Election Connection

September 2008 Archives


Shift Work

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Fall is a traditionally unnerving time for the U.S. economy. Black Monday, in 1987, was October 19. The stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression was on October 24. And this week's stock drop, rebound and bailout drama has been no exception.

But what has the government done in the past to alleviate the stress and shore up the markets? And what can be done if this uncertainty continues as Election Day approaches?

Why Tuesday's Jacob Soboroff noticed an interesting fact this week - that in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving in an effort to spur the economy. Soboroff asks in Bail Out Our Voting System, "If we can move Thanksgiving for the convenience of retailers, what about moving Election Day for the convenience of voters?"

Roosevelt Moves Thanksgivin

While the Thanksgiving move was incredibly unpopular, it's not the first time the federal government has changed tradition. Other attempts at shifting dates of important events for the public good - like saving energy by moving daylight savings time, have been more successful.

Would you support moving Election Day if it would help the economy get back on track?


Peaking Interest

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Friday's debate between presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain marked the beginning of the end to a very long election cycle. But the debate also brought a renewed interest in the candidates and the electoral process that will undoubtedly only build through to the November election.

Online, more and more tools are launching to get people involved and keep a handle on the growing amount of commentary and information about the election.

Fact-checking the debates can happen almost instantly with the tools now available online. MediaShift looks at what's available now, and found a number of nonpartisan sites, from Media Matters to FactCheck.org and NewsBusters that take a deep dive on politicians' claims. MediaShift also addresses fears from academics that regardless of the available information, people often go online to confirm what they already believe, rather than to get the facts.

Last week, the Washington Post launched its Political Browser, a site that pulls together news and opinion from across the web, dividing sound bites into categories like "Punchlines" (quick hits from the comedy shows and humor web sites), "Trench Warfare" (left and right-wing political blog posts), and the "Blunder Box" (quotes that politicians probably wish they could revise).

To learn more about how traditional journalists are coping with the online space and how political coverage is changing, join in a chat with PBS Engage and NewsHour correspondent Judy Woodruff, where you can both ask questions and rate submitted questions. Possible topics that have been submitted so far include:

Have you noticed any difference between the ways both presidential campaigns field questions from reporters?

Is there any kind of legal way to keep political candidates from distorting or lying about their opponents or their own record?


How do you feel about the so-called Fairness Doctrine?

Add your questions and participate in the chat at 1pm tomorrow by visiting pbs.org/chat.


What Would You Ask?

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From defense spending and defining leadership to potential cabinet appointees and how the voting process could be improved, citizens are speaking up about what they want to hear from the candidates in the debates.


With both candidates now confirmed to appear at tonight's first debate in Oxford, Mississippi, the focus can turn away from the debate over whether there will be a debate back to the issues.

NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer's questions to Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama will likely focus on the economy in addition to the assigned topic of foreign policy. The questions are up to Lehrer -- who was called  "the most important person in presidential politics who isn't running for president" by Time's Mark Halperin - for tonight's debate. But on the Bill Moyers' Journal blog, viewers have responded in huge numbers to the question 'What questions would you ask of the candidates?'

Kent C. from Portland, Oregon asked: As President what will you do about this hardship and corruption that the government has inflected upon the American People?

Mick Rosenthal asked: I would like each candidate to discuss Climate Change, and not just what the Federal government will do to help, but what everyone can DO NOW to help.

Michael Beard asked: I would like to ask both candidates, or for that matter all candidates from the past twenty years, if they have ever had to sign a check and pay for personal health care insurance?

To see more and add your own question, visit the Bill Moyers Journal blog.

Tonight's debate falls on an auspicious day -- the anniversary of the Kennedy/Nixon debate that ushered in a new era of televised presidential politics. Will there be any more surprises tonight? To follow real-time updates of the debate, take a look at Twitter's new election updates site where keywords like "obama" "mccain" "debate" and "Mississippi" appear as they are posted with commentary from users.

And tune in to the NewsHour at 9pm ET to watch the debate and come back to Vote 2008 to discuss who you think won, whether the right issues were covered and what you're looking for from future debates.



Timing is Everything

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The upcoming presidential debate may be focused on foreign policy issues, but that's not the issue on the minds of many voters this week.


With the bailout bill working its way through Congress and the stock markets trembling, it's clear that the economy and housing are taking center stage. Even with Sen. John McCain's running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin meeting world leaders at the U.N. and President Bush making his final address there yesterday, the events were merely a blip on the radar for most of America.

Patchwork Nation's Dante Chinni is traveling to key states this week and he reports on how voters are following the turmoil on Wall Street and whether the "Palin effect" is still holding strong for McCain.

"I sent out a query about the economy last week to of all my communities and heard back from nearly all of them close to immediately. The upshot was most of them were waiting to see what the candidates were saying, but there was, even in the early stages, a sign of softening for McCain. 

All the Obama supporters said the news on the economy made them more fervent in their support and most of the McCain people said it wouldn't make any difference. But at least one McCain supporter was backing off. And the people I would say are undecided were... well ... undecided, but seemed to be leaning toward Obama."

What has been the reaction to Palin, now that she is becoming more known politician on the trail? Chinni says the "Palin effect" is starting to wear off in some of the communities he has visited.

"The other interesting thing going on out there is the sudden diminishing of the Palin effect. Is it because of the economic crisis, or simply a concurrent development, based on her performance? It's not clear, maybe some of both. But it looks like she may be costing McCain votes, especially among better educated, wealthier women. People I spoken with in Eagle, Los Alamos, and even here in El Mirage, AZ (where I am today) have said she has pushed them away from McCain. One of the women here, who owns a restaurant, said Palin was the deciding factor in pushing her from McCain."

What are the trends in your community? Do they reflect what Patchwork Nation is seeing in their analysis?


Message in a Time Capsule

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What better way to reflect on the contributions to the web in an election year than by collecting the best e-democracy tools and events and putting them in one place? September 22 marks the third annual One Web Day, celebrating the Internet and the effort to bring more and more people broadband access.

Since this is an election year, e-democracy was the focus of the Washington, D.C. One Web Day team (including PBS Engage), which created a Time Capsule of the best political engagement tools made online in the past year. This features projects like Sunlight Foundation's Open Secrets, American Public Media's Budget Hero game, and a list of e-Democracy heroes, like Patricia Aufderheide and Wendy Seltzer.


Sunlight Foundation co-founder Ellen Miller showed a new tool called Capitol Words, which shows the most frequently said words on the Hill on any given day, and Public Markup, which just today posted the financial bailout bill and gave people the chance to comment on it.

"Access to technology is predictor of whether people 'make it' ," Sen. Barack Obama's technology policy advisor Alec Ross said at the Time Capsule event in Washington.

Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., added that "Democracy requires lots of communication from various resources and shouldn't be restrained by government. It's important for us to have a framework that doesn't constrain participation."

One Web Day includes events around the country and the world - from a public housing broadband project in San Francisco to a concert in Chicago, Ramadan e-cards in Tunisia, and a blogging contest in Bangalore.


Fun with Real Audio

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As the campaigns turn more and more negative, and attacks on specific issues hit the airwaves, getting the real story can be a major challenge. Luckily, technology is coming to the rescue.

Google's Audio Indexing service allows users to find specific audio clips within videos uploaded to YouTube. The project is focusing on election-related content.

A search for "health" within a video of VP candidate Joe Biden speaking in Ohio brings up several mentions, including "...know we desperately need a rational health care policies" - you can click and hear just the part of the speech you're interested in.

PRX's Raw Audio project is indexing speeches and interviews from the campaign trail by using bookmarks and tagging. Want to find all the latest audio about health care from around public media? The raw audio list on health care brings up  everything from the latest NPR produced piece to the audio of John McCain speaking at the Livestrong Summit in Columbus, Ohio.

All this listening has me ready to relive one of the most creative uses of political campaigns' audio tracks -- Saturday Night Live's TV FunHouse skits used raw audio to skewer everyone from Ross Perot to George Bush to Jesse Jackson.


Pulse of the Polls

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What do political polls really mean? Are they more valid in aggregate than the daily ups and downs of the campaigns would have us believe? If you're only looking at the number, you might not be getting the full story of this election.


While the most recent numbers may make headlines, and publications like poll aggregator Real Clear Politics give some sense what's going on in the country's psyche, it's interesting to look beneath the numbers and focus on trends.

A search in Yahoo! Buzz index shows searches for Obama are nearly 20 percentage points above searches for McCain.

And on Google's Zeitgeist index, there's a similar search effect happening. But if we trusted search numbers to tell us the answer, Britney Spears or Paris Hilton would be far ahead of any politician.

To make some sense of what polls really tell us, this Bill Moyers report from 2002 with Daniel Yankelovich, an expert on on American values and public opinion, explains the need to be careful when reading poll results.

"I think that if I had to make one single suggestion it would be to ask yourself the question, when you look at the poll results, is this an issue where people have made up their minds? You may not know, but if you see inconsistencies, if the wording of the question changes the response," Yankelovich said.

Polls' wording may still be tricky, but some concerns that lingered in 2002 seem to be clearing up in 2008. A reader of Vote 2008 wrote in this week asking about whether cell phone numbers are included in polls, and if they aren't, whether that precludes polls' accuracy because the demographics of those surveyed would be different.

Major pollster Gallup notes in its current practices "Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only)."

For more best practices on polling, NOW on PBS provides a comprehensive check list for making a good poll and how to spot fallacies and misinformation.


Putting Lipstick on the Mortgage Crisis

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The spat between Sen. John McCain's VP pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama may only be a war of words - afterall, as Ballotvox points out, "lipstick on a pig" is an expression that "McCain himself used in 2007 to describe Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan."

But enough with the nitpicking. Patchwork Nation's Dante Chinni reports that the spat isn't having much of an effect on some key voter blocks. In the Boom Towns and Monied Burbs, the pressing issue isn't Sarah Palin's choice in eyewear, but the mortgage crisis and how many people are at risk for losing their homes.

"Today, I looked at the mortgage bailout. It actually could have some real impacts on the election. If all   those people with ARM mortgages can refinance now (some are forecasting 30-year fixed rates at under 6%) that could make them feel a bit better about themselves financially. And the mortgage crisis is biggest in to key community types -- "Boom Towns" and "Monied Burbs". They've seen some of the biggest effects from the foreclosures an they are both battleground community types where the vote was split in 2004.

Of course, weighing against that is the fact that a bailout was needed in the first place, which speaks to the shakiness of the housing market in general and probably helps Obama.

One other odd thing, McCain and Palin have come out blasting the bailout. Not sure that's a smart move."

Bloggers agree that the ad attacks are taking attention away from the issues about which voters are most concerned.

In a post that PRX project Ballotvox found from Black Men for McCain, one blogger speaks out on the lipstick attacks:

"I have never in my life been so embarrassed to be a Republican. Conservatives and Christians alike, I beg of you, take a stand. We are better than this. Only months ago, we had agreed to campaign on the issues. What happened?"

What are the key issues in your area? Are the candidates spending enough time talking about real things that affect communities?


Moment of Truce

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On the seven-year anniversary of 9/11, the campaigns are taking a break from the sparring to honor the victims of the attacks and discuss service at a forum in New York City. Service, that is, to both country and community.

The theme of service has been apparent throughout the campaigns and particularly at the conventions, creating some of the most poignant moments, and also sparking the most controversy.

The most moving part of McCain's address to the Republican National Convention was his story of survival as a POW in Vietnam.

"The good man in the cell next door, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me."

And in a Q&A with Newsweek a former Obama supervisor addressed the GOP's attacks on community organizers.

"He had to change the power dynamics between business, government interests and the community. It's very challenging sort of work."

But to relive a community coming together, spend a few moments thinking about the events of 9/11 and what's happened in the years since. WNET's New York Voices has a collection of stories about 9/11 survivors, the reconstruction of Ground Zero, and a look at the year in the life of Brooklyn's Poly Prep school, which lost 13 members of its community in the attacks.

Then share how you''ll commemorate the 9/11 anniversary. Do you think the campaigns are putting the right kind of emphasis on service?


Anecdotal Evidence

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The past two weeks saw some of the highest ratings ever for speeches at both the Democratic and Republican conventions, and the emails we received at Vote 2008 found that viewers had much to say about PBS' coverage and the campaigns in general.

By the numbers, over 38.9 million people watched Sen. John McCain's speech last week, and 38.4 million watched Sen. Barack Obama's address from Invesco Field. Add to that another 2.7 million for McCain's speech and 3.2 million for Obama's to include PBS' viewership estimates. At the start of the RNC, hurricane coverage took precedence and now that the candidates are back on the trail, the media covering the media have already shifted focus. After all, football season just started.

But in the stories and responses from viewers, we found an engaged, excited audience, both about the candidates and about the media coverage.


Sharon Christiansen wrote about McCain's candidacy:


"As a McCain supporter in 2000 primary, I am now extremely disillusioned with McCain. He appears to have sold out to the Bush clique and/or RNC machine. Very disappointing considering how the Bush camp smeared his war record in 2000."


Jake Witt wrote about cable news' limited time devoted to the conventions:


"Real people speaking first hand about the disgraceful condition this Republican Administration has left our country. But did MSNBC/CNN show it??? No, they had a commercial, followed by mindless pundits, mindlessly spewing shallow pontification and advertising for their own network.

PBS is actually SHOWING the convention."


And Daniel and Jill Pitterle shared their thoughts on a changing America:


"Come in off the coasts, we are having a great time here in Middle America. There is hope and optimism not only for us, but for our children and for our grandchildren."


What did you think about the convention coverage? How did you get your news last week?

Read more feedback from viewers on PBS Engage and share your thoughts below!


Beyond the Speeches

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Sen. John McCain's acceptance speech was the culmination of a long couple weeks for those in politics and media, but it was also the start of the real campaigns for both parties, with VP picks in place and supporters on message, ready to hit the ground running.

So let's take the few moments to look at stories that delved into some of the issues that the Republican National Convention raised about the party, and how the McCain-Palin ticket may handle these questions in the weeks ahead.

How can the GOP capture the Youth Vote? NewsHour's Ray Suarez spoke with the chair of the College Republicans.

Tavis Smiley's Young Voices blog looked at where African-Americans stand in the Republican party, and why there were so few of them on the convention floor.

NOW on PBS asks if the Republican moderates are ready for the right-wing Palin pick, and talks to journalist Amy Goodman about her arrest at the RNC protests.

Slate explains why and how candidates are vetted.

And to relive the week in St. Paul, just take a look back at the Twitter search for all live updates about the RNC


The Truman Show

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Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has a habit of including Sen. John McCain's middle initial, 'S' when she refers to the presidential candidate.


She did it in Dayton, Ohio last week when McCain announced her as his running mate. And she did it again on Wednesday, in the first moments of her speech to the Republican National Convention.


"And I accept the privilege of serving with a man who has come through much harder missions ... and met far graver challenges ... and knows how tough fights are won - the next president of the United States, John S. McCain."


Could this be a not-so-subtle comparison to another presidential 'S'?


Harry S Truman's legacy has much in common with the Republican nominee. While he was a Democrat raised in the tradition of the Midwest party machine, he was also a combat veteran and his military experience played a large role in his campaign. Others like David Colburn in the Chicago Tribune, have pointed out further similarities.


"But like Truman, McCain does not hesitate to speak his mind. He has also been accused of being impatient and having a temper, much like Truman," Colburn wrote.


McCain's remarkable service is everywhere in this campaign, on both sides of the aisle - Sen. Barack Obama paid homage to him at the Democratic convention in Denver last week, and the RNC's 'Service' and 'Country First' signs leave little to the imagination.


To get a larger sense of how presidents' military experience influenced their campaigns, check out this clip from American Experience. Did it matter that Harry Truman was a combat veteran? Will McCain's experience in Vietnam make a difference in 2008?


Big Night

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There's only one story here in St. Paul, and that's Sen. McCain's vice presidential pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.


While the delegates and GOP leaders are clearly staying on message about the surprising pick, there's much speculation happening in the halls beyond the Xcel Center floor. Does the resounding chorus of excitement inside the Xcel Center extend beyond the convention? How is the Palin pick playing in communities across the U.S.?


Patchwork Nation's Dante Chinni reports that he's seeing a change in the communities the project covers and how they feel about the GOP pick.


"I'm seeing real polarization in our places from Palin. People are falling into their traditional voting  patterns -- defending or detracting. That said the "battleground" community types -- Monied Burbs and Service Workers in particular -- are confused and don't seem to understand the pick.


Chinni added that "One of my folks in Los Alamos thinks that Sarah has actually united Hillary supporters somewhat ... behind Obama."


Back in St. Paul, women leaders from the business world and the Republican party challenged that notion, likening Palin to Clinton and slamming the media for their "sexist" portrayal of Palin.


"Clinton highly tuned women's ears to objectionable, sexist attacks," Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and McCain adviser Carly Fiorina said. And ex-Mass. Governor Jane Swift had strong words for the media, calling the Palin coverage an "outrageous smear campaign."


Will Palin's speech to the convention create an image for her beyond the brief glimpse we got last weekend and update the image that party representatives and the media have created ahead of time?


Northern (over) Exposure

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Now that Gustav has subsided and the Republican convention is back on schedule, there are only two things buzzing around the newsroom and convention hall floors. 


The first is the continuing gossip and speculation around VP pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The other is the counter-convention being hosted across the river in Minneapolis by GOP Representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul.


While Palin has yet to make an appearance at the convention, she's everywhere as far as what people are talking about.


For a look at how social conservatives are reacting to Palin, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly's Kim Lawton reports that delegates are "excited" despite the news that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.


Back in June, a Real Clear Politics opinion piece laid forth just what's being talked about today - Palin as a savvy choice that shouldn't have come as such a shock to the political world.


But is Bristol Palin the first nominee's daughter to be pregnant during a campaign? We may never know, but Slate does the math on some former candidates' kids.


And as for that other convention, Ron Paul's supporters have been out in force, with a huge lineup of celebrities and politicians touting their cause. It's even being broadcast live on the campaign's website. Looking more like a concert tailgate than a political convention, NewsHour's audio slideshow gives an inside look at what it's like at the Campaign for Liberty events.


Between the Palin buzz, the protests yesterday, and the counter-convention, there are certainly stark differences between this week's RNC and last week's Democratic convention in Denver. Congressional Quarterly has a fun chart looking at the causes celebres in both places, from favorite accessories to Daily Show correspondents.


How will the speeches and order of the convention play against the side stories that have kept the media occupied before the real conventioneering begins?


Scaling Back Pomp, Ramping Up Circumstance

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While the convention celebrations took on a subdued note upon Hurricane Gustav's approach to the Gulf Coast, the anti-war protests in downtown St. Paul had a swirl of energy that was lacking on the convention floor.


Minnesota Public Radio reported that police had fired tear gas at protesters and that some had been arrested outside of the official march route. Earlier in the day, things seemed calmer, but there were thousands of protesters touting various issues on the streets. Here are some scenes that I shot along the march route.

Inside the convention hall, Laura Bush and Cindy McCain urged delegates to visit CauseGreater, listing official state organizations that are donating to hurricane relief. For a more comprehensive list of organizations by topic, the Network For Good site compiles a large list of organizations in the Gulf that take donations for assistance in hurricane-stricken areas.


What do you think of the RNC's decision to scale back? Should the protesters have held off until after the hurricane subsided to hold their protest as well?

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