Republican Candidates on Romney
(via somewhere. Reddit maybe?)
Imagine a hand palming a human face forever
Shorter David Brooks: congressional Republicans are such implacable assholes that they'll flatly refuse to support big legislation that's good for the country as long as Barack Obama is president. But congressional Democrats are more reasonable, so if Mitt Romney wins, he'll be able to get some big stuff passed. Therefore you should vote for Romney.
Shorter shorter David Brooks: the only way to deal with terrorists is to give them what they want.
In the history of presidential elections, has there ever been such an effort by one side to poll their way to victory? While the Republicans have spoken this season about jobs and debt – willing themselves to a moral victory – the Democrats have talked constantly about how well their guy is polling in one or two states. The goal is to create a sense of inevitability, to convince the public to vote for Obama because he’s a winner and who wouldn’t want to vote for the winner? We’ve witnessed the evolution of polling from an objective gauge of the public mood to a propaganda tool: partisan and inaccurate.Is there anything sketchier--or more irritating--than a rhetorical question?
Step forward Nate Silver of the New York Times. Nate has been an open supporter of the President and his newspaper just endorsed Obama (although it also went for Dukakis, so it ain’t that good at picking winners). But context doesn’t matter because maths is maths and maths can’t lie – and Nate says that, according to his model, Obama has a 74.6 per cent chance of winning. You might find that figure a little odd given that on the same page you’ll see that Obama is ahead by less than 3 per cent nationally and his advantage lies in one state, Ohio. It’s even odder when you consider how it conflicts with other polls that emerged this weekend giving a virtual tie in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s damn near-surreal when you discover that Gallup puts Romney ahead by four points among (and this distinction is critical) likely voters.
Meanwhile, Obama’s job approval rating is heading downwards. Does Nate know something that the rest of the world doesn’t?Well...he knows something that you don't know, Mr. Stanley...that's for sure...
A former business and baseball analyst, Nate came to fame in 2008 when he correctly predicted the outcome in 49 of 50 states in the presidential election. Frankly, a headless chicken could have done that. It was a wave election and we all knew Virginia and North Carolina were in play. Plus Nate had access to internal Obama polls that gave him an advantage over his market rivals. Nevertheless, this success turned Nate into a star – despite his own admission that his analysis technique is not modelled exclusively for politics. In an interview about his life’s work, he wrote:
But the other thing too is on the blog I mostly focus on politics. And I think elections are a really interesting thing to study and to try to predict. But I don't particularly like politics. I find some of the people involved in politics, I don't think they're the most well-rounded or pleasant people necessarily, right? So I want to broaden my focus a little bit and say, look, by being data-driven and looking at how predictions go, doing analysis from statistics and everything else, we can look at business or sports or a lot different fields or science. And there's nothing about politics in particular that my interest and skill sets are uniquely suited to. [Italics are mine.]
That noise you hear is the sound of the cat being let out of the bag. Appreciating that Nate’s system is rather more generic, interpretive and partisan makes sense of its central paradox: that while the rest of us are talking about Romney’s post-debate momentum, Silver still gives the race to the President by a huge margin. Here are some of the problems with his stats.
1. Nate isn’t very good at calling close elections. In 2010, he correctly predicted the outcome of the senate elections with the greatest leads. But in the 5 genuinely close races, he got it wrong in 3. For the House elections, Nate ran this extraordinary headline: “House Forecast: G.O.P. Plus 54-55 Seats; Significantly Larger or Smaller Gains Possible.” So, this oracle predicted that the results could have been “larger” or “smaller” – how prescient. In fact, they were much larger. The Republicans took 63 seats.Whoa! An actual argument that isn't embarrassingly terrible! Now, it's not clear that this argument is much good...but it isn't puerile, which makes it a giant leap forward. Someone more familiar with Silver's work would need to respond here--perhaps Silver himself. There are a few things we can note, however. For one, we can't tell from this information how much confidence Silver had in the three races he allegedly failed to call correctly. For another, note that Stanley tries to turn a point in Silver's favor against him. If Silver did, indeed, note that larger gains were possible in 2010, then this makes his error less damning. He in effect included an informal estimate of probable error in the summary of his position--he pointed out that he couldn't/shouldn't be that confident in his prediction. That's how you deal with such things scientifically. Stanley pretends that this counts against Silver when, in fact, it counts in his favor.
2. People make their minds up at the last minute, which confuses the outcome of close elections. Historically, voters have tended to break towards challengers, and particularly Republican challengers, in the last week.Now that's weak. First, some people make up their minds at the last minute...and some don't. Silver, like pollsters, is, as I understand it, primarily interested in the former. That is, he's interested in the question: how much support does each candidate currently have, and how much support is he likely to have on 11/6? As it turns out, there apparently aren't that many undecideds this year. But do undecideds tend to break for Republicans and challengers? Some say yes, some say no. Stanley, firing from the hip--the right hip apparently--only gestures at half of the story. This is the M.O. of the contemporary right, of course--they get their conclusion first, and then assemble whatever evidence they can to convince themselves that they are right, ignoring anything that doesn't support the proposition they prefer to believe.
3. Nate weights polls, meaning that he picks and chooses which data sets to run through his model. He has shown particular affection for Democrat-leaning pollsters like PPP, and this bias is evident in his use of state-wide polls. Silver embraces polling organisations that other writers avoid like the plague. Apparently, the New York Times isn’t as discriminating.A cheap, abusive and unsupported ad hominem there at the end...an indication that I'm spending way too much time taking an unserious person seriously...but Silver does weigh polls differently...but, then, polls should be weighed differently, as some are better than others. He does rely on state polls for predictions about the states... Beyond that, we'd need to hear from Silver himself or someone more knowledgeable about his methods. Stanley launches another sloppy criticism here, so it is of limited weight...but it's not weightless as it stands. Bravo, Mr. Stanley!
4. Nate ignores polls that contradict him. So PPP is right and Gallup is wrong.Uh...Mr. Stanley should read his own links. Silver has a method for dealing with outlying results. When Gallup changed its methods and produced a radical outlier, he applied that method to the poll. His method might be wrong...but Stanley's own link does not sustain his accusation. Had Silver had to deal with Gallup in an ad hoc way, he might be open to Stanley's criticism. But that was not the case.
5. Politics is even riskier than baseball and “stuff happens.” As columnist David Brooks put it in a critique of Silver’s polls: “Obama turns in a bad debate performance. Romney makes offensive comments at a fund-raiser. These unquantifiable events change the trajectories of tight campaigns. You can’t tell what’s about to happen. You certainly can’t tell how 100 million people are going to process what’s about to happen. You can’t calculate odds that capture unknown reactions to unknown events.” Nor can we determine turnout – and a lot of the polling in 2012 has presumed that as many Democrats will vote today as they did back in 2008. If that’s wrong, many predictions will be confounded.Gosh, this is getting tedious. Stanley is just wrong here, and wrong in a way that seems to betray a complete misunderstanding of his topic. Any prediction of the kind Silver is making basically has the form: if things continue on their current trajectory, then here is what is likely to happen... Now, of course, things might not continue on their current trajectory. Sandy might change the entire complexion of the race. The final jobs numbers might be extremely bad. An asteroid might hit the Earth. But none of that is relevant--Silver is telling us what we should expect in the absence of such an event. Mr. Stanley asserts that you "can't tell how 100 million people are going to process what's about to happen," but, of course, you often can, and to deny that is just sophomoric skepticism. We know, for example, that a good jobs number is likely to help President Obama, and a bad one is likely to help Governor Romney. We know that another "47%" tape is likely to hurt Governor Romney. And so on. Some uncertainty is not equivalent to total uncertainty. We don't know exactly how people will react to every contingency--but, then, no one anywhere has ever claimed otherwise.
Brooks’ point is really the most powerful of all. Politics is not a science and it doesn’t lend itself well to predictions. Voters lie, natural disasters happen, scandals rock the White House. No one could have predicted – including Silver – that the debates would radically transform Romney’s image in the eyes of the voter. In some cases, that transformation happened in spite of Romney losing one or two of those debates.Again, this is just embarrassing. Consider the ambiguous:
Silver’s stardom tells us two things about the Democratic Party. The first is that its obsession with numbers is part of a cold, mechanical way of looking at politics that divides the electorate up into blocks of voters who can be cobbled together into a winning coalition. Team Obama went out of its way in the 2000s to recruit professors and statisticians who would turn politics into something like baseball: hire the best players, master all the tricks, bet and gamble your way to victory. Grand narrative is gone. In its place are talking points designed to achieve a 51/49 per cent advantage: war on women, 99 per cent etcThis tells us that Mr. Stanley is either not very bright, or he is blinded by partisanship. Silver's fame lends zero weight to Stanley's assertion here. How one should try to predict electoral outcomes has nothing to do with how the political players view their path to victory. Mr. Stanley's puling is the wail of the innumerate when faced with all that frustrating mathy, sciency reasoning. Although Stanley here slips into postmodern-speak--something I myself eschew--with his talk of "grand narrative"...well, alright I'll go with it. But: what recent American politician has had a grander "narrative" than Obama? Maybe Reagan? By this point, Stanley's piece has become little more than an aimless tantrum, entirely unconnected with the facts.
Second, Nate’s success shows that Democrats are panicking. Losing the war of ideas, they’re resorting to bad maths. Last night a friend posted this on Facebook: “I want Nate Silver's data made into a blanket I can cuddle up with.” Sorry, but weighted polling served up by a partisan analyst is a very false comfort.And this is where we laugh out loud... The right wing--Mr. Stanley, apparently, included--has constructed its own fantasy world and convinced itself that the fantasy is real. Conservatives, as is well known, deny the results of evolutionary biology, climate science, and contemporary economics when they fail to cohere with conservative preferences. Mr. Stanley's largely aimless anti-Silver flailing above, his desperate lunges for criticisms, his panicky assertion that it is his opponents who are panicking...none of these things should come as any surprise to those who have watched the degeneration and derangement of the right in the last twenty years or so. When conservatives don't like where their candidate stands, they leap to their favorite excuse--liberal bias, in this case, polling bias. When Mr. Obama was far ahead of Mr. Romney, conservative kvetching about polls began. When Mr. Romney made huge gains around the first debate, however, conservatives happily accepted these results...only to again reject careful polling analysis when Mr. Romney did not catch up quite enough. Having themselves lost the war of ideas--or, at least, of good ones--and in danger of losing this election, not to mention the demographic battle that will determine the shape of American politics in the longer term, they have retreated into a world in which they have not only their own media telling them what they want to hear, but even their own politically correct version of Wikipedia, scrubbed free of all those unpleasant, cognitive-dissonance-causing facts.
So what did the audience make of the debate? In a remarkably timid response to the vigor and volume of data on display, the chair, Patrick O'Neill, did not put the motion to a vote among the hundreds of experts and students in the hall. Instead, he asked how many people had changed their minds based on what they heard. A few—but not many—raised their hands. Perhaps the Obesity Society, which had put out a statement in support of Mayor Bloomberg's soda policies, didn't want to risk a vote where the audience, its membership, might be interpreted as disagreeing with that position; or perhaps the academic stakes for publicly confirming where one stood on soda were far too risky for most people who weren't at the top of their careers like Allison and Hu.
This latter hypothesis was partially confirmed when I asked, over the course of the conference, various poster presenters—newly minted and almost PhDs and MDs—what they thought of the debate: all were reluctant to comment and possibly offend one side or the other, without the assurance they wouldn't be named. So, with the promise of anonymity, I can report that some people were already in camp "Harvard" and admitted so on political grounds, or because the search for perfect evidence was a rationale to do nothing; for them, Hu was the clear winner. Others, however, expressed surprise at the dissection of the evidence. "It made me think about the data in a way I hadn't, because I am not that strong on data," said one academic. Another said she went into the debate with an open mind, but with the conviction that telling people what they couldn't eat was not a good idea in the real world; she said what troubled her was that academics have a tendency to go from the hypothesis to the conclusion without analyzing the validity of the data in between, and that the debate, as a consequence, had been eye opening. Another said her coursework in statistical analysis had already been a wake up call to her bias on this issue.Let me note that this is a debate about soda. Soda. This is not what you'd call an Earth-shaking issue. And it's so politicized that people won't even comment on it because they fear for their careers.
Pat Mullins, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said party leaders were “alarmed by [the] allegations.”
“The actions taken by this individual are a direct contradiction of both his training and explicit instructions given to him,” Mullins said in a statement.
“The Republican Party of Virginia will not tolerate any action by any person that could threaten the integrity of our electoral process.”
Mullins said Small was fired immediately after the allegations surfaced.
Tracy Evans, chairman of the Harrisonburg Republican Party, said he was “shocked and saddened” that voter forms would be tossed out in the area.
Evans said the blame for the incident falls on Pinpoint and Small, not the state or local GOP.
“I’ve never met the guy. Certainly, I didn’t have authority over him or control of him. … It’s a failure on the part of the this individual to follow the rules and procedures he was supposed to follow, and it’s a failure on the company that RPV hired to do all the things they’re supposed to do,” he said.I mean, Republicans would never be involved in voter suppression, right?
Colin Small, 31, Phoenixville, Pa was a Voter Registration Supervisor employed by Pinpoint, an independent private organization contracted by the Republican Party of Virginia, for purposes of general voter registration.Huh. Shenanigans by the minions of the GOP... Hard to believe, eh?
Look. We should be very clear about something. This is not a case where both parties are equally responsible. It's just a fact, acknowledged by every even vaguely objective observer of American politics that the Republican party has begun using using unusually nasty tactics. The Democrats are far from blameless, but it is the Republican party that is moving American politics farther and farther in a bad direction. They began engaging in the politics of personal destruction when Bill Clinton was President. They falsely accused Bill Clinton of everything imaginable, including murder. They continued to blame Clinton for every failure of the Bush administration for eight years. Then they launched a vicious campaign of personal destruction against President Obama. The very night of his inauguration, Republicans including Newt Gingrich met to plan how to destroy him politically. The Republicans in the House have refused to compromise on almost everything, and Republicans in the Senate threaten to filibuster almost everything that cannot get 60 votes. They relentlessly prosecute a campaign of obstruction...and then blame the President for not making Washington more bipartisan. The whole time they spin out a non-stop stream of false, despicable charges against the President. That he was born in Kenya and is not an American citizen. That he is a socialist. That he is not a "real American," that he does not love his country, and so on and so on. He's the President who got Osama bin Laden--something the last Republican President couldn't do, and something that the current Republican candidate didn't even think was important--yet they spin out laughable fantasies about him being soft on terrorism. This is a very dangerous time for the Republican part and for America. The GOP has allowed itself to wallow in and relish its anger. It has constructed for itself a fictional Obama that bears no resemblance to the actual President. It has then gone out and convinced average Republicans that the fictional Obama is real, and that he is dangerous, and must be hated and stopped. The incredible vitriol in American politics is one of the biggest problems our country faces. It undermines our ability to make rational policy and electoral decisions. We all need to work to change it. But the hard fact of the matter is that Republicans are far more responsible for the problem than are Democrats. There is only so much we can do to change this. Change, on this one critical issue, can only come, in the main, from Republicans, who must return to their traditional roots, learn to face the facts even when they don't like them, learn to control their anger, and learn to admit that it is possible to disagree with them about policy without being evil or hating America.Well, there's a fantasy speech, I guess.
The Meta-Analysis, a snapshot of today’s conditions, has taken a remarkably sharp and large downtick for President Obama. This comes with a massive polling release from three Republican-leaning pollsters: Rasmussen, Gravis, and We Ask America. Just think – what are the odds that they would all come out of the gate so fast and all at once? It’s almost like they planned it.We don't want to go all fever-swamp/Bullshit-Mountainy, tho...
...somehow sufficient man-musk from an American president can dissuade any potential terrorist from laying his finger on an American diplomat.These conservative tough-talkers are never, of course, tough themselves. Romney's physical altercations seem to be limited to one instance of three-on-one gay bashing. More importantly, they seem to fail to realize that, though weakness is an invitation to attack, an overly-aggressive posture makes you at least one of the crazy guys, and often one of the bad guys. The ideal is to speak softly and carry a big stick--and that has been the Democratic approach in my lifetime. Tone deaf on this issue, as on so many others, conservatives think that soft-speaking + big-stick-carrying = weakness/wimpiness, and favor a laughable/crazy, overly-aggressive, strutting, preening macho national demeanor, suited only to bullies and not to reasonable men nor nations. "Weakness is provocative," they like to say, and that's almost true (though "provocative" is not exactly the right word). But macho bullshit is extremely provocative. I've never, ever in my life found myself taunting or provoking a weak-seeming guy into a confrontation, but I have found myself doing so to macho assholes--and I'm not alone in that. Romney and company want America to be the guy who deserves an ass-kicking, rather than that calm, rational guy who doesn't want any trouble but can handle it if it shows up. That latter guy is analogous to the nation Democrats want us to be. No one anywhere of any significance in American politics wants us to be cowering wimps. Only conservative's insanely distorted view of the world makes speaking softly and carrying a big stick look like cowardice, just as the reasonable and judicious man looks like a coward only to the macho asshole. (You'd think, with their John Wayne fixation, conservatives would be able to get this bit right...)