Friday, September 30, 2016

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

Some post-debate polling in Florida

One more quick observation.  As we wait on national polling, we have a post-debate poll from Florida.  Mason-Dixon has Clinton up by 4 in a poll of 820 "likely voters" done between the 27th and the 29th.  That puts her RealClearPolitics average in Florida at a 1.2 point lead over Trump.  That's a slight increase in her average.  Oh, and Trump is still digging in on the Machado thing.  It is still too early to tell how much of a bump Clinton gets from the debate, but like Mr. Garrison, Trump is doing everything possible to hand her a victory.

One quick observation about the resurrection of the Lewinsky stuff

There have been very few midterm elections in which the president's party gained seats.  One was 1998, in which the backlash against the Clinton impeachment worked against the Republicans, and the Democrats gained seats while Clinton's approval rating went up since the public, in general, did not think that the issue was worthy of impeachment.  Newt Gingrich was forced to step down as Speaker as a result.  He did, after all, ascend to the Speakership because of a perception that he led the Republicans to the first House majority in 40 years in the 1994 election.  The 1998 debacle was the final nail in the coffin of his failed Speakership.

Now, Donald Trump wants to re-litigate it, with Newt Gingrich as an advisor.  I love politics.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Waiting for a post-debate Clinton bounce

I've gotten this one from a bunch of students, so here we go.  Clinton trounced Trump on Monday, so when, if at all, will this show up in the polls?  Well, the latest PPP poll has Clinton up by four points over Trump.  That was done over Tuesday and Wednesday.  Now, PPP is a partisan organization, Democratic-leaning, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are wrong.  But, it is all we have.  It will take a few days before we have enough polls to confirm or disconfirm a bounce.  The question is whether or not that gets sustained, and that really depends on Trump.  If Trump's gain in the polls over the last month was from the fact that he mostly refrained from the kind of inflammatory statements that got him in trouble in the past, then his post-debate attacks on Alicia Machado suggest that his debate performance was not an isolated incident.  And, as I argued yesterday, if Trump performs similarly in the next two debates, then Clinton's bounce, should it occur, won't just be transitory.

But, we don't have enough data yet to know whether or not Clinton really will gain in the polls.  The PPP sample was 933, and Clinton's lead wasn't that much smaller in the national polls before the debate.  So, the evidence of a polling bounce so far is actually weak factoring in PPP's leanings.

Right now, the Democrats shouldn't be celebrating that much...  This thing is still close.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trump's strategic dilemma

Trump screwed up.  After a month of exercising more self-restraint than he has in years, he reverted to form in the first debate, whether by conscious choice or impulse, and now he has a problem.  What does he do in the second and third debate?  For that, I return to my 2000 analogy.

After Al Gore's first debate performance and the criticism of his eye rolls and sighs, he changed his demeanor.  Was he criticized for the change?  It was discussed, sure, but it wasn't treated as a collapse in and of itself.  The stories written were of Gore's attempts at calibration.  Sure, he would have preferred other stories written, but the change itself wasn't treated as a total capitulation.

And there's the Trump issue.  Trump makes such a big deal about never showing weakness, and always doubling down (witness yesterday morning's Alicia Machado mess) that he has a bigger problem than Gore did.  If Trump tries to change his performance dramatically, the way Gore did, it will be an implicit admission of error in the first debate and a sign of weakness, which Trump cannot show.  Yet, if he doesn't change, he will give another bad debate performance.  One bad debate?  No big deal, necessarily.  Obama blew the first debate in 2012, and it didn't matter.  Three debates like what Trump just did?  Hillary is shimmying in her pant-suit just thinking about it...

So, does Trump change and show weakness?  That undercuts his whole schtick.  One cutting remark from Hillary about a change in his demeanor and he'll explode anyway.  Does he dig in further?  This wouldn't have been an issue if he had given a controlled debate performance, the way he has controlled himself for the last month or so, but that is the difference between giving speeches from a teleprompter and trying to keep his cool on stage for 90 minutes with Clinton right there.

And this returns me to an old theme.  Is Trump actually strategic?  Maybe he has just been lucky enough that his unique characteristics have lined up with tastes so far.  However, his behavior at key points has also shown a lack of strategy.  The KHAN!!! incident.  (Damn, I keep doing that).  Now, fat-shaming Alicia Machado and continuing to dig in.  A lot, for Trump, isn't strategy.  It is impulse.  The reason he didn't give a controlled performance on Monday is that he couldn't.

Will he try next time?  Maybe, but if he does, who knows if he can, and even if he contemplates it, he might perceive the attempt as weakness.  That's the dilemma.  He dug himself quite a hole.  And we know what Trump does when that happens.  Usually, he keeps digging.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who won on policy? That's a stupid question

Notice, in my earlier post, that I didn't bother to ask who "won" the debate on policy.  That would be a stupid question.  Debates are basically pointless.  Policy questions are complex.  They cannot be boiled down to two-minute answers, and the two-minute answers that any candidate gives are gross oversimplifications at best.

If you already believe that tax cuts spur growth, then you will believe that Donald Trump's debate performance on the economy is superior to Hillary Clinton's.  If you already believe that government spending spurs growth, you will believe that Hillary Clinton's performance on the economy is superior to Donald Trump's.  In other words, your prior beliefs will explain your assessment of who beat whom on substance.  So why bother arguing about it?

On the other hand, Donald Trump made some theater mistakes.  Funny how art is more objective here.

 

The first post-debate morning is here!

We have arrived! Yesterday, I told you to think about that split screen incident from 2000, so we might as well start there.  Trump's reactions seem to be a big part of the discussion anyway, and a part of why the immediate reaction polls seem to show Clinton perceived as the winner of a contest that bears no resemblance to any task that we ask presidents to perform in office.

Trump probably should have learned a bit from the 2000 incident, as well as the other 2000 incident-- the Rick Lazio moment that pretty much everybody was warning him not to re-create.  When Rick Lazio debated Hillary Clinton in the New York Senate race, crossed the stage and got in her face, it played as male aggression, and looked bad.  And the press played it up.  Every commentator was thinking about this one before the debate, and I guarantee you Kellyanne Conway was begging Trump not to look like Rick Lazio.  But, he is Donald Trump, and his self-control is limited.

Interruptions in a debate are normal.  Clinton did it, but there's a line, and Trump didn't just cross the line, he whipped it out and urinated on it.  To sort-of defend Trump, he would have behaved the same way had he debated a man.  How do we know?  Because he treated Marco Rubio even worse (remember the "little Marco" stuff?).  Call it a double standard if you want, but I'm not here to moralize.  I'm just pointing out that this will play, to some extent, like a Rick Lazio thing.  Double-standard or not, Trump is an asshole, and it plays differently when he is an asshole to a woman, particularly since he also frequently says misogynistic stuff.

This is where expectations come in.  We sort of knew he would do that, at least to some extent.  So, does that become the story?  Remember, last night isn't important.  What is important is how we talk about it now, and if Trump interrupting Clinton more than is normal in a debate doesn't shock us, then we don't talk about it.  So what do we talk about?  That's to be determined.

And of course, it can change over time.  My point yesterday about the split screen issue was that it wasn't the original topic of discussion after the first 2000 debate.

Still, that was a good night for Clinton, and a bad night for Trump.  Trump has done well recently by not acting like himself.  Last night, he acted like himself because he couldn't help himself.  And he has two more of these things.

Now, if Clinton really wants to get under Trump's skin, here's how she starts the next debate:  ask Trump if he took a nap beforehand.  He seemed to get kind of tired and flustered towards the end of the first one.  You know, stamina is important...

Monday, September 26, 2016

The first debate: What to watch for

The first post-debate morning is tomorrow morning!  I can hardly wait!

What, you thought I was going to talk about tonight?!  Tonight is barely relevant.  Yes, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will show up on a stage, but what really matters is tomorrow morning.

Yup, we're headed down memory lane again!  This time, 2000.  The first presidential debate in 2000 played out very strangely.  It was the first year they used a split screen to show the speaker and the reaction shot of the other candidate.  The debate itself was relatively normal.  Bush the Younger said some stuff, as did Gore.  Most immediate reaction polls favored Gore slightly.  But, on the split-screen, images showed Gore's physical reactions to Dubya.  His eye rolls and sighs, in particular, garnered a lot of attention in the post-debate coverage.  That meant Gore lost the post-debate coverage.  The debate itself?  Irrelevant because Gore rolled his eyes.

And that's the funny thing.  It can be hard to predict what will generate the post-debate discussion.  Sometimes it is a weird, little moment.

Of course, sometimes it is an obvious moment.  Rick Perry's "oops" moment.  "You're no Jack Kennedy."  Candy Crowley fact-checking Mitt Romney mid-debate.  There are obvious moments.  Maybe there will be one of those.  If so, it will probably be Trump acting like Trump.

Watch.  It might be absolutely hilarious.  Trump has never done a 90 minute, one-on-one debate before.  And, word is that he hasn't been practicing.  What will happen?  It could be normal and boring, or it could be the craziest thing ever.

What matters, though, is the post-debate discussion.

Even then, though, will it affect the outcome?  Probably not.  Most of the research shows little effect on poling or election outcomes for debates.  Unless Trump does something wild and crazy.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Political implications of shootings and unrest

One of the topics for tomorrow's debate is "Securing America," as we see continued and occasionally violent protests amid the latest police shootings.  Others can comment on the shootings themselves.  The Tulsa video pretty much speaks for itself, but the fact that no gun nor book is visible in the North Carolina videos allows everyone to project their priors.  I'll just ask what this means for the debate tomorrow night, and the election more broadly.

Conventional wisdom here is that violent protests help Trump.  Yup, they probably do, by some small amount.  Why?  That "issue ownership" thing I keep mentioning.  Law and order, national security, the whole deal.  These are what we call "valence" outcomes.  Everyone wants them, and the only question is who is able to provide them.  The concept of valence comes from an old article by Donald Stokes.  John Petrocik extended it to create the concept of "issue ownership."  There are certain valence issues that one party is just thought to be better at providing.  National security and reduced crime?  Republicans own those.  So, crime goes up?  Republicans do better because voters want the party better at providing that valence outcome.  Stokes + Petrocik.  Violent protests help Trump, by at least some small amount.

Remember, though, that the underlying fundamentals of the election favor the Republicans anyway.  This is an election after two Democratic victories with a tepidly growing economy.  This isn't a natural Democratic year.  Protests like this are generally part of what we quantitative types usually call "the error term."  Random stuff cancelling out other random stuff.  Anything bringing things back towards the natural Republican edge is doing that by cancelling out the randomly stupid shit that comes out of Trump's mouth to get him in trouble.  It probably won't be enough, but anyone claiming certainty these days is a fool.

The other thing to keep in mind to scramble normal calculations is that Tulsa video.  Even Trump had to admit that this one was real.  Department of Justice basically called bullshit on the "hands up don't shoot" story in Ferguson.  Depending on your news sources, you never got that, did you?  Anyway, there are a ton of ambiguous cases, but Tulsa?  That's a different story altogether, and one of many real cases that stands out most because we have video.*

And that could change the politics.  Even for Charlotte.  If the protests are contextualized in terms of real racial discrepancies and the very real case of Tulsa, video and all, then Clinton spends tomorrow night talking once again about Trump's connections to the "alt-right" and his greatest fan, David Duke.  Then again, the more violent the protests get, the more that helps Trump.

Regardless, stay tuned for tomorrow night...


*Then again, there was video for Eric Garner.  And Tamir Rice.  And, oh fuck it.  Never mind.

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

More old-timey than bluegrass, but sue me (disclaimer: don't sue me).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Prediction markets and which candidates tell the most lies

In yesterday's post, I expressed my regular skepticism of people who try to push limited polling data too far and estimate probabilities of victory in the electoral college with illusory precision.  Nope, I'm a fan of the prediction markets.  And I can't believe I just discovered this one!

You can buy shares of how many "pants on fire" lies PolitiFact will call on Clinton or Trump in a given month!  Yes, really!  Here are the Clinton and Trump links for September.

So, let's make the obvious points.  PolitiFact calls "pants on fire" more often on Trump than on Clinton.  Why?  He tells "pants on fire" lies more often.  This is the guy who rose to prominence in the Republican Party, despite a history of incoherent policy positions, by pretending that Obama was born in Kenya, and then claimed Clinton started it.  So, over at PredictIt, people are paying 25 cents a pop for shares that pay off at a dollar if PolitiFact calls "pants on fire" seven times on Trump in September.  Nobody pays anywhere near that for Clinton.  Why?  Because PolitiFact isn't calling "pants on fire" as much for her.  Markets and truth-o-meters!

Of course, we also have to point out how strange it is that PolitiFact has this level of asymmetry.  As an organization, they are under immense pressure to keep things under the appearance of nonpartisanship by calling bullshit an equal number of times for each candidate.  For PolitiFact to break from that is to risk signaling bias.  It's just that with Trump, as with so many other news organizations, what the hell does PolitiFact do?  For those who are curious, here is a link to PolitiFact's "pants on fire" lies for Trump, and, yes, they are batshit crazy.

And while the public opinion polls show Clinton perceived as the more dishonest one, the markets are responding, if not to actual dishonesty, then at least to what PolitiFact is doing.

Is this social science?  Damned if I know, but whatever it is, it's awesome.

And by the way, anyone who wants to whine about the word, "lie," and how horrible it is to call someone a liar should go fuck themselves.  (I'm looking at you, Liz Spayd).  Or, am I being unmutual again?

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

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

The first debate is almost here!  (Do I over-use Mingus for this series?  Impossible).

(The song title isn't showing here, but it's Haitian Fight Song, from the album, The Clown)

Why you shouldn't get too precise with prognostications these days

Yesterday, I started going through the current state of the electoral map, and talked about the fact that there are a bunch of plausible paths for Clinton to get to the magic number of 270 electoral votes, and implicitly, that there are very few ways for Trump to get that magic number.  What I didn't do was put a probability on Clinton going over the top.  Plenty of people try to compute that.  Anyone doing so is playing fast and loose with the math.  Here's why.

Imagine Clinton has a 75% chance of winning Colorado and a 75% of winning New Hampshire (a plausible method of getting a majority in the electoral college, as I showed yesterday).  Well, that's simple, right?  .75*.75=.5625.  Clinton would have a 56.25% chance of winning both, right?  Not so fast.  That computation is based on the premise that winning Colorado and New Hampshire are "independent events."  That would mean winning one's got nothin' to do with the other.  That ain't so.  There are nationwide factors.  But, there are local factors too.  Colorado has more Latinos than New Hampshire.  That will help Clinton more in CO than NH.  So, how do we calculate the "joint probability" of Clinton winning both CO and NH?  We need to know exactly how independent the events are.  Do we?  Fuck no.  Plenty of people have guesses, and through those guesses, they compute probabilities of victory in the electoral college for Clinton and Trump, but those are based on imputed levels of independence for the state contests, and that's all pulled from the statistician's head, which is generally up his ass, so it's actually pulled from the statistician's ass in a whole, rectal haberdashery thing.

Your best guess for any one state is always whoever is ahead in the polling average in that state.  Trying to get more precise than that is a fool's errand at this point, and trying to compute joint probabilities across states is a con.  Don't be a rube.

What can we do?  We can look at scenarios.  That's what I did yesterday.  There are more plausible scenarios for Clinton.  The polls favor Clinton.  If every state goes the way their current polls say, Clinton will win.  Default guess right now, Clinton.

How confident can we be?  Fuck if I know.  This year is nuts.  Just remember:  Trump needs to run the table.  Clinton can lose a bunch of swing states and still take the White House.  That's why the odds favor Clinton by some small amount.  Right now, PredictWise gives Clinton around a 72% chance of winning, which is higher than the poll aggregators.  That is probably based on a run-the-table line of reasoning, but at this point, one is on solid footing by defaulting to uncertainty anyway.

This year is nuts.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The 2016 electoral map

OK, we might as well shift things to the 2016 electoral map.  Yes, Clinton is maintaining a narrow lead in the nationwide polls, but the popular vote and a used kleenex are worth a used kleenex.  Here is where an overabundance of caution at RealClearPolitics puts the map now.  They give Clinton a reasonably solid 200 electoral votes to Trump's 164.  You need 270 for a victory.  In the toss-up category, they still leave Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and one district of Maine, which has a screwy system that would let Trump get one electoral vote if he wins one congressional district there.

Time for realism.  Some of these states aren't really toss-ups.  We call them toss-ups because the polls are relatively close, but they are historically consistent.  Republicans always get delusions that they might win, for example, Pennsylvania, but they never do.  Same with Michigan, and while Wisconsin is shaky for the Democrats right now, history is on their side at the presidential level.  If Trump wins Wisconsin, he's winning Ohio and Florida too, and Wisconsin is unnecessary.  Virginia is probably solid for Clinton at this point, which was the point of Kaine.  Colorado is moving towards solidly Democratic.

Arizona and Nevada are slipping from being solidly Republican states, but if Trump loses those, he's losing Florida and Ohio, and neither Arizona nor Nevada are pivotal.

North Carolina?  Close.  Trump has a narrow lead in the latest polls.  Add that to Ohio and Florida as a new key swing state to watch.

Iowa?  New Hampshire?  That district in Maine?  Maybe in play, but chump change.

So, we're still watching the same old stuff.  Ohio, Florida and now North Carolina.  But, Trump has a higher hurdle.

So let's do the math.  RCP has Clinton with a base score of 200 electoral votes.  Pennsylvania and Michigan would be historically normal, and currently within the polls.  That puts her at 236.  Add Wisconsin, which would be historically normal and within the polls.  246.  Virginia?  Polls + Tim Kaine = 259 electoral votes.  Clinton needs eleven more to clinch it.  Ohio alone would do it.  Florida alone would do it.  North Carolina alone would do it.  Colorado plus another state would do it.

Colorado plus that extra district in Maine would put her at 269, and an electoral college tie, sending it to the House of Representatives!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Terrorism and "issue ownership"

In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shootings, I had a conversation with a fellow political scientist who was absolutely convinced that the incident would help Trump.  This individual had zero doubt-- it was only a question of how much.  I was more skeptical, and I was right.  We have consistently seen Trump fail to benefit from such incidents, including New York, at least so far.

The irony is that there was reasonably well-established political science on the side of "Trump would gain."  The critical concept is called "issue ownership."  The idea is that there are certain issues that are "owned" by one party, meaning that voters are more likely to think that one party does a better job on them.  Republicans do better on national security, and Democrats do better on education, for example.  Terrorist incidents bring national security to the forefront, giving Republicans an advantage, helping Trump, right?

The problem with this, and the main reason I have been skeptical, has been the Clinton versus Trump comparison.  Former Secretary of State involved in the operation to kill Bin Laden versus reality tv star.  Then again, my entire discipline thought a reality tv star couldn't get the nomination, so...  Regardless, it was not obvious to me that the normal process of issue ownership would play out this year with that kind of asymmetry, and the polling has borne that out.  Trump has not seen his polling numbers spike around terrorist incidents.

Then again, a bigger attack would almost certainly cause the numbers to move more, and even a continuation of smaller attacks would be cumulative.  This thing ain't over yet.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Trump, terrorism predictions, and another trip down memory lane

As we consider the political implications of latest probable lone-wolf terrorist (what, you want heartfelt pablum from me?), it is worth revisiting another debate classic.



As Rick Perry would later say, "oops."  Yes, the USSR dominated Eastern Europe.

Consider, then, how Trump approaches terrorist incidents.  It is always some variation of, "I called it."  Who, though, is on the Gerald Ford side?

Suppose Hillary Clinton were to say that there is no such thing as terrorism, that terrorism isn't a threat, etc.  That would be a Gerald Ford moment.  Trump's response, then, of claiming prescience would be the obvious one, since the premise of his campaign is that we live under constant dire threats from within and without.  Without a Gerald Ford here, though, he wound up getting himself into trouble after the Orlando shooting with his "thanks for congratulating me" tweet.

So let me play Gerald Ford.  Quit worrying about terrorism and read some old classics by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.  The latter won a Nobel because the former died first and they don't give the Nobel to corpses.  I guess they don't want to stink up the ceremony.

Anywho, one of their famous observations is that most people do a lousy job estimating probabilities, relying on faulty heuristics based on easily recallable events rather than formal math, leading to big errors.  Terrorism is not a real threat to you.  You will not die in a terrorist attack.  You are more likely to die of a disease whose name you don't recognize.  If you are worried about terrorism because you overestimate the likelihood of dying in a terrorist attack, you are making a Tversky & Kahneman mistake.  Quit it.  Now.

Why can I write that?  Because I'm not running for office, and never will.  Nobody would ever vote for me even before I typed that because I'm unmutual.  Telling you that terrorism isn't a real threat to you would be a Gerald Ford moment, even though my math is right.  It's one of those funny things, though, that the right is irrationally afraid of terrorism and the left is irrationally afraid of mass shootings.  Neither will happen to you, so quit worrying about them.

But if a politician says that... Gerald Ford time.  And if Hillary Clinton said that, Trump's response of "I called it" would be exactly the right thing to say, strategically.  He'd get a lot more traction, anyway.

Regardless, social science lessons of the day:  study statistics, read Tversky & Kahneman, and quit worrying about either terrorism or guns.  You're more likely to contract an obscure disease.  So go scare the shit out of yourself with WebMD!  Yes, that's wacky too, but slightly less so.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Another episode of "Donald Trump is a social science experiment": ground game and polling

I have been writing periodically about how Donald Trump's weirdness as a candidate allows us, as social scientists, to see what happens when we change something that is normally a constant.  In methodological terms, this is actually a problem because Donald Trump is different from other candidates in so many ways that we can't tell which kind of weirdness is really important, but it is worth considering.

Today, as we consider Donald Trump's polling surge, let's consider what the polls can't pick up.  Normally, candidates each have a "ground game."  I hate the term, but I can't make it go away because everyone else uses it.  It refers to the candidates' get-out-the-vote operations.  Each campaign has offices scattered around swing states devoted to mobilizing supporters on election day.  Why?  Voting is a hassle.  Not a big one, but a hassle nonetheless.  Employees and volunteers help reduce the hassle through organization, and nag people into voting despite the hassle.  Normal campaigns worry a lot about their ground games.

Trump, as in so many ways, is different.  His campaign, as many have noted, has no ground game.  That's a campaign asymmetry that polling can't pick up.

Will it matter?  I don't know.  But maybe we should factor that into our interpretation of the polls.

If ground games matter and normal polling methods assume a symmetry that isn't there, then current polls assume a non-existent but important Trump operation, and overestimate how many people will show up for him on election day.  It's not that they get his support wrong in the population-- it's that they get the election day effects wrong.  Maybe.  If the ground game stuff matters.

Then again, we've never seen a candidate operate this way, so we don't know what happens, and any lefty, Clinton partisan types who are panicking about the polls should be careful not to read this post and go down the rabbit hole of "unskewed polls," as the Republicans did in 2012.  Back in 2012, Republicans just convinced themselves that all of the polls had to be wrong, because, well, they just couldn't be right.  Yeah, they were right in 2012.

As usual this year, lots of caveats.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"October surprises"

Just a quick note.  When Clinton came out of the conventions with a solid polling lead, I started writing that she would likely win, unless we saw an "October surprise," such as an economic downturn or a terrorist attack.  Ironically, a couple of weeks ago, and right before the pneumonia/fainting mess, our campus magazine interviewed me on predictions, and I gave the same spiel.

Now, we can add to the pneumonia/fainting incident, the bombs in New York, one of which went off, another mall attack, and who knows what comes next?

This isn't 9/11, nor the 2008 financial panic.  Not even close.  But, a bunch of small stuff can collectively have the effect of a big event, and remember that the default when one party has won two elections in a row is for control of the White House to flip.  The state of the race is uncertain.

Strangeness in the polls

I'm about to break with my standard advice.  Do as I say, not as I do.  I always advise everyone to look at polling averages, not individual polls.  Why?  Individual polls have strange biases, and we don't know what they are.  In aggregate, they tend to cancel out.  Every once in a while, though, it is useful to look underneath the average, and point out the strangeness.

So let's do that.  RealClearPolitics shows a Clinton nationwide lead right now of .9 percentage points.  Basically, a tie.  Now, look under the surface.  What the hell is going on with the LA Times?  They are the ones showing Trump leads.  Why?  We don't know.  Here is where polling methodologies matter.

1)  Sampling.  The LA Times could have a different sampling methodology that is more likely to pick up Trump supporters for whatever reason.

2)  Likely voter screens.  They might have a different method of figuring out who is more likely to vote, and that method may be more likely to include Trump supporters, for whatever reason.

3)  Sample weights.  Nobody ever gets a truly random sample, and organizations correct for that with sample weights.  The LA Times' method might be giving more weight to the Trump supporters, for whatever reason.

Those are the main reasons.  Are they right?  Who knows?  That's why we look at polling averages.  My point is that it is weird.  Note, though, that Trump has also been gaining in swing states, and those polls are not being done by the LA Times, so we can't write this whole thing off as just a fluke of the LA Times and their weird methodology, but it is worth noting that the situation is not clear.

Betting markets are still favoring Clinton, but the odds are narrowing, as well they should.  Just because the LA Times is the outlier here doesn't mean they are wrong, and the state-by-state polls by other organizations back them up.  See, for example, these numbers in Ohio.

State-by-state polls are harder to do, but we really should be looking at them...

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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The logic of revisiting birtherism?

I admit to being puzzled.  Donald Trump was doing exactly the right thing for the last year by avoiding discussion of Obama's citizenship.  Yes, he now admits that Obama was born in the U.S., but just by talking about it, he revives discussion.  Why now?  He is gaining in the polls, Clinton's campaign may finally be showing real weakness, and simply by being the one to start talking about it again, Trump gives the press an excuse to revive discussion of birtherism and shift from attacking Clinton on the Clinton Foundation and emails to attacking him on his many years of leading the birther movement.  I... don't get it.  It was off the table.  Why re-introduce it?  And then, to add the charge that Clinton started it?

I'll make a guess.  Trump looked at the polls, and started getting overconfident.  So, he thought he could turn a general election weakness into an attack on Clinton.  We have also seen another return of Trumpiness.


This is the kind of thing that got Trump into trouble in the past.  He has stayed away from these moments for the last month or so, and risen in the polls.  Maybe it's a coincidence, maybe not.  I've been speculating on that for the last few days.  But, Trump himself is inviting the press to start talking about birtherism again while making comments about how Clinton should go without armed secret service protection so that we can see what happens.  Maybe Trump is slipping back into Trumpiness.  There are limits to his self-control.

Sorry, I have no social science for you today.  I have no explanations.  All I have is the rough guess that Trump has gotten overconfident from his recent rise in the polls, made a strategic blunder on birtherism, and started letting his Trump flag fly again.  This year is just nuts.

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

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

Republican primary redux? The polls and prognosticators might be diverging again...

Warning.  Things are looking strange again.  Like, 2016 Republican primary strange.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

I'll admit once again that I didn't think Trump had a chance at the Republican nomination when he announced his campaign.  But, I also clued into reality before most, and as I said in a self-congratulatory post back in May, the reason was that I started paying attention to the polls rather than my gut or some lousy model.  Back during the Republican primary season, Trump maintained his lead in the polls throughout the campaign.  Initially, the betting markets, like all of us political scientists, wrote him off.  Eventually, we caught up to reality, and Trump won, while we wiped the egg off our faces.  The people who figured it out sooner were those who payed attention to the polls sooner.

Right now, take a look at the Florida and Ohio polls.  Now, notice that PredictWise still has Clinton at a 70% chance to win.

Yes, Trump has a narrow lead in the two most critical swing states, and Clinton is favored to lead in the betting markets.

I'm getting that old, familiar feeling again.

Now, as I wrote yesterday, it is too early to tell whether Trump is just experiencing a blip in the polls or whether this is a real shift.  Blips happen, and this is very different from Trump having a consistent lead in the Republican primaries.  Don't accuse me of equating this with Trump's consistent primary lead, 'cuz I'm not.  But, let's all remember that the way prognosticators went wrong in the primary season was by ignoring the polls in favor of the "there's no way that fuckin' guy can win" line of reasoning.  See where that got you?  Watch the polls.  Trump can win.  Clinton has had a bad, bad week, and Trump has exercised more self-control than we ever thought possible.  What's really going on?  It is too soon to tell.  Maybe nothing, but watch the polls, and don't assume that Trump can't win because he's Trump.  I've made that mistake before, and so has my discipline.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How do you tell the difference between a polling blip and a real shift?

New polls show Trump continuing to gain nationwide and in swing states.  Is that a real shift or just a temporary blip?  How do we tell?  Time.  That's it.  Sorry.  Everything else is bunk.  Let's debunk the bunk.

1)  Finding the best poll.

Yes, some polls are different.  We can't ask which ones are best.  Everyone has a different methodology, and they're all just guessing at how to figure out who is likely to vote (the "likely voter screen").  To make matters worse, the proper method of doing so can change from year to year.  How do we, as news consumers, handle it?  Take all of the polls together, in aggregate.  Ignore the fancy aggregators, like Nate Silver.  All you really need is a simple, arithmetic mean, like they do at RealClearPolitics.  It gets you the same thing that Silver gets you without the statistical "guitar face."  So, no, you can't just ask which polling organization has the best polls.  Just look at the simple arithmetic mean.  If that continues to shift over time, it's real.

2)  Demographic slicing

Every year, pundits and journalists like to find some specific, narrow slice of the population to call the critical demographic.  Sometimes, journalists like to put some stupid moniker on them.  "Soccer moms" (1996).  "NASCAR dads" (2004).  Bullshit.  Doesn't work that way.  Here's what they are doing:  we call it "the garden of forking paths."  Some data juggler starts slicing up the numbers in every imaginable way.  Statistically, there is bound to be some anomalous "result" somewhere in any data set.  That "result" gets reported even though there was no theory behind it.  It then gets turned into legend, and perpetuated.  Otherwise, some campaign just decides, on the basis of a focus group, to try to target some demographic slice because Person X liked some line in a speech, so obviously, everyone who looks like Person X will respond the same way, cuz LOGIC!

Either way, the faulty line of reasoning goes that if we can just track the supposedly critical demographic, we can distinguish between a blip and a trend.  But, since this whole thing is bullshit, there's no point.  It just takes time.

3)  Good, ole' post hoc ergo propter hoc

The lifeblood of journalism.  The logical fallacy that makes the profession work.  "After this, therefore because of this."  If you can point to an event before the numbers started to move, it must be the cause, therefore it's a shift, not a blip.  The problem, of course, is that you can always find something, if you look.  Yes, pneumonia sticks out, but between the Clinton Foundation and the emails...  there would always be something with Clinton.  That's sort of the point.  She has been under constant investigation for 25 years.  No matter when the numbers shift/blip, you can always find a supposed cause, giving you an excuse for post hoc ergo propter hoc, and you will always call it a shift, not a blip.

The polls have moved in Trump's favor, although Clinton maintains a narrow nationwide lead.  The betting odds have only moved a little, suggesting that the gamblers think it's probably a blip, but distinguishing a shift from a blip will take time.  Sorry.  (Not sorry).

Trump hasn't been very Trump-y lately...  I mean, going on Dr. Oz is pretty Trump-y, but not "rail at a gold-star family" Trump-y.  C'mon, man, I need my dose of Trumpiness.  Someone bait him by pointing out that Carlos Slim is richer than he is...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Good economic news, too late to affect the election

Yesterday, a pretty good economic report came out on rising incomes.  Will it affect the election?  No.  It's too late.

Let's call it the 1992 problem.  In 1992, George H.W. Bush was running for reelection.  The economy stunk, and that's why he lost, right?  The informal campaign slogan for the Clinton campaign was, "it's the economy, stupid."  Um, here's GDP growth during the Bush the Elder Presidency (source: Federal Reserve Economic Data).



See that shaded region?  That's the 1990-1 recession.  It was over in 1992 when the election was held.  But, people didn't know it.  There is always a lag period before people start to notice changes in economic conditions.  Changes that occur too close to an election, then, won't register.

The 1992 example was an extreme case.  Usually, we go with around a six-month lag in empirical models, but the Bush recession ended more than 6 months before his reelection (or rather, failed reelection bid).  There is no hard rule.  However, we are two months from the election.  There is no time for recent trends to register.  The economic report suggests that some of the trends go back a bit, but nothing big goes that far back.  Sorry, Hillary, hope that cough gets better....

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A brief note on transitory and fundamental campaign conditions

Two things are working for Trump and against Clinton right now.  One is completely meaningless: the "basket of deplorables," comment, which will have precisely the same effect as Romney's 47% comment and Obama's guns/religion/anti-immigration sentiment comment: nothing.  The second is the pneumonia thing, which sucks because pneumonia sucks, but will only matter if it turns out to be worse than a regular bout of pneumonia, feeding the conspiracy theories, based on the priming issue that I addressed yesterday.

What is notable about both points, though, is that they are transitory.  Without a bad turn for Clinton's pneumonia, both stories will fade in a week or so.  And they aren't abnormal.  As I said with respect to the deplorables, such comments are common for candidates, just as getting sick is common.  Note the contrast, then, with the Khan incident.  That was abnormal, hence the staying power.  It indicated an underlying issue:  Trump's basic personality, and that is why he is underperforming relative to a generic Republican right now.

Once the transitory issues fade, the underlying tendencies take over...

... unless the health things are real, but as I've said, I discount Clinton conspiracy theories until the evidence is very strong, and pneumonia isn't strong evidence.

 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Priming, conspiracy theories and pneumonia

Plenty of people have commented on Clinton's semi-fainting spell yesterday, but here's some psychology.  Some that hasn't been debunked.  Yet, anyway.  (Y'all know that pretty much the entire field is in a replication crisis, right?)

Anywho, Hillary Clinton has been the subject of weird conspiracy theories for decades.  Back in April, I used math (yes, math!) to explain why this gave us permission to be lazy and pay no attention to questions about whether or not she would be indicted for X.  The answer would always be no.  And hey, look, she wasn't indicted.

But conspiracy theories sometimes have other relevance.  Lately, conspiracy theories have focused on Clinton's health.  Enter pneumonia, lung left.  (Maybe right.  I dunno).  The conspiracy theories are far more elaborate than that, but merely by existing, they... prime people to focus more on such moments, overanalyze them, ask whether or not the pneumonia is symptomatic of something else, and so forth.

And even if voters don't necessarily believe the conspiracy theories, the press are forced to cover such stuff, thereby sacrificing attention that could have been paid to something else.

Will it matter?  Probably not.  For what it's worth, the prediction markets have Trump's chances up to 27%, if we can believe such minor movement.  I don't take the numbers as being that precise.

What is mattering?  Here's what I have to say at this point.  I keep referencing Alan Abramowitz and his "Time for a Change" model.  The Republicans have an advantage this year.  Three-in-a-row is rare, and only happens with strong economic growth.  Democrats have won two in a row, and economic growth is only tepid.  Clinton's lead is dependent on Trump's weakness as a candidate.  Trump has been subdued lately.  Without Trump acting like Trump, Clinton's lead is slipping.  That's just a guess, though.  Could the pneumonia thing play into it?  Maybe a tiny, tiny bit.  Like, virus small.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Baskets, deplorables, and the irrelevance of insulting the other side's voters

Oh no!  Did you hear?!  A politician insulted her opponent's voters!  Someone get me my fainting couch!  Then I'll need smelling salts!

And now for the obligatory clips, because, well, they are obligatory...





Yes, Obama is a sneering elitist who thinks that his detractors are bible-thumping, gun-toting xenophobes.  Romney is a sneering elitist who thinks that his detractors are shiftless moochers.  Clinton is a sneering elitist who thinks that her detractors are racists, sexists, etc.

But we knew this.  If you are reading this, you want to know if this matters.  That Obama dude.  Whatever happened to him?  Oh yeah, he won.  And Romney?  Well, for that, we turn to the analysis from Sides & Vavreck's The Gamble.  Romney's 47% video was supposedly a "game-changer" in the campaign.  And yet, the polling didn't move much.

Journalists often fall prey to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.  "After this, therefore because of this."  Romney said something that sounded awful.  Then he lost.  Obviously, it must have been because of the 47% line, right?  No, he lost because the economy is growing, and incumbent presidents tend to be reelected when the economy is growing.  The 47% clip didn't move the polls much.  Journalists just need to tell a compelling story, and the 47% thing makes a better story, even if it is bullshit.

Now, here's the funny thing.  The polls have trended a bit lower for Clinton lately.  And, over at the betting markets, Trump's odds have crept up from around 20% to 25% over the last couple of weeks.  Did Clinton's "basket of deplorables" line move those numbers?  Nope.  Not yet, anyway.

And it shouldn't.  Why?  Because insulting people who won't vote for you doesn't matter.  It didn't for Obama, it didn't for Romney, and it won't for Clinton.

Sunday music: If you don't love blues (no grass today), you hate America

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Matt Lauer interview and revisiting the politics of covering lies

Back in April, The Conversation asked me to write this article on how the media should cover lies.  It was based on a paper I have floating around applying game theory to situations where voters can't directly observe who is guilty of what, so they must rely on weak signals from journalists with competing incentives

The gist was this:  partisan media enable their opponents by muddying the waters between legitimate criticism and reflexive, knee-jerk partisanship.  So, if I am a politician, I can lie and brush off any legitimate criticism as knee-jerk partisanship, and weakly-informed voters are actually rational to believe me because the media landscape actually has so many partisan media outlets.  Real journalists, knowing this, must pretend that everybody is equally honest, even when they aren't.  The result is that the only people who claim that one side is more dishonest than the other are the partisans, which just reinforces the cycle.

The question I posed in my article at The Conversation was whether or not Donald Trump, simply by lying on such an unprecedented scale, would break my model.

The Matt Lauer incident almost looks like he did.  For comparison's sake, here's Candy Crowley losing the right to ever moderate a debate again:



To be fair to Romney, he probably never watched the tape of Obama talking about Benghazi, so he probably never heard what Obama actually said.  He wasn't lying, he just didn't know.  But, Crowley broke from the standard role of the moderator in a dramatic way.  Notice that she ain't on the list of debate moderators this time.

But now let's talk about Matt Lauer.  Trump repeated one of his favorite lies-- that he always opposed the Iraq war.  Well, except that when he went on Howard Stern, and Stern asked if he wanted to invade Iraq, he said, "yeah, I guess so."



This is pretty widely known by now.  Even Matt Lauer probably knew it, and he's a fuckin' moron.  He was just too much of a coward to pull a Candy Crowley.  Of course, we saw what Crowley lost...

But Lauer got ripped for it.  He lost something too...

Is that the sound of my neat, little game-theoretic model being broken by Donald Trump?  It wouldn't be the first model broken by him.  [Cough, cough, The Party Decides...]

Journalists are treating Trump differently.  What the Lauer incident brings to mind, though, is clearly the Crowley incident.  I wonder, then, not what the moderators will do in the debates, but the following:

1)  Will Trump repeat the Iraq claim in the debates?  If he does, Clinton will be ready with the Stern line.  She can force every broadcast to run the tape of the Stern interview.  Whether or not it matters at this point is another issue.

2)  Will interviewers have to be more aggressive with Trump to avoid being ostracized by their colleagues?  Lauer's not having such a good week.

2, though, may not matter, and that brings me back to a reference I've been making with Trump for a while.   Tony Clifton.  The problem with trying to interview Trump the way that Tim Russert used to interview normal politicians is that Trump is a performer who doesn't break character.  Normal interview tactics won't work on such a performer.  So, if other journalists respond to the Matt Lauer incident by trying to be Tim Russert, then they will be caught in a trap.  This one:

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

Friday, September 9, 2016

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

OK, technically Jonas Hellborg is a Swede, and this album strays far from his jazz roots and American music in general, but I can't resist another dig at Gary Johnson.  Great music anyway.


It's OK that Gary Johnson doesn't know where Aleppo is...

... because most Americans don't know who Gary Johnson is, and still won't by the end of the campaign.

Buzzword alert, buzzword alert!  "Duverger's law."  We have a plurality rule electoral system.  Whoever gets the most votes wins.  Now, for presidential elections, we have a convoluted way of aggregating votes to the state level, converting votes within a state to "electoral votes" and so forth, but it is all based on the plurality rule.  Whenever you have a plurality rule system, there is a strong tendency towards two parties.  That's Duverger's law, named after Maurice Duverger.

Gary Johnson is running as the Libertarian nominee, which is why he was too stoned in a recent interview to know what Aleppo is.  But, that's OK, not just because most Americans are too uneducated to know where Aleppo is, but because most Americans won't bother to pay attention to minor party candidates.  This is about as much attention as Gary Johnson will get.

Maybe Jill Stein can defend him by claiming that he just got vaccinated and suddenly developed autism...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The campaign is tightening. Political science can't tell you why. (At least not yet).

Yes, the polls are tightening a little bit.  At RealClearPolitics, Clinton's lead in the polling average is at 2.8 points, which is down ever so slightly.  Why?  We don't know, and we can't tell you.  Over in the betting markets, PredictWise puts Trump's chances up to 25%, from 20%.  We can't tell you why a stock goes up or down, though, and this is just like a stock.  Some possibilities:

1)  Randomness.  Never rule out randomness.

2)  Movement in and out of the "undecided" column, which is different from crossing from one candidate to the other.

3)  The Clinton Foundation.

4)  Trump hasn't had a Trump moment for a few weeks.

Those are the easy ones, but why can't political science explain this?  Here's what we can do.  We can look at well-designed surveys, and tell you what distinguishes those who support Clinton from those who support Trump, and what distinguishes those who vote from those who don't.  Right now, we don't have that.  We have, instead, a slew of weakly-designed polls that can only be taken in aggregate, partly because of weak design, and partly because the full data are proprietary, and not released publicly.

Some surveys allow us to run a few cross-tabulations, confirming basic facts, such as the fact that whites lean Trump, and minorities lean Clinton, etc.  But we knew that.  Explaining movement is harder.

Consider, for example, Trump's recent visit to an African-American church.  Trump won't win black voters.  The general interpretation was that it was an appeal to some category of white voters who are nervous about his rhetoric on race.  Suppose that we could construct a demographic profile of that hypothetical nervous white voter.  If so, then with full access to well-designed survey data, we could test whether these voters have become more supportive of Trump over the last couple of weeks, explaining the closing of the Clinton-Trump gap, if we have similarly constructed surveys done over a period of several weeks.

Right now, we just don't have the data, so it's all speculation.

Who will have the data, and when?  To do that kind of analysis, only one survey:  The Annenberg Center, out of the University of Pennsylvania.  Will that hypothesis pan out?  I doubt it.  My reference point for the general election is still John Sides & Lynn Vavreck's The Gamble.  Following their model of a primary, Trump should have gone the way of Herman Cain, in my opinion, but I suspect that general election poll fluctuations will match campaign events this year to the same degree they did last time.  We'll see, though, and eventually, the Annenberg people will put out a book throwing massive amounts of data at every conceivable hypothesis.

Right now, though, the polls are tightening.  What's going on?  Anyone who claims to have an answer is either overconfident, or just bullshitting you.  Clinton is ahead.  Her lead has slipped a little bit.  That's what we know.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On the death of Phyllis Schlafly: Confusion among conservatives over Trump

Phyllis Schlafly died the other day.  You may not have heard of her, but she mattered a lot.  In 1964, she wrote a book called, A Choice, Not an Echo.  The gist was this:  Republicans win elections when they nominate hardcore conservatives rather than centrist squishes.  In 1964, they nominated a hardcore conservative-- Barry Goldwater-- and lost.  But, Schlafly and her way of thinking led to the rise of Ronald Reagan, the Tea Party, the sacking of John Boehner, etc.  I've even got a paper floating around about how Schlafly and her conceptual model help explain asymmetric polarization.  Someday I'll do something with it.

And yet, Schlafly was a vociferous supporter of Donald Trump, not icon of conservative purity, Ted Cruz.  Schlafly was a true believer in tax cuts, tearing down the welfare state, opposition to abortion, etc.  Donald Trump believes in none of these things.  He switched his positions to match these in order to run for president as a Republican.  Some grad school colleagues, Dave Hopkins and Matt Grossman, have a model asserting that Republicans have become more ideologically extreme than Democrats because of a desire for purity among their base.  While the primaries were still going, I noted that Trump's rise was pretty hard to reconcile with that model in the "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead" series.  Schlafly herself, then, shows the crack-up of the conservative movement.

One could easily put together a compilation of statements from Donald Trump on abortion, taxes, welfare, etc. that put him at or near the position of Bernie Sanders, and his supposed conversions could only be taken as sincere by the kind of person who might enroll in Trump University.  Apparently, though, that included Phyllis Schlafly.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The divergent party, Part IV: The "counterfactual"

How is it that the Republican Party can be losing an election at the presidential level that, by rights, they should be winning, while cleaning up at the congressional and state levels with the same essential platform?  How do we explain the Republican Party's divergent levels of electoral success?  That has been the puzzle in the "divergent party" series.  In Part III, I addressed the midterm phenomenon, knocking down a favorite modern myth among Democrats, but here, let's just get to the heart of the matter.

Buzzword alert, buzzword alert.  "Counterfactual," as in, counter to fact.  As in, not true.  As in, a lie.  What if the world were otherwise?  What if Donald Trump weren't the nominee?

1)  Would the Republican platform be different?  Well, remember how John McCain was a pro-immigration reform type of guy?  Yeah, then in 2008, he had to run on this:



So, replace Trump with another candidate.  Would the "counterfactual" of a different candidate lead to a different platform?  Probably not.

That leads us to the second part of the counterfactual.

2)  Would another candidate do better in the polls?  Almost certainly.  I'm a statistician, so I won't say anything with absolute certainty, but Trump is underperforming.  Fence/wall, same diff.  Romney ran on a self-deportation thing, Trump is all about deportation, same diff.  What makes Trump different?  Not policy.  That's the point.  The predictive models, like Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" model, give the Republicans an edge in a year with two previous Democratic victories and only tepid economic growth.

During the DNC, Khizr Khan, muslim immigrant and father of a fallen veteran, harshly criticized Trump.  The smart move for a presidential candidate?  Ignore it.  Trump, however, is a moron with no self control, leading to a week-long feud with the grieving parents of a war hero, 'cuz that's smart.

What's important here isn't the Khan story.  What's important is that we are having a conversation about immigration and the Republican Party, not because immigration, as a policy issue is destroying the Republican Party via Trump, but because the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump.  Despite the fact that Donald Trump's policy platform connects directly to McCain and Romney with respect to immigration, he is underperforming relative to them.  In the counterfactual case of a Jeb Bush/Marco Rubio/Scott Walker/Any Republican Other Than Trump nomination, this wouldn't be a discussion.  This isn't about a party facing a structural crisis.  This is a story about a party with a lousy nominee.  Is the growing Latino population an issue for the Republican Party?  Sure.  But, as I've been saying, demography is not destiny.  Trump is just a lousy nominee.

And hey, look!  I mentioned Khizr Khan without making a Star Trek reference!  Must... not... post... clip...

Monday, September 5, 2016

The divergent party, Part III: Mythologies of midterm elections

Continuing in the discussion of Republican divergence, how is it that Republicans seem to be throwing away a presidential election with Donald Trump, yet doing just fine in other races with basically the same platform year after year?  In Part II, I talked about the difference between the candidate and the platform, and how policy platforms are of minimal electoral relevance.  Here, let's tackle a modern favorite myth among lefties.  (Remember the title of the blog?)  Republicans have some sort of built-in advantage in the midterms and lower-level elections, whereas Democrats have a built-in advantage in presidential elections because of turnout.

This is an oldie but a goodie, and still perpetuated by people who base their reasoning on sham political science done by hacks like Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward.  Piven & Cloward basically say the following:  rich people vote, poor people don't so everything sucks.  Anyone who has read any real political science on turnout, like Wolfinger & Rosenstone's Who Votes? knows that it is infinitely more complex.  Turnout is based primarily on factors like education and age, but that leads us to the more complicated, and not as stupid version.  (There is little as stupid as Piven and Cloward.  Then again, they sell more books than I do, so...)

The modern mythology is as follows.  Democrats win presidential elections because of course they do.  Self-congratulatory pat on the back, derogatory comment about country bumpkins, racists, bible-thumpers and gun nuts.  But, in non-presidential elections, turnout drops.  The remaining electorate is older and whiter.  That demographic skews Republican, leaving Republicans with an advantage in non-presidential elections, allowing Republicans to win midterms 'n' such.  Thus, Democrats win the elections with legitimacy (higher turnout, cuz', that means legitimacy in this line of reasoning), and the Republicans win the ones without legitimacy.  Note the sneering.  You can see why Democrats like this one.

Note, also, that it neatly explains the last two midterms, 2014 and 2010.  Then, um, well, uh...

Fuck.  Then, there's 2006.  Yeah, see, there's the big problem.  The real thing with midterms is that they skew against the party of the president, most of the time.  Two big exceptions:  1998, when Newt Gingrich, well, blew the election by impeaching Clinton and there was splashback, I mean blowback, I mean, never mind, (sorry-not-sorry), and then 2002, when Bush the Younger was riding high on the post-9/11 boost in his approval ratings.  But, um, 1982?  1986?  1990?  Pretty much, with a Republican in the White House, a midterm skews Democratic.

But, with Obama in the White House, a midterm will go Republican.  Right now, that means older and whiter, although the former is a relatively new phenomenon.  This whole story Democrats like to tell themselves?  It's ass-backwards.  See what I did there?  Donkey?  Ass?  Never mind.  The point, again, is that Republicans have maintained electoral success with Trumpian platforms because it isn't the platform.  This leaves them with divergent levels of success.  And, while Democrats love to tell themselves this silly, little fairy tale about midterms and turnout and such, it betrays a memory only slightly longer than that of a goldfish.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The divergent party, Part II: The platform and the candidate

I still don't know where I'm going with this, so I'll just keep writing.  In Part I of "The divergent party," I started addressing the observation that the Republican Party is losing an election that it should be winning at the presidential level, while doing just fine at other levels, such as the congressional and state levels.  So, let's start with the big distinction:  the platform and the candidate.

Donald Trump is not his platform.  His platform is widely embraced by his party.  He is not.  Prominent Republicans have been either distancing themselves from him, or leaving the party outright, as George F. Will did.  And Trump is underperforming.  Political science reference time.

"Out of step, out of office," by Canes-Wrone, Brady and Cogan (American Political Science Review, 2002).  Basic question:  how much does ideological "extremism" affect congressional incumbents' vote shares?  Answer:  a little, not much.  They lose something, but they still tend to win reelection, basically because there is too much other stuff going on.  There are a lot of other attempts to measure the effects, but for a variety of reasons, this one gets cited the most.

And in a presidential race?  I've mentioned this before, but, um, DDRRDDRRDDRR, and so forth.  How many elections would you have to flip to get that pattern from 1944 to 2012?  One.  1980.  (With an asterisk next to 2000...).  Then, you've got the state of the economy, and other such stuff affecting presidential elections, and the effects of policy platforms tend to be pretty small in presidential campaigns too.

Then there's Trump.  Dude's just weird.  And that's a technical, political science term.  So, part of what is going on here is that state, local and even congressional races are subject to normal forces, allowing Republicans to do just fine, even if some might consider their platforms "extreme" because "extreme" platforms aren't all that costly in electoral terms.  Trump is losing.  Why?  It ain't the extremity.  It's his Trumpiness.

How "extreme" is Trump, in ideological terms?  He isn't an ideologue at all.  His history of policy statements indicates no commitment to conservative causes.  He adopted conservative language, rather, to run as a Republican.  However, that means that his current stances are little different from Republican orthodoxy in most ways.  Whatever electoral penalties he is facing beyond other Republicans, then, are not policy-based.  His greatest polling weaknesses have tended to be on questions such as fitness for office, temperament, and such.

And that returns me to a theme from Part I.  Predictions of DOOM for the Republican Party?  Nope.  This is just a party probably (76% chance, as of this morning's betting odds) throwing away one presidential election by nominating one bad candidate.

Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and a few others are enjoying their schadenfreude.

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

Continuing on the theme of yesterday's country music post, here's a more subtle one. Listen for the reference to Merle at the end.

 

As a bonus, here's Darrell doing a solo, more folky version, explaining it and how he stuck it to country radio without them realizing it...  Also, notice that some people still know how to play an instrument.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The divergent party, Part I

Let's start another multi-part series.  I don't have a destination yet.  I'll figure it out as I write.

Right now, the Republican Party is underperforming at the presidential level.  According to the Alan Abramowitz "Time for a Change" predictive model, a generic Republican should be winning now.  One party rarely wins three terms in a row.  That requires an economy to be growing like gangbusters.  The economy is growing, but not that strongly.  Why aren't Republicans winning?  Trump.

A big part of this is likely to be that he mobilizes non-whites.  And non-whites are a growing proportion of the population.  I am skeptical of demography as destiny type arguments, but that doesn't mean demographic trends don't matter.

And yet, at the House level, Republicans are nearly a lock.  Why?  Because of a different type of demographic issue.  Democrats cluster in cities.  And, at the state level, Republicans do just fine, giving them control of state legislatures and governorships.

Notice that they do so with policy platforms that are little different from Trump's, and that's my key point for today.

The Republican Party has divergent levels of success with the same essential platform.  There are a lot of reasons for that.  Different electorates, different candidates, different circumstances, blah, blah, blah.  This is merely a reminder that, for those predicting DOOM, DOOM, DOOM! for the Republican Party if it adheres to Trumpian platforms, um, have you looked at the state level?

So, let's have another reminder of basic, high school civics.  "Federalism."  Responsibilities of government are divided between the federal, state and local level.  And yet, the divisions are not strict.  Sort of a marble cake type of thing.  Even with immigration, state and local governments have some involvement, and in a lot of places, Republicans have done just fine with Trumpian platforms.

Not everywhere.  California is a lesson.  In 1994, incumbent Governor Pete Wilson took a sort of Trumpian turn on immigration, basing his reelection campaign on an immigration-related ballot proposition (Prop. 187), won reelection, and effectively mobilized Latinos against the Republican Party in the state so strongly that the state has been mostly lost to the party since (with the odd exception of the Governator).

But that brings us back to the geographic clustering issue.  The clustering of Latinos in the Southwest, should it persist, would insulate the GOP House majority, leaving the GOP divergent in its electoral success.

The divergent party.

Where am I going with this?  I dunno.  I'll figure it out as I write.

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

Usually these posts have some esoteric reference to political events, but not this morning.  I'm sincere in my love of country music, but I'm particular.  I'm a big fan of Sturgill Simpson, and in full agreement with his recent rant making the rounds about the too-little-too-late honoring of Merle Haggard in certain circles.  Oh, and look at that reference to Jason Isbell.  I've been using "Devil Is My Running Mate," for the Saturday music series every time VP nominations have been in the news...  Why, it's almost as if there's such a thing as country music snobbery...

Anyway, Sturgill, Jason, Chris Stapleton, all great, and well worth a listen for fans of Merle Haggard.  Here's another that captures the spirit of Sturgill's attitude, but with more humor and a little less anger...

Friday, September 2, 2016

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

Sometimes I have to go with the obvious choice... (Well, obvious to a jazz and politics fanatic).

Immigration and how we draw lines in political science

Trump gave his speech the other day, and it is a reminder of the complexity of how we draw lines in political science.  Two obvious readings come to mind, and I reference them all the time.  One might think they are classics, or something, and that everyone should read them.

E.E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People.  As a warning, there is a lot that is wrong and outdated about this book, but Schattschneider also did a lot to help us understand the strategic process of drawing lines of cleavage to define political conflict.  Much of the conflict in American politics is racial/ethnic.  The Republican Party doesn't want to keep it that way.  Why?  The country is getting less white.  Where else could a line of cleavage be drawn?  How about between citizens/legal residents, and illegal immigrants?  That's the line Trump, and his particular faction of the Republican Party, i.e., not the Chamber of Commerce faction, have been trying to draw for years.  That's why George W. Bush, a Chamber of Commerce guy, couldn't get his version of immigration reform, which I addressed the other day.

The logic requires seeing things in terms of strict economic competition.  If Latino citizens in low wage jobs see themselves in economic competition with illegal immigrants who take even lower wages to keep things under the table, then a Schattschneider line of cleavage between legal and undocumented pushes Latino citizens into the Trump camp.  If they see overcrowded schools in their neighborhoods, kicking out the kids who are illegal immigrants reduces class size for their kids.

The Trump faction (although not Trump himself) has been making this argument for years, not understanding why it hasn't brought Latino citizens into the Republican Party.

So, here's the article I reference more than anything else, and that public opinion scholars reference more than anything else:  good, ole' Phil Converse, "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics."  Most people don't think in ideologically coherent ways.  A "plurality" of people (more than any other category, but not a majority) think in terms of social groupings.  How will this policy affect my group?  Those social group identifications are just really hard to change.

And they are socially reinforced by everything from daily life to political events at the national level.

Schattschneider is at war with Converse here, and Converse keeps winning.  After the 2012 election, the Republicans understood this.  They wrote extensively about it.  Converse will continue to win out over Schattschneider.

Does this mean the Republicans are just screwed because of long-term demographics?  No.  I've tackled this before.  The Republicans are probably blowing 2016 by nominating Trump, but the system tends to adjust.  Somehow.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Deal-making, wall-building, and making Mexico pay

Trump did two things yesterday.  He went to Mexico, and gave a speech to try to undo the damage of his deportation flip-flop, which, as I said, wasn't really damage anyway.  What I found fascinating was the disagreement over whether or not the wall came up during his Mexico trip.  Even if Trump does pull out a victory (23% chance in the markets this morning), I haven't seen anyone go through the deal-making mechanics of "making Mexico pay" in this way, so here's some basic microeconomics.

If I have A, and you offer me B, I won't take the trade unless the value of B to me, in utility terms, is greater than the value of A.  Ume(B)>Ume(A).  But, you won't offer B unless A is more valuable to you than B.  Uyou(B)<Uyou(A).  This is the old Adam Smith thing.  The baker prefers the money to the bread, the customer prefers the bread to the money, so everyone is happier after the transaction, and yay capitalism.

Without some external enforcement mechanism, then, the only way to get Mexico to pay for the wall is to offer them something that they want more than the money.  But, we're not the country with the stuff, we're the country with the money.  That's why we run trade deficits.

Which brings us to option b.  If you don't keep up on mortgage payments, the bank can repossess your house.  Why?  Because an external enforcement agency-- the government-- recognizes the legitimacy of the debt.  That's because you signed a contract, and even the most hardcore libertarian will say that the government's job is contract enforcement.  Mexico never signed a contract (treaty) agreeing to pay for the wall, and never will, and even if they had, there is no supranational enforcement agency that will take the money out of their banks.

There is supranational enforcement of debt, though.  When a country, like Greece, fails to pay its debt, nobody will lend it money at low rates anymore.  In principle, if other countries recognized the legitimacy of Mexico's responsibility to pay for the wall and they didn't, their interest rates would go up like Greece's, but that ain't gonna happen because Mexico never agreed to pay for the wall and never will, and nobody outside the U.S. thinks they should.

That leaves only one mechanism.  When there is no legal or general social enforcement of debt, there is force.  Loan sharks can't go to the government and repossess your property through legal means because they didn't loan you the money through legal means.  So, how do you like your kneecaps?  The problem, of course, is if they get caught.  It isn't clear what the international analogy to that would be, short of actual force, which, well...

Will Donald Trump become president?  Probably not.  3-1 against in the markets, as of this morning.  Would the wall get built?  No.  No contractor would start construction on spec, Congress won't appropriate that level of money even as seed money, Mexico won't cough up the dough, and Trump won't really have the tools.  But, it is still worth going through the economics of it.