Stop it!

Byline: | Category: 2012, Above the Fold, Government | Posted at: Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Whenever you feel yourself about to utter the I-word (impeachment), Stop it!  Just Stop it!

It makes you look like a fool, much like the President made himself look like a fool when in the space of a single sentence he contradicted himself when he said of the arrest of a black Harvard professor: we don’t yet know the facts of the case, but the police acted stupidly.

We don’t yet know enough of the facts surrounding Benghazi-IRS-AP to really know what happened, certainly not enough to begin saying the I-word.

So when you find yourself about to say the I-word, take Bob Newhart’s advice:

“S-T-O-P . . .  new word . . .  I-T!”

MORE:

Da Tech Guy agrees:  The Impeachment Trap.

If it gets to the point where what we know is that damning, it will be Democrats who will be screaming the I-word so as to distance themselves from crimes.  Until then.  Stop it!

UPDATE:

Rep Chaffetz and National Review’s Andrew Johnson:  Stop it!

Tim Dunkin:  Stop it!

Sen Inhofe:  Stop it!

Pamela Geller:  Stop it!

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Leave us alone

Byline: | Category: 2012, Above the Fold, Culture, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Friday, 30 November 2012

In doing some housecleaning, I found this forgotten essay that I wrote in February and never got around to posting.  With only a few changes for the sake of grammar, and clarity, here it is:

 

For the first time in over two years I’m afraid that Republicans could actually lose the race for the White House in 2012.  Should they do so, especially in light of the enormous advantages they have over a dysfunctional Democratic Party in 2012 (high unemployment, stagnant growth, unpopular programs foisted upon the public, and an unlikable mob–OWS–as the face of liberal activism, just to name a few) it should disqualify the GOP from ever holding the presidency ever again.  If the GOP loses the presidency, it will be the biggest victory of an outclassed mismatch since Aesop’s rabbit blew the race with the turtle.

So how could this be?  Simple, there isn’t a candidate who can unite the opponents of Barack Obama.  That alone would probably be enough to win in November.

Comparisons with Reagan, just as comparisons with FDR or JFK, almost never measure up.  That’s not because those three men were supermen–they weren’t–but because in retrospect each of them is bigger now than they ever were at the time.  Nonetheless, Reagan’s genius was in recognizing that politics is the art of addition, and not about subtraction or division.  That is still true.

The most recent not-Romney is Rick Santorum.  He is most closely associated with the “social conservative” wing of the Republican Party.  This is an important member of the family of conservatism, but like its siblings–Fiscal, Defense, Libertine, and Law N. Order–none of the conservative brethren are capable of striking out on their own.  Still, that’s what Santorum did, when he linked his opposition to the recent Obama decision to force abortificants upon churches to the canard of “birth control isn’t safe.  That is the message of subtraction.  It is a position that attracts none but the already converted.   Even worse, it is a message so offensive to so many (not to mention, so factually incorrect) that it repels those who might otherwise be attracted to his position were it couched in different terms.

What I mean bythat is this:  a Republican must unite the whole party around a simple message that resonates with all its wings.  And that message is the same now as it was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan put all conservative factions under the banner of “Leave Us Alone.”

“Leave us Alone” applies to Catholics justifiably outraged by the government trampling upon their First Amendment rights.  After all, even if you disagree with the Church’s religious position, you must admit, the First Amendment accords to all religions the right to be wrong, otherwise, the right is not a right at all if its only protection is to protect popular positions.  Had Santorum cloaked his argument in “Leave Us Alone,” he would have acknowledged the freedom of churches to decide what medical procedures they would pay for, but would do so without appearing to compromise the right of people to choose to do otherwise with their own money.  It is a message consistent with (or at least, not in opposition to) the other conservative brothers. 

Rick Santorum is hardly the first to make this blunder.  Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachman, each fell by failing to embrace a logically coherent message.  The problem, I suspect, is that “Leave Us Alone,” or at least its implications, is not a message that any of the current Republican candidates really embrace.  For if you truly wish to be left alone, it implies a reciprocal obligation to leave others alone as well.  For defense conservatives that means that if you want others to leave America alone, you must let be those military threats that are non-existental in nature:  Libya and the Taliban, for example.  To the law and order conservative, it implies a level of tolerance to at least some of those activities, like prostitution and minor drug abuse, that are distasteful, but are not a threat to any but those who engage in them.  To the fiscal conservative, “Leave Us Alone,” requires that we not fund any good ideas with public moneys, since, if they realy were ”good ideas,” they would find ample private funds.

You see, it’s not simply about “messaging” your support for or opposition to programs.  It’s about actually believing your message and all its implications.  And when you believe in your message, you are consistent with your message.   If there is a Republican killer this year, consistency will be its name.  That’s why it’s time to unite the Republican brand around the simple message of LEAVE US ALONE.

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Another business leaving America’s shores

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Monday, 26 November 2012

The cynic in me thinks that this would have happened before November if Intrade had ever indicated a possible Romney win:  Intrade shuts out American bettors.

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Broken back Republicans

Byline: | Category: 2012, Culture | Posted at: Thursday, 8 November 2012

Two months ago today I posted this analogy between the 2012 presidential race and the one concluded just eight years before.  It seems worthy of review again today.

” . . . pinning your party’s hopes on the most vocal advocates of a highly controversial social issue, when there is near universal agreement that other issues are more important, gives your party’s megaphone to those who are both extreme and irrelevant. Sandra Fluke is this year’s Terri Schiavo. For every already-Democrat she inspires to vote, she turns off at least one independent for the crime of insulting them by ignoring larger issues. Karl Rove’s plan to drive up Evangelical turnout in 2004, while it worked then, gave rise four years later to Mike Huckabee, who is perhaps the most demagogic and dangerous major presidential candidate to have run for office since William Jennings Bryan beclowned himself and his party in the late 19th century. It should have taken years for the GOP to disassociate its reputation from Huckabee’s form of Evangelical theocracy. Except now it appears that Democrats look ready to rush into their own version of anti-First-Amendment totalitarianism that, instead of forcing adherence to religious views, forces opposition to them. Most Americans hate both extremes of this tangential debate.”

Sean Trende wrote along similar lines today:

“Democrats, like Republicans today, were despondent. Aside from having a president they loathed in the White House for four more years, they were terrified by what seemed to be an emerging Republican majority. John Kerry had, after all, hit all of his turnout targets, only to be swamped by the Republican re-election effort. “Values voters” was the catchphrase . . . “

But 2004 was a Republican heyday, not matched by GOP turnout since.  If Mitt Romney had only secured John McCain’s numbers, he would have come exceedingly close in the popular vote and would have picked up at least Ohio.  If he had reached Bush’s levels, he would have won.

However, that is not to say that, had white turnout not fallen so precipitously this year, that Romney would have been victorious.  (Sean Trende did not conclude that, although one might get that impression from what he wrote.)  In fact, my own analysis of the effect of marginally likely voters tells me that had turnout increased, Mitt Romney would have lost even more.

I usually eschew labels because they are often ambiguous and imprecise.  Just what is a conservative, for example?  Leaving aside the fiscal, there are two other predominant conservative flavors:  Western and Southern.  Western conservatives are live and let live.  A hard life eked out of mountains and prairies requires independent men.  Southern conservatives, on the other hand, are too often perceived (often correctly) as operating in fear that somewhere someone might be having sex.

My daughter, who attends a conservative Catholic high school in the South, and who, the night before, was in tears over the result of the race, told me that she and her friends wonder about opposition to gay marriage:  “Why is it such a big deal what other people do?”  I think that she is right.  But that is a Western conservative position of live and let live.

Republicans have lost Colorado now two elections in a row.  Usually the excuse is an influx of Hispanics who lean Democratic.  But I think that explanation falls dreadfully short.  Two states north in Montana there is nary a Spanish accent around.  It is less than 3% latin and is one of whitest states in the land.  Bush beat Kerry there by 21 percent.  Eight years later Romney’s margin had fallen to only 7 points.

It isn’t just gay marriage.  But the GOP’s fascination with the sexual values of others has made it too easy for Democrats to caricature a party so full of Akins, that Mourdocks, who attempted nuanced arguments about life’s value, were left screaming voiceless into the wind.  Vaginas and Flukes convinced not a single voter to vote Democratic, but they did make Republicans toxic to any who might be on the fence.

Live and let live, a philosphy logically consistent with fiscal conservtism, is leaving the GOP.  They certainly aren’t turning Democratic, but they are turned off by the Republican brand.  Meanwhile the “values voters” that propelled Bush to victory are dying off and not being replaced.  Western states are flipping blue, not because Democrats are winning there, but because Republicans have chosen a losing philosophy around which to unite their base.

East of Helena by 2,500 miles sits a state that flies under a similar Gadsden flag.  The “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire was once a reliable red island in a very blue sea.  However, not since 2000, the last year when Republicans weren’t hitched to a Southern conservative wagon, has it voted GOP.  Similar to the excuse offered about Colorado, the GOP’s decline is blamed on immigration.  But again, that falls short.  “Massholes,” as they are often derogatorily known, don’t flee the taxes of the Bay State to impose them on their new home.  Upper New England, with its hardscrabble history, is the home of the original Western Conservative.  Populated by a large number of refugees of Massachusetts’ puritanism, the area has long rejected the efforts of others to impose social mores.

This is who we once were as a country.  The most lopsided presidential election of the last hundred years was won by a Republican from Upper New England, Calvin Coolidge, who would no longer recognize his GOP home.  Silent Cal would abhor Huckabee Republicans who would tell others how to live in their bedrooms, just as he would abhor Barack Obamas and Mike Bloombergs who wish to control every other room of the house.  Most Americans, like Coolidge before them, hate both extremes of this tangential debate.

UPDATE:  Here’s an observation from the Democratic side of their own problems:

I did some work with OFA this year and my humble opinion is that the current Democratic party is on borrowed time. We’ve become TOO big of a tent when in reality white liberals essentially have nothing in common with Latinos or African-Americans. By pandering so much to specific identity groups we have driven white men away in droves and will soon start losing moderate women and Latinos as well. It’s a very awkward arrangement and instead of a party with a consensus of interests, we are the “Not the GOP” party. The GOP will figure it out with Latinos, to whom they have much to offer, and will moderate many of their stances or not speak of them at all. Pro-life is actually becoming a majority report and liberals an extreme minority. It will be interesting to see what happens to us going forward.

“We are not the Republicans” is no more successful of a slogan than the 2012 slogan of “We are not Obama.”  In fact, that was John Kerry’s 2004 platform and it failed then too.

In many ways both parties are still vestiges of our geographic precursors, only instead of disparate geographic regions, they are now inconsistent constituencies.  Reagan was supposed to have changed that by coalescing Republicans around an ideology.  That ideology was ”leave us alone.”  Leave us alone so that we don’t have to pay crippling taxes.  Leave us alone from excessive government restrictions.  Leave us alone to worship our gods.  At a time when being a social conservative meant having legitimate concerns about bussing and crime, it was easier to coalesce an outcast minority to the cause.  But here’s the rub for social conservatives:  crime is no longer an issue.  Nor is bussing.  Social conservatives won. However, once they went on the offensive, opposition to gay marriage and immigration, for example, they no longer had the sympathetic argument of the victim oppressed by the world.  They were the oppressors, imposing their views on people who just wanted to be left alone.  If Republicans could look past their legacy ideas and groups, they might be able to link together a party, not by cobbling together groups disassociated from the other, but by building a cohesive party united around a logically consistent message and cause.

I encourage you to read Meghan McArdle’s article at the link and stroll through the comments.

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What did it all mean?

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Wednesday, 7 November 2012

In a few days we should have nearly complete data about the final vote.  Analysis of what it all meant can wait until then.

. . . For the time being then I’m going to work on the much more enjoyable task of finishing my novel about wine, and the even more frustrating task of trying to put together a small business in our hyper-regulatory environment.

I’ll leave you with one final political pondering I expect to muse about these next few weeks: 

Is the Republican Party an irretrievably damaged brand?

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Why I’m strangely complacent about tonight

Byline: | Category: 2012, Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government | Posted at: Tuesday, 6 November 2012

As polls begin closing in the Eastern time zone, I am actually rather complacent about the outcome.  Yes, I voted for Mitt Romney, and yes, I want him to win.  But I guess I have a fatalistic view about what happens regardless of which man wins tonight.

Here is what I envision over the next four years: 

The bond yield is going to skyrocket as inflation begins to take hold.  That will push up the deficit because of the increased interest the government will have to pay to its creditors.  The effects of inflation will be horrible.  We’ll do something stupid to forestall this, like feed even more debt to the Fed.  It won’t work.  Inflation will find our door.  But if I’m wrong, and inflation doesn’t come, that is almost as bad, as it means another four years of super low interest rates and a corresponding dearth of interest income and saving.  Four more years of baby boomers retiring with no increase in interest rates is very bad indeed.

Regardless of who is in charge, America will still be held back by the sclerotic state of the nation’s bureaucracy.  As Meghan McArdle pointed out recently, there have been plans for hardening the essential infrastructure of the NY/NJ area for years.  It would have been nice to have last week.  Those plans are still in review.  They will still be in review a decade from now.  This, in a city that saw the Empire State Building go from a hole in the ground to completion in less than 14 months.  Obamacare is just the latest circle of bureaucratic hell through which America’s entrepreneuers must wade, and even if Romney is elected, much of it, I am saddened to report, will remain intact.  At some point our economic engines are like Napoleon’s troops invading Russia: supply lines were so long that there was no room for anything else in the carriage but the fodder for the horses pulling the carts.  There was nothing left to do then but to eat the horse.  I fear that we’re nearing that point.

An even bumpier economic ride is overdue overseas.  China is on the edge of a cliff; its coming catastrophe will either be economic or cultural.  Probably both.  Japan is nearing the end of its free money holiday.  With the highest debt load in the developed world as well as the oldest population, Japan is not just an economic mess, but serves as a warning to others who are quickly tracing the same path.  Even more concerning is that China and Japan are both still very closed societies;  they are unlikely to search earnestly and inwardly for blame or solution.  It is easier to look outside for blame.  And then there’s Europe:  beset by unbridgeable divides, it will collapse with rippling economic, cultural, and perhaps even military effects upon the United States.

Unfortunately our competitors and enemies will not bide their time these next four years.  Our foolishness in the Middle East and in North Africa has placed America in a damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t situation.  But of the two, doesn’t–disengagement–offers the least potential downsides.  Regardless of who is elected, we won’t disengage.  Instead we will continue to reinforce failure overseas just as we have for years.  As for Russia . . . enough said.

We are an nation divided evenly between two irreconciable ideologies.  On the one side is the collectivist progressive who knows that by centralizing control in the hands of leaders empowered by special powers, that America will be a fairer place.  On the other side is the rugged individualist who knows that if he were freed of extraordinary restrictions that he could accomplish extraordinary things and that will make America a stronger place. 

This is not a new conflict.  In fact, it’s the conflict that gave birth to our nation, when we left England and an anointed elite behind.  But we didn’t leave it entirely behind.  And by degree, collectivism has returned.  For decades we have been able to paper over the differences between the two camps through the incredible surplusses that we have amassed.  But those surplusses are soon to come to an end.

We could forestall that day, perhaps even reverse time.  But unfortunately, even if Mitt Romney wins tonight, he will not win with a mandate for real change.  Thus we will toddle down Japan’s path to our own end.  At least that beats sprinting there.

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Ohio: A tale of two stories

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Tuesday, 6 November 2012

If there is one place in the whole of the United States where Barack Obama has to do his very best today, it is Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County.  Four years ago this one county gave Obama 258 thousand of his 260 thousand vote lead in the Buckeye State.  If you took away Cleveland, Ohio’s other 87 counties were seven points more Republican than the 2008 national average.

Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest, is traditionally Democratic–only once in the last 40 years has it given more votes to the GOP nominee for President–and that was in 1972 when Nixon still got less than 50% of the total vote in the county.  Between 1996 and 2004 the county gave between 29 and 34 percent more support to the Democratic candidate.  In 2008 Obama’s Cleveland support exceeded McCain’s by 38 points. 

That is why Republicans need to escape Cuyahoga County with a smaller margin stacked against them than their 258,000 deficit of four years ago.  To do so, Republicans need to either see Cleveland’s turnout drop and/or increase the GOP share of the vote in the rest of the state. 

On that first score, it doesn’t look good for the GOP.  The below comes from Cuyahoga County Board of Elections data from Saturday.  It shows an overall increase in the number of absentee ballots returned:  228,905 with two days left in the race in 2012 versus a total of 210,592 in 2008.  Even more concerning is where those returned ballots are coming from.  This includes only the 33 most populous communities in the county (so as to remove a few small communities where a change in just a couple dozen votes wildly skews the percentage) and ranks them from least to most Republican. 

cuya_1.jpg

I’ve highlighted the city of Cleveland itself, which accounts for one-quarter of the county’s total ballots received.  By Saturday it had already received 32% more mail-in votes than they did in 2008.  What is clear from this chart is that vote-by-mail turnout has increased by the highest amount in the most Democratic communities in Ohio’s largest Democratic County.

But what of those reports that early voting is down for Democrats in Ohio?  It is.  Even in Cuyahoga County, early voting through Sunday was down 15% from 2008.  The problem for Republicans is that the number of vote-by-mail absentee votes is five times as large as the number of those who vote in person.  So while there were about 7,400 fewer in-person early voters in Cuyahoga County than there were in 2008, the number of by-mail voters increased by almost 19,000 with still another two days to go.  At roughly 2:1 in favor of Obama, that’s a net gain of about 8,000 more total early votes from four years before.

I see that some Republicans are arguing that Democrats have cannibalized their election day voters by getting them to vote early.  Sorry, as much as I’d like to believe that, I’m not buying it; at least not in Cleveland.  If early and absentee numbers were down, I’m certain that the GOP would be crowing about it being indicative of diminished Democratic enthusiasm, as they are claiming in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia.  Republican spin on that issue in Ohio sounds too much like a “heads I win, tails you lose” argument.  Instead, I’m going with the less nuanced notion that early voting turnout is a reflection of enthusiasm.

And on that count, there is a lot of good news for Ohio Republicans.  The data for the below chart comes from a website run by Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University and fellow at the Brookings Institute.  This data source does not have all of the state’s 88 counties.  He provides numbers for only 53 and I’ve included the 25 largest.  It also doesn’t exactly match what I have from Cuyahoga County, but I think that is because his data is harvested on a different date.  (It’s also not clear if it includes in-person voting; however, the magnitude of the numbers indicates that it does include by-mail votes, which are the much larger number of the two.  

The chart clearly shows  that the more Republican a county, the greater the increase in early vote turnout over 2008 levels.

ohio_counties.jpg 

I’ve labeled a few communities. 

The counties containing Ohio’s largest northern cities are its Democratic strongholds (Akron, Cleveland, Toledo, and Youngstown).  Early voting turnout there, while on par with or up from four years ago is lagging the much larger increases in other parts of the state. 

Look at Columbus’ Franklin County.  This is the largest city in the state (Franklin Co. is the second-largest county).  It also includes The Ohio State University and its 80,000 students and staff.  Franklin County has trended more Democrat over the years, but not usually by as much as it did in 2008.  In 2012 it looks to have the lowest rate of early voting of any county in the state compared to four years ago.  If this is a reflection of Obama’s GOTV efforts on major Midwestern college campuses (Madison, State College, Twin Cities, and Ann Arbor–I’m talking about you), then this has got to be making Obama concerned.

Look also at the two biggest turnout changes on the list.  Jefferson (Steubenville) and Tuscarawas Counties are in Ohio’s coal country.  There are 32 coal counties in the Buckeye State.  Most of them are smaller, and therefore, don’t appear on this list.  But I imagine that they are all trending the same way.  Notice also that these counties were deep purple four years ago–only 76 votes separated Obama and McCain in Steubenville.  If the upward trend in early voting is an indicator of enthusiasm, I strongly doubt that it is enthusiasm for Obama.  This is not a good Obama omen for Pennsylvania.

Finally, look at Warren County.  This suburban ring county sits to the northeast of Cincinnati.   Between Warren and its two similar size neighbors, Butler and Clermont (not in McDonald’s database), the three counties voted for McCain over Obama by a margin of well over a hundred thousand votes.  All three counties are also three of the fastest growing in the state.  However, they haven’t grown by 30% in four years.  That increased turnout is enthusiasm, and I expect to see it at similar levels in Butler and Clermont as well.

Bottom line from what I’m seeing in Ohio:  Obama has to be happy with what he’s seeing in early voter numbers in absolute-must-win-big Cuyahoga County.  But when he compares it to the rest of the state, he should be afraid.

UPDATE:  Based on the enthusiasm that I’m seeing ine early vote numbers in Ohio in other portions of the state, if Barack Obama’s lead in Cuyahoga County is less than 230,000 votes, the President should stock up on bourbon instead of champagne.  More than that won’t gurantee an Obama win, but less will almost certainly result in a loss.

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How to grade the polls

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Let me begin by saying that whomever calls it closest doesn’t necessarily win.  Sure, I trumpet Rasmussen’s 2008 prediction, but that is simply to demonstrate to those who think that he is a partisan hack that he has a pretty decent track record and cannot be discounted for partisan leanings without being guilty of partisanship yourself.

Before we can answer who grades this election right, we have to first revisit a little basic statistics.  Let’s first assume that we have populations large enough as to approximate infinity (we do).  Theoretically then, if we want to release polls within a 90% confidence interval (most are 90 or 95 percent, but often they don’t say, so I assume the lower percent), then we need a representative sample of about 1,200 voters to get a margine of error of about 3%.  That means that if you gather a 100 different representative samples of 1,200 respondents each, on average, 90 of them will give you the right answer to within a range of about +/- 3 points.

Whoever then gets closest, even if they do everything right in terms of gathering their sample, is as much a game of chance as skill.  If the final result is a 50-50 ties,  Acme Polling’s November 6th estimate of a 2-point Obama lead is not necessarily worse than Pollco’s prediction that same day of a tie.  Let’s look at those two polling companies and see who better tracked the ultimate result.

pollco_2.jpg

So who did the better job polling this race?  If you go by final result, you would say Pollco because their last poll predicted the ultimate result of a tied 50-50 race.  However, if you look at each poll over the last ten days, you see that Pollco average an Obama lead of 6 points while Acme Polling’s average was a tie.  It just so happened that on the final day of polling Pollco got a lucky break with their sample, while Acme Polling got a sample that gave them a result within their margin of error.  It just happened to be the one-day-in-ten when Pollco was outside their four-point margin of error.  However, Pollco’s methodology overall was clearly biased in Obama’s favor.  (In statistics ”bias” is a neutral term that has nothing to do with ideology.)

When it comes to determining who did the best job of estimating today’s election, we’re going to have to look at not just the overall result, but their track record as well.  If Romney wins by five points, for example, then there is an argument to be made that Gallup did a better job than Rasmussen, because for a longer period of time Gallup was closer to the final result, even though both organizations will have missed it by four.  If Obama wins by three, then we’re probably looking at giving the laurels to IBD/TIPP. 

Bottom line:  you can’t just look at the final number; you have to consider the track record to know which polling company did the best job.

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And the prediction is . . .

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Before I tell you that, I’m going to let you peer inside the gonculator that spat out the results.  This isn’t a fancy machine of myriad weights and measures.  Instead, it’s just a little bit of applied statistics to a problem of high incertitude.

About two weeks ago I noticed that there appeared to be a correlation between a poll’s strength of likely voter screen and Mitt Romney’s level of support.  Another way of saying that, is that the greater the percentage of adults included in the likely voter portion of a poll, the worse Romney’s result.  At the time, I only had a few data points and only one pairwise comparison.  That is, only one of the polls told me the results of its sample of likely voters and the results of its larger sample of registered voters.

Since then I have a few more data points, a few more pairwise comparisons, and a corroboration of my thesis that higher turnouts significantly aid President Obama’s poll numbers.  This evidence came in the form of the Pew poll released Sunday which gave the presidential preference for unlikely voters.  By a margin of 65-23, the small portion of their sample that they identified as unlikely to vote, wanted Barack Obama to win.  The Pew’s overall sample of likely voters gave Obama only a three-point edge.  Additionally, the poll indicated that “Romney’s suporters continue to be more engaged in the election and interested in election news than Obama supporters, and are more committed to voting.”  In other words, the lower the turnout, the better the result for the Republican.  No, that’s not an earth-shaking revelation, but I think that I’ve figured out a way to estimate by how much turnout effects Romney’s support.

Let me start by saying that politics is not baseball.  I admire Nate Silver’s analytical skills, but taking models that work well in one forum does not necessarily mean that they will translate to another.  The biggest difference between the ballpark and the political arena is the human element.  There are never more than 13 players on a field at any time.  If you add in the 4 umpires (2 more if it’s the post-season), the managers, and the first and third base coaches, plus the official scorer, there are a total of no more than two dozen people involved in determining what happens at every plate appearance.  In presidential politics, that number is in the tens of millions.

Furthermore, in baseball there is near certitude about what actually did happen.  Sure, occasionally an umpire blows a call, or an official scorer counts an error as a hit.  But it’s actually quite rare.  In politics there is far more uncertainty, not just about what is about to happen, but even about what did happen.  The last polls in 2000, for example, were agnostic as to the effect of the late revelations about Bush’s decades’ old DUI arrest; so extrapolating conclusions from those last poll results was and is dangerous. 

Polling, which is the entry point that goes into Nate Silver’s model, is not like a box score–which is a near exact representation of an historical event.  Instead, it is an educated guess about what the current landscape is.  Not what it is going to look like.  And definitely not what it is certain to be.  That is very different from the data that we have with which to evaluate baseball.

Let me make an analogy that may help to explain the logic by which I have arrived at my prediction.  Imagine that, if instead of having a database full of actual baseball records, your historical data was a collection of estimates pooled from baseball experts who were somehow able to consider the running speed of the batter and his teammates on base, the positioning and fielding ability of the fielders, and, in that split second after the batter made contact, predict what the outcome of the plate appearance was going to be.  Obviously, if we could gather enough data–speed and trajectory of the ball when it left the bat, for instance–we could probably guess more often than not if the hit ball was an easy out or a home run.  The model that Nate Silver and many other sabremetricians use brilliantly considers exactly these variables.

But there’s one more variable:  imagine that those making their predictions don’t know the ballpark in which the game is being played.  They have each assumed a different ballpark when making their predictions, but usually they don’t tell you which one it is.  The expert who has assumed that the game is played at Wrigley with the wind blowing out, is likely to record a sharply hit ball to left field as a probable home run.  On the other hand, if another expert assumes that the batter is at Fenway, he may conclude that the ball will bounce off the Green Monster and yield only a long single.

Every one of the polling companies is assuming a different ballpark.  And when you have a 39-point gap between honest unlikely voters and the members of your sample, the inclusion of dishonest unlikely voters is likley to significantly skew your result.  While all the polls in the RCP average are currently using likely voters in their models, they have each defined likely voters differently. 

So what I’ve done is to try to estimate the effect of an unlikely voter in their sample.  To do that I’ve taken the number of likely voters in each poll and listed it as a percentage of either registered voters or adults in their sample, if either or both numbers are given.

polls_final_table.jpg*

If we were able to know the entire random sample of adults from which poll respondents were chosen, we could estimate implied turnout percentages in the polls.  In other words, we can estimate the size of the political ballpark that each of the polling companies is using to get their results.  Four polls gave us enough data to calculate the implied turnout in their samples.  But  three of them  also told us the results of their poll for all registered voters.  Across the four different polls for which we can gather data, turnout ranges from 68.6 to 73.2 percent of the voting age population.  As a percentage of registered voters, it ranges from 75.5 to 88.5 percent.  That gave us two different data points for each of these polls, and from there we could estimate the straight line effect of increasing turnout percentages on presidential preference within individual polls. 

Below are two charts, showing the results of these polls.  The first chart is expressed as a percentage of all registered voters.  The x-axis is the percentage of registered voters in their sample.  The left-most point on each line is the poll result.  The right-most point shows what happened to the result  when they polled all registered voters from their sample.  The second chart is as a percentage of the voting age population.  Where the number of registered voters in the sample was given by the polling company, it is shown as a percentage of all adults contacted in the sample.

poll_chart_rv2.jpg

poll_chart_vap2.jpg 

I wanted to see if the slope of each line was similar enough to use for projection.  Admittedly, this is a small sample, but all slopes were negative and ranged betweenh -0.09 and -0.35, which was roughly similar enough for me to use for the purposes of this estimate.  The average of the five slopes was -0.220, meaning that for every one percent of unlikely voter included in a sample, Mitt Romney’s lead decreased by 0.22 percent.

Knowing the slope of our estimate of the influence of oversampling unlikely voters, all I needed to do was to figure out where to place the line and project what turnout is likely to be.  I chose to calculate turnout as a percentage of VAP.  That is a less subjective measure, as the number of registrations, and thus the size of the denominatior, often fluctuates a great deal.  (In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, for example, the purging of old data scrubbed 200 thousand names from voter rolls in the last four years, even though Cleveland’s population didn’t fall nearly that much.)  Turnout is usually in the mid 50s, and since 1972, has never exceeded 62.6% of the VAP.  I have chosen to use an estimate of 60 percent. 

As for where to place the line, I began with the RCP average* of Obama over Romney by 48.3 to 47.8 percent.  And I decided to place that at 70% on the VAP scale, since our three known data points on that scale are between 68.6 and 73.2 percent turnout.  That means that an oversample of 10% unlikely voters in our samples gives Barack Obama an advantage of 2.2% above where he would sit if turnout is 60% instead of 70%.  Taking 1.1% away from Obama and giving 1.1% to Romney gives us a new estimate Romney over Obama by 48.9% to 47.2%. 

Finally, to account for 3.9% that are undecideds or others, I just split them proportionately while leaving 1% for other candidates.  That gives us a final prediction of Romney over Obama by 50.4% to 48.6%.  In other words, I am projecting a result similar to Scenario 3, giving Mitt Romney approximately 295 electoral votes.

Let me make some caveats: 

- I’m not sure that there is going to be any effect on the election from Hurricane Sandy.  If there is, it is likely to be contained to two states that I don’t expect to be in play (NJ and NY).  I do expect that there has been an effect on polling, but having no means of predicting what it is, I’ve ignored it.

- I’m not really certain that there is a last-minute surge to Obama that some are seeing.  It would be an anomaly if there was a move in the incumbent’s direction.  Instead, I think that we’re seeing people automatically included in the likely voter pool because they said that they have already voted, when in fact they did not.  Routinely I’m seeing polls reporting early voters above what actual numbers from secretaries of state are indicating.  Part of this is the social acceptability bias that causes people to say that they are going to vote, but then they don’t.  Part of this is a respondent saying that he has already voted in the hope that the guy on the other end of the line with yet another political call will hang up.  Even before the existence of large numbers of early voters, predicting turnout was always difficult.  Predicting it now in the midst of early voting is even more difficult. 

- If there is a last-minute break to the challenger beyond the proportionate breakout of undecideds that I’ve assumed, then expect Scenario 4.  We’ll know that when we see Ohio’s returns tomorrow.  I hope to do a detailed analysis of the Buckeye State describing what to look for in order to get a sense of how things are breaking.  (UPDATE: posted here)  Bottom line:  if Ohio breaks hard one way or another: expect somewhere between Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 if it goes hard for Obama early, or Scenario 4 (or even Scenario 5) if it goes Romney’s way.

- If turnout falls to the recent historical average of about 55%, this model would give Mitt Romney another one point advantage.

- As for the individual states:  I fully expect that because of his investment in the Buckeye State, that Barack Obama does better in Ohio than he does nationally.  The same happened with John McCain when the entire nation shifted about ten points from four years before, but Ohio only moved about 7 points in the Democratic direction.  With a popular vote win of slightly under 2 points, it is not inconceivable that Mitt Romney could still lose Ohio.  However, by winning by that much nationally, he will have put away Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, while Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and even Michigan will be teetering on the edge of tilting red.  That’s too much territory for Obama to defend and to expect them all to go his way.  (Thanks for alert reader Trent Telenko for bringing this to my attention; it may explain why polling in Michigan indicates that the Wolverine State appears more red than its PVI would lead us to believe.)

- Finally, if I had to give you my margins of error on the spread of 1.8 points, I’d swag it at +/- 2 points.  In other words, somewhere between a modified Scenario 2 (an Obama squeaker) and a version of Scenario 4 (a solid Romney win).  And yes, if you’re keeping score, that means that I’m projecting that these states already:  Florida and North Carolina, for Romney (minimum 235 EV), and Connecticut, Maine (less the 2nd district), New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oregon for Obama (minimum 190 EV).  Only 113 electoral votes are still in play (bluest to reddest: Nevada, Minnesota, Michigan, Maine 2nd, Pennsylvania, Wisconsion, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Colorado).

- If you’re wondering why I’m so confident about Flordia:  Early voting is not going well there for Obama.  Not at all.  By the same token I could probably chance a call on Colorado, but not quite.

* The top line on the Pew poll was Obama over Romney 50-47.  However, the poll result was 47-45; they then allocated undecideds to arrive at their projected result.  I used their raw numbers without undecideds allocated.  All numbers are calculated from the RCP average at approximately 1800 Central Monday 5 November.  With the change in the Pew poll, the RCP average at that time was Obama over Romney 48.3 to 47.8 percent.

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The scenarios: 5-Gallup electorate poll is right

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Monday, 5 November 2012

(With just one day left before tomorrow’s election, I foresee see five possible scenarios.  Each day leading up to Election Day, we have explored one of the scenarios.  This post is the fifth and last installment of the series.  Tomorrow morning we will predict which one will be the result.)

In a sense, Nate Silver was right all along.  The New York Times prognosticator assured us that elections were the sum of their parts.  It’s just that he focused on the wrong parts:  instead of looking at state races, he should have watched the underlying issues and demographics that were pulling Obama down.  The clues were out there:  13% of the President’s 2008 voters in one comprehensive poll defected the Republican way.  And there wasn’t much give back from the other side.  The “undertow” effect is what some people called it.  But after this performance, most just called it (and by exetension, President Obama) “the Big Suck.”

Those expressing enthusiastic support for President Obama had rarely been even within ten points of their enthusiastic opposites who expressed strong disapproval for the incument.  With 90% of his base locked up as “broken-glass voters,” Mitt Romney was free to fight for the vital middle ground as early as the first debate.  There he increased his lead.  Almost every poll leading up to the election found him winning independents by between 6 and 20 points.  As Dan McLoughlin noted a week before the race:

“If you averaged Obama’s standing in all the internals, you’d capture a profile of a candidate that looks an awful lot like a whole lot of people who have gone down to defeat in the past, and nearly nobody who has won.”

Meanwhile, in what should have sent up alarm bells across the land, Barack Obama’s campaign was diminished to arguing that it would win on the strength of its get-out-the-vote efforts with youth and minorities.  Second to mentioning Harry Truman, this is the last refuge of the losing side.  Almost never is depending on sporadic voters a recipe for success.  Even in 2008, Obama’s leads with those demographics only padded the margin he had already won because of his eight point lead with independents.  Falling precipitously from his earlier indy numbers, he and his acolytes should have known that calamity lay ahead

Most pollsters took a beating in predicting the race.  But that should have been expected too.  The last two times that a Republican challenged a Democratic incumbent (1996 and 1980) the polls overestimated Democratic support by 5.1 and 7.2 points.  And ’96 was not even in bad economic times.  

The biggest gap was not one of gender, but between the opinions of those who voted and those who did not.  Those most likely to vote–whites, property owners, investor class, church-goers, married, and the elderly–despised where Obama had taken the country by margins of sometimes more than 20 points.   Singles, minorities, and the youth still backed the President, but with diminished support and turnout from four years before.

The entire outcome hinged on who turned out to vote, and when only nine percent of the electorate wished to talk to pollsters, projecting who that was likely to be, became a fool’s errand.  But statisticians are not above being fooled.  A look at any one of those demographics–even the ones that still supported him–would have showed the President’s downward shift from four years before.  But it was too easy to weight bad samples toward a guesstimate of a turnout model instead.  Only Gallup got it right, and the result was nasty for Democrats.  They went from a 12-point advantage in party identification among likely voters in 2008, to a one-point disadvantage in just four years.

As for the outcome:  Romney by 53 to 46.  Wave or undertow, it didn’t matter.  Barack Obama won only 11 states and DC.  They were the few lone blue islands awash in a red sea.  The effect downticket was just as bad for Democrats.  They returned to the Senate holding only 43 seats (including 2 Independents).  Bob Menendez, weighed down by a prostitution scandal, was further hamstrung by a Democratic electorate that, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, had things to do other than vote while, fooled by the pollsters, they complacently expected a Democratic win.  In the House, the GOP returned to Washington with gains and a total of 250 seats.

Gallup was right.  A week before the race, early voter polling and actual early voter numbers showed a massive plunge in Democratic support–and this on top of Democratic expectations that they would lose on Election Day but win enough early votes to carry the election.  The fall was so dramatic that after the election, Democrats openly contemplated the notion that it was their ideas that were out of touch.

scenario_5.jpg

See all the scenarios:

Scenario 1:  Nate Silver is right

Scenario 2:  RCP is right

Scenario 3:  Rasmussen is right

Scenario 4:  Gallup tracking poll is right

Scenario 5:  Gallup electorate poll is right

And the prediction is . . .

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