The Importance of Texas

Yes Virginia, there are liberals in Texas, and not just in Austin. 

Quick question (and don’t look it up on Wiki) – what percentage of Texas voted for Barack Obama in 2008? Given that Texas is often seen as the “role model for red states”, it may surprise many to know that four years ago, Obama won nearly 44% of the vote. While Obama’s numbers declined by about 2% in 2012, this level of support still shows a state that is much more complicated than the caricature that it is often presented as. Convincing a small percentage of the state to turn blue can change the country for decades.

Let’s not kid ourselves – Texas is most certainly a conservative state. But even in the most ideologically extreme states, at least a third of the electorate goes against the prevailing wind. When we say that a state is really red, that just means that the state isn’t a tossup in the election. A shift of a few percentage points can change all of that. In Texas, the margin of difference is small enough to flip the state, or at least color it purple.

Texas is the second largest state in the country and has 38 electoral votes – almost 20% of Romney’s electoral vote haul. If a big blue state like New York flipped, it would be a big deal too. But electorally speaking, New York is much bluer than Texas is red (Romney won only 36% of vote there) and more importantly, the demographic trends do not bode well for future Republican gains.

Texas on the other hand is at the heart of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in our nation’s history. I hate breaking things down in terms of white and non-white, but for what it’s worth, much of the country votes that way. As Texas becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the greater the likelihood of a flip.

I doubt any monumental shifts will occur by 2016, but beyond that, it’s certainly a possibility. It would be foolish for Democrats to ignore Texas, and it would even more foolish for Republicans to take it for granted. With Texas, Dems are more or less guaranteed Presidential victory; without it, Republicans are guaranteed defeat. There are plenty of skeptics, but for the first time in more than a generation, Texas is being viewed as a real battleground for national elections.

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Demographic Breakdown of the Vote

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of voters for Obama and Romney.

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of the US population as a whole.

Crediting Obama’s victory to high minority turnout ignores the fact that minorities make up such a large part of the country and that Obama’s supporters reflect the demographic reality in the country much more than Romney’s.

Why I Am not Voting

As a New Yorker, I know that my state is a lock, so I’m going to maximize my vote by not using it.

I support Barack Obama for the Presidency, but hope he loses the popular vote. As much as I want the President to complete a second term in office, any loss in legitimacy would be offset by the prospects of replacing the Electoral College (EC) with a national popular vote.

Until now, the EC has disproportionately benefited smaller and more rural states, which tend to be Republican. Only if the American right feels cheated by the electoral system, can we begin to have a meaningful discussion about reforming it.

Americans across the political spectrum are in favor of replacing the EC with a popular vote, but this sentiment does not carry over to our elected leaders. Whereas Democratic officials have publicly expressed support for selecting the President through the popular vote, Republican lawmakers have been fully aware that this would eliminate the disproportionate power given by the EC to their states.

If President Obama were to capture at least 270 electoral votes, but lose the popular vote, all that could change. It would send the American right into such a tizzy that instead of focusing on voter suppression, birth certificates and secret religious convictions, they may turn their ire at the electoral system that elevated the man they so dislike, once again, to the highest office in the land.

This will undoubtedly decrease Barack Obama’s legitimacy as President, should he win, but this is the man that since day one of his Presidency has been deemed illegitimate as their leader and as an American by significant portions of the American right. No electoral mandate will be enough to win these people over. Should conservatives feel that they have lost something as a result of the EC, then, and only then can we begin to reform our electoral process to achieve a popular vote.

I’ve already gone into detail about how and why we should effectively dismantle the current Electoral College system (it doesn’t even require altering the Constitution). Had my vote been from Ohio, I’d be out on the streets, banging my drum. Unfortunately, my vote is from NY – it will not matter – and that is a shame. This is about convincing all (enough) Americans that the popular vote is a good idea.

I know promoting this sort of behavior is risky. It assumes that Obama will win the EC. It assumes he will take Ohio and other key swing states. It assumes that the loss in legitimacy would not make Obama a 4-year lame duck. If, in the end, Romney gets the minimum 270 electoral votes and also wins the popular vote by one vote, I will punch myself in the face and stop blogging.

How the Electoral College Works (or Doesn’t)

President Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in Denver tonight for the first of three debates that are to be held over the next two weeks. They will not be speaking to the entire country. They will not be speaking to the 47%. They will not be speaking to the 53%. More than likely, they will be addressing the concerns of people living in a handful of states, particularly Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada and Iowa.

These are the so called “swing states” in which neither candidate has a commanding lead. He who picks up the most votes in these states will almost certainly be the next President of the United States. Considering that my vote would be from New York, I may as well not vote. Here’s why.

The framers of the US Constitution were big fans of democratic governance in so far as it was not monarchical. The kings of Europe were bad. The American yeoman farmer was good, but not good enough to be trusted with a direct vote for the highest office in the land. And so they created the electoral college.

How it works

The Electoral College is made up of representatives whose only job is to vote for the President. The membership is basically equal to the total number of representatives in Congress. There are currently 538 electors: 100 (number of members in the Senate) + 435 (number of Representatives in the House) + 3 from Washington D.C., which has no Congressional representation.

The partisan colors reflect the current Congress only in which the Democrats control the Senate and GOP the House. DC is not winner takes all.

Whichever party/candidate garners the most votes in each state, typically gets all the electors from that state. This system is not a federal mandate as Maine and Nebraska award electors based on the most popular candidate per Congressional district. The federal government empowers states to decide how to allocate electors. In our country’s early history, it was no uncommon for state legislatures to decide how to allocate electors – this is a Republic after all! For the most part, we have a winner take all system based on state-wide popular votes.

Why it was created Continue reading “How the Electoral College Works (or Doesn’t)”

Romney Overpays Taxes in Effort to “Fit In”

After complaining endlessly about high federal income taxes, Romney pays half a million dollars more than he needs to. Why?

On Friday, the Romney machine released his 2011 tax returns and “summary” of taxes from 1990 to 2009. In 2011, Romney made approximately $13.7 million, donated just over $4 million and paid about $1.9 million in taxes for an effective tax rate of 14.1%. Nothing surprising here considering what he paid in 2010.

The most interesting takeaway is the political accounting tricks being used for dealing with charitable contributions. Even though he was entitled to claim the full $4 million as a tax deduction, Romney only claimed $2.25 million. Why would Romney not claim the full amount and voluntarily pay more taxes? This is, after all, the man who stated earlier that:

“I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. Continue reading “Romney Overpays Taxes in Effort to “Fit In””

About the 47%

Mitt Romney’s recent remarks, secretly recorded and obtained by Mother Jones, in which he refers to 47% of the American population as self-victimizing moochers, has led to a chorus of criticism for his ineptitude as a campaigner. But what about his perception of reality? Is it true that 47% of Americans pay no federal taxes? Is it true that these non-contributing victims form the base of President Obama’s support? The following chart from the Tax Policy Center helps answer these questions.

While it’s true that almost half of Americans technically pay no federal income tax, more than 28% pay federal payroll taxes, which are basically federal income taxes that are collected separately for social security and medicare. It should be noted that payroll taxes are highly regressive and are almost always ignored in the national conversation about tax burdens. So suddenly the 47% shrinks to 18% who don’t pay taxes.

The next biggest group in the 47% are retirees who have exemptions because of their fixed (and often low) incomes. It should be noted that retirement income is still taxable – the 10.3% who pay no taxes represent the poorest of our elderly – hardly a demographic to target for being lazy moochers. Excluding the payroll tax payers and the elderly poor, the 47% collapses to 8%. Continue reading “About the 47%”

Romney Has Foot in Mouth Disease

The campaign took a decidedly bizarre turn earlier this week when one of the candidates actually spoke candidly about his Presidential ambitions. It goes without saying that this moment of honesty came at a closed door meeting among wealthy donors and that the candidate did not realize he was being recorded while denigrating nearly half of the American population.

Here’s the money shot put out by Mother Jones.

Did you catch that? Continue reading “Romney Has Foot in Mouth Disease”