Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Should Clinton "take the blame" for losing in 2016? Part V

I'm just going to wrap this up quickly because holy shit, Comey's going to testify!

Anyway, I have been addressing the normative democratic theory questions associated with an electoral model in which candidate strategy plays a determinative role, and in principle, maybe it has a role to play.  If elections turn on valence, then strategy has no theoretically justifiable role, but then Clinton should have won in a landslide, given that Trump is an incompetent nitwit and pathological liar, whereas Clinton, for all her many, many faults, is capable of doing things like breathing through her nose rather than her mouth, not dragging her knuckles on the ground, and refraining from grabbing others' pussies.  If elections turn, mechanistically, on policy, as in the pure spatial model, then elections turn on strategy, but as I covered in the "Assessing democracy..." series, Clinton should have been treated as more centrist than Trump, given Trump's deference to Republican orthodoxy and the Republican Congress.  So, even if elections turn on a theoretically justifiable set of strategic decisions, then it would be hard to reconcile that with Clinton's loss, but that isn't what this is about.

No, the "Clinton didn't go to Wisconsin" argument is basically something I warned about back in November.  This is a fight over narratives.

Elections are mostly systematic things.  I keep going back to the Alan Abramowitz "Time for a Change" model because it works so consistently well.  GDP change in the second quarter of the election year, presidential popularity, and whether or not one party has won two terms in a row.  That basically tells you what will happen in a presidential election, and that model predicted a generic Republican victory.  For a while, it looked like Trump's awesome weakness as a candidate would overwhelm that, and to be sure, the polls were pretty fucked up in 2016, but then Jimmy-boy Comey decided he didn't wanna see that skirt in the White House.  No, FBI directors don't like skirts... (See what I did there?)  So, two weeks before the election, he threw everything into chaos, and the polls moved "bigly."  They moved enough for Trump to eek out a narrow victory, which he did.

That narrative, though, isn't one that Trump apologists like.  So, they need a different one.  Abramowitz isn't a narrative that anyone other than political scientists like.  It isn't a narrative at all.  It is a nifty, little mathematical model with no story to tell.  All of the variables included are based on factors six months before the election date, so it ignores the entire campaign.  When people like me tell you to use Abramowitz, we are telling you to ignore the campaign.  That narrative isn't one that journalists, candidates, or anyone else wants to hear.

Obviously, the Trump people really don't like the Comey narrative either.  Anything that delegitimizes or diminishes the outcome is verboten among the Trump people, but here's the thing.  We can look back at the polls.  Yes, they were on the wrong side of 50/50, but even factoring in the now-known error rates, Comey moved the polls, and if we take away the amount by which Comey moved the polls, given the now-known error rates, Clinton would have won.

James Comey's intervention is the only true "October surprise" we have ever really seen affect the outcome of an election.  It is a narrative.  It mattered, but it was not a narrative about candidate strategy, bringing us back to the issues I addressed in the earlier parts of the series.  In fact, given the underlying dynamics of the election, it is not clear that any strategic decisions by anyone could have affected anything.  Could Clinton have done anything to prevent or counteract the Comey effect?  Not that I can think of, and the Comey effect was nationwide, not just a Wisconsin thing.  That is critical, and it debunks the whole, "she didn't go to Wisconsin" thing.

Could voters have behaved differently?  If they were smarter, yes.  Comey's letter to Congress was obviously bullshit, the Abedin/Weiner computer had no chance of leading to new charges, and the press behaved irresponsibly by not treating it as such, but that's kind of the point here.  There's nothing the candidates can do, strategically, in these circumstances because of the voters.

Clinton didn't lose because of bad strategy, and Trump didn't win because of good strategy.  Trump won because the Democrats had won two previous terms in a row, and while Trump's weakness as a candidate was going to hand them a third, Comey decided not to let that happen.  That's it.

Pretty soon, though, we get to hear about the falling-out between Comey and Trump!  I can't wait!

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