Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Trump's immigration flip-flops wouldn't affect his hypothetical presidency

Yesterday, I posted about the likely electoral irrelevance of Donald Trump's sort-of flip-flopping on immigration and deportation.  As long as we're on the subject, a brief note is in order on the unlikely event of a Trump victory.  As of this morning, PredictWise put's Trump's chances at 22%.  We'll go with that.

Let's take yet another trip down memory lane.  The year was 2004.  Lost debuted on tv, which still existed as a thing, iPhones didn't, and popular music, as always, was lousy.  George W. Bush defeated John Kerry, much to the chagrin of my students at Oberlin, well-known for their lefty politics (this was a year before my move to CWRU).  Bush the Younger declared this after his victory:

Political capital.  A familiar term for students of political science.  From whom?  Your next reading assignment!  Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power.  The short-short version is this: presidential power is the power to persuade.  That relies on having political capital.  That comes from stuff like winning.

So, on what did Bush 43 want to spend his capital?  Three things:  social security reform, tax reform, and, uh..... damn, what's that third thing... uh....  Sorry, I had to do it.  Oh, immigration reform.

Yeah, that didn't happen.  Why not?  He was dependent on Congress, and Congress didn't act.  That's kind of their thing now-- not acting.

But, wait!  If Trump just wants a big infusion of money into border enforcement and people to track down illegal immigrants to deport, couldn't that happen?  After all, Dubya's problem was that he was accused by congressional Republicans of pushing amnesty, and they refused.  If Trump sticks to his original hard-line policies, that won't happen.

A)  That's part of the point.  Trump's flip-flops mean nothing because Congress will determine what happens legislatively.

B)  If Congress doesn't want to act, Trump will have what I've been calling a Carter problem (see, for example, here).

C)  Trump's actual plans, such as they are, would cost so much money that they are unlikely to get the appropriations anyway.  If they are made contingent on Mexico paying, then, well, Samuel Beckett time, and I don't mean Quantum Leap.

So, and this one is just to bug Matt Jarvis, this is all just sound and fury.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trump, immigration and the politics of flip-flopping

As you may know, Trump is scheduled to give yet another oops-talk tomorrow.  This time, about immigration.  His habit of speaking off-the-cuff wound up leading him to a position on immigration difficult to distinguish from what he and others have called "amnesty"-- letting those who either came illegally, or overstayed their visas, stay if they paid their taxes, etc.  I'll skip the usual Trump-bashing because, well, that horse is deader'n Secretariat.  Let's talk about flip-flopping.  Does flip-flipping in general hurt, and will this matter more because of its centrality to Trump's political identity?

On the first question, pretty much no.  In 2012, we all made fun of Mitt Romney for his many, many flip-flops, but as a Massachusetts Republican, being left of his party was also called "representation," so get over it.  Other famous flip-floppers included Ted Kennedy on abortion.  Yes, really.  Something must have been in the water in Massachusetts.  Specifically, dead girls killed by Ted Kennedy in drunk driving incidents that lefties don't like to talk about...

Then, of course, there's this.

Hey look!  Massachusetts again!  In 2004, John Kerry got himself in trouble by talking about voting for one version of a bill, then against another version.  FLIP-FLOPPER!  FLIP-FLOPPER!  The Republicans started selling John Kerry flip-flops as a fund-raising gimmick.  Did it matter?  Kerry lost, but let's not fall prey to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.  Yup, that's Latin, kids.  It means "after this, therefore because of this."  Just because Kerry lost after being accused of flip-flopping doesn't mean he lost because he was accused of it.  Incumbent presidents win more often than not.  Bush the Younger won.  He was the incumbent.  The economy was pretty much OK.  No big shocker there, from my political science perspective.  Did Kerry underperform given the economy?  Not really.  Do flip-flops hurt?  Uh....

Anyway, moving on to the question of whether or not Trump is so closely connected to immigration that his blundering on immigration will hurt him.  Great book time.  Fred Greenstein's The Hidden Hand Presidency.  During Eisenhower's Presidency, a lot of people wrote him off as a little, well, not quite there.  If you read the text of what he said, he didn't always sound, well, "smart."

Then again, let's remember who beat Hitler.

One of the great tidbits that Greenstein dug up was that Ike managed to weasel out of trouble by intentionally mangling his language, and counting on the good will he had built up to get himself out of a jam.  And, while the text of what he said didn't read well, it sounded fine.  And it usually worked.

Is Trump Eisenhower?  Um, no.  My point is that context determines interpretation.  And, Trump blunders so much that his recent immigration stumbles can be written off as just another example of Trump blundering around.  He didn't flip-flip.  He didn't betray any core principles.  He's just being Trump and sticking his foot in his mouth.

Besides which, he's losing anyway, so what does it matter?  RealClearPolitics currently has Clinton up by 5 points in their polling average, and PredictWise gives Trump a 21% chance of victory.  Notice the lack of movement in response to Trump's immigration blundering.  Why?  Because none of this matters.  I said it back in April, and I stand by it.  This is just sound and fury.

Monday, August 29, 2016

For the start of the 2016-7 academic year: On being wrong

Welcome (back) to school.  At least at Case Western Reserve University, classes start today, and for freshmen, this will be the first day of college.  Let's talk about getting things wrong.  This blog exists because of wrongness.  A year ago, I began teaching a freshman seminar by making two predictions: a random stock market drop would correct itself within a week (it did), and Donald Trump would never be president.  I currently have 80% confidence in that latter prediction, but, um, I never thought he would make it this far.  Almost none of my fellow political scientists did either.  I started this blog with a series called "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead," because, back in February, just by maintaining his lead in the polls that long, he was already blowing our preconceptions to shreds.  We got it wrong.  Even if Trump loses to Clinton, we got the nomination wrong.

A few years ago, at a panel at the American Political Science Association honoring one of my grad school professors, Ray Wolfinger, somebody observed that Ray had the unique honor of being the only high profile political scientist ever to have the honor of never having been debunked.  I'm not Ray Wolfinger, and neither are you.  So, as a 2016-7, welcome (back) to school post, let's talk about being wrong.

1.  You are going to be wrong about stuff.  It will suck.  Get over it.  Other people have real problems.

2.  As reality becomes clear, don't be that asshole who digs deeper into denial.  Nothing is more pathetic.

3.  The down-side of being right is that you learn nothing.  If you are going to be wrong, at least get something out of it.

4.  Don't over-correct.  Sometimes a smart bet loses money.

5.  Don't under-correct.  Learn from your mistakes, or you will lose more money.

6.  Read about debunked research, etc.  That way, you can learn about other people being wrong, and learn from their mistakes.  And laugh at them.  Like, the entire field of psychology right now.  (If the election maintains stagnation, I'll probably start writing about how none of their "findings" can be replicated).

7.  Learn statistics.  Yes, I put the word, "wrong," in the title of the post, and I keep using it, but really, if I weren't writing a quick post at 8:00 before the day begins, I'd be more nuanced.  Everything is about how confident we can be, and we need a mathematical system for that.  That branch of mathematics is called "statistics."  Learn it.

8.  Go read Expert Political Judgment, by Philip Tetlock.  I reference this one a lot.  Everyone needs to read it.  It is about being wrong, who gets stuff right, why, and how to determine whether or not you were right for the wrong reasons, wrong for the right reasons, etc.

That's all for now.  Welcome back.  Get readin', kids.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Follow-up on Mylan, epi-pens and political versus nonpolitical pressure

In Thursday's post, I pointed out the absurdity of Mylan's stock tanking out of fear of political action in response to the rising price of epi-pens.  There will be no legislation passed, the regulatory process is weak, and moral suasion is hippy nonsense.

Mylan has announced, though, that they will provide coupons for those whose insurance doesn't cover epi-pens to help defray the costs.  Interesting, in several ways.  This does diminish some of the horror stories that would have happened otherwise, which takes away political pressure, such as it was, raising the interesting question of whether or not Mylan understands that political action was impossible.

Alternately, this raises the notion that it isn't the political pressure, but the social pressure on Mylan.  I find it difficult to believe that Mylan didn't have someone on staff capable of recognizing the political landscape and the impossibility of imposing price caps.  On the other hand, the social backlash was pretty damned severe.  Those of us steeped in politics often forget that there is a nonpolitical world that other people inhabit.  This was a major news story.  Yes, Clinton tweeted about it, and yes, that was a component of the story, but much as she might like to think so, she isn't the center of the universe.  Political pressure isn't the only kind of pressure.

The decibel level of that nonpolitical pressure (get the music now?) may just have gotten Mylan to look for a way to try to prevent the worst horror stories, so the proposal was the coupon idea for the uninsured.  From the perspective of Mylan's profitability?  That's chump change.

Notice, too, that epinephrine isn't a particularly fancy drug.  What Mylan has is a delivery device that people find convenient.  They've had the market cornered because nobody has gotten a better delivery device.  There's only so much they can push that advantage before some clever engineer figures out something better at a cheaper price.  Competitors have tried and failed.  The higher Mylan pushes that price, the more consumers will take an inferior delivery device anyway.

Buzzword time!  In economics, we talk about "rent-seeking."  Basically, this is trying to get a government-protected monopoly.  That way, nobody can compete with you, and you can jack up the prices however much you want.  Mylan's monopoly in the epi-pen market isn't from rent-seeking.  They do have to worry about competitors, and the louder the story gets, the stronger that pressure gets.  That's economic pressure, not political pressure.  And, if a few coupons can dissuade market entry from potential competitors?  Smart move.

I stand by my analysis that Mylan's stock tanking was an over-reaction, but I have no clue what the proper price of the stock is, and no sane person without inside information should try to trade stocks.  If you aren't risking prison time, follow Warren Buffet's advice and stick with passively managed funds while laughing at these kinds of fluctuations.

Still, interesting lessons for the politics-obsessed here.  Next week, we shall return to our regularly-scheduled discussion of total legislative gridlock, a House guaranteed to go Republican by the urbanization of Democratic voters, and a presidential election nearly lost to Republicans by their nomination of Donald J. fucking Trump in an election that a generic Republican should win.  C'mon, somebody, cause a scandal.  I gotta fill space here.  I'm trying to force myself to write.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Why voters don't care about campaign finance, the Clinton Foundation, etc.

Continuing on the theme of yesterday's post on the electoral irrelevance of the Clinton Foundation, let's talk briefly about why most voters care so little about journalists' and certain lefties' pet issue: campaign finance.

Everything goes back to the most important article ever written on public opinion, "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics," by Philip Converse.  Very few people have coherent, well thought out "ideologies" that govern their opinions across a wide range of issues.  At most, people have opinions on a small number of issues that affect the groups with which they identify.  Thus, Converse argued that we could break the public up into "issue publics," that think about discrete issues relevant to them.

To whom is campaign finance directly relevant?

Campaign finance is a procedural issue.  I am fascinated by electoral rules, but I am very, very weird.  So are you, since you are reading this pretentious, little blog.  Not only are you reading a pretentious, little blog, but you are reading a post about an obscure issue on said blog.  Procedural issues, by definition, cannot have direct effects.  At most, they have indirect effects on the process by which other policies are set.  To those with only modest levels of political engagement, which is most of the electorate, that won't be a motivating issue.

Abortion is about either life and death, or control of one's body.  Taxes are about either control of one's property, or funding of necessary services.  We can keep going, but these types of issues will always be more motivating than anything procedural that only indirectly affects anything else, at best.

And then there's the fact that campaign contributions don't do anywhere near as much to influence policymaking as whiny goo-goos* assert, and I'll be dealing with that more too.  For now, I'll reiterate my advice to read John Wright's Interest Groups & Congress.  Serious scholarship has never shown money to be as influential as the conspiratorial ramblings of journalists and certain whiny lefties.  Those latter just need a villain to explain their losses, just as the right needs the phantom of voter fraud to explain their losses.

Regardless, most voters just don't have enough room in their limited political attention to care about procedural stuff.  So, they won't give their attention to stuff like the Clinton Foundation, campaign finance reform, etc.

* Derogatory term for "good government" advocates used by assholes like me.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

For those who thought that Duke couldn't keep up with bebop...

The Clinton Foundation, access and money

It is sort of amazing that I haven't bothered to talk about Clinton, donations to the Clinton Foundation and access to the State Department.  In any normal year, this would draw attention.  But, in any normal year, we wouldn't have Trump to draw attention away from this stuff.  But there's tons of good social science here, so away we go.

1)  Access versus influence

This is a standard challenge in political science.  What we can often demonstrate is that donors have an easier time getting access to officials than non-donors.  Does that access translate into policy change?  Demonstrating that ranges from difficult to impossible.  A good book focusing on the Congress side: John Wright, Interest Groups and Congress.  The principles are the same for other institutions, though.  Donors get access.  That access means talking.  Translating that blather into policy change is haaaaaaaard.  That's why even the newest leaks couldn't nail any real policy decisions to Clinton Foundation donations-- just meetings.  If you read political science, no surprises there.

2)  Contractors lobby everyone

Take a look at who wanted to talk to Clinton as Sec. State.  Not everyone looked like a natural Clinton partisan.  No surprises there if you read political science.  Some donors are what we call "access-seeking" donors.  They lobby everyone because they want contracts.  If a company like Boeing needs some business, they don't care who is in office.  They want to talk to that person.  If they think a donation will open the door, they'll make that donation.  And, every company bidding for a contract is playing the same game.  Who gets squeezed out?  The companies that don't have the money to make the donation.  Which ones are those?  Um, the ones that couldn't fill the contract.  What, you want sympathy from me?  Have you read this blog before?  I don't do sympathy.

3)  Voters rarely care about campaign finance, and this isn't even campaign finance

Campaign finance is an issue of obsessive interest to quantitative scholars like me (mostly because of data availability), journalists who have delusions of being Woodward & Bernstein, and a certain segment of lefties who need a villain to explain why they don't live in a socialist utopia (besides the fact that they are too lazy to move).  Most of the country?  They don't care.  Go read about "Dollar" Bill Jefferson, former Representative from Louisiana.  The feds raided his house.  In his garage, they found a freezer, filled with tv dinner boxes, stuffed with cash, wrapped in aluminum foil.  He claimed he was conducting his own, private sting operation.  He got re-elected.  That wasn't even campaign finance.  That was straight-up bribery.  Now, he was from New Orleans, but still...  Voters don't care about campaign finance until it gets really, really, really bad.

And the Clinton Foundation isn't campaign finance.  It's a charity.  Nobody will care unless the books open up and we find that they are running a private drug cartel out of it, and with Trump on the other side, maybe not even then.  In a normal year, with a normal candidate, Republicans could make a minor stink about this.  Trump?  Nope.  This goes nowhere.  Jaded political scientists like me will crack jokes about how we already knew that money gets access and anyone shocked, well...

Clinton Foundation donors got access.  There is no evidence of policy change at the State Department.  Contractors lobbied.  And nobody will care.  Yup.  Political science may have gotten a lot wrong for 2016, but sometimes, we get stuff right.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Epi-pens and Clinton's presumed victory

Let's take a little detour into an overlap between politics an one of my other obsessions: stocks.  Yes, I bash Trump, but I'm not one of you commie money-haters.  I like money, and I want more, so I pay attention to stocks.

Clinton will probably win, absent some weird, intervening thingamajig, like a terrorist event or a Putin-engineered whatever.  Also, as you may have heard, the price of epinephrine injection pens has gone way up, Clinton and many others have been criticizing it, and the stock price of Mylan, the company that makes the pens, has tanked, bringing down a lot of the pharma industry with it.  And we've seen this before.  In response to statements and tweets by politicians.

Let's just assume Clinton will win at this point since it would take an external event for Trump to win.  What, specifically, could the government do about price hikes?  Not much.  Here are the broad categories.

1)  Legislation.  No chance.  The Republicans will control the House.  Why?  See my comments here.  Here is what Paul Ryan believes:  Market incentives for research on medical technology require the possibility of a big payoff.  Once the government starts restricting those payoffs, even in circumstances that look really bad (see:  Martin Shkreli), those incentives weaken, and incentives to fund research dry up.  You don't have to agree.  The point is that Paul Ryan believes it.  Legislation won't happen.  Anyone who bases stock purchases on the assumption that Paul Ryan will let legislation through is a fool, or doesn't understand how Congress works.

The only thing that might get through is something to help consumers buy epi-pens if they can't afford it because everyone knows someone who needs them to, ya' know, live.  But, if that did get through, that would be more profit for Mylan, not less.  Mylan stock then goes up.  Price caps?!  In a Republican-controlled House?  No... fucking... chance... in... hell.

2)  Regulation.  The regulatory process is run through the executive branch, not through Congress.  Therefore, it is under the direct control of the President.  It is just a hell of a lot weaker than legislation.  Oh, and there is no way to impose price caps or anything like that.  Absent legislation, the effects of regulation are marginal.  Mylan's stock tanked yesterday.  If that's fear of regulation rather than legislation, that's nuts.

3)  Moral suasion.  Um, supposedly, like, politicians can, like, um, shame people into, like, being nice, or some fucking hippy shit.  So, congressional hearings and stuff will make companies stop raising prices, or something.  Therefore, by calling attention to price hikes, stock prices should tank, right?

I have no idea what the right price of Mylan stock is.  No sane person should trade individual stocks.  Do what Warren Buffett says you should do:  a simple, S&P index fund, unless you are willing to do a lot more research, and even then, use passively managed index funds.  Anyone who trades stocks is either a crook or a chump.  If you aren't using inside information, you're the chump.

Clinton will probably win.  This year is crazy, and we always need to build in room for more crazy stuff to happen.  Given her druthers, would she do something to stop companies like Mylan from raising the price of epi-pens?  Yup.  But, she'll be President, not Queen.  We've had policy gridlock since the passage of the 2011 Budget Control Act.  Nothing big has happened since then, and nothing big will happen again until one party gets unified control of everything.  Price controls on drugs?  That would be "yuuuge," as The Donald would say.  Ain't gonna happen.

So those stock reactions?  Pretty funny.

And don't trade stocks.  Just laugh at the fluctuations.  Cheaters and chumps...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Some possibilities for the future of Trump voters

In yesterday's post, I suggested that we shouldn't ask what happens to the Republican Party if/when Trump loses.  Rather, we should ask what happens to Trump's primary voters if/when Trump loses.  Contrary to the nonsensical elite-driven models of party politics, like The Party Decides, the masses were in control, and regardless of the fact that Republican Party elites hated him, Republican voters liked what they heard from Trump.  And they may want more of the same next time around, even if/when Trump loses, which brings us to 2020...

So what might we expect from the future of Trump's supporters and that segment of the party?  In the past, this is the segment of the party that pulled John McCain away from immigration reform.  After 2000, he was one of the Republicans pushing for more open immigration policy.  By 2008?  He ran with this ad.

Then there was Marco Rubio.  Same thing.  After the 2010 election, he entered the Senate as a tea party hero.  He pushed for immigration reform.  Suddenly, he was a traitor to the cause, and an establishment guy.  He had to back away from his own proposal, McCain-style, and it wasn't enough.

This is the kind of thing that isn't enough for the Trump supporters.

Lesson:  responsiveness to the Trump segment of the party is real.  McCain, Rubio, and the rest?  Yeah, bunch of tough guys.

But this isn't just about fences, nor walls.  This is about birtherism, demand for a ban on all muslim immigration, registering all muslims with the government, Mexican rapists, etc.

Can Trump-style racial/ethnic rhetoric be marginalized again?  Only if Trump voters allow themselves to be satisfied with more "symbolic" appeals, in the terminology of Kinder & Sanders' Divided by Color.

Notice, too, the first item on that list of Trumpisms: birtherism.  Trump neither invented nor popularized it.  Nor did the rest of the party do anything to tamp it down, and this is where the party will have real difficulty.  Birtherism is about race, and I won't waste any time arguing about it.  While Trump took the reigns from Orly Taitz as chief birther, few in the Republican Party made a serious effort to knock down birtherism.  Instead, even latter-day Trump opponent Mitt Romney engaged in casual birtherism during the 2012 campaign, back when he was a big-time Trump fan.

It will be very hard for the party to pull back on racialized rhetoric after 8 years of birtherism and similar racial/ethnic conspiracy theories, such as those about his religion.

Rather, what will be fascinating to watch is the internal war within the Republican electorate between those who have been disgusted by Trump, and those who want even more racialized rhetoric.  This is not a policy dispute.  Years ago, E.E. Schattschneider wrote a classic, A Semisovereign People, which talked about how coalitions can fracture due to cross-cutting issues.  This isn't an issue, per se, because the Trump-opponents in the Republican electorate are not motivated by, for example, an open border policy.  Like George Will, they are just disgusted by the overt racism.  We don't have a model for how that shakes out.

But like I've been saying, focus on the voters, not the elites.  They're in charge.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Don't ask what happens to the Republican Party next, ask what happens to Trump voters next

In yesterday's post, I tackled yet another in a long series of attempts by political scientists to come to grips with the unfathomable rise of Donald Trump to head a major party ticket.  Along the way, I took a little cheap shot at a grad school associate, Jonathan Bernstein, for his devotion to The Party Decides and its elite-driven model of nomination politics, in which Trump shouldn't have had a chance, and ultimately just suggested that voters liked Trump's schtick.  Bottom-up, not top-down.

So let's tease that out a bit further.  Let's pay attention, not to the inept fools who were supposed to stop Trump, but to the voters who just liked him.  We're already seeing the start of the "oh no, what will happen to the Republican Party now?!" line of inquiry.  Wrong question.  The right question to ask is this:  what happens to the Trump voters after his probable loss?

Trump's candidacy is deeply complicated on the issue of race.  Back in April, I tried to pick apart the underlying theories of race and political science involved in his candidacy, and man, is it a mess.  His rhetoric, though, is often less than vague.  For now, though, between Trump's rise as the leader of the birther movement through his Mexican rapist comment through the muslim ban to his endorsement by David Duke, let's just say he represents what Republican Speaker Paul Ryan says: "textbook racism."  Nice to be able to hide behind those italics.  Or, there's the whole George Will thing.  Or, well, I could keep going, but I've got shit to do today, like getting my syllabi ready.

Back in that April post, I was dealing with the debate over "symbolic racism."  The question of symbolic racism" was whether or not racism was so verboten to express publicly that those who held such beliefs needed to find more coded expressions.

On February 4, 2010, Bill O'Reilly discussed and dismissed as obviously fraudulent a poll that showed only 42% of Republicans believed that Obama was born in the US.  To believe that would be both "stupid and evil."  Or, let's just call it what it is:  racism.  Therefore, the poll had to be fraudulent.  QED.

From the 2012 National Election Studies Survey, among self-identified "strong Republicans," 14% said that Obama was "definitely" born in the US, 33.7% said "probably," 35.7% said he was "probably" born elsewhere, and 16.6% said he was "definitely" born elsewhere.  Those calculations were made using post-stratification weights, and you can access the data yourself here.

I've seen smaller polls indicating this, and I'll bet the 2016 NES will eventually confirm:  Trump voters in the Republican primary are the ones who think Obama is a Kenyan muslim.  Those beliefs aren't going away, and those voters aren't going away.

And the demand for the expression of those beliefs from a candidate won't go away.

So I return to my earlier question.  If Republican leaders attempt to steer the party in a different direction, what will Trump's voters do?

More than anything else, this year seems to demonstrate that the elite-driven model of The Party Decides is, and always was, bunk.  And, if those voters want a different kind of racial politics, someone's going to give it to them.

HL Mencken:  "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it, good and hard."

Monday, August 22, 2016

The most interesting, but clearly wrong explanation for Trump's nomination yet

Over at Mischiefs of Faction, there is a new piece up with a fascinating idea on why Trump is the Republican nominee.  The piece is wrong.  But in an interesting, and not entirely dismissible way.  Now, it is worth pointing out that Mischiefs of Faction is the Politburo for The Party Decides, which is the wrongest book ever on nomination politics, as I've been saying since the start of this silly, little blog (see here).  But, the author of the piece, John Patty, had nothing to do with that book.  I read a lot of Patty's stuff.  Very sharp game theorist.

Patty says it's because nobody else really wanted the nomination.  Yeah, I'm not buyin' it either.  But, it has just enough to it that we can't discard it completely.  Here's the gist.  Patty is taking an older argument from Banks & Kiewiet that, when there is a really strong candidate from one party, usually a rock-solid incumbent, the other party fields a chump because nobody decent wants to run against the invulnerable incumbent.  The chump can never get through a primary against a tough field, so the chump's only chance at getting into office is to run when there is no real primary competition, and hope for a miracle against the strong incumbent of the other party.  By default, strong incumbents wind up facing chumps in the general.  Clinton is facing Trump.  The math works out, if you jigger the equations properly.

Trump, chump, same diff, right?

A few problems should be glaringly obvious.

1)  This is a year that Republicans should win.  Three-in-a-row is rare.  It has only happened once in the post-WWII era, and the economy isn't strong enough to justify it, which is why Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" model predicts a Republican victory in 2016.  Trump is just underperforming.  To say that Republicans would expect this to be a losing year?  I don't buy it.

2)  With Clinton's high negatives, there is no reason to think she is an extraordinarily strong candidate.  I've written before that I don't think she's a weak candidate.  I just think she has already absorbed all of the damage a campaign can do, but to say that she looks invincible?  Uh, no.  More importantly, I can't see Republicans thinking that.

3)  The Banks & Kiewiet model requires the strong candidates to sit the race out.  Everyone said that this was the strongest field of candidates ever.  Jeb, Rubio, Walker, Christie, Jindal, fuck it, I don't feel like typing after that because I've made my point.  They didn't sit it out.


And here's where Patty's argument can't be dismissed.

Why the heck didn't anyone bother to fight Trump?

At all?


Even on the debate stage?



And here's where I can't dismiss Patty, much as the Banks & Kiewiet argument makes no fucking sense here.

So, we fall back on the more obvious explanations for why nobody fought him: 1) complacency, 2) fear of retribution, 3) collective action problem.

So why is Trump the nominee?

Here's a little explanation I've been working on, along with ending clauses with prepositions.  Just an idea I've been kickin' around the ole' noggin.  He won because a plurality of Republican voters decided that they liked him more than the alternatives.  So, they voted for him.  Those votes, through some sort of mystical process, got translated into "delegates," who voted at a convention across town from me, and voila!  The Trumpification of the Republican Party!

One wouldn't think of this as controversial, but I've had long arguments with people like Jonathan Bernstein about this.  Wanna know why?  Read this.  Yeah, we didn't see eye to eye.

So I pose my simple explanation.  Trump won because Republican voters liked his schtick, and The Party Decides was always bullshit.  He's losing now because the Republican voters who voted for him in the primaries were the only ones who like his schtick.

Screw Gillette.  Occam.  The best a man can get.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Checking in on Florida

We've got state-level polling, people!  (Slapping the inside of the elbow like a junkie).

For Florida, at least, we've got a bunch over at RealClearPolitics.  And as I've been saying, if Clinton is ahead nationally by as much as she has been, we don't need to obsess as much about the state-level polling.  That doesn't mean I won't.  I just means I don't need to.

We've got six polls with August data for Florida.  All put Clinton ahead.  RCP average, 4.5% lead for Clinton.  Other poll aggregators will use unnecessarily complicated algorithms, but that's just statistical guitar-face (I'm looking at you, Nate Silver).  A Trump victory without Florida is... implausible.

Add to that the fact that Virginia looks like it is almost a lock for Clinton and the presidential race is looking more and more like Trump needs a terrorist attack, economic collapse, or some other Putin-engineered thingamajig.

So that deck chair thing I addressed yesterday?  Yeah.  Ohhhh, pretty iceberg...

Really, though, without Florida?  Pack it up, Donald.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Trump, deck chairs and the classiest luxury liners

Today is one of those days that I start out by referencing my April 20 post claiming that this would be an entertaining but meaningless campaign in which funny but irrelevant stuff happens on the way to a predetermined endpoint.

Right now, I plan to chow down on some yummy crow if Trump wins without the intervention of a terrorist attack/economic collapse etc.  I wonder what Putin has planned?

Anyway, as you have heard by now, Trump shuffled the deck chairs on his luxury liner.  Bye, bye Putin pawn, Paul Manafort.  Oh, and Trump admitted, sort of, to gaffes.  And he's been giving a few more normal, teleprompter speeches.

Does anyone remember when Republicans used to think that teleprompter speeches were the worst thing ever, pretended like Obama invented them, and gave him endless shit about it?

In 2011, a dumb-as-dogshit House Republican named Steve Womack even tried to make a stink with an amendment cutting the budget for Obama's teleprompter.  I'm not joking.  Here's a link.  You may not remember this, but I do.  That's why you read this pretentious, little blog, right?

Funny, but those same people aren't complaining that Trump is using a telemprompter now.  They're just praying he keeps using it.

Like Lydia Loveless, though, they can't change him.  Lydia Loveless, though, is cool and badass.  Trump is losing.  (You know I'm sincere about loving country music, right?)

Which returns me to my basic point.  How long before Trump opens his mouth, or tweets another Trumpism?  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Kellyanne Conway, his new campaign manager, will want to stop him.  She can't change him.  Steve Bannon, the Breitbart guy?  Gee, I wonder what he'll want.

And will any of this matter?  For the sake of argument, let's say Conway gives Trump the Ludovico treatment, and prevents him from doing his Trump thing for the rest of the campaign.  Would it matter?

Let's apply some political science!  Specifically, the main text on public opinion.  Good, old John Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion.  Now, full disclosure, Johnny Zaller was also a co-author on The Party Decides, a book I have been rightfully bashing since I started this silly, little blog since Trump shouldn't have had a chance at the nomination under that model, but really, Nature and Origins is top-notch.

Anyway, the basic idea here is someone needs to form an opinion, positive or negative about Trump.  That opinion forms on the basis of messages as they accumulate.  Once someone has an assessment, though, that person will tend to reject messages that are contrary to their assessment.  So, those with negative views of Trump, which is most of the country, will reject any new positive images of Trump because they have seen and accepted so many negative messages.  What about those who don't have much of an opinion?  They aren't paying attention anyway.

So I go back to my original claim from April that the campaign will be all sound and fury towards a predetermined endpoint.  Opinions of Clinton and Trump are baked in because they are already so well-known.  That's what makes this different from other campaigns.

Maybe there should be a Passover-style, four-questions about 2016.

1)  How is this election different from all other elections?
2)  On all other elections, we choose between a Democrat and a Republican.  Why, on this election, do we choose between a paranoid, secrecy-fetishist with a personal entitlement complex and a reckless, sociopathic, racist, misogynist demagogue?
3)  On all other elections, we get public servants.  Why, in this election, only scum?
4)  On all other elections, we only have to shower once after we vote.  On this election, why do we need to shower twice?

It's funnier if you're jewish.  Of course, I wrote this on a Saturday morning, so...

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

The best version...

Trump's incentives and his drag on Senate Republicans

I've been writing this week about how and why Trump drags down the Senate.  This... isn't a mystery.  The thing is, Trump, should he win, would need a Senate majority.  He couldn't accomplish much of anything without a Senate majority.

Just ask Obama.  And Merrick Garland.

So here's where things get complicated.  If Trump wins, he probably gets the Senate.  If Trump loses, Clinton probably gets the Senate.  So, no disconnect, right?  Everyone in the GOP wants and needs Trump to win.  Everyone is on the same page, right?  Go, Trump, right?  Not quite.  The problem comes if one accepts the premise that Trump has already lost.  If we accept the premise that Trump's vote share is somewhere in the range between 46% and 49.5%, disconnects occur.  For the purposes of simplification, let's assume the winner gets the Senate (even though it ain't necessarily so).

Trump doesn't care at all about the difference between 46% and 49.5%.  Both make him a loser.

So, time for a lesson in microeconomics.  Yes, kids, it's back to school time.  Utility functions!

Senate Republicans want as many seats as they can get.  More seats = better, even with HRC as President because it is easier to block her from doing stuff.  She's a lefty, after all.  Not a Bernie lefty, but still a lefty.  Her brownies are just brownies.  So, their utility goes up as the number of seats they win goes up.  That goes up as Trump's vote share goes up, regardless of the 50% threshold.

Trump cares only about the 50% threshold.  His utility for winning is some "yuuge" positive number because he can brag about winning a big contest, and his utility for losing is some "yuuge" negative number because his incredibly thin skin cannot handle being a pathetic loser.

So, Trump has no incentive to work towards 49.5%.  If he thinks he's at 46%, then, he may as well shoot the moon.  Apparently with nuclear weapons, even if it risks dragging the party down even more.  There's the disconnect.  Since Trump's preferences are built exclusively around the 50% threshold, whereas Senate Republicans care about each increment, Trump can and will take risks when he finds himself losing, as he is.

Fun stuff ahead!  But not for Ayotte, Toomey, and some others I'll be talking about soon...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why Senate elections are more susceptible to weird effects, like Trump

Continuing on a theme, let's talk for a bit about the mechanics of legislative elections, and why Senate elections are more susceptible to minor, weird effects, like Trump, than House elections, creating the possibility of the chamber switching hands because one party nominated a... well... Trump.

First, in order for a seat to be in play, the partisan balance has to be relatively even.  You've probably heard that all of the House seats have been "gerrymandered" to be non-competitive.  Bullshit.  Usually, around 25% of House districts have the two presidential candidates separated by less than ten points in the two party vote.  Anyone who wants a citation can use my essay in Ellis & Nelson's Debating Reform.  Regardless, there are frequently enough evenly balanced states to flip the chamber.  But, it depends on which states are up in any given year.  This year, some of the battlegrounds are tough for Republicans.  Why?  2016.  That means all of the seats they won in 2010, with a big wave election are up.  They won, in a sense, too many seats because of the unique circumstances of 2010.  Those are hard to keep without those circumstances.  Now, things start to revert.

Next, in order for a seat to be in play, you need either an open seat (rare), or for the incumbent to be challenged by someone who isn't a nutjob.  Now, here's a plug for some research that really should have been published, but as far as I could tell, never got out, so here's at least something.  A colleague from grad school did a great dissertation on competitive primaries.  Casey Dominguez, now at University of San Diego.  She asked candidates to fill out a survey on why they ran, etc.  My personal favorite, who became a running joke among our cohort, kindly filled out the survey, and returned it.  With a large feather.  And a pad lock.  And no explanation.

Now and for all time, he shall be known as "lock and feather guy."  Anonymity and all, he can be known as nothing else anyway, but great story, right?

Lock and feather guy lost.  I know, you're shocked.  Here's something else that will shock you.  Lock and feather guy had never held elected office before.

Those two facts are related.  And they are related to the... weirdness.

Most challengers, if not as weird as lock and feather guy, are, shall we say, on that spectrum.  And they have never held elected office before.  And they lose.

And this confirms a key lesson that we all learned long ago from Gary C. Jacobson, who taught us everything we know about congressional elections with The Politics of Congressional Elections.

And you know what?  Senate incumbents are more likely to face strong challengers than House incumbents.  Why?  More desirable seat.  That leads to a closer match, which makes things easier to sway with weird stuff.

Like Trump.

Senate elections are closer than House elections.  That makes minor things more likely to switch the outcome.  And here comes Donald...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Senate and 2016

Following up on yesterday's post, the Senate really might be in play, and really might be affected by Trump.  Why is it different?

I'll spend a lot more time talking about the Senate soon, but for now, a quick story.  About Vermont.  What do they have in Vermont?  Filthy hippies who don't understand politics or economics, obviously.  But agriculturally?  Pot.  That goes with the hippies.  But besides that?  Dairy.

And that brings us to 2000.  Back in the 2000 election, the Senate wound up 50-50.  So, when Dick Cheney assumed the vice presidency, he cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, giving Republicans control.  But only if everyone in the GOP stayed happy.  That brings us to former Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords:  that now-nearly-extinct breed of northeastern moderate Republican.

He didn't get along with then-Majority Leader Trent Lott.  Then Lott tried to cut dairy subsidies.  Remember Vermont?  Not the hippies or pot, but the cows.  There was more to it than dairy subsidies, but straws and camels...

Jeffords switched parties.  And in doing so, he gave control of the Senate to the Democrats.

Lesson:  minor things can flip the Senate.

So, while the House isn't in play this year, the Senate is.  The Senate is generally more likely to be in play because the battlefield is so much smaller.  And a little thing like Trump can cost his party the chamber.

More to follow...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Congress and 2016

OK, the presidential election is looking like positions are solidifying.  Back in April, I posted that the Clinton-Trump campaign would be entertaining but meaningless.  We would see a bloodbath on the way to a predetermined endpoint.  At this point, it looks like the the underlying conditions slightly favor Republicans, but Trump is just such an awful candidate that opinions of him are baked in, and it would take a dramatic external event to shift things in his favor.  Absent that, Clinton wins.

So, let's talk about Congress.

The House goes GOP.  We'll get to the Senate, but let's have a brief lesson on why the House goes so reliably GOP these days.  It ain't what you think.  Scary word that gets misused and mispronounced:  "gerrymandering."  (Properly pronounced with a hard "g," if you want to sound like a proper, pompous ass).  No, the House doesn't go GOP because Republican state legislatures have gerrymandered everything in an elaborate scheme.

Here's the real deal.  Democrats cluster in cities.  That means Democratic-leaning regions are more heavily Democratic than Republican-leaning regions.  So, it is very easy to draw an 80-20 Democratic district.  It is much harder to draw an 80-20 Republican district.  How do you draw the former?  Make it an urban district.  How do you draw the latter?  Uh, make it Utah.  (Where Trump might lose!)

Now, what does that mean?  Getting a partisan advantage in the redistricting process is all about spreading your voters out more efficiently than the other party.  If my districts are 60-40 majority districts, and the other party's districts are 70-30 majority districts,  then I win more seats because I can spread my voters out among more districts.  The catch is that if you have a majority too slim, there's a risk.  A slight shift, and you lose the district.

If you want the math, I wrote a paper on it. Here's a link.  Basically, you are safe for the census cycle once you hit around 65% within a district, and in a state with around 20 districts, if you have a 55-45 overall advantage, that means you can give yourself a 75-25 advantage in seats.

Underlying all of this, though, is basic demography.  Democrats cluster in cities.  Republicans spread themselves out more efficiently in suburbs.  In order to draw district lines that don't advantage Republicans, then, you have to go out of your way to chop up cities.

Can that be done?  Sure, but unless lines are drawn in an intentional way to chop up cities, combining the urban centers with the suburbs and rural areas to balance out the urban clusters of Democrats with the outlying Republicans, then Republicans have a built-in advantage.

It wasn't always that way.  Back when the South voted for Democrats, particularly those with names like "Phil Gramm" until 1983, Democrats had a lock on the House.  But, things change.  Since 1994, there were only two elections in which Democrats won the House:  2006 and 2008.  One was the midterm backlash against a Republican president during the worst days of the Iraq War, and the other was in the midst of the financial collapse.

Republicans will win the House.  And Republican state legislatures don't need to do much besides not chop up cities to keep it that way, and even Trump can't help the Democrats much there.

The Senate?  Well...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Blame allocation if/when Trump loses

It is worth pointing out a possible shift in tone from Trump about how he will/would handle his likely loss to Clinton.  In the Zero-sum politics series, I addressed the problem that Trump views everything as a zero-sum game, making a loss unthinkable to him, leading to the rigged-election talk.

We are currently seeing two other lines emerging.  First, he has stepped up his campaign to blame the media, going so far as to threaten to take away press credentials from the New York Times.  Second, reports are emerging that the RNC is planning to cut its losses with Trump in October.  If you bother to read this pretentious, little blog, I'll assume you are a junkie, and have read this already, but if you want links, ask and I'll dig 'em up.

Notice, though, the drastic difference from the rigged election talk.  What's going on?  Hypothesis: someone behind the scenes verbally beat the crap out of Trump over the rigged election stuff.  He needs to find other, less unhealthy ways to lash out at scapegoats, like the media.  He can't accept a loss, obviously, but someone is reigning him in.

Note, too, the theme with Pence.  As I noted in an earlier comment on Pence, Trump was basically forced to choose Pence, demonstrating his lack of agency.

We'll see how much agency Trump has if the rigged election talk comes back, or if the media-bashing simply replaces it.

The real fun will begin if the RNC really does hang him out to dry in October.  The irony is that Reince Priebus probably doesn't mind if Trump lashes out at him.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Political science and craziness Part V: Demanding too much

In the Political science and craziness series, I have been examining the bargaining leverage that a person can get by appearing but not being crazy.  Someone who appears crazy can credibly threaten to do something that no sane person could credibly threaten to do, and thereby extract concessions, but if that person actually is crazy, eventually he will get his comeuppance.

When we left off in Part IV, we were talking about Donald Trump's willingness to carry out threats, even to the point of self-destructiveness.  His policy platform consists of threats in the international arena of, shall we say, excessive military force, withholding defense of our NATO allies, and instigating trade wars.  Each of these, if carried out, would be harmful, not just to the recipient of Trump's threats, but to the U.S., but Trump would carry them out, to the degree that he could, because his primary goal is that he be perceived as strong, which means never allowing his credibility to be challenged.  So, regardless of the blowback to the U.S., he would carry out his threats because to do otherwise would be to make him, personally, look weak.

The next question, then, is this: what could he extract based on his willingness to carry out these, frankly, insane threats?  There is no simple answer because it depends on the circumstance.  The real question is whether or not Trump could tell the difference.  So, let's go back to the crazy guy with the bomb scenario from Part I.  Crazy guy with a bomb walks up to me and demands my watch, or he'll detonate a bomb.  If I think he's crazy enough, I hand over my watch.  What if, instead of my watch, he demands my whole arm?  Um, I don't know how to detach that.  If he's totally committed to carrying out the threat, we're both screwed.  Even if he comes prepared with a machete, demanding that I do the deed myself, I'm not sure I have the physical capacity to do it, and I know I don't have the psychological capacity to do it.  We're still screwed.

The point, then, is that an unreasonable demand, backed up with a threat that would be self-destructive, if carried out, is a bad combination.  And this is where we really have to go back to Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict.  The argument is based on the distinction between appearing crazy and actually being crazy.  This is where the rubber hits the road.

Are Trump's threats credible?  Yup.  He is committed to perceptions of strength, which means he cannot back down.  That is why he never admits error, never apologizes, no matter how far he goes, etc.  That means he would have to carry out his threats, no matter how self-destructive they are.  In Schelling's terms, that's bargaining power!  The problem comes if he thoughtlessly makes threats associated with demands that cannot be met, only to find himself backed into a corner by his own impulsiveness.  How could this work?

Trump believes that having a trade deficit is "losing" at trade.  This is, um, idiotic. Trump's zero-sum view of the world is precisely what leads to that rigged election nonsense (see my zero-sum series).  Regardless, suppose Trump idly demands that Country X lower our trade deficit with them, or he'll do something stupid and self-destructive.  Since a trade deficit is the result of individual trades between private buyers and sellers, that is actually hard for a government to affect directly, making it difficult for the government of Country X to meet Trump's stupid demand.  Trump is then backed into a corner, and is forced to do the stupid, self-destructive thing he threatened to do because he made a demand that couldn't be met.

And even if the government of Country X institutes exactly the policy that Trump wants, what if it doesn't affect the trade deficit, which is the aggregation of private transactions?  Trump may still think he has to carry out his threat to maintain his credibility, which, as discussed in Part IV, matters more to him than the end goal anyway.

If you want to understand threats and their application, then, you really need to read Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict.  Self-destructive threats can be useful, but making them credible can be difficult.  They can be made credible, strangely, by convincing one's adversaries that one is...

The problem is that someone who is, like that asteroid, not entirely stable, will eventually undermine himself.  As questions continue to be asked, so to speak, about Donald Trump, it is worth thinking about him in Thomas Schelling's terms.  Trump makes a lot of threats, and his threats probably do have credibility, regardless of how self-destructive it would be for him to carry them out.  His campaign is, after all, self-destructing as I type.  Nevertheless, his impulsiveness could easily lead him to make threats based on demands that simply could not be met, and his commitment to credibility might lock him into carrying out self-destructive threats, to the degree that he could.

Predicting what Donald Trump would or would not do as president, though, is not only a hypothetical built around a 20% chance (based on PredictWise this morning), it is almost absurdly difficult given that recklessness and impulsiveness have been his defining features for the last year, and not in a Han Solo kind of way.

The point of this series, though, is to show the importance of Schelling, and why we study threats, credibility, and what is sometimes called the madman theory.  I would not dare to predict what a hypothetical President Trump would actually do.  But, I bet Schelling would sell a lot more books.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Political science and craziness Part IV: Actually pulling the trigger on the threat

In the "Political science and craziness" series, we are talking about threats, self-inflicted wounds, and the process of trying to bargain with someone who might do something reckless and stupid.  Thomas Schelling gave us the key observation that appearing but not actually being crazy can give a person bargaining leverage by making it credible that one will carry out threats that wouldn't otherwise be credible.  If you can convince me that you are crazy enough to blow us both up if I don't give you my watch, I might give it to you.

We ended Part III with three areas in which Donald Trump is threatening to carry out actions that would actually harm, not just our adversaries, but the U.S., if Trump were elected and followed through on his threats:  using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers, refusing to protect NATO allies, and starting trade wars.  If Trump were to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers, he would make the U.S. a rogue state and destabilize the world.  Refusing to protect NATO allies would effectively nullify all of our treaties and take away any credibility we have in the world arena, and trade wars, by definition, are economically destructive.

So, let's go back to Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict, the book I told you to read way back in Part I.  Come on.  Dude won a Nobel for it.  Read it.

The problem for a threat, when it is self-destructive to carry it out, is to make it credible.  Can Donald Trump make these threats credibly?

As a point of reference, let's remember Obama and Bashar al Assad's use of chemical weapons in Syria.  Remember how that was supposed to be a red line years ago?  Then Assad crossed it years ago?  Oops.  That was a threat that Obama wasn't willing to carry out.  That's a problem.  Threats that we aren't willing to carry out create a problem.  In contrast, consider Trump.

And in that contrast, consider why Trump is running for president.  Does he want to be president?  No.  He wants to win a presidential election so that he can brag about it.  Evidence?  Remember the offer to Kasich to run both foreign and domestic policy?  Trump has no interest in governance.  He just wants to win and brag.  Trump had a history of teasing the concept of a presidential run, but by 2015, everyone got sick of the game, and stopped taking him seriously.  So, he had to run for real.  Did you catch that?  Everyone said he was bluffing, so he had to carry out the threat.  He is running this year because the commentariat said he wouldn't.  And he is losing.  Embarrassingly badly.

Once the credibility of his threat is challenged, then, he must carry it out, no matter how self-destructive.  If he threatens to nuke a country if they don't do X, then, and they don't do it, kaboom.  If he threatens to withhold military support from a NATO ally unless a condition is met, and that condition is not met, no support.  Otherwise, he will feel as though his... credibility... is challenged.  For Donald Trump, the end goal isn't the point.  The credibility is the point.  We'll get to the trade war stuff momentarily.

Donald Trump will carry out his threats.  This puts him in a different category from Obama.  During the initial Syria mess, Obama found himself in a tight spot because he had made an implicit threat that he had no intention of carrying out, and everyone knew it.  Yes, liberals, Obama is, in that sense, weak.  The problem was that he made a threat casually, without thinking through the implications, and wasn't so committed to the credibility of his threats that he would carry it through no matter what.  In this sense, Trump is stronger.  He is so committed to being seen as strong that he will carry out any threat once his credibility is challenged because the credibility is the point, not the end goal.  That's why he is running for president-- because everyone said he wouldn't.

By Schelling's reasoning, that commitment to the credibility of his threats would give him more leverage.  What could he get with that leverage?  We'll save that for Part V, but let's also address the trade war issue.  Could an increasingly hypothetical President Trump carry out a trade war if his demands from other countries are not met?  Not so much.  He would be constrained in most ways by Congress.  Could he block TPP?  Sure.  Beyond that, though, the basic constitutional framework, combined with the free trade leanings of the Republican Party would block him, and this presents another Schelling challenge.  Making threats that one is incapable of carrying out is truly self-defeating.  And this is where that increasingly hypothetical President Trump would face his greatest difficulties.  Tariffs ain't gonna happen.

The next question, then, is what a President Trump could get in exchange for the threats to use, shall we say, excessive military force, or to withhold military support from our NATO allies?  Stay tuned for Part V in Political Science and craziness.  And have you gotten your copy of The Strategy of Conflict yet?

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

Trump's new defense whenever he goes too far is to claim that he was joking.  So...

Political science and craziness Part III: Self-inflicted wounds

In Part II of Political science and craziness, I talked about nuclear deterrence, and the problem that starting a nuclear war kills everyone, so to quote Wargames, "the only winning move is not to play."  Nuclear weapons, then, make no sense.  However, if you can convince people that you are crazy, or at least that the decision to launch weapons will not be made by a sane person (e.g., by an automated machine), you can deter attacks.

Or demand concessions, which is where we are going with this series.

Now, let's talk about Trump.  Trump's platform is to make unreasonable demands.  Particularly in the international arena, and to get those demands met, he is making threats that no sane person would carry out.  Why?  Because to do so would be counter to one's own national interests.  So, let's talk about some of the threats that Trump is making in the international arena, and why carrying them out would be irrational.  We can divide up his threats into several categories, each of which would constitute a self-inflicted wound, if carried out.

1)  Nuclear attacks.  This is probably the most worrying thing to Trump's detractors.  In conversations with advisors, Trump seemingly does not understand the notion that nuclear weapons exist as deterrents rather than first strike weapons in warfare.   But of course, this is where we return to Part I in the series, and the Dennis Hopper-crazy guy with the bomb.  Remember that one can gain a strategic advantage by appearing crazy and not actually being crazy.  That is a key point from Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict.  If Trump merely wants people to think that he would launch nukes at the drop of a hat, then he can gain concessions.  The point here, though, is that launching nukes is self-destructive.  Obviously, launching nukes against another nuclear power, like Russia, would be self-destructive.  The result would be Dr. Strangelove.  But, even launching nukes against a non-nuclear power would be catastrophically self-destructive.  The question is whether or not Trump understands this.  The problem is the international blowback.  We would become a rogue nation, subject to international sanctions.  The destabilizing effects of a nuclear attack by us would far outstrip any tactical gain we would get by using them against a non-nuclear power.

2)  Inaction on behalf of NATO signatories.  Remember a few weeks back when this was the big story?  Trump stirs up so much shit so often that it gets hard to keep track of how much crazy shit he says, but he really did threaten to withhold defense of NATO allies if Russia invaded them.  Now, he did make that defense contingent on countries paying their share of defense, but we would still be in violation of our treaty obligations, and once we do that, we lose credibility.  We can't get that back.  Self-inflicted wound.  Big one.  Or, should I say, "yuuuuuuuge" one.

3)  Trade wars.  Trump has promised to engage in trade wars in a variety of ways.  Many would actually require congressional approval, which wouldn't happen.  For example, there is no way he would get congressional approval for tariffs.  Regardless, starting a trade war necessarily reduces trade.  To the degree that Trump could act without Congress, he would call into question the credibility of the U.S. and its trade agreements.  Regardless of congressional involvement, though, trade wars are harmful almost by definition.

The questions, then, are a) could Trump credibly threaten these, b) what could Trump get in exchange, and c) would Trump recognize victory when he sees it and not carry out the threat if he wins?

"c" matters a lot.  And it's a key point from Schelling.  It's sort of the distinction between appearing and actually being crazy.  Someone who appears crazy can leverage that for negotiating power.  Someone who actually is crazy will eventually suffer the consequences.

I guess that means we've got more to go for Part IV.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What my own research says about Trump and "2nd Amendment People"

Cleveland has rejoined the 19th Century, and yesterday was a bad day for me to be without electricity.  I'm going to take a break from the "Political science and craziness" series to talk about Donald Trump saying something crazy and my own research on, well, politicians saying crazy shit.

As everyone knows by now, Donald Trump basically encouraged gun owners to shoot Clinton if she appoints judges who support gun control, sounding remarkably like Sharron Angle, who challenged Harry Reid for his Nevada Senate seat in 2010.  Reid was supposed to be toast in 2010, but then Angle got the Republican nomination, started talking about "second amendment remedies," if conservatives didn't get their way, and Reid won reelection in a race he had no business winning.

And now Trump is doing the same thing.

And I have research!  Actual, peer-reviewed, published research!

The paper is call, Going Off The Rails On A Crazy Train: The Causes And Consequences Of Congressional Infamy.  (Ungated copy here).  Yes, I was once a metal-head.  What, you never had embarrassing tastes?

Anyway, the paper came about as I was screwing around with Google's auto-complete.  I started typing legislator's names into Google to see what came up as suggested searches, and the results were fun.  So, I put together a list of generic epithets to see if Google would suggest them for any given legislator's name:  idiot, stupid, moron, insane, nuts, crazy, and my personal favorite, batshit crazy.  Unfortunately, Google seems to have changed their algorithm to disallow such auto-completes, but it was fun while it lasted, and I got a paper out of it.  Anyway, I put together a data set of Google's suggested epithets associated with Members of Congress' names, and crunched the numbers on them.  Who had epithets, how many, and what were the implications?

For a trip down memory lane, you can look at the paper, and see who made what I informally called the "batshit list," and incidentally, Mike Pence was on the list!  Although, to the surprise of no one who remembers the era, Michele Bachmann topped the list.  She will always have a special place in my heart.

The basic point is this, though:  candidates who say and do provocative shit raise a lot of money, but they help their opponents raise money too.  In congressional races, incumbents wound up hurting themselves because challengers need money more than incumbents.  That doesn't matter here, though, because we are at the presidential level where money doesn't really matter for anyone.  What matters is that there is a direct, negative effect on vote shares for being a provocateur.  In my paper, focusing on the 2010 election, there weren't enough observations for Senate elections to find an effect, but for House elections, there was an effect.  It was detectable on the Republican side because, well, there just weren't as many true provocateurs on the Democratic side.  Michele Bachmann (pause for swooning) lost around seven percentage points, by my estimate, in her 2010 race for being batshit crazy, although that was combining the money and the direct effects.

Donald Trump's "second amendment people" line puts him clearly in Sharron Angle territory, and he is entering Bachmann territory overall, although never in my heart.  (Yes, my wife is aware of my Bachmann obsession.  Somehow, I don't think Marcus would really mind either...)

I love/hate to be the guy who says, "I wrote a paper on this!," but I did.  Candidates who regularly say crazy shit like this lose votes.  Donald Trump is sounding like the crop of people I studied in 2010, and they lost votes for what they said.  For what it's worth, the betting odds over at PredictWise currently have Clinton as a 4-1 favorite even though, as I keep saying, the Abramowitz "Time for a Change" model should put the Republicans at a slight advantage.

This is the year of craziness.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Political science and craziness Part II: Nuclear deterrence for fun and profit

Welcome back for Part II in what political science has to say on the strategic implications of being, or at least seeming crazy.  In Part I, I gave you an example of a simple game with two players.  One player threatens to detonate a bomb unless the other hands over his watch.  If the recipient of the threat is worried that the guy with the bomb is actually crazy enough to blow them both to smithereens, he might actually hand over the watch, so someone who seems crazy can get a free watch, but someone who actually is crazy might eventually blow himself up.  Therefore, there is a strategic benefit to seeming, but not being crazy.  I wish I could claim credit for this observation, but credit goes to Nobel prize-winner Thomas Schelling.  You should read The Strategy of Conflict.  It will be central to this series.  Go.  Read.  But come back and read this too.

Today, we move on to nuclear deterrence and nuclear war.  So, let's hear a bit from the funniest movie ever.

The parallels to the bomb-for-the-watch game should be pretty obvious.  Doomsday scenarios kill everyone.  Under what circumstances can a person credibly threaten a doomsday scenario?  Not when they are sane.  In the Dr. Strangelove scenario, the Russians have a solution.  Take the decision out of human hands, and automate it, with a machine that cannot be turned off.  Deter an American attack with a doomsday machine such that any attack on Russia will trigger destruction of all life on earth.  Unfortunately, the machine was turned on before the announcement was made at the Premier's birthday party.  Oops.

If the Russians could turn it off after General Ripper ordered Wing Attack Plan R, they would because triggering the device intentionally would be fucking crazy.  But, they can't.  If the device could be turned off, it would be pointless.  The device basically allows the Soviets to act crazy by preventing them from doing the sane thing.

Schelling actually addresses this point directly.  Sometimes, you can benefit by restricting your own choices.  If you can make it impossible for your army to retreat, for example, you can deter the opposing army from attacking, even if your army is comparatively weak.  If the opposing army doesn't have the will to sustain losses, they might not attack, even if they expect to win the battle.

War, nuclear weapons, and willingness to do crazy shit.  In Dr. Strangelove, the Russians built the doomsday device because they couldn't keep up with the arms race, the peace race, etc.  If they had told the world rather than waiting for the Premier's birthday party, maybe it would have worked.  Then again, General Ripper was pretty fucking nuts, and a lot of other stuff went wrong too...  But seemingly crazy people can extract concessions...

And with nuclear weapons, what can seemingly crazy people get?

Well, there's North Korea.  Are/were the Kim Jong __s crazy, for real?  They certainly get portrayed that way, but every few years, they rattle their sabres, conduct some missile tests, remind everyone that they have nukes, and we give them food, etc.  And we don't go to war.  They threaten nuclear war, implicitly at least, over a pittance, and we give it to them.  Does that remind anyone of Part I?  Now, remember that it is seeming crazy that gets you free stuff.  The actually crazy guy with the bomb in the Part I scenario will eventually blow himself up.  The DPRK is still there.  Royally economically fucked, and hell on earth for anyone who isn't in the Kim inner circle, but still there.

And then there's Donald Trump.  Donald Trump says our foreign policy needs to be more unpredictable.  Donald Trump seems anxious to use nuclear weapons to fight rather than deter.

Maybe we should start thinking about what insights we can glean from Schelling about Trump.  Coming soon to a blog nobody reads, Part III in Political science and craziness...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Political science and craziness Part I: The wages of wackiness

Is Donald Trump crazy?  Michael Bloomberg's speech at the DNC ended with a plea to elect someone "sane and competent," meaning Clinton.  It might be worth going back to my earlier post on "valence," but Bloomberg isn't the only one questioning Trump's sanity.  I have no clue how to diagnose people, but what I  do know is game theory, and game theory actually has a lot to say on being, or at least appearing crazy.

And so begins yet another of my political science serials, Dickens-style.  Of course, Dickens got paid. Then again, can I admit I hated Dickens?  Then again, Asimov did serials too.  Anyway, your new homework assignment is a Nobel prize winner.  Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict.  It easily makes my all-time top five.  No skipping and no skimming on this one, kids.  If you want to understand conflict, threats, and how to win without having to fight, this is the book you need to read.

So here's a little problem.  Suppose some ordinary looking person walks up to you with what looks like a homemade bomb and says, "hey, that looks like a nice watch.  Give it to me, or I'll blow up this bomb, and kill us both."

This creates a two-stage game.  In Stage I, you either give the person your watch, or don't.  (I know, nobody wears watches anymore, but it's a story, so shut up and go with it).  In Stage II, the person either detonates the bomb, or doesn't.  Pop quiz, hot shot, what do you do?  (Why did I quote that?  That movie sucked).

Anyway, if you can assume that the person with the homemade bomb-looking-thing is rational, you don't hand over your watch because it would be irrational to detonate the bomb over whatever cheap piece of garbage you probably have.  Hell, it would be irrational if you had a fucking Rolex.  So, you tell that person to sod off, then go about your day.

On the other hand, what if the person with the homemade-bomb-looking thing doesn't look like an ordinary person?  Instead, he looks like he's completely batshit-fucking-crazy.  Like, Dennis Hopper-crazy.  (See what I did there?)  You might not trust that he's rational.  So, you might worry that he would detonate the bomb over the watch, you hand it over, and hope he goes away.

The sane guy gets nothing, the batshit crazy guy gets a free watch!  The wages of wackiness.

Sort of.  The problem is that an actual batshit crazy guy might eventually blow himself up.  It isn't actually being crazy that gets you free stuff.  It is appearing crazy that gets you free stuff because it convinces other people that you will do stuff that no sane person would do.  This is a key point from Schelling.  Appearing crazy can make a threat credible when it otherwise wouldn't be.

Donald Trump is running for president, demanding stuff from other countries, and threatening to do stuff that sounds kind of crazy.  To be continued...  Now, go read Schelling!

By the way, this is the 300th post in this still pretty new blog!  (Although, a lot of that doesn't really count, being music clips and such, but still...)  The convention coverage and such brought in some new readers, and if you like reading about Nobel prize-winning scholarship along with obscure sci-fi references, pretentious music and enough profanity to make you wonder who the fuck gave me a doctorate, then spread the word.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The frustrating dearth of state-by-state polling

The theme of today's post was foreshadowed by the morning music.  If you head over to RealClearPolitics, you'll see one Florida poll with August data, and nothin' for Ohio with August data.  We are truly in the general election phase, and despite the fact that we don't actually have a national popular election, we have virtually nothing in the way of state-by-state polling yet.  How... irritating.

And yet, there's social science to discuss here.  Buzzword alert:  "endogeneity."  At this point, if my grad school advisor, Nelson Polsby, were around, he'd make me pay him a quarter for using it.  He hated the word, but it's kind of useful.  Basically, it refers to a situation in which two variables are affecting each other so that both are cause, and both are effect.

What makes Florida and Ohio special?  They are relatively large states with evenly divided populations, so smart campaigns will focus their attention here (OH) and there (FL) because that's where they get the most bang (electoral votes) for the buck, to the limited degree that the buck gets anything, which isn't much (I'll keep coming back to that, I'm sure).  But, if the campaigns also affect the votes in the states, then we have.... endogeneity!  The characteristics of the states draw the campaigns, and the campaigns affect the closeness of the states!

At this stage of the game, we don't know for certain where the campaigns will focus, so we don't know where to poll.  Now, we sort of  do.  Ohio, and Florida.  Beyond that?  There's a weird sort of dynamic process by which the campaigns feel out where to focus their attention.  A poll here, a focus group there, and a targeted ad campaign here, an independent expenditure campaign there...  Right now, we have some idea where the battleground states will be, but there is guesswork involved.  Except for Ohio and Florida.  So, you know, some polls here, please!

But to be blunt, polls cost money, and there is little payoff for the organizations to conduct extensive state-by-state polling at the moment.  Yes, junkies like me, and probably you, need our fix, but at this stage, until the precise battlegrounds begin to take shape, nobody has the incentive to do the kinds of polling that we will begin to see in September and October.  Until then, we're stuck with the national polls.

Those of us fixated on polls, though, can console ourselves with the fact that if one candidate has a lead as large as Clinton's is now, a popular vote-electoral vote split is nearly impossible.  Not completely impossible, but it would be really, really weird.  Then again...

For now, just understand that a popular vote-electoral vote split usually requires a closer election than the 6.9 point lead Clinton currently has at RCP.  Those of us craving state-by-state polling just need to understand that we are the ones with a problem.

I'm still annoyed.

Get it?  No?  Fuck.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

It's a twofer today, both with Doc because, well, Doc!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Stepping back to appreciate the weirdness of 2016

One of the books I keep referencing is Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment.  Haven't you picked up a copy and read it yet?  Anyway, a central problem that Tetlock observes in our ability to make predictions is that sometimes, an event is just so outside our normal experience that nobody can be expected to predict it.  To the degree that history is driven by such events, we find ourselves in the territory that philosophers call "radical skepticism."

Yet, the 2016 election cycle keeps getting so weird that we can forget just how weird it has been all along.  So, let's put this week's weirdness in perspective, by reminding ourselves of how we got here.

1.  Donald Trump was a reality tv star with sketchy business credentials, sketchier conservative credentials, and no political or military experience at all.

2.  He rose in the Republican polls, not by embracing any conservative or Republican policies, but by embracing absolutely batshit crazy conspiracy theories about the President's citizenship.

3.  Upon entering the race, he steamrolled a field of popular senators and governors through schoolyard insults, while hardly anyone attacked him directly for fear of reprisal.

4.  The only candidate who ever caught him in the polls, even briefly, was Ben Carson, and that was a blip.  Do I have to explain how weird that is?

5.  The party establishment, such as it was, cowered in fear of Trump, and despite thinking of him as both completely untrustworthy and a sure-loser, never lifted a finger to stop him, not through endorsements, and not through financial backing of a single party-preferred opponent.

6.  Throughout the contest, Trump made comments, not only about Mexicans and muslims, but about McCain's war record, feuded with Fox News, and even THE FUCKING POPE!*  None of this hurt him.

7.  During the contest, though, there was open speculation that party leaders would attempt to force a brokered convention, unlikely though the scenario was, to deny the nomination to the delegate leader because the delegate leader was... that guy.

8.  The alternative in the contested convention scenario was Ted Cruz:  the second most hated person in the Republican Party.

9.  Past presidents and party leaders are jumping ship left and right, so to speak, to avoid being connected to the Republican nominee.

10.  On the other hand, the Republican nominee has been enthusiastically praised and endorsed by David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, who sees the rise of Trump as a sign that it is time for him to get back into politics.

11.  There has been open debate among scholars about whether or not it is appropriate to use the term, "fascist," in reference to Trump.

12.  The ghost-writer of the book that Trump loves to tout has called Trump a dangerous sociopath.

13.  Donald Trump openly, publicly, called on Russia to hack his opponent's computer system.

14.  This, after Russia actually did hack the DNC right before the convention in what looks like an attempt to help Trump.

15.  This after Trump announced his willingness to abandon our NATO allies should Russia invade them.

16.  Trump's political advisor, Paul Manafort, worked for Putin's pawn in Ukraine.

17.  Trump is the only modern candidate who won't release his tax returns.

I put 17 last, and many will connect 17 to the Russia thing.  That's a bridge too far for me at this point, putting us into conspiracy theory territory.  There are two other reasons he wouldn't release them.  a)  He's not that rich, and b) He's cheating.  Take Russia out of the equation, and he still wouldn't release his tax returns.  So, no, that isn't dispositive of anything.  It's just one more thing that makes this election really fucking weird.

OK, so that's off the top of my head.  Yes, Trump has been in a stupid feud with the Khan family, another with Paul Ryan, and he's talking about rigged elections and all sorts of other crazy shit.  But let's remember-- this election has been really, really weird all along.  Is this week any weirder?

*OK, the Pope probably doesn't fuck.  Does it count if it's just alter boys?  What, am I not supposed to say that?  You read the title of the blog, right?

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

And another for you, Donny boy...

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

As usual, dedicated to self-immolatin' Donny Trump...

The limits of certainty as Trump self-immolates

As Donald Trump's campaign continues to break new ground in campaign stupidity, it is worth taking some time out to consider the limits of how certain we can ever be that he will lose.  Currently, PredictWise puts Trump's chances at 23%.  At this stage of the game, I defer to the betting markets, so let's go with that.  However, I'm a statistician at heart no matter what stage we reach, and that means never putting the chances of anything at 0 or 1.  Dewey/Truman, blah, blah, blah.

So, how certain can we ever be about Trump's chances, and why?  Let's talk about two main reasons to keep Trump's chances above 0.

1)  Intervening events
This is really the big one.  If the polls are right (more on this shortly), then all Clinton has to do to win is maintain the status-quo.  But, a major economic downturn, or a terrorist attack that Trump can exploit, or something like that, and Trump can win.  If Clinton is up by six points, then a shift among three percent of the electorate will flip the race.  The basic partisan closeness of the electorate makes things malleable.  Even with a truly, epically lousy candidate like Trump, who has shot himself in the foot so many times that he's just shooting at blank space right now.

The catch is that the clock is ticking.  With each passing day, there is one fewer day for such an event to happen.  So, as each day passes, Clinton's chances of victory should increase by some small increment while Trump's chances of an intervening event slip away.

However, Clinton's chances won't get to 100%.  Never 100%.  The polls could just be wrong.  And that leads us back to...

2)  The reverse-Bradley
I have written about this before. (Incidentally, if you check the date, the Khan reference there was not related to the current Khan thing. I'm just a Trekkie).  The basic idea is that certain types of voters might be prone to lie about their willingness to vote for Trump.  His embrace of racially divisive language might make some voters uncomfortable admitting that they will vote for him, in which case the polls will systematically underestimate his support.  This would be the reverse of what supposedly happened to Tom Bradley in California in 1982.  Tom Bradley, an African-American gubernatorial candidate, underperformed some of the polls.  The "Bradley effect" is the notion that voters were telling pollsters of their intent to support Bradley to seem not-racist when they had no intention of actually voting for him.  Perhaps in a reverse-Bradley, voters are refusing to admit that they intend to vote for Trump so as not to seem racist.

Now, the evidence for the Bradley effect was never as strong as the legend, and Trump's polling numbers were never that far off from the vote tallies in the Republican primaries, but that could be different in the general election.  However, the volatility in the polls before and after the conventions suggests no reverse-Bradley.

At this point, I should also admit that when I wrote that earlier post on the reverse-Bradley effect, I overestimated Trump.  I didn't think he could possibly be this bad a candidate.  Who attacks the grieving parents of a fallen war hero?  I got nothin'...  Trump just....  I got nothin'...

Still, we can't discount the possibility of polling errors, nor do we know what a candidate like Trump does to turnout models.  We don't know how Trump mobilizes or demobilizes certain groups, and different polls are built on different turnout models, which are difficult to capture in polls. I have addressed the "likely voter screen" problem before, and Trump just makes it even more difficult.

So, how certain can we be this year?  Uh...

Time for the good ole' 2016 disclaimer...