Palin with Couric– the gift that keeps on giving

The snippets from Palin's interview with Katie Couric just keep getting better.  Apparently, Palin reads “all of 'em” when it comes to the news sources she relies upon.

Along these lines, this website is awesome.

The Youth Vote

I can't say that anything I say here is particularly exciting, but this story that aired on our local NPR station this morning about the youth vote is pretty good.

About that Obama victory

TNR's John Judis sums up what we can extrapolate from early October polls (yeah, it's a day early):

By October first, presidential tracking polls begin to predict the winner in November accurately. Since 1960, Gallup's tracking poll
registered the winner in the popular vote (including Al Gore in 2000),
eleven of twelve times. The one exception is 1980, when Jimmy Carter
still led Ronald Reagan by 44 to 40 percent. The late September-early
October polls have not necessarily predicted the final margin. Third
party candidates usually screw up the total, because their support
usually drops by the final election, and generally the race narrows
somewhat by the end. In 1996, for instance, Bill Clinton led Bob Dole
by 14 percentage points on October first. Clinton?s  final
margin would be 8.5 percentage points. In 2004, George W. Bush led John
Kerry by 8 percentage points. His final margin would be only 2.4
points. But in six of these elections–1960, 1964, 1976, 1984, 1988 and
2000–the final margin was different from the October first polling
results by less than three percentage points. Given these results,
supporters of Barack Obama can take heart from the fact that he is
leading 50 to 42 percent in the latest Gallup tracking poll.

The polls only have only even got better for Obama since Judis wrote this. 


Back to Palin

It has been too long since I've had fun at Sarah Palin's expense.  This week, Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria unleashes on her, and by extension, McCain:

Will someone please put Sarah Palin
out of her agony? Is it too much to ask that she come to realize that
she wants, in that wonderful phrase in American politics, “to spend
more time with her family”? Having stayed in purdah for weeks, she
finally agreed to a third interview. CBS's Katie Couric questioned her in her trademark sympathetic style. It didn't help. When asked how living in the state closest to Russia gave her foreign-policy experience, Palin responded thus:

“It's
very important when you consider even national-security issues with
Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the
United States of America. Where?where do they go? It's Alaska.
It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those
out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful
nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to?to
our state.”

…This is
not an isolated example. Palin has been given a set of talking points
by campaign advisers, simple ideological mantras that she repeats and
repeats as long as she can. (“We mustn't blink.”) But if forced off
those rehearsed lines, what she has to say is often, quite frankly,
gibberish…

In these times, for John McCain
to have chosen this person to be his running mate is fundamentally
irresponsible. McCain says that he always puts country first. In this
important case, it is simply not true.

In case you missed it, Tina Fey was back as Sarah Palin this week on SNL in a skit on the Katie Couric interview.  What is most funny, is they were actually able to use Sarah Palin's own words for laughs.  

Matt Yglesias highlights this quote from a portion not yet aired, which shows a breathtaking ignorance of Middle East politics.  To be running for Vice President and clearly not have a clue about Hamas…

KATIE COURIC: ?What happens if the goal of democracy
doesn?t produce the desired outcome? In Gaza, the U.S. pushed hard for
elections and Hamas won.?

SARAH PALIN: ?Yeah, well especially in that region, though, we have
to protect those who do seek democracy and support those who seek
protections for the people who live there. What we?re seeing in the
last couple of days here in New York is a President of Iran,
Ahmadinejad, who would come on our soil and express such disdain for
one of our closest allies and friends, Israel ? and we?re hearing the
evil that he speaks and if hearing him doesn?t allow Americans to
commit more solidly to protecting the friends and allies that we need,
especially there in the Mideast, then nothing will.?

As Goldberg says, the issue here isn?t that she gave a bad answer, rather ?the issue here is that she didn?t know the question.?

Finally, I love the “Correction” Glenn Greenwald issued last week:

I defended Palin as follows:

..Sarah Palin isn't Dan Quayle. She is extremely smart — much smarter
than the average media star who will eventually be interviewing her –
and she is very politically skilled as well. She didn't go from obscure
small-town city council member to Governor to Vice Presidential nominee
by accident. She'll be more than adequately prepared for the shallow,
30-second, rote exchanges that pass for political interviews in our
Serious mainstream discourse. Anyone expecting her to fall on her face
or be exposed as some drooling simpleton is going to be extremely
disappointed. That might (or might not) happen with real questioning,
but she's not going to face that.

I
was so wrong about that — the parts about Palin, that is, not the
press (though, in fairness, Gibson was far more adversarial than I
expected and Katie Couric was even better). Just watch these clips from
her interview last night with Katie Couric. I'll be honest: watching
this, I actually felt sorry for Sarah Palin:..

But Sarah Palin's performance in the tiny vignettes of unscripted
dialogue in which we've been allowed to see her has been nothing short
of frightening — really, as I said, pity-inducing. And I say that as
someone who has thought from the start that the criticisms of her
abilities — as opposed to her ideology — were much too extreme. One
of two things is absolutely clear at this point: she is either (a)
completely ignorant about the most basic political issues — a vacant,
ill-informed, incurious know-nothing, or (b) aggressively concealing
her actual beliefs about these matters because she's petrified of
deviating from the simple-minded campaign talking points she's been fed
and/or because her actual beliefs are so politically unpalatable, even
when taking into account the right-wing extremism that is permitted,
even rewarded, in our mainstream. I'm not really sure which is worse,
but it doesn't really matter, because with 40 days left before the
election, both options are heinous.

When Obama wins this election in five weeks, Sarah Palin will go down as an interesting historical footnote, but that's about it.  At first, it seemed that she might have a real future in the Republican party, but there's no way she can survive her own breathtaking ignorance on national issues (even within the anti-intellectual Republican party).  I feel pretty confident, though, that perhaps even decades from now, I will enjoy sharing the story of Sarah Palin with my future elections classes. 

Chart of the Day

Yeah, I know I should be blogging about the failed bailout bill, but that would take more time than I've got.  Instead, you just get this chart (via Andrew Sullivan):

Actually, I'll borrow Sullivan's brief commentary as well:

There's nothing wrong with cutting pork and off-shore drilling, done
responsibly. But if you think these are actual solutions to America's
real fiscal crisis, you really need to find another line of work

I don't know what's worse– that John McCain would actually think these are real solutions or that he would lie so blatantly to the American people.  One things is for sure, he'd much rather talk about earmarks (or probably anything) than his tax proposals.

Cell phone bias

As Nate Silver points out today, Obama is really winning the race quite handily in the polls:

Here's the long and short of it for John McCain: Barack Obama has as
large a lead in the election as he's held all year. But there is much
less time left on the clock than there was during other Obama periods
of strength, such as in February, mid-June or immediately following the
Democratic convention. This is a very difficult combination of
circumstances for him.

On the strength of a set of national tracking polls
that each show Obama at or near his high-water mark all year, our model
projects that he would win an election hold today by 4.2 points. It
discounts this lead slightly to a projected margin of 3.3 points on
November 4, as most races tend to tighten as we approach election day.

This
lead might not sound like that much, but it's fairly significant: we've
been through two conventions and one debate, voters have dug their
heels in, and Obama's position in the Electoral College is extremely
robust. Trimming away a 4-5 point lead isn't that difficult over the
summer months — in fact, McCain accomplished exactly that in July and
August — but it's a steeper hill to climb after Labor Day.

Here's the thing… as well as Obama is doing in recent polling, it may actually be understating his strength.  Generally speaking, pollsters only poll those with landlines.  People who rely solely on cell phones (predominantly younger Americans), do not get polled.  Pollsters are not stupid– they adjust by statistically weighting the sample to account for the fact that they are reaching fewer younger voters than they should.  Such adjustments should work fine, if one assumes that the young people with landlines are not significantly different from those with cell only.  It increasingly appears that when it comes to Obama, cell-only users are disproportionately strong supporters and that simply weighting the sample does not solve the problem.  Mark Blumenthal at Pollster.com nicely summarizes a recent Pew report on the matter:

Pollsters have long understood
that the cell phone only population — those who have cell phone but no
landline telephone service — tend to be younger, and that the growth
of that population has made it more difficult to reach 18-29-year olds.
However, the conventional wisdom among pollsters has held that
weighting by age could mostly alleviate any potential bias, as they did
they did in 2004.

The new Pew report shows why weighting by age may not have the same effect now:

Traditional landline surveys are typically weighted
to compensate for age and other demographic differences, but the
process depends on the assumption that the people reached over
landlines are similar politically to their cell-only counterparts.
These surveys suggest that this assumption is increasingly
questionable, particularly among younger people. [...]

In
the pooled [August-September] data, cell-only young people are
considerably less likely than young people reached by landline to
identify with or lean to the Republican Party, and even less likely to
say they support John McCain. Among landline respondents under age 30,
there is an 18-point gap in party identification – 54% identify or lean
Democratic while 36% are Republican. Among the cell-only respondents
under age 30, there is a 34-point gap – 62% are Democrats, 28%
Republican. The difference among registered voters on the horserace is
similar: 39% of registered voters under 30 reached by landline favor
McCain, compared with just 27% of cell-only respondents. Obama is
backed by 52% of landline respondents under 30, compared with 62% of
the cell-only.

Long and short of it, by not polling cell phones, typical polls may actually be underestimating Obama's support by about 2% on average.  Not a gigantic number, but it certainly makes his current lead seem all the more imposing.

What could be more pointless…

than asking Obama and McCain surrogates how their man fared immediately after the debate.  I fight boredom during the actual debate, but I really enjoy seeing the reactions of the talking heads as I madly flip between all the news channels immediately after the debate.  The various journalists and such are generally interesting, but hearing some campaign surrogate say their guy “won” is about as newsworthy as heavy traffic during rush-hour.  Anyway, chances are all this won't make a lot of difference.  The definitive analysis on that fact is here.

Why the liars win

It's been a good 10 days since Shanar Vedantam had a great article in the Post about the power of political information.  My blog post on it would have joined the electronic dustbin of intended, but never excecuted posts, but for a friend who insisted I tackle the subject.  So here goes.

Basically, it is to the advantage of political candidates to lie.  There is an amazing perseverance of false information even once it is corrected.  Tell somebody Obama will raise your taxes and even if this is 100% disproven, people will still believe it to a surprising degree.  From the article:

In experiments conducted by political scientist John Bullock at Yale University,
volunteers were given various items of political misinformation from
real life. One group of volunteers was shown a transcript of an ad
created by NARAL Pro-Choice America that accused John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court at the time, of “supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber.”

A variety of psychological experiments have shown that political
misinformation primarily works by feeding into people's preexisting
views. People who did not like Roberts to begin with, then, ought to
have been most receptive to the damaging allegation, and this is
exactly what Bullock found. Democrats were far more likely than
Republicans to disapprove of Roberts after hearing the allegation.

Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by
abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the
advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats
had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the
misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme
Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic
disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent.

Republican disapproval of Roberts rose after hearing the
misinformation but vanished upon hearing the correct information. The
damaging charge, in other words, continued to have an effect even after
it was debunked among precisely those people predisposed to buy the bad
information in the first place.

Of course, this is a bipartisan phenomenon, and the article goes on to describe an experiment involving beliefs about Guantanamo. 

What's really amazing is the “backfire effect” seemingly only among conservatives, where those told the refutation actually believe the information more strongly. 

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two
groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that
Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation
– the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did
not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded
in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush
administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its
weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who
heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the
weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar “backfire effect” also influenced conservatives told about
Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue.
One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that
included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35
percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67
percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed
that tax cuts increase revenue
.  (emphasis mine).

My friend and colleague Mike Cobb has worked with Nyhan and Reifler on this stuff, but only gets credit here, not the article. 

Of course, this has very real consequences…

Reifler questioned attempts to debunk rumors and misinformation on the campaign trail, especially among conservatives: “Sarah Palin
says she was against the Bridge to Nowhere,” he said, referring to the
pork-barrel project Palin once supported before she reversed herself.
“Sending those corrections to committed Republicans is not going to be
effective, and they in fact may come to believe even more strongly that
she was always against the Bridge to Nowhere.”

The really bad news from this?  Politicians would seem to have every incentive to lie.  It is not quite that simple, of course.  Lie pervasively enough and the media turns against you, as we've seen happen with McCain in recent weeks.  The “candidate X is a liar” narrative surely does more damage than the gain of individual lies. 

From what I've seen, the secret is to lie all you want, but just stop any particular lie when the media calls you out on it.  McCain's problem was that he kept on lying so egregiously and pervasively about Palin's reformer credentials (e.g., the Bridge to Nowhere) well after several media sources debunked this.  That basically pissed off the media.  In Obama's case, he's taken to being pretty untruthful on Social Security, and been called on it in a number of places.  Presumably, he'll be smart enough to step back from the worst distortions on the issue (the truth about McCain's plan is damning enough).
   

On McCain’s suspended campaign

Kevin Drum nails it:

OK, let me get this straight. After spending a full week flailing
madly, tossing around wild charges almost daily, and careening from
free market deregulator to the second coming of William Jennings Bryan
? after all that, John McCain now wants to gravely present himself as a
man above politics: suspending his campaign, asking for Friday's debate to be postponed, and calling for a statesmanlike bipartisan bailout compromise.

Spare me. Let me guess: the debate should be postponed until October
2, which, sadly, will mean eliminating the vice presidential debate
entirely. What a bummer, eh? And the guy whose campaign is funded by
federal funds thinks all fundraising should be suspended. Imagine that.
And the senator who hasn't showed up for a roll call vote since April
suddenly thinks Capitol Hill is the place everyone needs to be. That should speed things up and calm down the financial markets, shouldn't it?

The cynicism is pretty stunning. Instead, how about switching the
subject of the first debate to economic issues and actually hearing
what John McCain thinks we ought to do? He does have a serious grasp on the issues, doesn't he? Why discuss them only behind closed doors?

TNR's Jonathan Chait “wonders if it is a strategic ploy.”  “Wonders”?  Is he serious.  I actually advocate that we should give candidates the benefit of the doubt far more than the media generally do, but given the way the campaign has clearly tipped in Obama's direction this past week, this ploy could not be more transparent.  The strategy, as Chait points out, is pretty obvious:

I wonder if it's a strategic ploy. The
thinking: McCain is behind in the polls, largely because the economic
crisis is dominating the campaign. The best weapon left in McCain's
arsenal is the foreign policy debate, which could potentially turn the
election back to McCain's stronger issue. If the debate's in the middle
of an economic crisis, it won't have the impact they need. So: postpone
the foreign policy debate until after the bailout has been passed, and
then maybe you can change the conversation to foreign policy for an
extended period.

I presume that Obama will call him on this.  As usual, what will really determine how this plays out is the media narrative to follow: Country first, or desperate strategic ploy.  Over at the Politico, font of conventional wisdom, it seems to be running against McCain (a partisan split, but with some Republicans calling it pretty negatively).  My favorite, former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards:

It ranks somewhere on the stupidity scale between plain silly and
numbingly desperate. McCain and Obama are both members of the senate
and they're both able to help craft a solution if they wish to do so
without putting the presidential campaign on hold; after all, I?m sure
congressional leaders would be willing to accept their calls if they
have some important insights to impart. And while one of them will
eventually become president, neither one is president yet, nor is
either one a member of the congressional leadership; I?m confident that
somehow the administration and the other 533 members of congress will
be able to muddle through without tapping into the superior wisdom and
intellect of their nominees. Sorry, john; it really sounds like you're
afraid to debate. This sounds like the sort of ploy we used to use in
junior high school elections.

Though, as always in these things, time (and Obama's response) will tell.


I’m famous

Thanks to my personal publicist at NC State (Ship Shipman), I'm profiled in the Cary News “Names & Faces” feature today.  It's a nice little piece. It is kind of interesting that we actually had a purely political discussion for about 30 minutes which got boiled down to:

Thoughts on Obama: The Democratic presidential hopeful is a great speaker but lacks experience.

Thoughts on McCain: Lots of experience, but stiff public persona.

Presumably, readers of my blog realize my thoughts are a little more sophisticated than that.

Of McCain, Spain, and media bias

If you really have your ear to the political ground, you may have heard the story last week about McCain claiming he would refuse to meet with the Prime Minister of Spain.  Yes, that Spain, our NATO ally.  A country we are pledged to defend should it be invaded and surely a member in good standing of McCain's fictional “league of Democracies.”  Nuts, yes?  Josh Marshall has full details.  His best surmise:

So to restate, I think the simplest explanation is that McCain
didn't understand what he was being asked. And instead of trying to
clarify, he assumed the interviewer, who had already asked him about
Chavez and Castro, must be quizzing him on some other Latin American
strongman who was up to no good. As so often with McCain, he tried to
wing it. I think the available evidence is consistent which much less
generous readings of the event. But this read is plausible. And
Scheunemann, whose lack of experience in press work was painfully on
display today, acted with characteristically knuckle-headed aggression
and doubled-down on McCain's nonsensical statement.

And whatever the misunderstanding, let's face it. When a president
or presidential nominees gets confused in an interview, appears to say
that a European country is in the Western Hemisphere and inadvertently
makes highly belligerent statements toward a major ally, that's a big
problem.

Yet, nary a word in major campaign coverage this past week (yes, there was an economic meltdown to worry about).  But still, just imagine if Barack Obama had taken a position so obviously ludicrous.  You wouldn't be hearing the end of it– not only from conservative blogs and FOX news, but from the Times, the Post, ABC, CBS, you name it.  So, is this lack of follow-through some insidious conservative media bias?  Their overwhelming love for John McCain?  No, it is just the everyday bias of how the media works.  They know John McCain.  They know he knows foreign policy.  (How do they know this?  He talks about it a lot and he's overly-aggressive in his foreign policy statements).  That's their story and they are sticking with it.  So, no matter how stupid something he says on foreign policy is (Shia vs. Sunni, anyone?), he pretty much gets away with it. This is not any ideological bias, this is just the political media being the dumb animal it is.  Of course, when a similar story on Obama is largely ignored, you better leave that conservatives will be screaming, “liberal media bias!” no end.

Don’t get over yet

While I'm at it with clearing out the blog backlog of stuff I meant to write a while ago that's still worth reading… last month I heard a great story on Fresh Air with the author of a new book on the science of traffic.  As someone who is almost daily frustrated by the many inefficiencies of typical traffic (especially poorly-timed lights), I found it quite fascinating. 

Among the more notable findings: when you lose a lane and you need to get over, do not do it immediately.  You are not actually be antiscocial by waiting to get over, but using the traffic lanes more efficiently thus reducing the total amount of waiting time to merge.  Of course, all those who got over immediately don't know this, and their refusal to let you in only adds to the inefficiency.  Ideally, you get a nice turn-taking procedure just before you finally lose the lane.  The Times actually ran a nice little story on how this is supposed to work:

FIRST, EVERYBODY REMAINS UNRUFFLED, without abrupt changes of lane
or speed, as the lane-drop comes into view. Everybody takes three deep, cleansing
breaths ? all right, the experts didn?t say that, but they meant
to ? and considers both the imminent needs of everybody else and the system
as a smoothly functioning whole.

Then
everybody begins to slow, not too much, all in concert. All cars remain
in their lanes, using all the real estate. (On the question of frontage
roads and exit-only lanes, the experts waffled; those are arguably part
of the real estate, they agreed, but they are meant for a different
purpose, and this scenario relies upon everybody buying into the same
rules. So no frontage-roading or fake-exit-laning, unless there?s a
sign specifically instructing otherwise.) People in the narrowing left
lanes refrain from shooting ahead, while people in the right through
lanes ? this is hard to swallow, for those of us inclined toward
vigilantism, but crucial ? leave big spaces in front of their cars for
the merging that is about to commence. We resist the
freeze-out-the-sidezoomer urge. We prepare to invite them in.

Finally,
at clearly marked or somehow mutually agreed upon places, everybody
starts conducting beautiful ?zipper merges.? That?s the technical term
? one-two, one-two or one-two-three, one-two-three ? as indicated by
the roadway configuration. The process has now worked at its ideal
efficiency/equitability ratio: if all have behaved correctly, the
tunnel passage has been both benign and, relatively speaking, quick.
Personal sacrifice has been called for, to be sure. The former
sidezoomers have sacrificed the pleasure of high-speed bypass, also
known as I Beat Out the Stupid Sheep Just Now, Ha Ha (less truculent
rendition: I Want to Get Home More Than I Care About Strangers Whose
Faces I Can?t Even See). The former lineuppers have sacrificed the
pleasure of self-congratulatory umbrage, also known as Hmph, Good Thing
Society Has People Like Me. Together we have all ascended to the
traffic decorum of the army ants, who as Vanderbilt observes are among
the earth?s most accomplished commuters, managing to get from one place
to another in large groups without cutting each other off, deciding
their time is more valuable than everybody else?s, or ? apparently this
is the fast-lane domination method for certain traveling land crickets
? eating anybody who gets in the way.

Actually getting the vast majority of drivers to do this would probably not be all that easy (look how hard it is to keep those slowpokes out of the left lane), but still, seems like it would be a great idea to emphasize this in Driver's Ed, just like they do other rules of good driving.  Who knows, we could actually end up spending less time waiting in construction zones.  Not that I'm holding my breath.

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