Sunday, 19 September 2004

Partisanship moves

The left half of the blogosphere is in a tizzy over suggestions that Gallup is “oversampling” Republicans—allegedly deliberately, apparently since these folks think Frank Gallup thinks it’s a smart idea to destroy his business to help a particular party win the election.

The “oversampling” could have two, rather more innocent, explanations:

  1. By random chance, Gallup may have gotten a sample that is more Republican than usual; the 95% margin of error for the poll given the sample size of 767 (for “likely voters”) is around ±3.5%—for “registered voters,” it’s around ±3.1%.
  2. Partisanship may have “moved” as a result of the campaign. While early empirical studies such as The American Voter posited that partisanship was causally prior to vote choice, more recent research suggests that citizens’ partisanship changes over the course of a political campaign—people who are inclined to vote for Bush tend to become more Republican, while people who are inclined to vote for Kerry tend to become more Democratic. Thus the incidence of partisanship in the electorate may have actually moved in a Republican direction.

I’d also suggest that the incidence of “independent” voters appears to be relatively inflated, and probably includes a large number of voters with fairly strong partisan leanings; it is socially desirable to self-identify as an “independent,” and thus the polls (not just Gallup—all of them) tend to show more independent voters than truly exist, as “true” independents make up less than 10% of the contemporary elected. The NES-style “branching” partisanship measure appears to conform more reliably to the actual incidence of partisanship and partisan behavior in the electorate.

Looking back at a month of gainful employment

Tuesday will mark my “one-month anniversary” as a professor, which—I suppose—is not much of a milestone, but it will do. Overall, I think things are going well and I’m starting to settle in, and everyone has been quite supportive thus far. There are a couple of outstanding concerns, however:

  • Is my teaching good enough? The “being thrown to the wolves” approach to teacher training that I experienced may have its virtues, but it wasn’t much preparation for the different sort of instruction that’s expected at a liberal arts college (the group dynamics of 15 relatively bright students aren’t close to those of 100 with wide variance), so I feel like I’m basically “muddling through” with a combination of lecturing and my vague recollection of graduate seminars.
  • Should I put some more focus on my research? The oblique advice I’ve gotten from my committee is that most potential employers want publications, even from newly-minted Ph.D.s; on the other hand, it appears that the administration here would rather I focus on teaching and departmental service, and I’d rather stay here than go elsewhere, ceteris paribus (of course, part of that isn’t really up to me). I suppose the correct answer here is “both.”

Anyway, we’ll see how things are going again next month.

Croom loss buried?

The interesting thing about Mississippi State’s Saturday loss to division I-AA Maine isn’t that it happened—it’s that I had to learn about it from the Clarion-Ledger. Surely ESPN, only two weeks out from its hagiographic profile of “history-making” Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom, just was too busy during “College Gameday Final” to mention the upset and the Bulldogs’ fall below .500; after all, there were critical highlights to be shown from Florida Atlantic’s win over Middle Tennessee State.

Two down, six to go

Here’s a shocker: Britney Spears got hitched again. Good thing she’s started early, as it’s now virtually certain she can now eclipse Liz Taylor’s serial matrimony record—by the age of 30.

History prof, Gainesville (Fla.) GOP official scuffle

Ah, nothing like politics in the Sunshine StateTim Blair):

Politics in Gainesville turned rough and tumble Thursday night when, police say, a social behavior [sic] sciences instructor – a Democrat – punched the chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee in the face. ...

[David] McCally is a part-time instructor in social and behavioral sciences at Santa Fe Community College who started in January, confirmed college spokesman Larry Keen. He will be “removed” from the classroom pending an administrative review on Monday, he said. [minor antecedent reference problem: is Keen being removed?]

A cursory Google search suggests that Dr. McCally, 55, is a history professor who’s lived the peripatetic life of a Ph.D. (see “Adjunct, Invisible”) at a variety of institutions in Florida, and is apparently the author of The Everglades: An Environmental History, which appears to have been received with some acclaim. Interestingly, he is not listed as a faculty member at SFCC, but is listed as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Florida and as having a Ph.D. from that institution.

Voting technology in 2004

Sunday’s New York Times has an interesting and balanced look at electronic voting in the November 2004 election, including a really cool zoomable map that shows what voting system is used in each county in the Lower 48. Particularly noteworthy is this passage on paper trails:

While it is too late in the game to make it possible to produce a paper record for each vote on every machine already deployed, Mr. Miller said that vendors would be willing to include that feature in the future if the market demanded it. Most of the major vendors have models that can supply a printed record, but in most cases, Mr. Miller said, election officials have not required it.

Paper receipts are not automatically required because no such universal guideline has ever existed. Mechanical lever machines, for instance, which have been in widespread use since the 1930’s – and will still be used by millions of voters this year – have never produced a paper record of each vote. And states have traditionally established their own definitions of what constitutes a ballot. [emphasis added]

Hinds County (home of Jackson) is apparently using WINvote touchscreens this fall. All I can say is that I do hope they’re using something a bit more secure than 64-bit WEP.

Free font tip

For those of you without Arial MS Unicode, the biohazard character (☣) is available under Linux using the “FreeSerif” font in the “freefont” package; in Debian, it’s called ttf-freefont. Mysteriously, the archives at Savannah for this font have disappeared, so the only way to get it may be by downloading the Debian binary or source packages.