Thursday, 20 January 2005

Poll'd again

Me, November 3rd:

My gut feeling is that the [2004 national exit polls] in part failed because the networks replaced VNS; Edison/Mitofsky was new at this, and a rookie effort is fraught with perils—as I learned myself yesterday. Coupled, perhaps, with a small cognitive bias on the part of the people being paid by Edison/Mitofsky to conduct the poll themselves (one suspects the typical person looking for day-work isn’t a Republican) and you can easily see why they were quite a bit off, notwithstanding the advertised margin of error.

Edison/Mitofsky, Wednesday:

[B]ased upon the Within Precinct Error that was observed in the 2004 general election we plan to make some enhancements to the exit poll interviewer recruiting process.

  • We will use recruiting methods that reduce the number of students and young adults we use as interviewers.
  • In addition to the standardized rehearsal and training dialog, we will add a standardized pre-rehearsal training script for all individual phone training conversations.
  • We will evaluate other training techniques such as a video training guide and interviewer tests and use the Internet more effectively as an interviewer training tool. (64)

There’s a lot more there if you really care about exit polling techniques, but the bottom line is that interviewer problems seem to account for much of the pro-Kerry bias in the Edison/Mitofsky poll. (þ: Wizbang)

Friday, 19 November 2004

More Diebold scaremongering

Kieran at Crooked Timber is the latest to point to a UC-Berkeley study that represents the new Great Kerry-Really-Won Hope for the left; there’s apparent county-level evidence that Florida counties that used electronic voting had a greater increase in Bush support from 2000 than counties that used optical-mark scanning. Rick Hasen has dug up some skeptical responses from voting experts, while Patrick Ruffini notes the bivariate relationship counters the authors’ thesis.

Of course, Diebold and the other e-voting manufacturers could have forestalled all of this silliness from the start by including a paper trail in their equipment.

Update: Andrew Gelman says only two counties are driving the results: the adjacent Southeast Florida counties of Palm Beach and Broward, both of which have relatively large Jewish populations (and thus might have been disproportionately more likely to vote Democratic in 2000 for the Gore-Lieberman ticket than for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards ticket).

Thursday, 18 November 2004

The mind of the undecided voter

Christopher Hayes has an interesting article at The New Republic on undecided voters whom he spoke to in Wisconsin, while campaigning for Kerry during the final seven weeks before the election. His anecdata range from the funny
One man told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he thought that with Cheney, an oilman, on the ticket, the administration would finally be able to make us independent from foreign oil. A colleague spoke to a voter who had been a big Howard Dean fan, but had switched to supporting Bush after Dean lost the nomination. After half an hour in the man's house, she still couldn't make sense of his decision. Then there was the woman who called our office a few weeks before the election to tell us that though she had signed up to volunteer for Kerry she had now decided to back Bush. Why? Because the president supported stem cell research.
to the truly sad
I had one conversation with an undecided, sixtyish, white voter whose wife was voting for Kerry. When I mentioned the "mess in Iraq" he lit up. "We should have gone through Iraq like shit through tinfoil," he said, leaning hard on the railing of his porch. As I tried to make sense of the mental image this evoked, he continued: "I mean we should have dominated the place; that's the only thing these people understand. ... Teaching democracy to Arabs is like teaching the alphabet to rats."
to the insightful
Undecided voters, as everyone knows, have a deep skepticism about the ability of politicians to keep their promises and solve problems. So the staggering incompetence and irresponsibility of the Bush administration and the demonstrably poor state of world affairs seemed to serve not as indictments of Bush in particular, but rather of politicians in general. Kerry, by mere dint of being on the ballot, was somehow tainted by Bush's failures as badly as Bush was.

Monday, 8 November 2004

Fictitious elections

Reason’s Tim Cavanaugh helpfully rounds up all the vote fraud allegations in one place, while Slashdot’s CmdrTaco continues to parody DemocraticUnderground. (Oh, you mean he’s serious? Never mind.)

I’ll just join the bandwagon by complaining that I had to stand in line for 30 minutes in a fire station that was open to the elements at both ends to cast my votes, zero of which turned out to be pivotal. I blame Diebold; they had nothing to do with the electronic voting machines in Hinds County, but I think they’re vicariously to blame somehow anyway.

Sunday, 7 November 2004

Alabama's blue belt

Looking at the red/blue county map, it’s pretty easy to correlate most of the blue counties with major urban population centers.

One thing that has me mystified, though, is the neat blue line bisecting otherwise red Alabama horizontally, seemingly following the path of Highway 80, as far as I can tell, and bleeding over slightly into Mississippi and Georgia on either side. Montgomery, Alabama’s capital and second largest city, is in the middle of the blue strip, but what about the rest of it? What’s the explanation of Alabama’s “blue belt”?

Update: Chris explains in comments that Alabama's "blue belt" is Alabama's black belt.

Post-election irony watch

Matt Welch notes the irony of a wine-sipping, BMW driving, California law professor lecturing liberals on “elitism”.

Prof. Bainbridge responds to Welch with “I know you are, but what am I?”

Racist gets 59,602 votes

Racist and eugenics advocate James Hart garnered 59,602 votes in Tennessee’s 8th Congressional district, 25.8% of the total vote. (Final results for all Tennessee U.S. House elections.)

Of course, I know that only means that nobody pays attention to Congressional races in uncompetitive, gerrymandered districts, and almost everyone who voted for him did so only because he was in the Republican column on the ballot.

Still, it’s pretty sad.

Was there a surge of evangelical voters?

Alex Knapp says there was not:
I think it’s important to point out that there was no surge of evangelical voters for Bush that made the difference in the election. It simply wasn’t there. The gains Bush saw came as a result of terrorism. That’s what the numbers say.
Dorian Warren says there was:
Maybe I'm missing something, but based on my read of the exit polls, the religious right had a significant impact on this election. White evangelicals were 23% of the electorate, an increase of +9 points from 2000! They broke 78% Bush, 21% Kerry. Is a 9 point increase insignificant?
Update: Philip Klinkner thinks the 9 point difference between 2000 and 2004 is due to a difference in wording. Damn, if they're not going to ask the same questions from year to year, how can one expect to track the trends?

Friday, 5 November 2004

Exit polls misjudged?

Contrary to popular wisdom, Andrea Moro says the final exit polls were accurate and has the numbers to prove it. However, that doesn’t quite explain how the networks nearly blew the calls based on the Kerry-leaning numbers they had—and, once you have the final results, it’s easy enough to go back and reweigh the data to match the “true” results; I’d be curious if anyone has hardcopy of the exit poll results, including the weights, dating from before the returns came in.

Wednesday, 3 November 2004


I think the biggest news out of yesterday’s presidential election, at least for scholars of voting behavior, was the third consecutive meltdown by the national opinion polling service (previously Voter News Service, now Edison/Mitofsky).

What went wrong? Megan McArdle ponders, while the Mystery Pollster explains the process. My gut feeling is that the system in part failed because the networks replaced VNS; Edison/Mitofsky was new at this, and a rookie effort is fraught with perils—as I learned myself yesterday. Coupled, perhaps, with a small cognitive bias on the part of the people being paid by Edison/Mitofsky to conduct the poll themselves (one suspects the typical person looking for day-work isn’t a Republican) and you can easily see why they were quite a bit off, notwithstanding the advertised margin of error.

Monday, 1 November 2004

Promises, promises

I previously promised a pair of non-endorsements; however, no doubt to the relief of OF Jay, even though I have a partially-drafted post that I’ve been kicking around for a week, I really don’t think there’s much point in posting it.

However, I will leave you with the general flavor of the piece, which basically was just a long-winded version of this statement by Alex Knapp: “in all perfect honesty, I wouldn’t trust George Bush or John Kerry to run a f**king McDonald’s, much less the executive branch… of the United States government.”

Saturday, 30 October 2004

Racist runs radio ads

On WEGR Rock 103 this morning, I heard an ad that began with a slight variation on the standard disclaimer: “I’m James Hart, and I approve this message for white workers.” The speaker then launched into an anti-NAFTA protectionist screed.

James Hart is a racist, a eugenics advocate, and also the Republican candidate for Congress in Tennessee's 8th district, which includes parts of Shelby County and the city of Memphis.

I first blogged about him back in August, when he was the only Republican candidate in the primary. Tennessee Republican leaders didn’t field a candidate, since the 8th is considered a safe district for Democrat John Tanner.

I bet they wish they had.

(I assume that WEGR could not legally refuse to run this disgusting ad, and so bears no blame for this.)

Friday, 29 October 2004


Steve Landburg, guest blogging at Marginal Revolution, writes:

Amid all the scaremongering about a nailbitingly close election with a disputed outcome, it is worth observing that if you really believe in democracy, and if the election is close, then it doesn't much matter who wins. The theory of democracy (stripped down to bare essentials, and omitting all sorts of caveats that I could list but won't) is that the guy who gets more votes is the better guy. Surely, then, it follows that the guy who gets only slightly more votes is only the slightly better guy. And if one guy's only slightly better than the other, then a miscount is no great tragedy.


There are two things that make democracy the best form of government. First, democracy is a system under which ambitious men and women can compete for power without spilling blood. To depose a king, you must kill him; to depose a president in a America, you only need to get enough people in enough states to vote for his opponent. The aftermath of the 2000 presidential election was pretty ugly, and the aftermath of the upcoming election may be as well; but no one was killed over the 2000 election, and it’s fairly safe to say that no one will be killed over this one.

The second great thing about democracy, as Matthew Yglesias has pointed out, democracy has salutory effects on the behavior of office holders who will be seeking reelection in the future:

Democracy, they say, is the worst form of government except for all the others. But why would that be? Not, certainly, because of the superior wisdom of the voting public who, if you read any of the public opinion literature you'll swiftly see, have almost no grasp of substantive policy issues and only a very vague familiarity with what the different candidates stand for. And yet, it seems to work pretty well. This is, I think, primarily because the voters have a habit of kicking incumbents out of office when thinks don't seem to be going well, and reelecting them when things are going well.

This is often not a very sound analytic approach. Candidates get blamed for economic problems that are not really their fault (see, e.g., Jimmy Carter in 1980) or get praise beyond what they deserve for improvements in living conditions (see, e.g., Rudy Giuliani in 1997). Nevertheless, this crude approach has certain merits. In particular, it encourages officeholders to try and make things better. If an incumbent mayor knows that whether the crime rate rises or falls will seriously impact his electoral fortunes, he has reason to try and make the crime rate fall. If an incumbent president knows that a solid macroeconomic situation will benefit him on Election Day, he'll spend at least some time trying to make it come about.

Knowing what we do about the American electorate, it would seem highly dubious that the elections are in any way a reliable selection mechanism for selecting the best candidate, by whatever objective standards you might appeal to, and even more dubious that a close election would indicate that the two candidates are equally good. If an election happens to select the best candidate, it’s mostly by chance.

And one certainly doesn't have to hold to Landsburg's naive "theory of democracy" in order to "really believe in democracy."

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman makes a similar point:

Just remember: Watching democracy in action is pretty depressing if you think of democracy as a noble project of collective self-government. But it doesn't look nearly so bad if you think of elections as an alternative to civil war.

Monday, 25 October 2004


Greg Ransom writes:

STEVE CHAPMAN opposes the war and opposes the death penalty, so he’s voting Democrat for President for the first time in his life. He also quotes David Boaz of the CATO Institute, “Republicans wouldn’t give Kerry every bad thing he wants, and they do give Bush every bad thing he wants.” Many anti-war and pro- civil liberties libertarians are refusing to vote for Bush. A good many of these folks have always voted a straight Libertarian Party ticket. Now some are switching tickets for John Kerry. Passing strange. All I can figure is that more than a few became libertarians out of the nightmare of the Vietman experience, and now some are Coming Home to anti-war leader John Kerry. That, at least, is a first try at a plausible hypothesis. Let me know if you have a better one.

Well, if your choice is between two nanny-statist fucktards, but only one of them (in one’s mind) cares about civil liberties, I’d go for the pro-civil-liberties fucktard personally. At least, if I were confined to voting for a fucktard, or were the sort of person who used that word in casual conversation.

Two votes are better than one

Jeff Quinton notes that an investigation shows that around 60,000 voters appear on the voter rolls in both North Carolina and South Carolina.

One thing that always strikes me about the “double registration” stories is that most of the issues are clerical ones; for example, I registered to vote down here when I moved to Jackson, and I don’t have the faintest clue whether or not the county clerk bothered to tell the folks up in Oxford to invalidate my registration there. For that matter, I might still be on the voting books in Florida or Tennessee.

Non-endorsement watch: Badnarik edition

Radley Balko and Tyler Cowen both explain why they won’t be voting for Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik. Balko:

I’m sorry, but I’m just not convinced that either Badnarik or the LP speaking on behalf of libertarianism to a national audience with limited exposure to the ideology would ultimately be good for libertarianism, the philosophy.

This is a guy who gives seminars advocating that the federal income tax is optional, who refuses to use zip codes, who says he’d blow up the UN building “after giving occupants a week to vacate,” who has equated FDR to Hitler, and who suggested we chain convicted felons to their beds until their muscles atrophy.

It gets worse. For more, check here and here.

I’ll gladly cast my ballot with the LP when the LP offers a candidate who isn’t an embarassment to libertarianism.


Nonetheless I must offer p = 0 when I ponder the chance that I vote for Badnarik. If I don’t like a picture, I’m not going to hang it on my wall. I gladly supported Ed Clark in 1980, let’s hope that the LP once again puts up a serious candidate.

Sunday, 24 October 2004

Coming attraction

A pointed non-endorsement of two candidates for president of the United States, and an announcement of the slate of electors for president this half of Signifying Nothing will—despite grave reservations—be voting for. And, perhaps most importantly, a disclaimer that should be attached to all serious scholars’ endorsements or non-endorsements of candidates for political office.

Friday, 22 October 2004

Endorsement watch redux

Dan Drezner and that terrorist group that keeps beheading people in Iraq have both come out for John Kerry. Meanwhile, Scipio voted for “moonbat lunatic” Michael Badnarik.

That whole "red state/blue state" divide

Eric Muller is speechless. I think it could be worse: “One Nation Not Under The U.N.”

Incidentally, photoshops welcome...

One of these is not like the others

Today’s Clarion-Ledger drops some quotes from Republican ex-presidents on us compiled by Richard W. Dortch. Identifying the glaring problem with his article is left as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, 21 October 2004

Karl Rove: Master of the Donks’ Domain

Matt Stinson kindly gives a detailed exegesis of the Democratic corrollary to Lawrence’s Cardinal Rule of Evaluation of the Bush Administration, which begins thusly:

If there is a single phenomenon that links together political rhetoric from Bush critics this election, it’s their willingness—dare I say obsession—to find in any and all events disadvantageous to Democratic fortunes the hand of Karl Rove.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Wednesday, 20 October 2004

Stop worrying and hate the polls

Stephen Green has seen the light; I officially welcome him to the dark side of the force, in which the spectre of Larry Sabato is exorcised from our dreams and we content ourselves with the knowledge that we don’t know the unknowable (þ: OTB).

But, if you absolutely insist on your electoral college wargaming ways, Andrea Moro’s site is at least fun to look at, plus it uses Monte Carlos for the satiation of your inner gambling jones.

Sk8r bois 4 Bush in AA

Heh (þ: TigerHawk).


Pat Robertson talked to Paula Zahn today, and boy did he let loose a doozy:

“And I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, ‘Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.’ ”

Robertson said the president then told him, “Oh, no, we’re not going to have any casualties.”

Now, I suppose Robertson could be completely and totally demented by this point (I mean, he is the guy that blamed 9/11 on gay people, and I doubt his mental faculties are on the rebound); either way, it’s fairly clear that at least half of the people participating in this alleged conversation had no grip on reality.

Vous voulez être élu, non?

I have to admit that, even though I think the shots at Kerry for being “French-looking” are a bit cheap, this is incredibly amusing, at least at the “boneheaded strategy” level if nothing else.