Bored With Polls

Nate SilverThis is just getting boring. Like all good liberals, I check Nate Silver’s blog several times a day. (It’s a Good Liberal Club rule!) But now it is just getting predictable. Let’s think about this for a moment.

It must suck being Mitt Romney. Here you are working your campaign strategy of never answering questions. And: bam! This hurricane comes along and makes President Obama look heroic and now your surrogate Chris Christie seems to have a man crush on the President. Damn! And you know Romney was on non-message:

The 9 Ohio polls of the last 4 days all show Obama winning the state—except for the Rasmussen poll, which is kind of like your mother picking you for her basketball team.

But frankly, I don’t give a shit about Romney. He has already had far, far more happiness than he deserves in life. So any pain he gets is good for the universe. The problem is that I’m a little deficient in the happiness race. I’d like to get a little back from the universe. But I’m sure not getting there via the Good Liberal Club and Nate Silver. It’s become de rigueur.

The fabulous Nate Silver [Yawn!] has increased President Obama’s chances of winning re-election to 78.4% with a predicted electoral college total of 299.7. But that’s not all. The most likely electoral college total is 332 votes—there is more than a 17% chance of this being the number of electoral votes he gets. You know what they call that? A landslide. [Yawn!]

There’s never a good first presidential debate when you need it!

Update (1 November 2012 9:48 am)

Our good friend Will wrote to Garrett Haake with the subject, “saw you mentioned on FranklyCurious blog site.” (Thanks Will!)

Is it true that Romney is not taking any reporters questions?

What are members of the Press Corp saying about this to each other and their employers?

Haake, who uses a BlackBerry, wrote back:

It’s true. Not since Oct. 10. It’s frustrating and we complain about it regularly.

Econ4 Explains the Economy

For some reason, people think I know about economics. I kind of do. Mostly, it is just that I read really smart people like Dean Baker. The group Econ4 (4 people, 4 the planet, 4 the future) is attacking the problem of our national crisis in economic thinking. Here is their video. It pretty much is completely in line with the way the economy really does work. It’s 12 minutes long. It’s well worth that time.

Afterword

The video strikes a blow against all the bad guys, but it also attacks President Obama. Everyone knows that the President is not perfect. This is a good example of important places where the President has been dead wrong. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. If we force him, he will do that right thing.

Sandy to Rescue Our Economy—a Little

Tom LeeThe economy is crazy. The stock market is even more so.

Tom Lee of JP Morgan told CNBC that Hurricanes are normally good for the stock market. How can that be? After all, hurricanes cause some much damage; wouldn’t that mean that the economy has less value? In a fundamental sense, no. True, capital is destroyed. But in a depressed economy like ours, there is a lot of money that is sitting around idle. A big natural disaster makes use of that money. People have to rebuild. They spend cash reserves (their own or by borrowing). And this causes business activity. It stimulates the economy. And you know what that means: jobs! Not that the Wall Street types give a rat’s ass about that.

Lee said:

[I]f we look at markets in 2005, there was an initial sell-off, but markets really started gaining traction as people started to see past the short-term effects and started to see the lift coming from spending.

This is at its base a Keynesian idea. And everyone understands this stuff. It frustrates me greatly. When conservatives are in power, they are huge Keynesians; but when they aren’t in power, they claim it is some kind of communist plot.

Of course, hurricanes are bad. People die. Property is lost. Keynesian spending should be performed by the government on good stuff like education and roads and new technologies. But now that we’ve had Sandy, it is nice that some good will come of it.

Undecideds Unlikely to Affect Presidential Race

Undecided VoterDan Hopkins at The Monkey Cage takes the idea of polling bias for independents more seriously than I do: Polling Biases and Their Potential Impacts. This is in reference to Jay Cost’s claim that the independents are going to break hard for Romney.

Frankly, I don’t see the problem. Over half of all independents are just Democrats (24%) or Republicans (32%). And my experience is that Republicans who call themselves “independent” normally do so because they are more conservative than their party. At this point, all of these people know how they are going to vote. “Independent” does not mean “undecided.”

Let’s do a little calculation, shall we? Let’s look at Ohio where Obama is leading in the poll average by 48.5% to Romney’s 45.8%. I’m going to assume that the makeup of the undecideds is the same as the make up of the independents. This is the best case scenario for Romney. That leaves 5.7% of the electorate undecided. Let’s assume that the Democrats will vote for Obama and the Republicans will vote for Romney. That will add 1.4 and 1.8 percentage points to the two candidates. This makes the race 49.9% (Obama) to 47.6% (Romney).

Let’s further assume that the remaining (true independents) will break as the partisans did: 51.2% for Obama and 48.8% for Romney. This gives an additional 1.3 and 1.2 percentage points. Thus, Obama should win Ohio 51.2% to 48.8%. (Note: the numbers are almost identical to the numbers before we added the true independents because they split so evenly.) This gives Romney an extra 0.3 percentage points over the total he gets from the poll average.

In order to win 50.0% of Ohio, Romney would have to win 74% of the undecideds. That isn’t reasonable given what we know about the electorate.

I did this calculation to show that Romney is not secretly winning in the polls. The kinds of tricks proposed by Jay Cost and his colleagues could also be used to make Obama look better. We could claim that the polls are under-representing who will actually vote. In the end, the polls only give us a decent idea of who will actually vote and how they will vote. At this point, I’m going to believe the polls. The Weekly Standard folk can use the next week to complain. And then we’ll see who was right.

Des Moines Register Spreads Consumer Confidence Lie

Consumer ConfidenceOn Saturday, the Des Moines Register endorsed Mitt Romney for president. It is kind of a big deal, because Iowa is a swing state. But this is not why the endorsement is getting a lot of news. Mostly, people are focusing on the weakness of the case the paper has made for Romney. Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast called the endorsement “little more than a practical joke.” And he went on to say that it had all the hallmarks of a dictate from the top, “Our idiot publisher forced this tripe down our throats, and we’re counting on you the more knowledgeable readers to understand this.”

But one part of the endorsement really caught my eye. They went beyond full-tilt Confidence Fairy:

Consumers must feel more confident about their own economic futures to begin spending on the products and services that power the economy. A renewed sense of confidence will spark renewed investment by American companies. Industry will return to full production and hiring will begin again.

I’ve written many times before about this pernicious Job Creator myth. For the hundredth time this months: businesses hire because they cannot handle their work load with their existing personnel; they do not hire out of the goodness of their hearts or because they feel “confident.” (Ever hear of “temporary workers” and lay-offs?)

But there is another myth that is much more important in the Des Moines Register endorsement: consumer spending. This is something that Dean Baker hammers on over and over and over. Yet no one seems willing to believe it. Americans are spending at the same rate they were spending before the dot-com and real estate bubbles. Here are the data via the Bureau of Economic Analysis via Beat the Press:

<%image(20121031-consumerspending.png|450|279|Consumption as a Share of Disposable Income)%>

This chart is actually a little frightening. If anything, Americans are not saving enough. But it is certainly ridiculous to suggest that the problem with our economy is that Americans are spending too little.

These kinds of myths are hard to kill because of the way they hide in plain sight. Anyone reading the Register endorsement is likely to just accept the claim that consumer confidence is low; it is stated as a fact inside a larger argument; no one (Not even the writers!) even notice it. This is how we get to the point where “everybody knows” stuff that just isn’t true. Luckily, this doesn’t happen in foreign affairs, otherwise we might go to war for no good reason. Wait…

Update (31 October 2012 6:51 am)

Dean Baker picks up on the endorsement this morning, Des Moines Register Endorsement of Romney Flunks the Which Way is Up Test on Economics. He goes into much more depth about it than I do. Check it out.

Nightly Crush: Erin Kissane

Erin KissaneYou know I will always tell you the truth. And the truth right now is that I am following Erin Kissane on Twitter only because I think she is really cute. Part of it is the hair color. Of course. No question there. But I’ve seen pictures of her with different hair colors and she is equally adorable.

Of course it isn’t just her looks. She an editor at Contents Magazine—a magazine so cool I can’t even figure out what it is about. She’s also editor at OpenNews Source—something so radical I don’t even know enough about it to call it something other than “something.” And she is the author of The Elements of Content Strategy—a book I should probably read as soon as I figure out that I need a content style.

Good night Kissane, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Star Wars Forever

Star WarsI am not a Star Wars fan. I saw it when I was 13 years old. And I thought it was all right. I liked the effeminate robot C2P0. But I didn’t understand why Alec Guinness offed himself early on in the film. (Since then, I figured it out; it was embarrassment.) But like I said: it was okay. I was never tempted to see any of the sequels and I have no interest now.

I tell you all this because I want you to know that I have not been paying attention. Yet, there is one thing I remember from that time: the announcement by George Lucus that Star Wars was but the first film in a trilogy and that this trilogy would be the second of three sets of trilogies. At the time, I thought, “Yeah, right!” I suppose that’s why I remembered it. After the second film came out, I thought that maybe he was serious about it.

This is why when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out, I was not surprised. And I thought it was very strange that people were making such a big deal out of the idea of a “prequel.” (By the way, the word “prequel” dates back to at least 1972.) Lucas didn’t just invent the idea because he had completed the original trilogy. “This was always his plan,” I would tell to my friends who ignored me because I was always ragging on the series anyway.

But then I was surprised! George Lucas announced that he would make no more Star Wars films. What?! But he promised! Sure, I wouldn’t have gone to see them. But I liked the idea that they would come out and everyone would complain that they weren’t as good as the earlier ones. How could Lucas go back on his promise 35 years ago?!

It turns out it was all a ruse. George Lucas is retiring. He isn’t going to make any more Star Wars films. Instead, he is selling his company to Disney and they are going to make the films. Of course, Lucas isn’t totally off the hook. Most likely this means that there will end up being more than a trilogy of trilogies. But on that score, I never really believed Lucas. For the record, I don’t believe J. K. Rowling either. But her I have a crush on. (As long as I don’t have to read her books.)

David Brooks and the Republican Deficit Hawk Myth

David BrooksI don’t normally write about David Brooks. He just makes me too angry. He is Paul Ryan in a Bill Clinton mask. In today’s column, The Upside of Opportunism, he compares an Obama second term to a Romney first term. Spoiler: Romney’s term rocks and Obama’s sucks!

What Brooks proposes is Romney’s main way to election: convince the masses that he really is a moderate and that once he becomes president, he will govern that way. Remember George W. Bush and compassionate conservatism? Remember what a moderate he was going to be? How did that work out? Oh, I remember! Tax cuts for the wealthy. A totally unjust and unfunded war. A huge giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry. You know: compassion!

But this is not what Brooks is worried about. He’s worried about our debt. “The mounting debt is ruinous.” Oh, really? This bit of ridiculousness is thoroughly debunked by Dean Baker today, David Brooks Is Upset that the Interest Burden of the Debt Is Near a Post-War Low.

But let’s suppose for a moment that the debt is a problem we want to deal with. Should we elect Romney to take care of it? The answer is: yes, but only if we are complete idiots who have the memory of a gnat. The only substantial reduction in the federal deficit over the last 30 years was under democratic presidents: Clinton and—Wait for it!—Obama. I know that Fox News and others push this idea that Obama has exploded the deficit, but he has actually brought it down substantially. When he took office, it was $1.7 trillion and it is now $1.1 trillion; that is a 35% reduction in the deficit. Don’t believe me? This is from the conservative website usgovernmentdebt.us:

Federal Deficit

This graph is a little deceptive. They do not stop their graph where the data ends, so it makes it look like that last peak was due to Obama. In fact, that peak is the beginning of 2009—Bush’s budget.

What I want everyone to understand about this is that Republicans always claim that they will reduce the deficit and they never do. (Well, Bush Sr did reduce the deficit a bit, but you will remember that he is reviled by conservatives for doing the unthinkable: he raised taxes.)

But there are more reasons to believe that Romney will increase the deficit. Step one of his budget balance plan is to cut taxes by $5 trillion dollars. This is not what you do when you want to balance a budget. And anyone who thinks that Romney will choose a balanced budget over tax cuts is a fool.

So David Brooks is trumping up a non-problem (at least in the short term while our economy is depressed). And then, he is calling for the worst candidate possible to solve that problem. I don’t know how it is David Brooks got his jobs at the New York Times. It must be more affirmative action for conservatives.

Update (30 October 2012 12:33 pm)

Ezra Klein sees David Brooks’ column in the context of all the Romney endorsements: vote for Romney because the Republican House will work with him. But Klein calls this out for the nonsense it is:

While it’s true that President Romney could expect more cooperation from congressional Republicans, in the long term, a vote against Obama on these grounds is a vote for more of this kind of gridlock. Politicians do what wins them elections. If this strategy wins Republicans the election, they’ll employ it next time they face a Democratic president, too, and congressional Democrats will use it against the next Republicans. Rewarding the minority for doing everything in their power to make the majority fail sets up disastrous incentives for the political system.

There are good reasons to endorse Mitt Romney for president. But if you want the political system to work more smoothly, endorsing McConnell and Boehner’s strategy over the last four years is folly.

I’m not sure what those good reasons to endorse Romney are, but you understand his point.

Useless Inside Information

Judith MillerIn the lead up to the Iraq War, I was working at home and listening to a lot of NPR. At that time, I wasn’t really a partisan. This was the period where I was transitioning from libertarian to what I am now. (Anarcho-syndicalist?) But it was a very frustrating time because it was obvious that the Bush administration was pushing us into war for no particular reason. And this came out of my listening to NPR, which was fairly pro-war.

This is part of a broader frustration I have that things that seem obvious to me are quite surprising to our cultural elites. The dot-com bubble? The stock market bubble? These were things that were obvious, even if you weren’t paying much attention. They were, however, unbelievable if you were an insider—a Power Player.

This morning Paul Krugman wrote an article about Jonathan Martin’s stupid comment that liberals would be disheartened to learn that Nate Silver’s model was mostly based upon polls, Scoop Dupes. Only someone who doesn’t follow Nate Silver would think that would surprise anyone. But Krugman makes the argument that the reason there is so much push back against Silver by political journalists is that Silver’s work makes the work of journalists much less important. What separates a journalist from, say, me is that they have contacts; they can get the inside scoop from the campaigns. But more and more, this kind of information is shown to be useless—especially compared to people like Nate Silver or even Real Clear Politics.

But Krugman goes further and said something that made me feel better about my experiences and ought to make bloggers the world over feel better about the work that they do:

[I]t has even been true for national security. Reporters with top-level access got completely snookered by the lies about Iraq, while many ordinary concerned citizens, looking at what we actually seemed to know, figured out early on that the Bush administration was cooking up a false case for war.

Exactly!

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of respect for muckraking. But this kind of work is so rare that when it happens, they make big budget films about it that star Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. And note: you don’t expose corruption in the White House by talking to the president and his chief of staff. One of the reasons that Woodward and Bernstein were able to do so much work was that they were young and not that plugged in. By far their most prominent source was Mark Felt (Deep Throat), and they only had him because they were using (typically) a disgruntled employee.

To some extent, Krugman is only saying exactly what I want to hear. All I have to offer as a writer is the vast amount of information that I consume and my relatively efficient but slightly skewed brain. But I’m not at all convinced this isn’t better than listening to the newest Judith Millers at America’s elite newspapers.

RCP Embarrassing Final Calls for 2000

Real Clear PoliticsListen up my little ones, because I have a story to tell that I was pointed to by Dave Weigel! You certainly know about the website Real Clear Politics, where they put together all of the major polls and provide an average, even though the polls are not all of equal value. But still, that’s not a bad approach to figuring out what’s going on. It is certainly better than getting all excited about one poll or another. But it was not always this way.

Remember back in 2000, Al Gore ran against the President Whose Name Dare Not Be Mentioned. As you probably recall, Gore won the popular vote. And he would have have won the electoral college if the Supreme Court had not voted to stop the recount in Florida. So you would think that the polls from that time would have been close. And you would be right!

But if you thought that the Real Clear Politics final call would be close, you would be very, very wrong. Take Florida for example. There were four polls: Bush +4, Gore +2, Bush +3, Gore +3. That is close with an average of Bush +0.5. The RCP final call: Bush +6! (This was at best a minor win for Bush: less than 0.1 percentage points.) But there’s more: Pennsylvania. There were two polls: Bush +1, Gore +1. The RCP final call: Bush +4! (Gore won by 4.2 percentage points.) But there’s more: California! There were three polls: Gore +9, Gore +4, Gore +6. The RCP final call: Bush +2! (Gore won by 11.7 percentage points.)

What is particularly funny about this is Real Clear Politics seems to have been snookered by Karl Rove and the Bush campaign. At the end of the campaign, Rove sent Bush to California. This was done only to get the media chattering: “Bush has a chance of winning California! He’s another Reagan!” And it not only worked with the regular media, but RCP fell for it as well.

I am genuinely concerned that we liberals are placing too much faith in poor ol’ Nate Silver. He does seem the most reasonable person to listen to. But the truth is that the polls are a mess. Perhaps it is best to take William Goldman’s advice and trust no one. “Nobody knows anything.”