Obama is in trouble with all voters

Nice post by John Sides on an absolute staple of bad journalism.  That is, candidate X (in this case, Obama) is in trouble with some particular subset of voters when the trends are not at all unique to that group.   If Obama is down 5 points among young voters compared to 2008, but he’s down 5 points among all voters compared to 2008 that doesn’t tell you a single thing about “Obama and young voters.”  To wit:

Here is what journalists who write these stories need to do:

1) Compare the trends among the group in focus to the trends among other groups.  It doesn’t mean much if Obama is down among young voters if he’s down among middle-aged voters and seniors too.  Often, swings among demographic groups are fairly uniform, which suggests that a candidate may not have a unique problem with one group but a systemic problem with many groups.  You have to compare multiple groups at once.  I discussed this before with regard to Jewish voters and Obama.

Sides also addresses the point of averaging across more than one poll.  It always amazes me the way journalists will let a single outlier poll drive a story despite all common sense to the contrary.  Anyway, Sides puts together a nice chart comparing Obama’s support in 2008 and now:

Sides concludes:

Obama’s numbers in the Pew poll are about 1-5 points down among all 4 age groups—again, a similar shift that suggests his problem isn’t with any particular group. A recent YouGov poll (seethe pdf p.36) suggests something similar: among 18-29-year-olds, Obama has a 30-point edge, vs. 34 points in 2008.  His margin among seniors is also a little less favorable now (-13) than in the exit poll (-8).

But these shifts aren’t large. The coalitions that Obama and McCain assembled in November 2008 appear mostly intact at this very early date in 2012.

I think it is also noteworthy to see where he hasn’t lost a bit of support.  Blacks, not surprisingly, but Republicans have made a lot of talk about trying to make inroads with Hispanic voters and they clearly have a lot of work to do.  I do see those independent numbers as a significant warning sign for Obama.  I don’t think independents are necessarily determinative (as most of them aren’t really that independent), but the election winner almost always wins among independents as well.

Historical myths

Ezra Klein linked to this blog post on 5 historical misconceptions.   That’s right, Vikings did not actually wear pointy helmets.  Would’ve been a bad idea:

What would a Viking be without his trusty battle helmet and its impressive horns? The answer is: a more historically accurate viking.

Think, for a moment about wearing headgear like that into battle: the horns are just easy targets for your opponent to hit and knock off your helmet.

Or, if you strap on your helmet, now your opponent has a convenient lever with which to drag you to the ground and something to hold onto while slitting your throat.

Horned helmets are a terrible idea, which is why archeologists have never found them at viking battle sites and there’s no evidence that they were ever used.

Given that my son David and I just had an extended conversation about the inherent difficulties of countries using different measurement systems, my favorite was the explanation of Napoleon’s presumed small stature:

Famously this tiny, tiny general – perhaps to compensate for his short stature – took control of France greatly expanded its influence and dubbed himself emperor.

Napoleon’s official height was indeed 5 foot 2 inches but at the time French inches were longer than English inches, so doing the unit conversion, Napoleon’s height should have been reported as 5’7 in England’s imperial units – which is short by today’s standard but was average or slightly above average in the early 1800s.


Photo of the day

The figure at the bottom of the photo lets you know this is obviously not an American polling place, but from the first round of French elections this past weekend.  Love how dog-friendly they are in Europe.  Then again, you could see potential havoc when people start bringing their pit bulls and german shepherds to the polls.


Attendance seemed sparse in Henin-Beaumont in northern France.

Credit: Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

The real war on women

It’s not the Republican Party, it the routine and vicious institutionalized misogyny throughout the Middle East.  Mona Eltahawy writes a powerful essay on the matter in Foreign Policy.   A sampling:

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse…

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries…

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

Yowza.  And there’s plenty more of such cataloging in this essay.  My favorite part falls under her “So what is to be done?” conclusion:

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman.

Well, alright, then.  This is the part where I’ll come out and say that seeing a woman in a headscarf generally just angers me when I see it.  Sure, it may very well be her own individual choice, but to me that headscarf (and that’s only 1/10 the anger I feel at seeing a woman in an actual veil) is the symbol of a culture that brutally and systematically abrogates the rights and dignity of women.   In that sense, it’s not okay.  Again, for the individual woman I understand that she may be in a social/cultural/family position where she really does not have a lot of choice short of a radical break with her family and culture.  That said, I refuse to accept that a culture that insists that women’s sexuality is something dirty and corrupting to both women and men deserves my respect.  Now, if the status of women throughout all the head-scarf wearing cultures was not as abysmal as Eltahawy catalogs, I might feel differently.  Until then, no cultural relativism for me.

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