Friday, October 31, 2014

On Elections

It's reportedly the most boring midterm season the US has seen in a long time. 2010 had the Obamacare backlash and subsequent Tea Party insurrection. 2006 was the beginning of the Dem wave that swept Obama into office (the financial collapse didn't hurt) after everyone who was in favor of invading Iraq suddenly decided they never actually wanted to go to war, while 2002 was a Republican rock concert highlighting the drumbeat of that war. Even 1998 offered the opportunity for the public to respond to the government shutdown and provided referendum on the case against Bill Clinton's transgressions. I don't remember 1994, but I'm sure people wanted to vote on the Clinton ambitions of an energy tax and universal healthcare. In 2014, we're voting on whether nobody dying from the Ebola virus is considered failing the American people. Truly exciting times.

That's someone else's observation though; I'm just regurgitating what I hear on Grist with a bit of color. Here are my unplagiarized thoughts (which are brilliantly brought full-circle with this last sentence):

1. Interest and participation in elections is inversely proportional to how much voting matters. Everyone follows presidential elections and they enjoy the highest participation rates. What's the likelihood your determines the outcome? As x approaches zero...

Bump the office down a couple pegs now - how many follow the gubernatorial races? Fewer. Here your vote is still too marginal to matter, yet it climbs the ladder. State Senate? Even fewer people know what's going on here, but the NY Senate 46th was determined by 18 votes in 2012. And State Senators can pass real legislation that you feel the impact of; tax cuts and stimulus at the federal level have a nebulous effect as people credit the power of the presidency for way more power over the economy than is actually possesses.

Now drill down two more levels. City Council. Who knows who their city councilperson is? No one. We just vote party line. If we vote at all. Yet these are the people that have the most direct impact on our lives. Look at Albany's horrible zoning practices, carte blanche opposition to development, and other issues. These are things that limit my job prospects, make my city less safe, and drive people to live elsewhere because they can't afford their property taxes/rent. And the low overall number of voters in local elections exponentially increases the likelihood that a couple votes can swing an outcome. So there are direct impacts, there's a chance your vote counts, and no one pays attention. Over 50 percent of Americans take the time to vote for their preferred presidential candidate, and it really doesn't matter.

2. Books. All presidential candidates write a book. It's like a requirement for the office. It's obvious why they do it: there's always a nice cash advance tied to the release of 500 pages of self-adulation that was actually penned by a ghostwriter. Plus the media coverage enhances name recognition. But Cuomo's All Things Possible sold just 945 copies its first week and 535 the second week on the shelves. That's not a typo - the two-week numbers are under 1,500 copies. Amazon has already dropped the suggested price from $30 to $20. Yet Cuomo's book deal was worth over $700,000, with advance royalties of at least $150,000. Sounds like this should go in HarperCollins' "Bad Deals Hame of Fame," eh?

That's the prima facie reading of the situation, but there could be more at play. Sure, HarperCollins was probably banking on Cuomo enjoying greater popularity and better sales when this deal was originally done. But Cuomo is also a potential presidential candidate. And in this, he's an investment. I don't think HarperCollins makes this deal because Governor Cuomo's book is worth a $700,000 deal. But President Cuomo's book is. Yet President Cuomo needs, say, a cool five million for the book that will sell 500,000 copies (I'm making up numbers here. For reference, Bill Clinton's My Life incurred a $15 million advance and moved 2.3 million copies).

HarperCollins hopes to break even on All Things Possible under the status quo, but the real ambition is the gamble that Cuomo makes his way into the Oval Office and the publisher nets a brilliant return. So book deals with presidential candidates may be premised on the chance they go from state/regional personalities to national celebrities. This isn't to suggest HarperCollins believes in a Cuomo presidency - indeed, it likely hopes to sign a couple of likely prospects from both parties for the same purpose. Just maybe not Rand Paul.

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