Excerpts from Digital First Media’s Election Day chat:
Ann Coulter, conservative columnist and author
Q: If Obama gets elected, what do state do you think will the country be in, in four years?
Coulter: Very bad! It’s a possibility I haven’t even dwelled on, it’s too horrible. There’s a lot of big things, but it’s Obamacare. We see the state Medicaid and Medicare are in, and it’ll consuming 92 percent of the budget in ten years. And we’re going to add another entitlement on top of that for every man woman and child. You’ll no longer have a direct relationship with your doctor, it’ll be given to you by the Department of Motor Vehicles. And once people start receiving their treats it’ll be impossible to overturn. We’ll be some pathetic Western European country without the charming cobblestone streets and without America out there to rescue us. And if America is gone, we’re taking the first step into darkness for the next 1,000 years.
Q: What in your eyes has been the most interesting part of the race? Shocking?
Coulter: The Democrats’ booing God at the Democratic National Convention.
Rick Hasen, election law professor, University of California-Irvine
Q: Strategist Steve Schmidt said on MSNBC that widespread voter fraud was a myth being spread by Republicans. Is that true?
Hasen: There are different types of election crimes that occur. Absentee ballot fraud is relatively rare, but we see cases each year. Election officials stealing elections sometimes happens. The kind of fraud that almost never happens is impersonation fraud – where someone walks into the polls and claims to be someone else. That’s the kind of fraud that a voter ID law prevents. So state voter ID is aimed at a mostly nonexistent problem. I cover the fight over this in my new book, “The Voting Wars.”
Q: Do you think that the fraud being seen is more of an institutional nature? Not enough machines? Not enough time to vote for an ever expanding population? Not having a holiday for people to vote? Do you see a need for national standards of practice in order to ensure our right to vote?
Hasen: We have a patchwork on Election Day – not a single election run by a uniform, nonpartisan election administrator, but something like 10,000 elections. Some are understaffed and inadequately trained. Plus we have partisans running our elections. We need to fundamentally rethink our approach to federal elections.
Q: New Jersey is allowing folks to vote by e-mail and/or fax. How secure is e-mail/fax voting?
Hasen: It is not secure and I normally don’t like it except for emergencies. Here, it is better than disenfranchising voters, but we are already hearing problems voters are having returning these ballots by e-mail.
Peter Brown, assistant director, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute
Q: Can we trust any of the polls we’ve been subjected to?
Brown: In general, you can trust them. They’re accurate, generally within the margin error with 95 percent confidence. But the margin of error is often the difference between winning and losing. A poll with a thousand respondents is plus or minus three points for each side of the election. For the sake of argument a poll finds that the race is 45-45. That’s the most likely result. But there’s a three percent margin of error on each candidate, so each could be as high as 48 or as low as 42. So it could be 48-42 either way.
Q: How do you think the growing population of cell phone-only users (mainly younger and urban voters) affects the results of the major polls? Are there segments of the population that are under-represented by random-dial polls or are there measures taken to correct this?
Brown: Some polls, including Quinnipiac, call cell phone-only voters. In other words we random-digit-dial cell phone numbers so that those voters are represented in the electorate to the extent that they’re a percent of the electorate – in some states as much as 20 percent or 25 percent. Some polls include these voters and some do not, and obviously those that don’t are at some disadvantage. … Normally the media will identify the polls that call cell phones in their coverage, but I’m sure not everyone does.
Q: Has the abundance of polls made most polls irrelevant and simply talking points for each side?
Brown: Clearly there are many more polls now than there used to be, and to a degree the large number of polls has created something of a “spectator sport” mentality in which people use the polls as part of their way of backing a candidate – they cite this poll or that poll. Polls have been fairly ubiquitous and that’s unlikely to change. There are many more public polls than there used to be. The question is which are the good ones and which aren’t.
Q: What contributed to the increased support for Romney from women likely voters in Florida and Virginia? How does this compare to women likely voters in Ohio?
Brown: Generally the notion of a gender gap doesn’t adequately reflect the difference between the genders – it’s really a gender/marriage gap. Mr. Obama is doing much better among single people, specifically single women, where earlier in the campaign he led 2-1. But also he had a small margin among single men, whereas married women are split down the middle or slightly in the Romney camp and married men are overwhelmingly in the Romney camp. There may be some state-by-state difference, but it depends on which poll you’re talking about. In general, the closer the overall race, the smaller the gender gap, but not always. The important thing about the gender gap isn’t that X percent of women are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican, it’s the comparison of the Democratic advantage among women and the GOP advantage among men and which is higher. If Obama had a 10-point lead with women, you wouldn’t know if that was good or bad until you knew how big Romney’s lead among men was in the same jurisdiction.
Paul Saffo, futurist, managing director of foresight, Discern Analytics
Q: The economy is on the minds of voters across the country as they head to the polls today. You argue “the new normal is volatility.” Can you explain what that means?
Saffo: 2008 marked the end of a two decade period of the “Great moderation”, a period of mostly sunny economic weather punctuated by the occasional sotrm. Now we are in the era of the Great Turbulence – mostly stormy weather with breaks in between. And technology is what is behind the shift. Another way to think of it is that the new era is neither apocalypse nor economic nirvana, but a state change to short-cycle, high-amplitude events, like the “Flash Crash” two years ago.
Q: A few weeks back, David Leonhardt of The New York Times published the results of a survey of economists and Times readers, which asked them what they thought the top reasons were for the income slump. Automation and computers topped the list. What do you make of that assertion? What advice do you have for the next president?
Saffo: I agree with the survey – the current “jobless recovery” is in my opinion the leading edge of cyber-structural unemployment. Fears of losing jobs to machines is an old one, and for the last two decades, the assumption has been that machines do eliminate jobs, but on balance they create more jobs than they eliminate, which means we only need to retrain and move workers to the new jobs. I think things have changed to the point where machines are creating far less jobs than they used to. On the jobless recovery, it isn’t that machines are stealing jobs. Rather, we aren’t creating the jobs to begin with. Consider Facebook … it had $3.7 billion in 2011 gross revenues, and it has only 2,500 employees. Facebook isn’t a company; it is a machine.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
Q: Why did you choose to so actively support Jase Bolger for the Michigan House when he is (at minimum) guilty of unethical behavior (Schmidt debacle)?
Snyder: The situation was investigated by the Kent County prosecutor who found no legal violations. Jase made a public apology for the incident. He has done a lot of good things for MI as speaker. None of us are perfect and when issues happen, we need to take responsibility as appropriate, learn from it and keep working to make the world a better place. We have a lot of important things that all of us can work on to make Michigan better.
Q: Why do you want to spend the state’s money to build a bridge?
Gov. Snyder: Thanks for the question. Glad to clear up the bad info that you have. There is no state money involved in building the new bridge. The Canadians are going to pay for the entire project and be repaid by tolls from the bridge. It is a great opportunity for Michigan that will create lots of jobs and reduce our risk of too much reliance on an 80 year old bridge.
Q: Gov. Snyder as a student at one of the largest universities in Michigan, I wanted to ask what will you do to help working class people have better access to the education they need to gain and retain jobs?
Gov. Snyder: We are working on several tracks to address your issue. Having an opportunity to go to college is very important. First, we are working with our universities to be more efficient in their costs. Second, we need to look at more need-based financial aid. Third, we are innovating. One of my favorite new laws was encouraging more dual enrollment. If a high school student can earn a year of college while in high school, it would translate into a 25 percent savings on college. The other key items is to encourage more skilled trades. We have lots of great opportunities there.
Q: Still trying to decide on Proposal 2. How will it change collective bargaining for Michigan? Isn’t this something we want to keep in law?
Gov. Snyder: I am a believer in collective bargaining and a strong no on Proposal 2. Collective bargaining is already protected under federal and state law. I have done it twice with good outcomes for all with state employees. Prop 2 is a massive overreach on our Constitution and our laws that would be devastating to our economic recovery. We are the comeback state now, let’s not stop.
Scott Tinker, energy expert, state geologist of Texas
Q: Why hasn’t energy been a major issue covered during this election?
Tinker: The public doesn’t demand a decent, fact based energy dialog. So candidates can get away with sound bites. A more educated public requires a more realistic conversation on energy.
Q: Is there hope or emerging technologies to be able to scale biofuels as a direct replacement for gasoline? All the solutions I’ve heard of (other than maybe algae) seem to compete with food production either directly (using foodstuffs to create fuels) or indirectly (using agricultural resources to create biofuel crops). Is there a solution out there which the government could back that doesn’t have this competitive conflict and that could scale to meet demand?
Tinker: Cellulosic options use all of the plant, and can be grown on land that is not as good for food crops with less water and fertilizer. So not a “food for fuels” solution. Same for algae. The challenge as you point out is scale. It takes a lot of land to grow enough to make a substantive difference. And it takes energy to convert a carbohydrate into a hydrocarbon. Can be good supplements, but won’t replace oil.