Monday, October 26, 2015

ANALYSIS: Republican Governors Association re-enters ad fray, again trying to tie Conway to Obama

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Republican Governors Association is back, and in a big way: $1.6 million big. After spending $2.6 million in the governor's race on ads in the summer and early fall, the RGA pulled its support for Republican candidate Matt Bevin at the end of September. While no official reason was given, it left Bevin, who has a huge fundraising deficit in his race with Democrat Jack Conway, alone in a race where he needs help. After Bevin spent almost $1 million of his own money on ads and was unable to gain any ground in the polls, the RGA stepped back in. In a race that has generated little public interest, the RGA is hoping it can tip the scales toward Bevin in the last two weeks by connecting Conway to Obama.

Ad message
A new ad, called “Trust” is set in black and white, while gloomy string music plays in the background. The top of the screen shows families and workers struggling to make due. It begins by saying: “Our families are struggling, healthcare costs have skyrocketed, too many jobs have been lost, our paychecks seem smaller while career politicians make government bigger.” The bottom of the screen is split with a black and white portrait of President Obama next to Conway with the label “Obama-Conway Record.”

“Struggling families” and “paychecks seem smaller”: Data from the Census B ureau shows that median income in Kentucky fell by almost 3 percent from 2013 to 2014. The ad would like you to believe that Democratic policies, led by President Obama, are to blame, but the responsibility is not clear. Income has been falling for quite some time, and not just in Kentucky. Americans not in the top 10 percent of income earners are doing worse than in years past. Almost all growth in wealth since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 has gone to the top 10 percent of income earners. Adjusted for inflation, median household incomes peaked around 2000, when George W. Bush was elected, and have been on the decline ever since. If the president in office is to blame for income and wealth performance, the RGA might not want to throw stones. The claim is true, but it certainly does not say what the RGA wants you to believe.

“Politicians make government bigger” is also a claim that deserves more scrutiny. The RGA is not so subtle in its insinuation that Conway is making government bigger; his picture is the focus of the ad as the statement is made. As evidence of this claim the RGA points to the growth in the budget of Kentucky over the last three years, and the expected growth for the next two. In those years, the state budget has grown slightly faster than the gross state product, which is the amount of goods and services produced in the state, but the attorney general doesn’t control the purse strings; the state legislature does.

“Skyrocketing health-care costs”: Health-care costs are up, but “skyrocketed” stretches too far. While horror stories of individual premiums rising as much as 40 percent are not difficult to find, data show these are outliers. An analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that the average premium increase from 2014 to 2015 was effectively zero, a significant difference from annual premium increases in the previous decade of about 10 percent. Comparative numbers for 2016 will not be available for some time, but we do know that individual policies on the state’s Kynect insurance exchange are averaging increases between 5.2 percent and 12.2 percent, not including an 11 percent decrease for WellCare. Seeing a rate increase at or below the 10-year average could hardly be called skyrocketing. This claim is largely false.

“Too many jobs have been lost”: The RGA’s documentation for this point cites Kentucky’s loss of more than 1 in 10 coal jobs during the first three months of 2014. In the last three years, about half the state’s coal jobs have been lost. However, the ad does not mention coal, and unemployment in Kentucky is 5 percent, the lowest in 14 years. The total number of people with jobs in Kentucky is 13,000 fewer than five years ago, but that may not be the best way to measure it. The total nonfarm employment is more than 133,000 higher than five years ago, and 34,000 higher than last year.

"Our families can't afford four more years of the liberal policies of President Obama and career politicians like Jack Conway”: As evidence for this the RGA points to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. But this claim conflicts with the conclusions of an analysis done for the state by Deloitte Consulting. The study says the added tax revenue from jobs created in the medical sector, due to the increase in the number of Kentuckians with health coverage, will pay for the expansion of Medicaid through 2020. Kentucky must start paying 5 percent of the expansion cost in 2017, rising in steps to the law’s limit of 10 percent in 2020. But that is six years away. This ad cites fur years as the time frame, and the available data shows that the Medicaid expansion will not cost Kentucky in the next four years.

Conclusion: The ad breaks to a black and white video of President Obama saying his “policies are on the ballot.” A woman is shown next to Obama with her face in her hands, upset. The video is form 2014 and Obama has said nothing of the sort about this governor's race. Some voters may remember the comment from last year’s Senate race, but most are unlikely to do so. The ad closes, “Can you really trust Obama and Conway to make things better?” Should Conway become governor, his term and that of President Obama will only overlap for little more than a year and a month. As far as we know, Obama is not planning to be an adviser to the governor of Kentucky after he moves out of the White House. This is an attempt to connect Conway to Obama, but it is a stretch at best.

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