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Unskewed Minds (Now with more Bayes!)

9:09 pm in Uncategorized by JetProvost

At the risk of feeding the troll at unskewedpolls.com and barackofraudo.com (both run by Dean Chambers) or legitimizing its claims of voter fraud which journalists are thoroughly debunking, let me add one more reason why the claim that voter fraud flipped the results of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Florida is absurd.

If the claims of fraud are right, Obama would have won Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Hampshire but lost Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.  You don’t have to be Nate Silver to know that the odds that Obama would win close swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Virginia, and at the same time lose a reliable Democratic state like Pennsylvania and other close swing states like Ohio and Virginia are very low.  That’s just not a plausible electoral result.  If Obama is doing well enough to win swing states like New Hampshire and Nevada it’s just absurd to think he would really lose a state like Pennsylvania.  Chambers’ “map” belongs in the realm of unicorns and birtherism.

Moreover, for Chambers to be right, the polls, which were reasonably accurate nationwide, would have to be (for some unexplained reason) wrong for only those four states.  The whole thing is just nuts.

If you want to get nerdy, this comes down to Bayes theorem, which in very simple terms says that when judging the likelihood that something is true, we have to consider the evidence of its truth or falsity in the context of the baseline probability that that thing is true.  If you say the sky is purple, I should be very hesitant to agree based on your anecdotal evidence because I already know as an initial matter that the odds that the sky is purple are extremely extremely low.

As applied the voter fraud claims, before we even consider Chambers’ anecdotal (and highly suspect) evidence of voter fraud, consider it in the context that the map he is proposing is highly highly implausible.  As a result, there is very little evidence that should convince anyone (thinking clearly) that voter fraud really caused the outcome he claims since that outcome to so unlikely.  Yet, hope springs eternal.

To read this and earlier posts, visit my blog at http://rationalpersuasion.blogspot.com/.

It’s not a gift if you’re entitled to it.

11:55 am in Uncategorized by JetProvost

Isn’t the whole “gifts” thing a perfect example of the sense of entitlement that has come over the American right.  When they explicitly vote for the candidate who will give them a tax cut, that’s not a gift, it’s a matter of patriotism.  When Democrats vote for candidates who propose programs they benefit from, it’s a gift and bribery.  It’s like the right thinks the largess they receive isn’t a gift because they are entitled to it, but Democrats are entitled to nothing and therefore receive only “gifts.”

To read this and earlier posts, visit my blog at http://rationalpersuasion.blogspot.com/.

How the Republican Primary Proves Money Still Can Buy You an Election

9:42 pm in Uncategorized by JetProvost

There has been this idea floating around for a few weeks that Romney’s inability to trounce his opponents despite vastly outspending them proves money can’t buy elections.  Some Republicans have been running with this to try and make the point that this proves that concerns over Citizens United are overblown.  I’d like to take a minute to show why that is nonsense.

The easiest way to make this point is by way of example, so here is one that has frustrated Democrats for three years.  After the stimulus bill was passed unemployment increased.  Fact.  Some Republicans argued that this proves that the stimulus increased unemployment.  This is obviously bad thinking, since the only way to measure the impact of the stimulus is to compare it to what unemployement would have been if there was no stimulus at all or if the stimulus was bigger.  If unemployment would have been higher without the stimulus, then the stimulus did not increase unemployment, even if unemployment increased after the stimulus was passed.

The same applies to spending by a candidate.  The way to judge the impact of money (and Citizens United) on a campaign is not whether the best funded candidate wins or loses, but by how the race would be different if a candidate had more or less money.  Does anyone think Gingrich would still be in the race except for his Super-Pac?  I doubt it.  Romney has fended off challengers by carpet-bombing them with massive ad campaigns, and even then only barely Santorum in his home state.  Does anyone think that Romney would have done just as fine without the money to destroy his opponents?  I am skeptical.

Saying Romney’s money proves money doesn’t buy elections is like saying Romney nomination proves that supporting an individual mandate will win you the Republican nomination.  I will have more to say about the state of the race tomorrow, but it should suffice to say now that this is an example of the sloppy and/or deceptive thinking being used by some to undermine criticism of Citizens United.

Citizens United is a major problem and needs to be addressed.  This primary season only proves further how small groups of undisclosed donors can vastly distort campaigns and politics.  Don’t let sloppy thinking invade this discussion.

To read this and my earlier posts check out my blog at: http://rationalpersuasion.blogspot.com/

The Bachmann Effect

10:47 pm in Uncategorized by JetProvost

The entry of Michelle Bachmann into the Presidential race changes everything! Or does it?

Minnesota Congressman Michelle Bachmann will officially join the Presidential race on Monday. Let’s put on our political strategist hats and think of a few scenarios that could result from Bachmann’s entry into the race.  Here are what I think are the four most likely scenarios, in no particular order:

1. Bachmann dominates the most ardent evangelicals and tea-partiers but few others, allowing Romney to stick with a more centrist reasonable message and win the primary and possibly the general. In this scenario she plays a role for Romney similar to the one Huckabee played for McCain in 2008.  In 2008 McCain won by wining the large states without large evangelical bases largely because the evangelical voters, and few others, went for Huckabee.  In a sense, Huckabee put religious conservatives on an island with no other voters and with them out of the way a candidate that appealed to independents the non-religious elements of the Republican party could march to victory.

If Bachmann dominated the evangelicals and tea-partiers but few others it would have two effects.  First, it would prevent any serious challenger to Romney from gaining sufficient support to overtake him.  It is hard to imagine a path for Pawlenty (or anyone else) to challenge Romney that doesn’t involve either Romney stumbling or Pawlenty catching fire with tea-partiers and evangelicals.  Second, if Bachmann dominated the evangelicals and tea-partiers Romney could credibly cede the evangelical and tea-party base to Bachmann and stick with his more reasonable general election message, helping him in the long run because he won’t have to say extreme things he will come to regret in the general election.  In this scenario Bachmann hands the primary to Romney and possibly the general.

2.  Bachmann gains traction beyond just the tea-party and evangelical base forcing Romney to the right to beat her, possibly winning him the primary but losing him the general. In this scenario Bachmann wins Iowa and finishes impressively in New Hampshire, giving Romney a run for his money.  To compete Romney is forced to the hard right, damaging his electability in the general.  This also has parallels from 2008 when McCain moved to the right in tone, if not in substance, costing him crucial independent voters he would need to win the general.  In this scenario Bachmann hands to race to Obama.

3. Bachmann flames out early on, having little impact on the race. Bachmann is prone to saying wrong and seemingly bizarre things, and you can bet the other candidates will be waiting to jump on her if she makes a silly mistake.  One plausible option is that she makes a mistake early on and flames out, having little impact on the race except as a footnote.

4. Bachmann wins the primary, handing the race to Obama. Since this blog is all about being rational, we do have to acknowledge that the odds her winning the primary, though not great, are almost certainly better than her odds of winning the general.  That doesn’t mean it would be a landslide, it certainly would not (a large portion of this country would vote for anything or anyone rather than Obama, no matter what, end of story) but Obama’s chances in purple states such as Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina are vastly improved if Bachmann is the opponent.

Feel free to comment and make your predictions.  As for my bet, I’m with option 3, I think she flames out within a matter of months, but I could be wrong.  If you’re feeling bold, now’s the time to put your money where your mouth is.

You can read this and earlier posts at my blog Rational Persuasion.