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Posts Tagged ‘Nate Silver’



Beware Murphy, Rasmussen and Other B.S. Artists

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

In the days following the elections in California and across the country, so many commentators, “political experts” and partisans have engaged in so much overstated, hyperventilated and tortured analysis, we at Calbuzz have hardly known what to say.

But when we saw meathead David Gregory interviewing our friend Mike Murphy, the $90,000-a-month campaign guru for Meg “Biggest Loser” Whitman, on “Press the Meat” the other day, we felt compelled to get up off the floor and say something.

“We got beat and, you know, I ran the campaign, and I take responsibility for it,” Murphy said, at least acknowledging that he had been in the neighborhood.  But then came excuse, No. 1: “It’s a very blue state and it’s getting bluer. As the red, you know, wave kind of went one way, there was a bit of a blue riptide coming the other way.”

And then, excuse No. 2: “CEO candidates who are doing kind of a tough medicine message . . . Meg and Carly Fiorina in California, they weren’t buying it. So we just couldn’t get there. We could win the Republicans, win the independents, but in California if you don’t win a lot of Democrats… you don’t win and we did not.”

Whoa there, big fella. “Win the independents?” If Meg and Carly had actually won the actual independents, they would be governor- and senator-elect.

Now it’s Murph’s job to spin. And when you make $2 million off a political client (if you just count Whitman’s initial investment in Murphy’s film company and his salary) you have good reason to try to convince the world that it was an impossible task. But it’s Gregory’s job – and since he didn’t do it, ours – to question his spin.

What you have to ask, though, is what was Murphy doing telling the California and national media – the day before the election – that his polling showed the race to be essentially tied and that Meg’s GOTV program was going to put her over the top?

Consultants have an obligation to work as hard as they can for their clients, but they also ought to consider their credibility with the reporters who will be covering them in the future. There are a lot of ways of doing both: “Look, it’s going to be close. This is a heavily Democratic state. But we think we’re going to do well.” Whatever.

Which brings us to Harry G. Frankurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University, who wrote in 2005: “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” Unlike liars, bullshitters are unconcerned about whether what they are saying is true, Frankfurt argued in “On Bullshit.” They simply alter the rules of the discussion so that truth and falsity become irrelevant.

In this way, Frankfurt contends, bullshit is an even greater enemy of truth than lies. This may be an even more important argument than Calbuzz made in our essay “The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying” back in July.

As we explained yesterday, Jerry Brown carried the independents in California even though the National Election Pool exit poll by Edison Research showed Whitman winning them 47-43%. That’s only because the NEP exit poll didn’t actually survey actual independents – or “Decline to State” voters as they’re known in California. They called “independent” anyone who didn’t think of him- or herself as a Democrat or a Republican.

We harp on this because we want to bust the myth that Whitman carried the independents in California BEFORE it becomes part of the historical narrative about the 2010 election. (Like the so-called “Bradley Effect” has become part of mythology. This is the false belief that voters lied to pollsters before the 1982 governor’s election because they didn’t want to appear racist when being surveyed. Long story short: the polls were right among precinct voters but they didn’t count absentee voters and George Deukmejian beat Tom Bradley among absentees who had already voted.)

Here’s the point: Brown won the moderates 60-35% and he beat Whitman in the polls that surveyed actual DTS – independent — voters. To win statewide in California you have to carry your party, win the independents and make some inroads into the other party. That’s what Brown did.

But Whitman’s standing with independent voters is just one of the myths being perpetuated about the 2010 election. And though it’s of immediate concern in California, it’s likely not the most important fiction at large in the journosphere.

Let’s take the “historic repudiation of Barack Obama and the Democrats,” the “powerful ideological shift” or whatever formulation is most current.

Didn’t happen.

As the notoriously neutral Cliff Young and Julia Clark, pollsters at Ipsos Public Affairs, argue in a lucid piece published by Reuters:

Pundits and politicos alike would have us believe that the Obama era is over, with the general elections in 2012 being a mere formality to an imminent Republican resurgence. Obama went too far left, or so the argument goes, and the Republican gains this year are a leading indicator of a re-adjustment.

In our view, this perspective is fundamentally wrong: the results of the present mid-term elections have little to do with the probable outcome of the general election in 2012 . . .

The 2010 electoral cycle, with the poorest performing economy in a generation, was a change election which favored the party out of power – the Republicans. This means that there was no fundamental shift in American values, or a “new Republican mandate,” but instead that the election was the result of the natural ebbs and flows of voter sentiment, driven by larger economic forces.

Then there’s the “rejection of Obamacare” – an odious label the Republicans use to describe the health care reforms passed by Congress and which some numbskull journalists insist on mimicking.

As CNN reported Wednesday, according to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll (a very professional and reliable outfit and wholly transparent): Americans are split and conflicted about their opinion of the new health care reform law. . . 42 percent have a favorable opinion of the law, compared with four in 10 who have an unfavorable view of the new measure. The survey indicates that roughly one-third of Americans are enthusiastic about the law, almost one-third are angry about it, but more than half are confused when it comes to health care reform.

According to CNN’s digest of the survey, about half of adults say they’d like Congress to repeal all or parts of the health care reform law. But when asked about specifics, most want to keep key provisions. More than 70% would keep the tax credits to small businesses and financial help to Americans who don’t get insurance through their jobs. And a majority wants to keep provisions that close the Medicare doughnut hole and prohibit denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

As Kaiser reported: It is unclear how much public support House Republicans will find should they attempt to repeal or dismantle the law. Overall, about a quarter think the law should be entirely repealed and another quarter think only parts should be repealed, while about two in ten think the law should be left as is and another two in ten want to see it expanded. Still, even among those who voted for Republican candidates and those who say they want to repeal parts or all of the law, majorities still want to keep some of its most popular provisions.

So much for the “mandate” to undo health care reform. If Obama and the Democrats have any spine, they won’t be stampeded by those who would do the bidding of the medicopharma lobby.

Besides, as our old friend E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post, digesting Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the Center for American Progress, and the very smart Hendrick Hertzberg of the New Yorker argue, the electorate that turned out in November 2010 was not the same electorate that showed up at the polls in November 2008: it was older and whiter. So talking about what “the people” are demanding – as so many Washington pols are wont to do – is just so much (there’s no nice way to put this) bullshit.

And while we’re on the subject of bullshit: Let’s not forget all those Rasmussen polls that predicted elections everywhere wrong, wrong, wrong and which appear also to have had an outsized influence early in election cycles of creating narratives that showed Republican candidates doing far better than public polls were showing.

For further detail, read Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times where he explained that “polls conducted by the firm Rasmussen Reports — which released more than 100 surveys in the final three weeks of the campaign, including some commissioned under a subsidiary on behalf of Fox News — badly missed the margin in many states, and also exhibited a considerable bias toward Republican candidates.”

And don’t miss poll wizard Mark Blumenthal, now ensconced over at Huffington Post, who reported:

A remarkable bi-partisan group of campaign pollsters released an open letter this afternoon that assailed the “sometimes uncritical media coverage” of the “proliferation” of public pre-election polls that fail to disclose basic information about how they are conducted and that “have the capacity to shape media and donor reactions to election contests.”

The authors of the letter — 9 Democrats and 10 Republicans — amount to a virtual “who’s who” of campaign pollsters, the political consultants that conduct the opinion surveys sponsored by political campaigns for their internal use.

Their message is a bit unusual: At a time when political journalists and bloggers are busily scoring the accuracy of the final public election surveys, these pollsters called on the news media to judge the quality of polls based on “the professionalism with which they are conducted” rather than “their accuracy in the closing weeks of the election.”

More specifically, the campaign pollsters urged journalists to hold public polls to disclosure standards of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) that call on pollsters to release details such as the exact wording of questions, the demographics of their samples, the methods used to draw their samples and interview voters and the response rates they obtain.

Loyal readers of Calbuzz will note that back in October 2009, we laid out the kinds of standards we’d apply in taking polls seriously and while we have, from time to time, made mention of private polls and those that don’t adhere to AAPOR standards, we’d consistently used them only as referential data – not as principal measures of any horse race.

Our point, dear Calbuzzers, is this: Don’t buy a bag of bullshit just because it’s in a pretty package. The best spin is true.

CapWeek Kudos; Whores v Klutzes; Lou’s Illegals

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Capitol Weekly preserves integrity: HT  to Anthony York of Capitol Weekly for taking a pass on a survey, done by Orange County Republican pollster Adam Probolsky, that York had intended to release through his respected web site. Turns out the Democratic pollster he had paired with Probolsky – Ben Tulchin of San Francisco, — had significant methodological problems with Probolsky’s survey and York didn’t want to risk his site’s good name with a bad poll.

While just about every pollster in the known universe has recently found the race with Jerry Brown up 5 or more points over Meg Whitman, Probolsky turned in a survey with a virtual dead heat: Brown 41% and Whitman 39%. The survey was taken Sept. 30-Oct 4 among 752 registered voters.

“We wanted a bipartisan poll but we didn’t have bipartisan sign-off,” said York. “This is Adam’s poll. They (Tulchin and Probolsky) couldn’t agree, so we didn’t want to put it out.”

Said Tulchin: “The results that Adam found were based on a sample that I felt was too conservative and too Caucasian and did not accurately represent a statewide sample.   As a result, I could not endorse the poll, so Adam decided to release it on his own.”

What particularly bothered Tulchin was not Probolsky’s projection of a 54.7% turnout, which Ben thought was “a bit conservative but not beyond the realm of possibility.” Rather, the survey under-represents Latinos and blacks, with just  12.8% Latino voters and 2.9% black, instead of 14-15% Latinos and at least 4% blacks, as expected.

“These are critical demographic groups,” Tulchin said.  “To undercount them in a survey has a direct impact on the poll results for the governor’s race.” Probolsky’s poll, he added, with a more conservative and Caucasian turnout model, resembled a Whitman campaign poll “that showed Brown with a slight lead and Gloria Allred with a 92% name ID, which is not very credible.”

As if to prove the point, guess who sent around the Probolsky poll to reporters on Thursday? And thank you for that, Ms. Pompei.

PS: In earlier versions of this post we had a picture of the wrong Anthony York up. Sorry for our stupid misgoogletake.

Gandalf vs. Technology, Round 32: Confronted with the complex and sophisticated 21st century challenge of hanging up the phone, Jerry Brown has failed miserably, the estimable Seema Mehta is reporting Thursday night, thus  setting off another kerfuffle in the governor’s race.

The 72-year old — and-getting-older-by-the-minute — Democratic nominee appears to have left a voicemail message at the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Protective League last month, expressing frustration that the cop group planned to endorse eMeg after Krusty refused to exempt law enforcement from his call for reforming public employee pension plans — this after Ms. I’ll-tackle-the-status-quo agreed to enable the police union’s rules-are-different-for-us demands.

Whereupon Brown, the chief law enforcement official of the most populous state in the union, proved unequal to the task of HANGING UP THE TELEPHONE, thereby managing to leave on the cop union’s voice recorder the full, unadulterated contents of an ensuing, full and frank discussion of the political implications of the matter, during which one of Jerry Kid’s referred to eMeg as a “whore.”

No doubt, they meant it in the nicest possible way.

At press time, Team Brown’s Steve Glazer was apologizing profusely to Herself and the usual “anyone who may have been offended” suspects, while the volcanic Sarah Pompei  of Team Whitman was declaring the sexist slur “unforgivable and despicable.” Film at 11.

Next up: Jerry tries to navigate indoor plumbing.

Must read of the week: No word yet if the Legions of eMeg Communications Corps has turned to the task of e-blast, multiple platform dissemination of the cover story in the upcoming issue of The Nation, but if they haven’t, they really should.

In one of the toughest investigative takedowns in memory of a public figure who really had it coming, Isabel Macdonald rips the phony mask of self-righteousness from the immigrant-bashing Lou Dobbs, late of CNN, and in the process makes Our Meg look like a total piker in the employer of undocumented workers category.

Dobbs, who made himself rich and famous by blathering race-baiting demagoguery on cable TV, for quite some time has been living large in two huge and luxurious estates which support the major jones that his 22-year old daughter has for champion show jumper horses.

Turns out his truly sweet set-up is sustained by the labor of illegal immigrants, whom he never tired of bashing on his now-canceled program of self-described “fearless reporting and commentary.” In a piece aptly, if not subtly, titled “Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite,” Macdonald writes:

But with his relentless diatribes against “illegals” and their employers, Dobbs is casting stones from a house—make that an estate—of glass. Based on a yearlong investigation, including interviews with five immigrants who worked without papers on his properties, The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute have found that Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper…

Since he left CNN last November, after Latino groups mounted a protest campaign against his inflammatory rhetoric, Dobbs has continued to advocate an enforcement-first approach to immigration, emphasizing, as he did in a March 2010 interview on Univision, that “the illegal employer is the central issue in this entire mess!”

Schadenfreude – sometimes it’s better than sex.

Update: Dobbs vs. Macdonald on MSNBC.

Testing 1, 2, 3: Nate Silver, the NYT’s boy genius of political polling and  statistical computational matters, has reset the betting line in his 538 blog and now makes Jerry Brown a 3-to-1 favorite to win the California governorship.

Written (or, far more likely, edited) into the most genteel Timespeak,  Silver’s item on the race notes that Krusty has become a 75 percent favorite after the column pegged him as the underdog just two weeks ago, and credits Nicky-gate as the reason for the switch:

Still, the allegations are obviously not helpful to Ms. Whitman, whose campaign has reacted with a certain lack of dexterity — with Ms. Whitman, for instance, having volunteered to take a polygraph test to rebut them. Such distractions may be relatively more difficult for a candidate like Ms. Whitman, who is running her first campaign for office, and who is used to writing her own script as the former chief executive of eBay.

Amid all the recent fuss about I-9′s and mileage payments for maids, we’d almost forgotten about last week’s quickly-retracted promise by eMeg to take a lie detector test to back up her story, but we’re glad Nate raised it since it resurfaced one of  our all-time favorite political quotes (h/t Bill Carrick).

Fritz Hollings, the ex-governor and former long-serving Senator from South Carolina, was once challenged by a soon-to-be-vanquished campaign rival to take a drug test. To which the famously blunt-spoken Hollings instantly replied: “I’ll take a drug test if you take an IQ test.”

Corporations are people too: Mega-kudos to Jack Dolan of the By God L.A. Times for digging out a truly outrageous $30 million sweetheart tax break deal in the Legislature’s compromise budget plan, a reeking piece of rancid fish festering deep inside the secretly negotiated spending plan for the financial benefit of one, and only one, rich and politically influential family.

The provision, which will allow the Humboldt Redwood Co. to deduct $20 million in old losses from future taxes, is also expected to cover penalties and interest for the firm co-owned by three sons of Donald G. Fisher, founder of the Gap and Banana Republic, said company Chairman Sandy Dean.

The tax break was inserted into the draft state spending plan during closed-door negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders, said people close to the talks. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secret nature of the deal-making.

While Krusty is working overtime to make the world safe for children’s bouncy houses and eMeg is trembling with fury about a few poor people who may have dared to leave the state while on welfare, we’re still waiting for the howls of outrage from either one of them over this single interest rip-off for one of California’s best-connected families.

Breaking: Dolan busts them on another one.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: On the list of Citizen Kane-wannabes who thought it would be fun to own a newspaper, there is tremendous competition for the title of biggest chucklehead, but it’s tough to top the utter idiocy of Chicago greedhead Sam Zell, who’s still in the process of ruining a whole batch of them, as David Carr reports in painful detail.

3 Ways Obama Is Blowing It on Health Care Reform

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

ObamaHealthCareThere’s one simple reason why the White House has rushed so aggressively to try to knock down the story that Barack Obama is backing away from his support of a public option for health care: if he does retreat on the issue, he risks trashing the political viability of his entire presidency.

Over the weekend, both Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, made weasly comments about the administration’s commitment to a public option policy that led even some of the president’s staunchest supporters to denounce his waffling.

Having raised the specter of ignominious political surrender himself, Obama sent press secretary Roberts Gibbs into the White House briefing room to – wait for it – blame the media – for manufacturing a story. He insisted that the president’s position has not changed on the most crucial issue in the reform debate, namely to provide a system of medical care for the uninsured and underinsured as an affordable alternative to the private insurance industry.

The public option flap is just the latest evidence of how  Obama and his posse, after running one of the most consistent and effective campaigns in history, have badly botched the communications strategy and framing tactics in the battle over a defining issue of his presidency, undercutting in the process fundamental elements of the message of change that got him elected.

Beyond a shameful retreat on a substantive policy matter, hoisting the white flag on a public option would put Obama at odds with the congressional leaders and liberals who have been his most enthusiastic supporters and, more broadly, signal weakness and failure in fulfilling three of the basic premises of his message of change:

healthcarefistSpecial interests – As a candidate, Obama vowed to fight powerful and entrenched interest groups whose influence and money routinely cripple reform and determine the fate of legislation in Washington. Just eight months into his term, Obama is causing concern among allies who back the public option (as a less attractive alternative to their true preference for a single payer health care system) that he is preparing to cave in to insurance companies, after earlier cutting a deal with the pharmaceutical industry, another Beltway blue chip special interest.

New politics – While often ill-defined, Obama’s “yes we can” campaign message had two fundamental carrot and stick elements: a goody-two-shoes call for the bipartisan putting aside of status-quo politics and ideological polarization, coupled with a strong, clear and consistent attack on failed Republican economic policies that worshiped markets and business interests. In the political fight of his life, Obama has been putting his energy and emphasis almost exclusively on the can’t-we-all-just-get along aspect of his message, in a desperate bid to pass a bill – any bill – that he can spin as an alleged victory, even if represents right-center policies and politics.

With Democrats in the rare position of controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, however, he needs to stop singing kumbaya and start busting some heads by fighting fiercely for the populist – and, yes, partisan – principles that led millions to support the progressive promises of his campaign. And that means taking on, not just the other party, but some of the obstructionist Senators in his own party like Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, a couple of self-important narcissists who each represent a  no-account state with about 12 people that Obama’s never going to win anyway.

Authenticity – Candidate Obama decried sound bite politics, repeatedly vowing he would tell Americans the truth, even if it was unpleasant, contrasting the integrity of his outsider stance with the Beltway insider images of rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Now, instead of giving hell to the special interests and right-wingers in Congress, President Obama too often passively abides their lies and demagoguery while resorting to Clintonian hair-splitting and legalisms in trying to finesse his position on the public option.

If he succumbs on this issue, the disillusionment and dismay among his own supporters that would accompany a retreat could not only fatally weaken him on Capitol Hill, but also put the issue of his re-election very much in play.

And if there’s any question that Obama himself – and not the media – set off the firestorm on public option, check out Jon Stewart’s take, characteristically complete with the most telling video clips.

Health reform resuscitations: Nate Silver has a smart post on a post-public option political landscape while Victoria Colliver of the Chronicle has a good Q&A primer on health care reform here and the Times offers a useful glossary for following the debate here.

Another View of DiFi’s Stand on Labor’s Top Issue

Monday, March 30th, 2009

We argued here two weeks ago that Dianne Feinstein will not run for governor of California in 2010 — although that’s the job she’s always wanted most — because she has such key roles in the U.S. Senate, would have to fight through nasty primary and general elections, would expose her husband’s business deals to opposition research and because, at this late stage in her life, wrangling the legislative gnomes in Sacramento would be incredibly distasteful to her.

But if you want to read a pretty good counter-argument about why Dianne might run, read Nate Silver’s take at fivethirtyeight.com. Nate is a brilliant guy whose mathematical analysis of polling data during the 2008 presidential election was extraordinarily accurate. He sees Feinstein’s stand against the Employee Free Choice Act — labor’s No. 1 issue before Congress — as an indication that she IS running.

Now Nate’s not an expert in California politics and there are some weaknesses in his argument. — like the fact that were Feinstein to run, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom would get out which might leave labor to rally around Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (a former labor leader himself), Attorney General Jerry Brown or another candidate. So labor might not be as divided as Nate suggests. And yes, Feinstein’s stand might help her suck up corporate contributions for the general. But she’d do that anyway and it still would not be as much as Republicans Meg Whitman, the former EBay CEO, or Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, could throw at the race.

Still, Nate’s analysis is worth a read. You can find it here.