Photo of the day

From an Atlantic series on modern slavery:


Accra, Ghana: Many of those enslaved had children with them while panning for gold, wading in waters poisoned by mercury that is used in the extraction process.  (Lisa Kristine)

PPP comes clean!

Kudos to Tom Jensen for such a great sense of humor.  In response to all the conservative complaints of skewed polls, Tom has released the “unskewed” poll to make all the Republicans happy.  Here’s a bit (whole thing at the link).

And why we’re at it, a nice Politco piece where Jensen and Larry Sabato take a look at the electoral college.

Voter supression

Really enjoyed this post from Tim Noah complaining about the fact that not even the reality-based conservatives have come out against the voter suppression efforts of the GOP:

But for anyone who’s free to contemplate voter suppression from a more disinterested journalistic perch, the utter phoniness of the GOP’s movement to squelch voter fraud must surely be obvious. It’s not as if conservative commentators are going out of their way to defend these practices, as they might be expected to do if they actually believed all the GOP’s partisan nonsense about large-scale voter fraud, which has been disproven time and again…

In Ohio, Franklin County Republican Chairman Doug Preisse, when asked whether it was fair to end weekend voting, said, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”

These shenanigans have, of course, been going on a long time; William Rehnquist, for instance, was a “ballot security” activist before he went on the Supreme Court, and did his best to keep minorities from voting in Arizona. But now voter suppression has gone respectable, with Voter ID laws in 33 states, and it’s acquired a growing urgency as the country’s white majority slips away. The suppression techniques have become so blatant that judges in Ohio and Pennsylvania recently ruled against them, even though the Supreme Court has extended them some (wrong-headed) protection. Tova Wang points out in The Politics Of Voter Suppression that it has become common for conservative politicians to assert that voting is a privilege, not a right. (“This is a hard-fought privilege,” Florida State Sen. Michael Bennett said in defense of that state’s unusually draconian anti-“fraud” bill. “You want to make it convenient? The guy who died to give you that right, it was not convenient. Why would we make it any easier?”)

That is not an argument, or a set of practices, that any principled conservative should tolerate. I’m surprised and disheartened that so many do.

I’m not surprised.  Or maybe the “principled conservatives really aren’t principled.  I was on an election panel yesterday with an actual principled conservative and it was not hard to come to agreement across the ideological spectrum that if the government was going to provide photo ID to vote that it was incumbent upon the government to ensure that this burden was as low as possible.  Democrats don’t object to photo ID in principle, only in the reality that it is a significant burden for many to obtain a photo ID.  Sadly, it’s that very fact that has instigated so many Republicans to push these laws.

Photo of the day

Oldest known photograph of a human:

The oldest known photograph of a person, 1838 – a Parisian getting his shoes shined. It was taken in the middle of a busy street, but because the exposure time was over 10 minutes, the moving traffic wasn’t captured. Because the man stood still long enough to have his boots polished, he was captured in the daguerreotype. 

The oldest known photograph of a person, 1838 – a Parisian getting his shoes shined. It was taken in the middle of a busy street, but because the exposure time was over 10 minutes, the moving traffic wasn’t captured. Because the man stood still long enough to have his boots polished, he was captured in the daguerreotype. 

Political scientists are trying to ruin journalists’ fun

Great piece in Bloomberg View:

Wright then produces a menu of Romney comeback narratives for reporters to seize upon, mercilessly flog and then abandon in turn for still fresher diversions.

Anyone who has witnessed a presidential campaign or two will find this premise familiar. As long as there are newspapers to sell, web traffic to juice and TV ratings to increase, we’ll have incentives for an “October surprise” or a “game changer” or whatever cliché comes next.

But look around: This sacred tradition is increasingly imperiled. In fact, the media’s capacity for creating self-serving, fanciful political narratives is more constrained today than ever. An army of spoilsports — many with Ph.Ds in political science — has established camp on the banks of the Web, from which it takes aim at whatever diaphanous journalistic concoctions float past.

Take John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington who runs the annoyingly excellentMonkey Cage blog (and who co-authored this for Bloomberg View). The guy is a total downer.

Every time some reporter starts to have a little narrative fun, Sides gets all political science-y on them. Here he is tsk-tsking Politico’s Jonathan Martin for writing that, based on a reading of grim economic data, Barack Obama‘s re-election should be “close to a mathematical impossibility.”

First, I wish Martin had at least quoted some political science or some forecasting model or something. Anything, really. Because otherwise the evidence for this assertion is terribly lacking.

Martin actually hedged his assertion, in part by attributing it to Republicans bewildered by Obama’s campaign strength. But here is Monkey Cage contributor Andrew Gelman of Columbia analyzing an unhedged version of the pitch by Niall Ferguson. (If you don’t want to click through, just trust me: It isn’t pretty.)

To bring this home, here’s Sides again stating that regardless of what you’ve heard or imagined, the economic fundamentals do not spell doom for Obama. If anything, they might give him a slight edge in the campaign.

Look, I’m basically on the side of the “narrative” guys. I enjoy making up half-baked theories and then sending them downstream and seeing what happens. But these Monkey Cage types are draining all the hijinx out of the game. This is war.

The campaign narrative is so much more fun.  It’s hard even for many of us political scientists to resist it.  Sides and others have certainly created a much-needed corrective to the media seeing pretty much everything as about the campaign.  That said, some elements of the campaign are going to matter in a close race.  E.g., I think the 47% matters at the margins and I think the fact that Romney really is rich plutocrat who struggles to connect with ordinary voters matters.  I just think the state of the economy, partisanship, and presidential approval matters a lot more.

Hello Springfield!

Mitt Romney campaigned in my hometown of Springfield, VA yesterday.  Dana Milbank took it on with his characteristic snark:

Meet Willard Mitt Romney, champion of the common man.

“Do you realize over the last four years the median income in America has dropped every single year?” the candidate asked his supporters during a stop in Springfield on Thursday. “At the same time,” he added, “food prices are up; electric prices are up; gasoline prices have doubled. These are tough times for the American people.”

But these are not tough times for a lot of Romney boosters, judging by the look of things.

Romney made this stand for the little guy in the heart of Fairfax County, which has thesecond-highest household income in the nation (neighboring Loudoun County is No. 1). Seemingly everyone in the 200-strong crowd was fingering a smartphone, with the exception of the guy in the polo shirt in the second row reading the Wall Street Journal, and the linen-blazer-clad guy in the eighth row checking the Drudge Report on his iPad.

To get a better sense of the economic status of the invitation-only crowd, I strolled the parking lot — and found a fleet of BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and Cadillac SUVs, as well as Jaguar, Audi, Lexus and BMW sports cars. Parked near the entrance: a black Rolls-Royce Silver Spur III with vanity plates saying “MY ROLLS” — and a Romney bumper sticker.

When it comes to speaking up for the downtrodden, Romney isn’t just another man of the people. He is the Rolls-Royce of populists.

Obviously, I was from the wrong side of the tracks in Springfield.  Most of my friends and neighbors were far more likely to have a Camry or Accord (including the Greene household) than a BMW or Mercedes.  My dad finally bought a Jaguar a few years back after he had actually shifted away from the Republican party.

Wake up

The safe for work version (though I am posting this Friday night) of the fabulous Samuel L. Jackson video telling you to get to work for Obama.  Love the Seussian rhyme scheme:

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day.  Just wow:

Picture of an aurora borealis above the Arctic Circle

Aurora Borealis, Svalbard

Photograph by Max Edin, Your Shot

Laptops and multi-tasking

In a college committee meeting this week, we discussed best practices for how to deal with laptops in the classroom.  One suggestion, was to make clear to students the myth of multi-tasking and just how much this could negatively affect classroom performance.  Well, lo and behold, just a few days later I come across this wonderfully handy summary via a professor friend on FB:

The question is, how do we get students to stop? We can tell them they shouldn’t. We can include policies that aim to prevent it and devote time and energy trying to implement them. I wonder if it isn’t smarter to confront students with the facts. Not admonitions, but concrete evidence that multitasking compromises their efforts to learn. The specifics are persuasive and here are some examples to share with students.

  • In an experiment involving 62 undergraduate students taking a principles of accounting course, half of the cohort was allowed to text during a lecture and half had their phones turned off. After the lecture both groups took the same quiz and the students who did not text scored significantly higher on the quiz…
  • This research focused on the use of laptops in a 15-week management information systems class enrolling 97 upper division students. With student consent, researchers used a spyware program that tracked the windows and page names for each software application run during class time. Students were encouraged to run “productive windows”—those that related to course content. Spyware also tracked the number of “distractive windows” students ran, including games, pictures, email, instant messaging and web surfing. Students had these distractive windows open 42% of the class time. Students who tried to listen to the lecture while using these distractive windows had significantly lower scores on homework, projects, quizzes, final exams and final course averages than students who looked at mostly productive windows. Researchers also found that this population under reported the extent of their multitasking.
  • Students in a general psychology course completed weekly surveys on various aspects of the class. They reported their attendance, and if they used laptops during class for things other than note taking (like checking email, instant messaging, surfing the Web, playing games). They also rated how closely they paid attention to the lectures, how clear they found the lectures and how confident they were they understood the lecture material. The level of laptop use negatively correlated with how much attention students paid to the lectures, the clarity of the lectures and how well they understood the lecture material. “The level of laptop use was significantly and negatively related to student learning. The more students used their laptops in class, the lower their class performance.” (p. 910)

And several more.  My question: what exactly does the social psychology have to say about telling people information like this having an impact on their behavior.  I’d imagine you’d get a lot of “well, not for me” response.  Still, you better believe this information will make it’s way into my first-day-of-class lecture from now on.

But, but, but… it’s the skewed polls!

I think Kevin Drum’s comments about the latest conservative denialism over polls they don’t like is spot on:

 A couple of years after the 2004 election, a guy named Nate Silver started deconstructing polls in minute detail and explaining exactly what made some polls good and others bad. His approach was unsparingly rigorous and his overarching message was: don’t kid yourself. The numbers are what the numbers are, and they don’t care if you’re a liberal or a conservative. Week after week, Silver dug deep into the minutiae of how polls are put together and how they’re conducted, writing lengthy, table-laden posts that often meandered through several thousand words. Liberals loved it. Before long he was, for all practical purposes, the liberal patron saint of polling…

So far at least, the conservative approach has been….different. Their patron saint going into the last few weeks of the 2012 campaign is Dean Chambers, a blogger who runs a site called UnSkewed Polls. Chambers does not dig deep into the numbers. He doesn’t explain sample sizes and cell phone biases. He does just one thing: he reweights all the polls so they have the same proportion of Democrats and Republicans estimated by Rasmussen Reports, a pollster with a longstanding Republican house effect. Then he announces what the numbers are after his reweighting is done. Romney is a big winner every time.

Chambers doesn’t even pretend that his approach has any rigor…

And it suggests a fundamental difference between left and right, one that Chris Mooney wrote about earlier this year in The Republican Brain. Neither side has a monopoly on sloppy number crunching or wishful thinking, but liberals, faced with a reality they didn’t like, ended up accepting reality and deciding to learn more about it. That’s the Nate Silver approach. Conservatives, faced with a reality they didn’t like, invented a conspiracy theory to explain it and then produced an alternate reality more to their liking. It’s a crude and transparently glib reality, but that’s apparently what the true believers want.

Sad, but true.  Of course there are reality-based thinkers on the right, but like David Frum, they end up getting ignored and marginalized whereas unskewed polls becomes the darling of conservatives.

Obama’s bump = Paul Ryan?

There’s quite the interesting debate going on among political scientists on twitter, FB, and the blogs about just how damaging the 47% was to Romney.   John Sides concludes that he’s 30% certain it’s responsible for a 1% swing to Obama.  Personally, I’m 60% certain it’s responsible for more than that.   Leaving all that aside, Noam Scheiber makes a pretty compelling case– by looking at internals of various polls now and before the Ryan selection– that Ryan has done serious damage to Romney:

Back in late August, Obama led Romney on the question of who would handle Medicare better by 8 points in Florida and 10 points in Ohio; now he’s up 15 in Florida and 16 in Ohio. And the problems are especially acute among senior citizens, a group Obama has traditionally struggled with. A month ago, Obama as down 13 points in Florida among people 65 and older; today he’s up 4. On the specific question of Medicare, Obama was down 4 points among Florida seniors in August; today he’s up 5 points…

The numbers for Ohio are similar: In August, Obama was down 8 among seniors in the state; today he’s up 1. A month ago Obama was down 6 points among Ohio seniors on the Medicare issue; today he’s up 6. The turnaround here is simply breathtaking…

Interestingly, the early post-Ryan polling actually showed the GOP ticket gaining groundon Medicare, if only by disingenuously accusing Obama of cutting $716 billion from the program to pay for healthcare reform. (Ryan had proposed identical cuts, except in his case they would have been refunded to the wealthy as tax cuts.) But that that was before the Democrats joined the fight. Since then, the Dems have relentlessly attacked the Ryan plan, both at their convention and on the campaign trail, and the numbers have followed suit. It’s hard to believe Obama would have had the success he’s had here without Ryan himself on the ticket.

So, yes, the “47 percent” is a big deal. But the likely upshot is to prevent Romney from getting up off the mat, not to knock him down in the first place. It’s Ryan who deserves credit for that.

I must say, those numbers do make a pretty good case.  I’d actually be even more persuaded if we could see a consistently larger movement on the Medicare issue in swing states vs. uncontested states.  Of course, there’s not exactly a lot of polling in uncontested states.

Chart of the day

Via Wonkblog:

Obama’s plan would create 1.1 million jobs in 2013 and 280,000 jobs in 2014, while Romney’s budget would create 87,000 jobs in 2013 and lose 641,000 jobs in 2014, provided that his plans are deficit-financed, according to a new EPI study (pdf).

How did EPI come to its conclusions? By using multipliers of the GDP impact of spending and tax policies based on those published by Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.

[Zandi was McCain’s economic adviser]

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