Bill Maher and False Equivalence

Goldie TaylorLast week Bill Maher pitched in to help out with the false equivalency nonsense coming from the mainstream media and the right.

Ever since the last debate, the Romney campaign has been pretending that it is winning in order to convince the chattering class. The Obama campaign is too. The problem is that a lot of idiots in the mainstream media are believing the Romney campaign. Jonathan Chait called this early on, Romney Says He’s Winning—It’s a Bluff.

The column includes a quotation from one of Romney’s closest aides, “We’re going to win… Seriously, 305 electoral votes.” This is a very interesting claim, because it is almost impossible. According to Nate Silver, there is perhaps a 5% chance that Romney would get that many or more electoral votes.

Last week on Real Time with Bill Maher, Goldie Taylor was the only liberal on the panel. She predicted that Obama would win with 330 electoral votes. The conservatives laughed at her—that’s no surprise. But Maher too dismissed her claim, even going so far as to say it was an indication of the “liberal media bubble.” But Maher is completely wrong.

While it is almost impossible for Romney to get as many as 300 electoral votes, the situation is much better for Obama. The three most likely electoral vote counts for Obama are 335, 305, and 345 with 13.5%, 9.0%, and 7.5% likelihoods. So Taylor is very likely wrong that Obama will get that many votes, but she isn’t crazy, stupid, or ignorant. She is making a good guess. There is a greater than 21% chance that Obama will get 330 or more votes.

I expect false equivalence from the mainstream media. I expect it from conservatives. But Bill Maher is supposed to be the thoughtful guy who gets past all the bullshit. And he often is that guy. But last week, he was just helping to smear the bullshit around.

Update (24 October 2012 11:41 pm)

Since this article is getting a little traction, I want to be clear on the numbers: they are all rough. I did my best to read Nate Silver’s graph. The vote totals could be up to 3 votes off either way. So when I reported 335, it could have been anything from 332 to 338. The percentages are good to the nearest half a percentage point. None of these errors take anything away from the argument I’m making. Goldie Taylor was making a very reasonable vote total prediction. Note that she didn’t say anything about the popular vote. That will likely be close. But that doesn’t matter—as we learned in the most painful way in 2000.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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