‘Swing Vote’

03.13.12

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: How Ruy Teixeira Got it Wrong on ‘Swing Vote’

In his review of The Swing Vote, Ruy Teixeira strings together falsehoods and wrongly argues that swing voters are a myth, a view colored by ignorance and a biased notion of what’s happening in the U.S. electorate, says the book’s author, Linda Killian.

When one gets a laughably bad review of a book that one has spent two years working on, the immediate reaction is—he’s a jerk, he didn’t like my book; so what—a lot of other people did.

But in the case of Ruy Teixeira’s New Republic review of my book, The Swing Vote, a closer examination makes clear he has an agenda, and it has nothing to do with reviewing a book.

In the purported review he lists a string of falsehoods, and claims swing voters are a myth on par with the unicorn, which begged for a rebuttal.

Such a charge is larger than just one book and goes to the heart of what is wrong with our political system and with the party and media elites who control it. They don’t believe there is room for the voters or for anyone who thinks differently than they do.

Swing voters are messy, unpredictable, and dissatisfied with both political parties, which drives people like Ruy Teixeira crazy. But they are a significant portion of the voters and they decide national elections. In Teixeira’s black-and-white world, Republicans are bad, Democrats are good and anyone who doesn’t think that way is just not as smart as he is or is misinformed. There are no swing voters in the center—just voters who haven’t seen the truth, according to him.

And of course, the media-elite echo chamber will eat up what Teixeira has to say without even looking at The Swing Vote. He’s a member of the boys’ club.

That’s why a lot of voters, especially Independents, don’t like or trust the media, and the political and academic elites who talk at or about them, but not to them.

Teixeira, along with John Judis, authored a 2002 book called The Emerging Democratic Majority, which monumentally got wrong what was happening in the electorate.

They said the Democratic Party was headed toward becoming a majority party because it represents the views of most Americans, and that independent voters were just closet partisans poised to permanently line up with the Democratic Party.

But wishing it were true doesn’t make it so.

Democrats have held the presidency and a majority of seats in Congress for a total of just two of the last 18 years—from 2008 to 2010, when voters returned the House to GOP control. But swing voters don’t want the Republicans to control everything either.

Since 2008, 2.5 million voters have left the two major parties to become independents and now comprise 40 percent of all voters, a bigger group than either the Democrats or Republicans.

Independent voters think both parties are captives of big donors and driven by a desire for victory and partisan advantage. These voters cherish their nonpartisan status and are forced to choose between the two parties only because there is no other real option ... yet.

If a sizable group of independents is not swing voters but as Teixeira contends really lean toward one of the two parties, how can the dramatic reversal from 2008 to 2010 be explained? Democrats won independent voters by 8 points in 2008 and lost them by 19 points in 2010. That’s a 27-point shift in two years.

Oh well, facts can be inconvenient things.

Nowhere in The Swing Vote do I say, as Teixeira contends, that all independents are swing voters. I do cite a 2010 Pew Research Center survey that showed about half of all independents, or 20 percent of the electorate, say they have not thought of themselves as either a Democrat or Republican in the last five years.

Sixty percent of those independents say the reason they are nonpartisan is that they agree with the Republicans on some things like the economy and with the Democrats on others, such as social issues.

Ironically, one of the academic sources Teixeira asserts is more credible than me—The Swing Voter in American Politics, by William G. Mayer, published by Brookings, puts the number of swing voters at an average of more than 20 percent between 1972 and 2004—a higher percentage than I suggest.

In The Swing Vote, I had the effrontery to actually talk to voters around the country, which really got under Teixeira’s skin. He found those interviews “tedious.” His book is full of statistics and analysis but not a single voter. I suspect most voters would find that pretty tedious.

I wonder if Teixeira has ever talked to a voter? Why bother with real people when you are attempting to explain the electorate. In the world of the political and academic elites, it’s totally acceptable and in fact celebrated, to write an entire book about voters and not quote a single one. They don’t think the voters really know anything anyway.

Teixeira’s disdain for the voters oozes from his alleged review—or as he calls them “the ordinary independent voters whom she (Killian) lionizes.”

Everywhere I go I hear from the independent/swing voters Teixeira claims don’t exist, including this email I just received from an Ohio independent:

“I am 60+ and have been an independent voter my entire life. I have never been a registered party voter. I have voted for Rs & Ds & I (Ross Perot) for President. For the past 15 years or so, both parties have been extreme enough that neither can be trusted to have control of both the executive and legislative branches.”

I suppose Teixeira would dismiss this voter and all the others I talked with for The Swing Vote as figments of my “feverish imagination.”

I wonder if Teixeira has ever talked to a voter? Why bother with real people when you are attempting to explain the electorate.

The types of swing voters I identify—moderate Republicans, working-class male white voters, suburban voters, and women, are the same groups Teixeira talks about in his book. I guess he’s just bitter they didn’t become Democrats as he predicted and instead are swing voters.

He also derides me for coming up with “cute names” for them like NPR Republicans, America First Democrats, and Starbucks Moms and Dads. Excuse me for trying to be readable. I don’t think Teixeira cares much about that sort of thing.

Here’s just one example of the many things Teixeira ignores or gets wrong about The Swing Vote. He asserts “you could easily forget as you read this book that it was written during the Great Recession.” In fact, there is an entire chapter on Ohio and on the role the loss of jobs and the recession played in the 2010 election there, as well as interviews with unemployed factory workers and union members hit hard by the recession.

Another thing he gets wrong is his claim that I am calling for the creation of a third party when I do no such thing and make it clear in the book that independent voters have no consensus on this issue. While some would like to see a viable third party, others just want the two parties to clean up their acts.

He also says I didn’t bother to look at the academic research even though I cite not only Mayer’s The Swing Voter in American Politics but also a number of academic studies, almost none of which includes actual interviews with voters.

I utterly reject the elitist, dismissive nonsense dished out by Teixeira that only academics, most of whom have never interviewed a voter in their lives, could really understand who these independent voters are and what they want from the parties and political system.

Political scientists are obsessed with statistics and quantitative analysis, and all too often forget the statistics they are analyzing represent real voters and behavior that cannot always be quantified.

I didn’t set out to write an academic book for Teixeira and his ilk because I knew they were missing the story. I wanted to write a book that reflected what independent voters actually thought and felt, something that would be anathema to political scientists like Teixeira, who only seem to understand polling data and their own analysis.

To quote Disraeli and Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” and Teixeira traffics in all three.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good rant.

Swing voters don’t exist for him because he doesn’t want them to. But the evidence shows he’s the one with the “feverish imagination” ignoring a decade of election results and polling data.

The independent/swing voters are real, and they are up for grabs in this election. The two political parties had better remember that if they have any interest in winning in November.