He meant ISIS.
 
And, maybe, that’s what’s going to tip the scales in the Senate race – a threat no one even knew existed six months ago may provide the impetus that moves Independent voters to support either Hagan or Tillis.
 
Of course, there could be other wild cards too.
 
Ebola.
 
Obama’s popularity dropping.
 
Or either Hagan or Tillis stumbling.
 
Any one of those events could tip the scales.

 

 

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16
After Hagan’s first round of attacks calling Tillis a Tea Partier, a few Swing Voters decided to vote for Hagan, a few decided to vote for Tillis, but most stayed Undecided. Ambivalently Undecided. They didn’t want to vote for Obama-Hagan. But they didn’t want to vote for Tillis either.
 
The bad news for Tillis was Hagan, by driving up his ‘negatives,’ had put him in a corner. The good news was Tillis had time to get out.
 
But then, suddenly, Hagan changed directions.
 
A year ago when the Moral Monday demonstrators descended on Raleigh it was a little like a circus – but it was a circus that got lots of press. Mountains of press. And the protestors’ message was simple.
 
Republicans in the legislature, they said, were against education. And teachers. And women. And children. And the poor, sick and infirmed.
 
Over and over they said Republicans had cut spending on public schools.
 
Now, that wasn’t quite so.
 
The Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction, June Atkinson, had proposed a budget that said legislators should increase spending on education hundreds of millions of dollars and, in fact, Republicans cut that proposed increase by $500 million.
 
But that wasn’t exactly a hard cut that meant the state would spend $500 million less on education than the year before.
 
In fact, since Republicans won a majority in the legislature in 2011 they’ve increased education spending a total of a billion dollars – or 14% – and even when you factor in the costs of increased enrollment and inflation spending on education has still increased 3%.
 
Republicans didn’t increase spending as much as Democrats like June Atkinson wanted – but there was no staggering $500 million cut.
 
The problem (for Tillis) was a year ago when the  Moral Monday demonstrators charged Republicans had cut spending, no chorus of Republican voices had answered, Wait a minute. That’s not so.  Instead, for a year, voters heard Democrats saying Republicans had cut education and when they didn’t hear a contrary word from Republicans they just, naturally, figured it must be so.
 
For Republican legislators in ‘safe seats’ that didn’t matter much but Thom Tillis wasn’t running in a safe seat – he was running statewide and as soon as Kay Hagan finished telling Swing Voters Tillis was a Koch-Brothers-Tea-Partier the next words out of her mouth were he’d cut education spending $500 million.
 
A month later Tillis was still stuck in a corner – Independents were still looking at Hagan-Obama and saying, I don’t want to vote for her. But they were also looking at Tillis and saying, I don’t want to vote for him either.
 
To be continued …

 

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16
Francis DeLuca at Civitas took issue with my blog about their polls (“Cooking Numbers at Civitas.”) He tweeted (@fxdeluca): “@jgaryp thanks for the follow! But don't appreciate your comments about Civitas polling! #youknowbetter.”
 
Here’s what I know. When the late Jack Hawke was at Civitas, he worked hard to give their polls credibility. But that credibility was stretched thin when Civitas put out a “flash poll” saying Tom Bradshaw (who I’m working for) led John Alexander by 52-36, then hours later sent out “a corrected version of today’s flash poll,” saying the lead actually was 10 points. No explanation was given for the correction.
 
Sorry, Francis; it smelled fishy.
 
This is just one example of why the plethora of polls this time in a campaign is more confusing than enlightening. There are so many polls in the news. Sometimes they’re consistent; sometimes they vary widely. How do you sort through them?
 
I’ve been looking at polls for 40 years now, and here’s my advice. First ask whether a poll has an institutional attachment (or big funder) that might influence the findings – or how the findings are reported. Then look at whether it used live callers or automated calls (IVR). Robo-polls can’t call cell phones, and 20-25 percent or more of voters may use only a cell phone.
 
Finally, ask yourself: Was the sponsor motivated to do the poll to get good information – or just get publicity for themselves? Would they spend the extra money it takes to do a good poll, or do it on the cheap to get a headline?
 
And a word to candidates and their campaigns. If you’re spending the money it takes to get good polls – and you should be – take public polls with a huge helping of salt. Take this advice from Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who won in 2010 after public polls showed him losing, though his own pollster had shown him ahead: “Trust your pollster. If you don’t, you’ll go crazy.”

 

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16
When Thom Tillis started his campaign his prospects looked promising. Obama wasn’t just unpopular, his unpopularity was a plumb line cutting through the electorate – you were either for Obama or against him and Kay Hagan was on the wrong side of the line.
 
Tillis, himself, back then wasn’t too well known but he could count on the Republican base falling in line and with 70% of the Swing Voters disapproving of Obama it looked like they’d fall in line, too, and send him sailing to victory.
 
Then, even before Tillis won the Republican Primary, Kay Hagan (and her Super PAC allies) lit into Tillis calling him a Koch-Brothers-Tea-Partier and, then, instead of sailing to victory, the earth shifted beneath Tillis’ feet.
 
To be continued …
 

 

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15
Stop the presses. I have something nice to say about Governor McCrory.
 
Unlike his Republican colleagues Thom Tillis, Phil Berger and Dan Forrest, McCrory said he will respect and obey the court decision on gay marriage, even if he doesn’t like it.
 
Good for him.
 
But why? I asked a couple of smart political people. One (a kind-hearted soul) said: “I don’t think he’s a mean person at all.” Another (a cynical sort) offered: “He needs every vote in 2016.”
 
Here’s a third theory: Duke Energy. Yes, his former employer, which may be his biggest obstacle to reelection because of the coal ash spill.
 
The theory: working almost 30 years for a large corporation taught McCrory the importance of diversity and tolerance. It’s not that corporations are nice people, it’s that they value smart, hard-working employees regardless of sexual orientation.
 
Whatever the reason, McCrory’s stance is a welcome change from fulminations about “activist judges,” “judicial tyranny” and “60 percent of North Carolinians voted for the amendment.”
 
Well, 60 years ago, 60 percent of North Carolina voters would have voted for racial segregation. That didn’t make it morally right or constitutional. The reason we have judges and courts, as the conservatives usually remind us, is to protect individual liberty against the tyranny of the majority.
 
So it is here.

 

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