Poll of new/lapsed voters confirm, reject stereotypes

New survey out from the Wall Street Journal / NBC / MySpace. Full report. The WSJ’s read on this was that new voters were less likely than the poll of all voters to vote this November (“very interested” = 49% vs. 70%). However, what I find interesting is that this question is on a 10-pt scale, and that the 10,9,8 votes 78% for new voters vs. 87% for all voters. I wonder if new voters are simply less willing to pick the most extreme possibility.

Other interesting data:

  • 28% of new/lapsed voters have watched a homemade video about the election on YouTube, vs. 22% of all voters.
  • 25% have sent a text message, vs. 16%
  • 21% have joined an online social networking group for either campaign, vs. 8%
  • The spread of confidence across internet media, MSM, fed gv’t and financial industry are interesting as well. New voters have little confidence in any of these, but have the most (least least?) confidence in Internet media.
  • Despite this, they claim to get and trust the news from cable news channel above MSM and print/online newspapers. Despite stereotypes they don’t rank late night shows, social networking, or blogs very highly. (However, I tend to distrust self-reporting on whom the respondents “trust.” Peer influence, e.g. through social networks and blogs, would be very hard for someone to recognize on themselves.)
  • Despite a stereotype that young people don’t join (and these are mostly young voters, though there’s no cross-tab), 23% identify themselves as “strong Democrat,” the largest percentage of any of the other options (19% identify as “strictly independent”).
  • 65% of respondents use Internet network (MS, FB, etc.), and 35% have a cell phone but no landline.

The risks of high-pressure negotiation tactics

A few days ago I discussed how Treasury Secretary Paulson came to the negotiation with an extreme, highly “anchored” opening move, and how negotiations research shows that anchoring works. Why, then, don’t we always use absurd opening moves when engaging in a negotiation over used cars or other purchases? The answer is that the party making the offer can lose credibility with or respect of the other party, and the chances of reaching an agreement can go down. That’s precisely what happened when the House rejected Paulson’s plan — even as modified — on Sunday.

By including unacceptable terms — most notably, non-reviewability — Paulson et.al. were perceived as overreaching. Even though the Administration quickly gave up those terms, the mistrust was already sown, especially because the proposal echoed the earlier “trust me” terms of the Iraq war authorization.

Maintaining a strong working relationship with the other party in a negotiation is critical to successful outcomes for both parties. In this case, by playing chicken with Congress, the Administration may have precipitated the worst outcome for both sides: failure to reach an agreement. Let’s hope our economy can survive the results.

Update: More (and better) analysis of this situation from a negotiations POV from my friend and colleague, Erin Ryan, at the Harvard Negotiation Law Review Blog.

Leadership in an Obama administration

The Obama campaign has a unique opportunity to show us what leadership in his Internet-savvy administration might look like. Americans are panicking now over the crisis on Wall Street, panicking but completely at a loss as to what we should do. This is Obama’s chance to show us real leadership through running a serious of Web spots and TV ads that:

  • Explain, in simple English, what is happening on Wall Street, and how that affects Main Street;
  • Use graphics and Ross Perot charts to illustrate rather than use words;
  • Outline the options, and the pluses and minuses of each one in as non-partisan way as possible;
  • Do it in the calm, serene, and non-partisan manner in which Obama excels — and which the citizenry really need right now.

This would:

  • Assert high-minded leadership at a time when everyone else is embroiled in politics;
  • Demonstrate Obama’s belief that we are mature and intelligent;
  • Spread like wildfire — because we are all desperate for answers, and no one — including the MSM — is giving us any.

Obama has run a spectacular, Internet-infused grassroots campaign for the Presidency. I’m ready to see how that translates into leadership and governance.

Can the Internet restore Congressional power?

The crisis on Wall Street and subsequent negotiation between the Bush Administration and Congress over solutions expose a dangerous weakness of the people’s branch in the modern era: legislators lack unity and the power that unity affords. They will lose almost every time they get into a showdown with the President, especially without an O’Neill or Gingrich to rally them. The fact that the representative branch of government operates at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the executive branch presents an enormous threat to our democracy.

High school civics classes teach that Congress makes the laws and the President enforces them. Americans would be forgiven if they think that it’s the President who makes law and Congress who has the veto power. The Wall Street bailout and the Iraq war resolution illustrate how — in high-profile crises — the Executive branch drives its agenda through Congress due to its superior ability to plan, focus attention, and control national discourse. Often, Congress is relegated to nibbling around the edges or poking holes in the President’s plans.

Making the first offer gives the Administration enormous leverage over Congress. In both the Iraq war resolution and the Wall Street bailout, Congress never really questioned the core premise (Iraq presents an imminent threat; the economy will collapse without intervention) nor strayed very far from the proposed solution (invade; bail out). We know, in the case of Iraq, at least, that this is not because the President was right on the merits. Rather, he was simply in the better bargaining position, having “anchored” the negotiation.

Administrations have also proven adept at controlling the pace of negotiations. The meltdown on Wall Street was real, but the Iraqi threat was not; yet in both cases, the executive branch set artificial timelines to exert pressure on Congress to accept its view of reality.

Both bargaining tactics are rooted in institutional advantages that the President enjoys over Congress: the staff and personnel to be better-informed (or at least look like it), and message discipline to speak with one voice. Congress “wins” when these strengths are minimized — for example, by dragging out the process and throwing up doubt and noise (see Bush’s failed Social Security and immigration initiatives) or small-bore issues that won’t get national attention. No wonder earmarks have gone haywire.

Mass media have strengthened the executive branch’s power. Television and radio favor those who speak with one voice; Congress is by nature as fractured, contentious, and divided as the electorate itself — something that, paradoxically, the electorate don’t like. In the history of the Gallop Polls’ Congressional approval ratings, Congress has never broken 50%, except right after 9/11. Moreover, broadcast news puts heavy pressure towards real-time drama, something that C-SPAN has proven the Congress lacks.

How does or can the Internet change this dynamic?

First, the Internet is starting to fracture the broadcast bias towards singular voices. We can see the various Netroots refracting and punching holes in political marketing campaigns. Clearly this was insufficient to halt the Iraq war or the bailout, but it remains to be seen whether Internet chatter will gain enough strength to effectively counterbalance the MSM’s tendency to amplify already-powerful messages.

But it’s not enough to destroy hegemonic messaging; the result would be anarchy. I hope, instead, that the deliberative strength of our democracy will expand as the Internet matures as a medium. David Weinberger, my colleague at Berkman, has mused on how the Internet might function as an e-gov social network. This is, I think, the right question, but David grounds that function in the wrong institution. We all want a more transparent Administration, but it’s Congress that’s sorely in need of more deliberative power to counterbalance the Administration’s already mighty dominance over American democracy.

Imagine if, in the past two weeks, Internet technologies had given grassroots networks the ability to rally citizenry around carefully-crafted alternatives to the Paulson-Bernanke plan. Better yet, imagine if in the past few months those networks enabled Congress to tap the wisdom of our citizenry to craft a democratic yet expert plan — proactively — to respond to the crisis before it broke. Science-fiction writer Victor Venge has posited that today’s predictive markets will evolve into rapid-response networks capable of quickly gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing data to support complex decision-making. It’s idealistic, but not impossible to imagine, such network restoring democratic principles to our increasingly top-down government. Everyone would have a role to play in such a system — experts in shaping policy strategy, ordinary citizens in shaping the values that such policies must meet. Lingering anger on both the left and right over not just the Iraq war and the bailout, but also how they were rammed through Congress, may provide us the opportune moment to begin building this future.