Daily Archives: 03 Nov 2014

The People Don’t Care About Gridlock

Jonathan ChaitJonathan Chait wrote a really good article today, This Terrible Joke Explains the Midterm Elections. The terrible joke is the one about the drunk looking under a streetlight where he did not drop his keys because, “The light is better here!” He says that everyone is fretting about the Senate because it is contested. No one is fretting over the House, because it is not contested. Of course, it is the House that is responsible for the gridlock in Washington. It’s a good point.

It goes deeper. People are forever claiming that they don’t like the fact that people in Washington don’t get anything done. But they don’t vote in a way that would get things done. This is where the extremists on both sides have it right. If you have a Republican controlled White House and Congress, things will get done. Now, I think those will be awful things. I’m much happier with Obama as president getting little done than I would be with Romney passing huge tax cuts for billionaires. But the people who are always fretting about gridlock don’t say they want specific policies; they just want “work” to get done.

Note that these people were none too happy when the Democrats were getting stuff done. They only think that work is right and proper if the two sides come together. And guess what? That doesn’t happen anymore! The two parties are far apart ideologically. But the anti-gridlock gang is just as ideological as I am or as Ted Cruz is. It is just that their ideology is in the center. (Sadly, their ideology is usually pretty much what Democratic presidents offer, but they can’t admit that because a big part of their ideology is that they are the reasonable center.)

I still don’t understand this idea that centrists are not ideological. In practice, they usually have extreme positions that are all over the place. And by far the most common form of centrism is social liberalism and economic conservatism. Think: William Saletan. What is a hoot is that such people are certain that “the people” agree with them. But it is just the opposite. The actual people side with the Republicans on most social issues and with the Democrats on most economic issues. They don’t side with the centrists on much of anything at all!

It ought to go without saying that everyone wants Washington to accomplish stuff — but only if they agree on the policies. But I’m sure that the commentators can cite polls that claim that people want politicians to get along. That’s great! It’s meaningless, but great. All else being equal, it is better for people to get along than not get along. But all else is never equal. Saying that people want Washington to work better is like saying that parents should properly care for their children: a statement so uncontroversial that it meaningless.

So we are left with a House of Representatives, populated by at least a hundred loons — people who have no interest in governing. And they are there for two reasons. One is that the United States is set up to be anti-democratic. We could conceivably do something about that. But the other reason has no easy solution. About 20% of the people everywhere are crazy. And now we have a 24-hour cable news channel and countless radio stations and the internet to stir up these crazy people. I really don’t know what we do about that.

None of this should be taken as a reason not to vote. I take it for granted that anyone who reads this site will vote. But if you can get someone else to vote that would be great. Regardless, voting is the most basic responsibility of citizenship. And sadly, the crazy right is made up of really good voters. That’s why 20% of the population can bring our republic to a halt. But not if the rest of us consistently vote.

2014 General Election Votes

I Voted TodayI’ve listed most of my votes below. I haven’t listed all of them because I don’t feel confident enough to make public pronouncements about some of them. That includes voting on 12 judges, which I think is madness. It brings back dark memories about Rose Bird, who I worked really hard 28 years ago to keep on the bench. But the people, in their wisdom, removed her because of her stand against the death penalty. As a result, George Deukmejian was able to replace three judges who looked out for the interests of individuals and small businesses and replace them with judges who were corporate hacks. Yes, I believe in democracy; but the people are easily manipulated and as time goes on, it just gets worse.

Governor: Jerry Brown
Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom (unfortunately)
Secretary of State: Alex Padilla
Controller: Betty Yee
Treasurer: John Chiang
Attorney General: Kamala Harris
Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones
Memeber, State Board of Equalization, 2nd District: Fiona Ma
State Senator, 2nd District: Mike McGuire
State Assembly Member, 2nd District: Jim Wood

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson (No question; Marshall Tuck represents everything wrong with education “reform.”)

US Representative 5th District: James Hinton

SRJC Governing Board Member, Analy Area: Jordan Burns
County Supervisor, 4th District: Deb Fudge

Prop 1: yes (I’m not especially keen on the water bond. I think we in California are not taking our water problems seriously enough. I don’t think this is going to be something that we can finesse. Drought is the new normal. What are we going to do about that? But I support the bond because it is part of what we need to do.)

Prop 2: yes

Prop 45: yes (I’m sure this measure will go down. The advertising campaign against it has been intense — more than all other measures combined. The reason I’m voting for it is that the attacks on it are exactly the same as those made against setting up the same thing for auto insurance, and it ended up working brilliantly. The fact that this measure is not likely to succeed whereas the auto one did seems to indicate that our democracy is regressing.)

Prop 46: yes (Let me be clear: I think this drug testing of doctors is madness and it ought to be unconstitutional. I’m totally against that. Just the same, I’m even more against tort limits and this one expands our low limits. So I’m voting for it. I expect this measure to go down, however.)

Prop 47: yes

Prop 48: yes (I’m not keen on casinos, but I see no reason to limit what any tribe does. The arguments against this measure are clearly coming from larger established casinos.)

No go and vote yourself!

Polling Known Unknowns

XXXAs Nate Cohn outlined in The New York Times on Thursday, the latter three error sources are more likely to undercount Democrats than Republicans. For example, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to have a cell-phone from a different area code than where they currently live (like all three of the authors of this article), which in turn results in coverage error since such individuals cannot be included in state-level polls. Cohn notes that among cell-phone only adults, people whose area code does not match where they live lean Democratic by 14 points, whereas those that matched lean Democratic by 8 points. For an example of non-response and survey error, Cohn notes that Hispanics who are uncomfortable taking a poll in English are more likely to vote Democratic than demographically similar Hispanics.

Thus, we expect the actual polling errors to be larger than the stated errors, and moreover, we expect polling results to favor the Republicans. This pattern is strikingly apparent when we plot the observed differences between poll predictions and actual election outcomes for the 2012 Senate races…

How much do these overly optimistic forecasts matter? First, the theoretical 3 percentage point margin of error is already substantial, and puts nearly every competitive race within that range. Second, when you add in the unaccounted for errors, election outcomes in contested races are simply far less certain; and coverage and non-response errors will likely only get worse each cycle. Third, while aggregating a bunch of polls for each election reduces the variance, it does not eliminate the bias, so these overconfident predictions pose a problem for aggregate forecasts as well. In short, those fancy models that show probability of victory are only as good as their ingredients, and if the polls are wrong, the poll aggregations will be wrong as well.

—David Rothschild, Sharad Goel, and Houshmand Shirani-Mehr
Hidden Errors and Overconfident Pollsters

Hope in One Hand: Senate 2014

Election DayI guess I’m supposed to talk about the election tomorrow. But I don’t want to. It looks bleak. FiveThirtyEight currently gives the Republicans a 74% chance of taking the Senate. And even worse, the chance of the Republicans getting 53 seats is only slightly less than them getting 52. Meanwhile, in my home state of California, the Democrats stand a good chance of losing their super-majority. This is important because the state budget is almost unmanageable without a super-majority. Now, I’ll admit: Jerry Brown was an excellent governor even without the super-majority. But it has been smooth sailing with it, and Brown hasn’t shown much interest in the question.

For years now, I’ve been arguing that turnout is everything. What I’ve seen is that there simply aren’t many “swing” voters. What determines elections is turnout. All the campaigns with the drum beat to “move to the center” do is create candidates that are more to the liking of the power elite. I’m not suggesting that the Democrats could run anyone at all. But moving the Democratic Party ever to the right does not help. In fact, I question if it hasn’t hurt the party. For the handful of “swing” voters it attracts, it repels a large number of regular voters who are not wrong to think that there isn’t much difference between the parties when it comes to the primary issue for most people: the economy.

Democratic Long Shots

Daily Kos provides a nice roundup of the polling data. So let’s go through the races and look at what we have. In Alaska, Begich is losing by 3 percentage points. Given the difficulty of polling, this one isn’t a lost cause. It’s still a long-shot, but it could fall the Democrats’ way. Similarly, Udall is down by 2.6 percentage points in Colorado. Since I’m a pessimist, I think we will lose these races. But there is hope.

Arkansas is a lost cause. Pryor is behind by 8.8 percentage points. You really have to believe in fairies to hope for this one. But maybe fairies really do exist. Similarly, although Grimes is down by less than Pryor at 7.6 percentage points, she is definitely in fairy territory. Landrieu is down 5.0 percentage points in Louisiana. Maybe that’s not fairy territory. Let’s call it orc territory, because there are many Republicans who I wouldn’t be surprised to learn are orcs. But I’m pretty sure orcs don’t really exist and I’m pretty sure that Landrieu is going down.

Close Races in Republicans’ Favor

The Republicans need six seats to take control of the Senate, and if these races go the way I expect, the Republicans gain four. That means that they only need to win two of the close races. So let’s look at them.

In Georgia, Nunn is currently trailing by 0.9 percentage points. In addition, she needs 1.7 percentage points to avoid a runoff that she would likely lose. I tend to think that Nunn will lose this race but it will go to a runoff. And then in the runoff, she will be destroyed. It is possible that she could win this race. But I am not expecting it; that means the Republicans only need one seat.

And they will likely get that seat in Iowa where Braley is down by 1.6 percentage points. It’s weird though. For some reason that I can’t put my finger on, I have a lot of hope for this race. But I wouldn’t put any stock in it. It is probably just that Ernst is such a nut that I find it hard to believe that the reasonable people of Iowa would vote for her. But vote for her they probably will, and that gives the Republicans control of the Senate.

In Kansas, the independent Greg Orman has a razor thin margin. I think he probably will manage a victory. What I don’t understand is why most Democrats think he will caucus with us. I think he’s been pretty clear that he will caucus with whomever has the majority. I admit, if he were the deciding vote, he would almost certainly caucus with the Democrats. I don’t think that’s going to be up to him. But it doesn’t matter because the Republicans already have this seat.

Close Races in Democrats’ Favor

There are two close races that ought to go the Democrats’ direction. Shaheen in New Hampshire is 3.0 percentage points above hunka hunka burning love Scott Brown. I wouldn’t bet the cash that is currently in my wallet on a Shaheen victory. But it looks pretty good. Similarly, Hagan is up by 1.5 percentage points in North Carolina. But notice, if either of those races go to the Republicans, it will bode extremely poorly for the chances of other Democrats in worse races.

Bottom Line

If we add to these races the certain pickups in South Dakota[1], West Virginia, and Montana, I see the Republicans having a 53-47 majority starting next year. It is certainly possible for the Democrats to hold the Senate, of course. If Nunn and Braley manage to win, control will be up to Orman and I think we will see a 50-50 Senate with Democratic control. Most of the models give that a 20% chance of happening. I think that’s about right. Tomorrow is going to be a long night. I think I need to stock up on alcohol.


[1] Let me say a word about South Dakota. There was once some excitement that Weiland might be able to win that race because there is a strong third candidate. I always thought this was a pipe dream, and currently Weiland is down by 13.5 percentage points. But regardless, I would have hated to see Weiland win in this way. We are Democrats: we believe in democracy. Let the LePages try to subvert the democratic process. And for the record, shame on Eliot Cutler for being the spoiler in this race. His run in 2010 was fine, but when it became clear that all he was accomplishing this time was to make Paul LePage governor, he should have dropped out.

Dylan Moran

Dylan MoranThe great Irish comedian Dylan Moran is 43 today. There is just something very amusing about his take on the world. I probably like him because even when he was young, his outlook on the world was that of a crotchety 80 year old. He also combines surreal elements. So he is both bluntly honest and fanciful.

In addition to this, he always seems at least a little pissed. This is made all the more real by the fact that he always drinks while on stage. But it is also true that his whole style is that of an inebriated friend who has happened upon a very good rant. Here he is drinking, smoking, and ranting about Germany:

But what I like most about Moran is his television show Black Books. He basically does his stand-up character, but he is a far worse human being. It’s funny as hell. And he has Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig with him. Here is the fourth episode of it:

Happy birthday Dylan Moran!