Monthly Archives: June 2012

Expect Polls To Hold Steady Through Summer

Michael Bitzer

In a recent Associated Press poll, one in four voters said that they were “uncommitted” to either President Obama or Mitt Romney at the mid-point of summer.

In the article, both campaigns recognized the dilemma that they face heading into the general campaign—which appears to have already started:


“Obama and Romney will spend huge amounts of time and money trying to win their votes, especially in the most competitive states that tend to swing between Republicans and Democrats each presidential election. Obama and Romney face the same hurdle, winning over wavering voters without alienating core supporters they need to canvass neighborhoods and staff telephone banks this fall to help make sure their backers actually vote.”

One question that is often raised is “when do voters make up their minds?”  In 2008, I looked at the exit poll question that asked voters “when did you finally decide for whom to vote for in the presidential election?” for both the national and North Carolina polls.

By the last month of the general campaign, three-quarters of voters nationally had made up their mind for whom they were going to vote for, with about 11 percent of national voters finally deciding a week before the election.

In comparing North Carolina voters and when they finally settled on a candidate, we see similar patterns in their timing as well: 78 percent of Tar Heel voters said that they had made up their mind on their presidential candidate prior to October, with just 10 percent deciding within the week of the election.

But as we know from other aspects of exit poll results, the timing of “who to vote for” may be impacted by how voters identify themselves politically. 

In breaking down those voters who identify as Democratic, Republican, or Independent, we see something that really isn’t surprising to most of us who study voter behavior: partisans have their minds made up much earlier than independents.

In 2008, nearly two-thirds of national Democrats and Republicans said they knew who they would vote for before September’s traditional kick-off to the general campaign.

Conversely, barely a majority of independents had their minds settled on their presidential candidate. 

Going into the last month of campaigning, three-quarters of partisan voters had their minds on their candidate, but nearly a third of independents where still deciding during the last critical month of campaigning.

In North Carolina, 71 percent of Democrats had made up their minds on their presidential candidate prior to September, while only 60 percent of Republicans had settled their choice.  This could have been tied to the general apathy that the GOP had to their party, especially with the low approval ratings of then President George W. Bush.

Among Tar Heel independents, nearly a quarter of them were still making their minds up coming into the final month of the campaign. 


What is interesting in comparing the AP poll to the rest of the field is that both Obama and Romney seem to be hovering around the mid-40s, according to Real Clear Politics poll averages. Unless there is some great movement among independents or some unknown event that will shift the electorate in the next few months, the election appears to be one of a distinct holding pattern until November.

But as I tell my students, an hour in politics can be an eternity — imagine what the next four months will feel like.


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Yes, I Can… Vegetables

By Tamra Wilson

Canning season has come early this year. Pee Paw’s garden is overproducing, Syl says. She picks and stems the beans; I own the canner. We share the lids, rings and the jars.

This all began last year when we decided to eat more local and healthy. I invested $99 in a  pressure canner and attended a canning clinic at Home Extension.

“Follow the rules,” the agent advised. “Treat this like a science project,” which meant scalding the jars, sterilizing the lids, discarding rusty rings.

“Botulism can kill you. You must process properly to kill the varmints inside the jar.”

Varmints? That sounded scary, but not so much as the canner looked with its vents, locks and gauge – taunting me to come closer.

My mother did not can. Like most women of her day, she kicked all semblances of home canning to the curb with the warning that it’s old-fashioned and dangerous. The canner can explode. Improper seals could breed botulism, a slow death by poisoning. Her grandmother died after eating home-canned corn. Enough said.

But for me and many like me, risk-taking pressure canners are a new frontier.

I read the pressure canner instructions with trepidation.

Boil the sealed jars in the canner with lid closed until steam, like white smoke announcing a new pope at the Vatican, swirls out for 10 minutes. Place the petcock over the vent. Wait until the pressure reaches 11 pounds. Process for 25 minutes. Don’t take calls, knit, text or watch TV. Watch the canner. Monitor the gauge.

When the process is done, place the hot jars on a clean towel and cover them with another towel to prevent jars from breaking in a cool draft – as if anything vaguely cool could exist in this hot kitchen.

Photo by Flickr/Sommer Poquette

Pressure canning green beans takes three hours, 26 minutes per jar, not to mention the cost of energy and supplies.  This is a pricey undertaking, even with freebie.

It was then that I noticed the green bean smell inside the canner. Don’t ask me the physics, but the pressure bath smells of green beans, a musky old-time odor I hadn’t encountered since dining years ago at the Green Parrot Cafe in Rochester, MN, where Mother scheduled an annual physical at the Mayo Clinic. “Take No Chances” should have been her middle name.  Though she had no known ailments, every June, we kids tagged along to “Mayo’s” for three days of utter boredom in the waiting room.

The Green Parrot, our kitchen away from home, served home-cooked green beans with plated entrees, also boring. The service wasn’t particularly fast either. After lunch, we’d return to Mayo to draw pictures, read or watch people while waiting for Mother’s appointments to check not for a miracle cure, but a blessing that nothing was wrong in the first place.

Why did my mother insist on Mayo? They’re the best, she’d say, the same reason I sit by my pressure canner.

Patience = quality. I am my mother’s daughter.

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Health Care Decision Adds Fuel To Campaigns

Michael Bitzer

I think the Supreme Court’s decision is certainly a legal and policy win for Obama, but it may be a bigger political win for Romney.  The decision is almost certainly going to inflame the Tea Party faction of the GOP, which is determined to repeal this decision, and if Romney can tap into that anger and harness it for November, he would certainly shore up any lingering conservative doubts about his candidacy. 

For Obama, he needs to energize and mobilize his own Democratic base and point to this as his signature success, while convincing liberals that he needs their support to stop Romney and the Tea Party from undoing the policy. 

In the end, the general election’s top issue will be the economy, jobs, and unemployment, but among hard-core party activists on both sides, this may provide more fuel for engaging in a hotly contested campaign coming up.

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Feel Flooded By Campaign Ads? Tsunami Yet To Come

Michael Bitzer

North Carolina is being inundated with weapons of the campaign air war phase: Television advertising.

The Washington Post has a great tracking tool for presidential campaign advertising spending between the Post and Campaign Media Analysis Group.

With the past month behind us (and an unofficial start to the general campaign), I used the weekly tracking tool to see how much Obama and Romney, along with non-presidential campaigns, spent and where the spending occurred in the various state media markets.

So far, North Carolina has seen $11.5 million spent by the presidential campaigns and the “non-coordinated” groups, according to the Post’s tracker.  The leading media market has been Charlotte, with nearly half of the $11.5 million spent in Charlotte.

In breaking down the spending by week since the May primary, the Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Greenville-Spartanburg (SC)-Asheville markets have been the big three so far in the state, with Charlotte seeing a significant gap over the others.

This Charlotte advantage also plays out when looking at the Obama, Romney and “all-others” spending in each of the media markets. What is interesting is that in Charlotte, the Obama campaign and “all-others” have been the major players, while the Romney campaign hasn’t taken a lead so far in any of the markets. 

In looking at the weekly expenditures by Obama, Romney, and “all others” in the presidential race, the president’s campaign has been fairly steady in its spending, while the Romney and “all others” saw a considerable up-tick in the middle of May. 

Granted, historically North Carolina isn’t used to this type of advertising attention. It really wasn’t until 2008’s competitive Democratic primary and then the subsequent fall general campaign that the state saw the level of spending. 

In comparison, North Carolina saw over $22.7 million spent by all the presidential campaigns in the state.  According to CNN’s Election Tracker from four years ago, Obama spent over $15.1 million in N.C. and aired 37,235 ads, while McCain spent $3.8 million to air a little over 11,000 ads in the state.

Other groups, including those for the various campaigns, spent over $3.7 million, with most of that amount ($3.3 million) spent by Republicans. 

At the point of mid-June in 2012, North Carolina has seen nearly one-half of the total money spent in the state four years ago. 

And, I think, the money spigots have just started to open up the coming flood over the airwaves.

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How to Choose Olive Oil Like a Pro

There are plenty of options for olive oil, but how do you choose the right one?

By Kevin Connors

Too many extra virgin olive oils to choose from at your local supermarket or big box store? How in the world can you know which is best? Or what the difference is? Well, we have some tips.

Have you ever tasted olive oil directly from a spoon? By the time most people really taste the olive oil, it’s already in a hot sauté pan or mixed with spices. Try an extra virgin olive oil just like you would sample a wine or cheese. This is the best way to learn the differences, you could even do a wine, cheese, olive oil and vinegar tasting party and make it fun.

Six tips for selecting an olive oil —

  1. Make sure the olives are local within the country of origin. In other words, you don’t want the olives transported far even if the olives are from within the same country. Olives do not transport well and excessive storing can affect the taste. Look for the Denomination of Origin on the bottle or tin to find out if it’s local. This is ideal, but you can still get real olive oil without a ‘DO’ on the bottle, the cost of getting one can be expensive.
  2. Even though it’s an oil, fresh is very important. We spoke with an olive oil producer from Andalucia, Spain who said that if you want the real extra virgin olive oil taste, olives must be pressed within hours of picking the olives. This producer won’t use any olives even if they have fallen to the ground naturally. The producer must shake the branches so he knows that the fruit had just fallen onto their nets below the tree. So, imagine if the olive is transported or stored for any time at all! Continue reading


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The Science of Flavor

How the heck do they get watermelon bubble gum to taste the way it does? That particular flavor doesn’t exist in nature, but it does remind me of watermelon. The same for strawberry, cherry, orange… but grape – that tastes nothing like the plump little things you pull off the vine. Recently on Charlotte Talks, host Mike Collins and his guests examined the science of flavor – how flavors are created, the extraordinary variety of flavors and the business behind it.  Listen here.

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A Look At The Ideological Political Spectrum In NC

Michael Bitzer

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a fascinating study about the increase in partisan polarization from the late 1980s up to today.

Among their findings was that since the George W. Bush administration, the gap between what Democrats and Republicans hold as values is the widest the survey has seen in the past 25 years.

In one of the many interesting survey results, Pew finds that the number of self-identified “independents” is at an all-time high, with 38 percent of respondents identifying as independents, while 32 percent of respondents say they are Democrats and 24 percent saying they are Republicans.

But if you ask those “independents” if they lean to one party over another, you get a closely divided national electorate, with only 12 percent saying they are truly independent of either major political party.

So what should we take from this?  Well, one could argue that, nationally, the United States is a coalition country. If you seek national office, you have to build a two-part strategy: solidify your political base and attract sufficient numbers of independents to your side. 

The other way of looking at these trends is that, with the exception of a little more than 10 percent of the electorate, there is no true “independent” component to our electorate. When push comes to shove, the independents march right into one of the two major parties.

One other key finding is that the national electorate’s ideological composition has remained steady. As the GOP has gotten smaller, it has become more conservative, while the influence of liberals within the Democratic Party has become more pronounced as well. 

So, in comparison, how does North Carolina fare?  Unfortunately, we don’t have substantial statewide public opinion data like Pew’s to use, but we do have “snap-shots” in time with the state’s exit polls from the general elections.

In looking at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 exit polls, we do find that the number of partisans and “independents” are fairly divided. Self-identified Democrats make up a plurality of the state’s electorate (about 40 percent), while in the most recent presidential election, independents rose to 27.5 percent of the electorate, with Republicans making up 31 percent.

Before that, GOP identifiers were more closely matched to Democrats, and I suspect (unless 2012 is a repeat of Obama’s massive grassroots mobilization campaign of 2008) that we could see parity back between the two parties come November. 

But if you dig into each party, you will find some interesting state trends that seem to coordinate with the “polarization” effect. 

Among those who identify as Democrats over the past three presidential elections, the percentage of liberals within the party has distinctly risen, while the number of conservative Democrats has shrunk.

Again, 2008 may be an anomaly of Obama’s mobilization effect, especially in the drop-off in conservative Democrats.

Among independents, we see almost the exact reverse from the Democrats. There’s a significant drop in liberal independents and a corresponding increase in conservative independents. 

Two things may account for this. One, liberal independents may have switched their party identification to Democratic due to Obama’s efforts, and the increased conservative independents may have come from the GOP due to the disgust of the Bush administration in its waning days in office.

What sets North Carolina Republicans apart from the other two groups is the sheer size of a dominate conservative faction within the Republican party.


With liberal Republicans on the EPA’s endangered species list and moderate Republicans on life-support, the GOP is dominated at nearly 70 percent with self-identified conservatives. 

Now that we know the ideological composition of the various electoral groups within the state, can we see any signs of the “polarization” effect? 

Take a look at who each of the sub-groups within voted for president in 2008:

Consider going from the extreme of “liberal Democrats” in North Carolina — who cast 97 percent of their ballots for Obama — to the opposite end of the ideological-party spectrum with “conservative Republicans”  who cast 95 percent  of their votes for McCain, and you get a possible sense of the polarization within the state.

But more interesting to me is the fact that only “moderate independents”—those middle-of-the-middle folks—split their ballots nearly in half, 50.6 percent  for Obama to 47.2 percent  for McCain. 

Every other ideological component of the two parties—and independents—went at least 80% (rounding up) for one presidential candidate over the other.

Is North Carolina a polarized state? Based on these graphs, it appears to be — and thus perhaps the reason why we have seen very little movement between Obama and Romney in public opinion polls in recent weeks. 

Both campaigns are gearing up for a battle this fall, and it appears, that in North Carolina at least, the war may be among the die-hard committed partisans.


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