Thursday, June 30, 2011

June's best political comedy: Guest blogging for The Baltimore Sun/b the Site

Each month, I'll be picking the 5 best political comedy moments and blogging about them as a guest over at Luke Broadwater's The Ridiculous Report, a blog sponsored by The Baltimore Sun/b the site.

Check out my picks for June here: Class is in session: Towson professor picks June's best political comedy. 

What do you think was June's best political comedy moment?

Colbert's Super PAC Approved by FEC

Stephen Colbert appeared before the FEC today in order to get permission to talk about his political action committee, "Colbert Super PAC" on The Colbert Report.

The 5-1 decision by the FEC only allows Colbert to promote the PAC on his own show, not on other Viacom or Comedy Central Programs. 

According to the NYT, here's Colbert's response after the FEC hearing:

“There will be others who say, Stephen Colbert, what will you do with the unrestricted super PAC money?” Mr. Colbert told reporters after the F.E.C. hearing. “To which I say, I don’t know. Give it to me and let’s find out.”

And for those who can't get enough Stephen Colbert, here's a video of his statement after the FEC hearing.

Beyond NY: How will other states evaluate the same-sex marriage issue?

Nate Silver has a new post over at 538 on the future of same-sex marriage and civil unions ballot initiatives at the state level.

In this updated analysis, Silver works to predict the likelihood that various US states will approve bans on same-sex marriage and civil unions. Using data from the 2008 National Annenberg Election Study (yay Anneberg!), Silver incorporates three key state-level variables: median age, ideological orientation (balance between liberals and conservatives), and religiosity. Silver is correct to incorporate these three considerations -- previous research (my own work included) shows strong and significant negative relationships between conservative political ideology, religiosity, age, and opinions toward same-sex marriage.

Also included are two time-trend or time series variables that measure different approaches to changing public opinion on the issue: a linear trend and an accelerated trend that is set-up to match national shifts in public opinion on the issue. Time-trend or time series variables simply measure change in opinion over time.

According to Silver, here are the results:

"The most generous set of assumptions for gay rights advocates are that the ballot initiatives would seek to ban civil unions in addition to same-sex marriage, and that the Accelerated Model most accurately reflects current sentiment about marriage. Under these assumptions, all but 15 states would be projected to reject such a ballot initiative if one were on the ticket next year.

The most restrictive assumptions, by contrast, are that the ballot initiatives would single out marriage only, and that the Linear Model is correct. Under these rules, all but 14 states (and the District of Columbia) would be projected to find a majority for a ban on same-sex marriage."

What does this mean?
Well first as Silver correctly points out, there is a fair amount of noise in his models -- or more precisely, the margin of error is rather high -- we're talking +/- 8 points. Here's another way to think about margin of error. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama received 53% of the popular vote to McCain's 46%. A margin of error of 8 points would mean a range for Barack Obama of between 45-61% and a range for McCain of 38-54%. That's a big overlap.

While Silver's model offers some interesting analysis, the bottom line is that there is still more work to be done in order to more precisely predict how states beyond New York will evaluate same-sex marriage and civil unions ballot measures.

Silver's conclusion:

"In short, the future for same-sex marriage looks to be reasonably bright. Most of the states that were fertile ground for passing a constitutional ban on it did so long ago. Minnesota and North Carolina are potential exceptions, but the six states that have gender-neutral marriage laws on the books now are unlikely to see them reversed, while some of those that don’t are in a position for gay rights advocates to go on offense."

Just how bright a future, remains to be seen. Look for a range of states to consider the issue in 2012 and beyond.

News on Same-Sex Marriage Continues, Focus of National Media Agenda

Three interesting stories on same-sex marriage appeared in the NYT today, signaling that the debate is indeed a large focus of the national media agenda.

** In Rhode Island, legislators approved a civil unions bill with strong religious protections for those opposed to extending the benefit. Apparently, the goal was to pass a same-sex marriage bill but there simply wasn't enough support in the state for such a policy and Governor Lincoln Chafee lacked the political muscle of Cuomo to push a same-sex marriage bill through the Providence state capitol. So is this incremental progress or a victory for the opposition?

** President Obama's position on same-sex marriage apparently continues to "evolve" according to this story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg in today's NYT. During a press conference yesterday, Obama came a bit closer to endorsing gay marriage, but yet again stopped short. 

According to the NYT:

"Mr. Obama later held a Gay Pride reception at the White House on Wednesday evening, where he did not address the issue directly. Dan Savage, a columnist who arrived with his husband, wore a button that said 'evolve already.' "

I have to say, Charles Darwin aside, how long does evolution really need to take? I suspect Obama's evolution will wait until after the 2012 election for strategic reasons. 

** Finally, in the great state of New Jersey, US immigration officials cancelled the deportation hearings for a Venezuelan man married to an American citizen. The decision is in part a reaction to the Obama administration's refusal to enforce DOMA and is seen as an important step forward for married gay and lesbian immigrants.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Will Google + Revolutionize Social Media?

Will Google+ revolutionize the world of social media with it's promise of increased privacy or will + be just like Buzz and Wave? Anyone out there remember Buzz or Wave?

The tech blogs are all talking about + and Gizmodo offers a useful preview of three of Google+ unique features: Circles, Spark, and Hangouts. Also discussed, Google+'s Mobile features.

Over at Wired, Steven Levy offers a longer review of the new effort by Google to take a bite out of Facebook when it comes to the world of social networking and the top-secret effort code named "Emerald Sea" that fueled this large-scale, collaborative development.

For the non-tech savvy, the NYT offers a more newsy summary of Google's new effort. For now, those wanting to try out Google+ will need to be invited by a fellow Google user.

It will interesting to see whether Google+ can impact the reach of Facebook and/or whether the outcome of Emerald Sea will wash away smaller social networking sites like Path that have been trying to make some waves.

Bachmann strikes again, associates herself with the wrong John Wayne

Yesterday Bachmann traveled to Waterloo, Iowa (her hometown) to "officially" announce her bid for the 2012 GOP nomination.

As predicted, she is already providing some entertaining commentary. Yesterday, she suggested that John Wayne (the actor) is also from Waterloo, Iowa and in referring to Wayne suggested, “That’s the kind of spirit that I have, too.”

The problem -- she got the wrong John Wayne. As  Jeff Zeleny noted in an article in today's NYT:

"The actor was actually born in Winterset, Iowa, which is about 150 miles southwest of Waterloo. It was John Wayne Gacy, known as the killer clown who raped and murdered 33 teenage boys in the 1970s, who lived in Waterloo."

Let's hope Bachmann doesn't possess the same spirit as John Wayne Gacy.

For the record, this is John Wayne:

And this is John Wayne Gacy:

Let's hope that Michele Bachmann quickly learns the difference.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Michele Bachmann, Flake, running for GOP Nomination

Michele Bachmann, Congresswoman from Minnesota, has been getting a fair amount of attention as the race for the GOP nomination for President kicks into "higher" gear.

A favorite of Tea Party voters, Bachmann is doing better in the polls (in Iowa at least) and pundits have taken note of her recent performance in the GOP candidates' debate.

There are others, including Chris Wallace of Fox News, who aren't ready to take Bachmann so seriously. On Sunday's broadcast, Wallace called Bachmann a "flake." Here's a video of the now viral clip:

Bachmann found the comment offensive (with good reason) and Wallace later apologized for his actions. Steve Kornacki over at Salon offers a good summary of the incident and the potential boost in popularity it may actually give Bachmann amongst her most dedicated supporters.

Flake or not, Bachmann's past public performances will be an important factor to address as her campaign moves forward. Remember her Tea Party response to the State of the Union earlier this year? Her performance was so problematic that SNL opened with their parody version on their January 31, 2011 broadcast.

And after reviewing the original, it's pretty clear that the parody wasn't all that different from her original performance. Why didn't somebody just tell her to look into the camera? In any event, as someone who studies political comedy, bring on the Bachmann!

Stephen Colbert to appear before FEC this Thursday

Stephen Colbert will appear before the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) on Thursday to seek a special exemption for his "super PAC" so that he can speak about the political action committee on The Colbert Report without requiring Viacom, Comedy Central's parent company, to report any costs related to the PAC.

Colbert's request is driven in part by Karl Rove's press exemption to talking about his own PAC, American Crossroads, on Fox News.

This is not the first time Stephen Colbert has offered testimony in Washington. Recall that in September 2010 Colbert appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to talk about immigration reform and his one day stint as a farm worker in upstate New York. Here's a video of Colbert's testimony:

Colbert's testimony received a fair amount of media coverage last fall and a fair amount of criticism as well. Look for the same after this Thursday's appearance before the FEC.

Breitbart: Citizen Journalist or Sabotage?

You may know Andrew Breitbart as that guy who spoke right before Anthony Weiner emerged to give his press conference. You may remember his role in the ACORN scandal or even the way the Obama administration and others mishandled the case of Shirley Sherrod.

As Jeremy Peters points out in an article in today's NYT, depending upon your political point of view, Breitbart is either a pioneering citizen journalist or a master of sabotage (think Beastie Boys circa 1994).

Regardless of your perspective on Breitbart -- your respect for or distaste for the man -- he may well be a force to reckon with this election cycle, especially if you're a Democratic congressman with a flair for photography or inappropriate online behavior.

Mark my words -- Breitbart -- just like his mentor Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report -- will be an important "source" to watch over the coming months.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Social Networks and their Influence on Support for Same Sex-Marriage

Frank Bruni offers an interesting take on the same-sex marriage debate in today's New York Times new Sunday Review section. Yes, the same Frank Bruni who was the NYT's former chief restaurant critic.
Bruni stresses how personal connections with gays and lesbians in one's own social circle or network continue to shape the same-sex marriage debate and influence changes in public policy -- most recently in New York State.

Bruni writes: "This issue will increasingly transcend partisan politics and hinge less on party affiliation or archaic religious doctrine than on the intimate, everyday dynamics of family and friendship."
I think Bruni stresses a very important point and one that is backed up by solid evidence from recent public opinion polls.

In a recent article entitled, "New Voters, New Outlook? Predispositions, Social Networks, and the Changing Dynamics of Gay Civil Rights," published in the June 2011 issue of Social Science Quarterly with colleague Dietram Scheufele, we found that while values and religious considerations heavily influenced older voters objections to extending same-sex marriage benefits, younger Americans, particularly those between the ages of 15-25, were more heavily (and positively influenced) by contact with gays and lesbians in their social networks. 

More importantly, it wasn't just about contact for these younger citizens, but rather the degree of the contact. The closer the contact (e.g., having a gay or lesbian family member or close friend), the more profound the impact on public attitudes toward homosexuality and support for same-sex marriage. 
The same dynamic was present in New York where Republicans and Democrats alike noted the impact of personal relationships and contact within their social networks on their choice to support the amendment. Michael Barbaro of the NYT documented the influence of personal contact on vote choice in a lengthy article in today's paper. 

In February, I appeared on WMAR ABC 2 News to talk about our research and the then on-going debate over same-sex marriage in Maryland.  Here's a video from the interview:

While New York is the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage, it is likely that Maryland and other states will be revisiting the debate in the near future. It will be interesting to track the influence of social networks and the role that personal contact will play in shaping debates beyond New York. Here in Maryland and elsewhere, it is indeed very possible that religious value concerns may take a back seat to the "everyday dynamics of family and friendship."

About this Blog

Fresh Politics, New Media is a new endeavor designed to complement my scholarly research on political comedy, political entertainment, public opinion, and new media.

I plan to use this blog to offer commentary on the changing dynamics of our political environment and our evolving media landscape. I will regularly share interesting news items, politically entertaining video content, and information about changing public opinion trends on the issues that drive our political debate.

Stay tuned for more from "Fresh Politics, New Media" by Amy Bree Becker, PhD.

In the meantime, please use the links above to visit the various sections of my academic web page.