On making American great again 

This quote from Ron Brownstein (in a podcast via a Leonhardt post) nails it:

“Republicans have to find a way to talk to a changing America,” says Brownstein, who was a data-friendly political journalist before it was cool. “The key word in the Trump lexicon is ‘again.’ If you’re a 32-year-old Hispanic lawyer or a 27-year-old African-American architect or a 40-year-old white professional woman or a gay couple in Charlotte, North Carolina, you may not think things are perfect now, but there is no mythical ‘again’ you are trying to get back to.”


What went wrong for Gary Johnson?

asks the headline in Harry Enten’s latest analysis.  My answer– nothing.  Lacking a strong, positive appeal of their own (i.e., Wallace, Perot), third party candidates inevitably fade as election day nears.  Johnson is totally in keeping with this trend.  Enten:

This was supposed to be the year the Libertarian Party went mainstream. Given the two historically unpopular major party candidates and with aformer governor, Gary Johnson, as their nominee, things were looking good for the Libertarians. Johnson made it onto the ballot in all 50 states. He was regularly polling in the low double digits, and his support held up after the Democratic and Republican parties’ conventions — past the point when most third-party candidates begin to fade.

Things, however, have taken a turn for the worse for Johnson. His numbers are dropping — from about 9 percent in national polls in August to 6 percent now — and he’s been overshadowed by another (and previously even more obscure) third-party candidate…

Another plausible explanation is that Johnson was simply a “protest” choice. Perhaps many voters who said they were going to vote for him weren’t really interested in Johnson specifically but were merely voicing frustration with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton instead. There’s evidence for this. In August, when Johnson was flying high, a majority of voters had no opinion of him. In addition, many younger voters who as a group voted heavily for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary said they were going to vote for Johnson, even though Johnson and Sanders have very different ideologies. That seemed at least a little unsustainable. Indeed, as the campaign has taken shape and Sanders stumps for Clinton, Johnson’s numbers seem to be falling with young voters as Clinton’s rise.

In a historical sense, Johnson will still do quite well for a largely-unknown, poorly-funded, third party candidate.  Enten’s model (and my intuition) still think he’ll get over 5%.  One thing we know clearly about third party presidential voting is that it is, in significant degree, a sign of dissatisfaction with major party candidates.  And that likely gets us well above the 1-2% we commonly see.  But to really go well beyond the 5-6% Johnson will probably get, there’s got to be some real love for Gary Johnson, the actual candidate, not Johnson, the “not Trump or Clinton.”  And he’s not getting that and “Aleppo” moments and not being able to name a single admirable foreign leader surely don’t help.

How to read a poll (and how not to conduct one)

Nate Cohn wrote this a couple weeks ago, but with Republicans hanging all their hopes these days on the massive outlier polls from IBD/TIPP it’s worth posting Cohn’s piece on how to make sense of any single poll.  Lots of good advice, but I especially liked this part:

Comparing Where They Were

To get a sense of whether a poll is good or bad news for a certain candidate, I usually compare the results of the poll with the polling averages or the last poll conducted by the same pollster.

■ If the poll is very different from the polling average, there’s a good chance it’s an outlier. [emphasis mine]

■ If the poll shows a big shift from a prior survey, I also wonder whether the previous poll was an outlier. If so, a candidate might appear to rebound simply because he or she was unusually weak in a prior poll. So compare that prior poll with the average of the time, too.

■ It’s also worth looking at whether the candidate has gained or lost vote share. When candidates fall without good reason, I often assume they’re likelier than not to win back their former supporters. I definitely take note when candidates have won more supporters than they’ve won before. If that happens a lot, it’s a real sign of strength…

■ I really don’t look at party identification. We have no idea what the “right” partisan breakdown of the electorate really is: It’s an attitude, not a nearly fixed characteristic.

Depending on the news or the national political environment, Republican-leaning or Democratic-leaning voters can switch in and out of the “unaffiliated” or “independent” column. It is very clear that there are more self-identified Democrats than Republicans in the country, which has been true for about a decade.

But I will look at party registration, if it’s available from the voter file. That’s a pretty fixed characteristic: It doesn’t swing with the mood.

Also, an amazing story of polling gone wrong.  You may have noticed one particular poll (LA Times) that seemingly has a huge pro-Trump bias.  Turns out it is largely due to a single 19-year old Black man.  Nate Cohn again:

There is a 19-year-old black man in Illinois who has no idea of the role he is playing in this election.

He is sure he is going to vote for Donald J. Trump.

And he has been held up as proof by conservatives — including outlets like Breitbart News and The New York Post — that Mr. Trump is excelling among black voters. He has even played a modest role in shifting entire polling aggregates, like the Real Clear Politics average, toward Mr. Trump.

How? He’s a panelist on the U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, which has emerged as the biggest polling outlier of the presidential campaign. Despite falling behind by double digits in some national surveys, Mr. Trump has generally led in the U.S.C./LAT poll. He held the lead for a full month until Wednesday, when Hillary Clinton took a nominal lead.

Our Trump-supporting friend in Illinois is a surprisingly big part of the reason. In some polls, he’s weighted as much as 30 times more than the average respondent, and as much as 300 times more than the least-weighted respondent…

Alone, he has been enough to put Mr. Trump in double digits of support among black voters. He can improve Mr. Trump’s margin by 1 point in the survey, even though he is one of around 3,000 panelists.How has he made such a difference? And why has the poll been such an outlier? It’s because the U.S.C./LAT poll made a number of unusual decisions in designing and weighting its survey…

A typical national survey usually weights to make sure it’s representative across pretty broad categories, like the right number of men or the right number of people 18 to 29.

The U.S.C./LAT poll weights for many tiny categories: like 18-to-21-year-old men, which U.S.C./LAT estimates make up around 3.3 percent of the adult citizen population. Weighting simply for 18-to-21-year-olds would be pretty bold for a political survey; 18-to-21-year-old men is really unusual.

On its own, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with weighting for small categories like this. But it’s risky: Filling up all of these tiny categories generally requires more weighting.

A run of the U.S.C./LAT poll, for instance, might have only 15 or so 18-to-21-year-old men. But for those voters to make up 3.3 percent of the weighted sample, these 15 voters have to count as much as 86 people — an average weight of 5.7.

When you start considering the competing demands across multiple categories, it can quickly become necessary to give an astonishing amount of extra weight to particularly underrepresented voters — like 18-to-21-year-old black men.

Anyway, maybe the LA Times poll is right and almost everybody else is just wrong.  But, I strongly suspect we’ll have proof otherwise come November 8.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This whole Donald Trump book report thing is what the internet was made for.  So good.

2) Really good Zack Beauchamp piece on how Russia has been able to so successfully manipulate our media through Wikileaks:

When you hand over stolen information that’s damaging to Hillary Clinton to a radical transparency group that detests Hillary Clinton (because of her relatively hawkish foreign policy), the result is eminently predictable: That information will be published online for the entire world to see.

At that point, journalists really don’t have any option but to cover the disclosures.

Journalists can’t just ignore information that’s in the public interest because the source might be shady. If it’s important, true, and valuable for the public to know, then journalists really should be covering it. That’s why the New York Times, which resisted publishing information from hacked Sony emails in 2014, ended up covering them once they were made public.

“Is it possible to dismiss the fact that these emails have such tremendous news value? Absolutely not,” Lonnie Isabel, a senior lecturer at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, says of the recent Clinton disclosure. “A lot of the decisions that are made for us in the digital age are made simply by disclosure.”

3) How John Podesta (and Colin Powell were hacked).  Never, never, never click a link in an email unless you are 100% sure it is legit.

4) That was really, really dumb (on many levels) for Hillary Clinton to promise not to add a dime to the debt.

5) Dahlia Lithwick on McCain and the Supreme Court:

It seems to me that what’s causing all the melting messages here is the unforeseen consequence of a decades-long campaign by the GOP to make the composition of the court the only important issue for voters. Whether it was a way to rally opposition to Roe v. Wade, or a means of mobilizing gun rights voters, it’s useful to push the idea that the only thing that matters in a presidential contest is the court. The problem with that argument is that in its purest form it leads precisely to where we are today: Trump’s repeated claims that no matter how odious he may be as a candidate, you’ll vote for him anyhow because otherwise Hillary judges will destroy America.

For some people, that’s a convincing enough argument. Unfortunately for Trump, though, it’s been roundly rejected by anyone who believes that the rule of law is more important than the composition of the court. On the same day Grassley and McCain were ripping the mask off Garland obstruction as blood sport, a list of the most respected constitutional originalist scholars published a devastating attack on Donald Trump, regardless of whom he may name to the court.

6) Evan Osnos on what a Trump loss does to the Republican Party.

7) Frustrating political battle with the Carbon Tax in Washington State.

8) The actual reality of late-term abortion.  Shockingly, it’s not at all what Donald Trump describes.

9) How Republicans have made very fertile ground for Trump’s claim of election “rigging.”

Over the past few years, Republicans in many states took an opportunity — enabled by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling — to pass a series of new restrictions on voting. Critics said the restrictions disproportionately hurt minority voters. But Republican backers, at least in public, have pointed to a single issue to defend the measures: voter fraud.

A previous report by the US Department of Justice captured the sentiment among many Republicans: Rep. Sue Burmeister, a lead sponsor of Georgia’s voter restriction law, told the Justice Department that “if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud. [Burmeister] said that when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls.” Other Republicans, such as North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Iowa Rep. Steve King, have similarly warned about the dangers of voter fraud.

Trump isn’t even the first Republican presidential candidate to raise concerns about voter fraud. Back in 2008, many Republicans, with the support of conservative media outlets like Fox News, pushed concerns that ACORN — a community organization that focused in part on registering African-American voters — was engaging in mass-scale election fraud. At the time, Republican nominee John McCain warned that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

10) And, speaking of which, voter fraud reality– with skittles!

11) Chait on the 2000 Florida recount and Trump.

12) County-by-county maps of 2012 and what they can tell us about 2016.

13) Yglesias on the “silent majority” for Hillary Clinton.

14) It’s more than fine to be an “anti-helicopter” parent.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it.

15) Maria Konnikova on how practice doesn’t make perfect.  Honestly, I find it amazing that there are still serious people out there arguing that genetics doesn’t matter in these things.  Time to plug The Sports Gene again.

16) NYT on how the Trump and Clinton Foundations are different (mostly, the Clinton Foundation money mostly goes to helping needy people).

17) Really enjoyed Ron Brownstein on the changing electoral college map:

That new geographic pattern is rooted in the race’s defining demographic trends. In the six major national polls released just before last week’s first presidential debate, Trump led among white voters without a college education by resounding margins of 20 to 32 percentage points. But he confronted deficits of 40-50 points among non-white voters, and was facing more resistance than any previous Republican nominee in the history of modern polling among college-educated whites: five of the six surveys showed him trailing among them by margins of two-to-eleven percentage points (while he managed only to run even in the sixth.) The race is on track to produce the widest gap ever between the preferences of college-and non-college whites, while Trump may reach record lows among voters of color…

While the Sunbelt states are growing steadily more diverse, the Rustbelt states are remaining predominantly white, and aging at that: as I wrote earlier this year, the non-partisan States of Change project has projected that from 2008 to 2016 the minority share of eligible voters will rise by more in each of the Sunbelt swing states than in any of the Rustbelt battlegrounds. And data from both the Census Bureau and the exit polls show that whites without a college-education represent a larger share of the vote in almost all of the Rustbelt states than any of the Sunbelt states. Indeed, one key reason Pennsylvania is stronger for Clinton than Ohio is that college-educated whites represent a larger share of the vote there, especially in the exit poll data.

18) And, speaking of demographic trends, not at all surprising that Asian-Americans of all kinds are pretty united against Trump (as the Republican Party is ever more the White People’s Party).


19) I have little doubt that blinding prosecutors to the race of the person charged would lead to more fair outcomes.

20) Great Krugman column on Hillary Clinton:

When political commentators praise political talent, what they seem to have in mind is the ability of a candidate to match one of a very limited set of archetypes: the heroic leader, the back-slapping regular guy you’d like to have a beer with, the soaring orator. Mrs. Clinton is none of these things: too wonky, not to mention too female, to be a regular guy, a fairly mediocre speechifier; her prepared zingers tend to fall flat.

Yet the person tens of millions of viewers saw in this fall’s debates was hugely impressive all the same: self-possessed, almost preternaturally calm under pressure, deeply prepared, clearly in command of policy issues. And she was also working to a strategic plan: Each debate victory looked much bigger after a couple of days, once the implications had time to sink in, than it may have seemed on the night.

Oh, and the strengths she showed in the debates are also strengths that would serve her well as president. Just thought I should mention that. And maybe ordinary citizens noticed the same thing; maybe obvious competence and poise in stressful situations can add up to a kind of star quality, even if it doesn’t fit conventional notions of charisma.

Furthermore, there’s one thing Mrs. Clinton brought to this campaign that no establishment Republican could have matched: She truly cares about her signature issues, and believes in the solutions she’s pushing.

I know, we’re supposed to see her as coldly ambitious and calculating, and on some issues — like macroeconomics — she does sound a bit bloodless, even when she clearly understands the subject and is talking good sense. But when she’s talking about women’s rights, or racial injustice, or support for families, her commitment, even passion, are obvious. She’s genuine, in a way nobody in the other party can be.

So let’s dispel with this fiction that Hillary Clinton is only where she is through a random stroke of good luck. She’s a formidable figure, and has been all along.

21) And last, read this terrific Alec MacGillis piece on how people are increasingly sorting themselves out geographically and politically.  It makes it really hard for Democrats:

More recently, a confluence of several trends has conspired to make the sorting disadvantageous for Democrats on an even broader scale — increasing the party’s difficulties in House races while also affecting Senate elections and, potentially, future races for the presidency.

First, geographic mobility in the United States has become very class-dependent. Once upon a time, lower-income people were willing to pull up stakes and move to places with greater opportunity — think of the people who fled the Dust Bowl for California in the 1930s, or those who took the “Hillbilly Highway” out of Appalachia to work in Midwestern factories, or Southern blacks on the Great Migration. In recent decades, though, internal migration has slowed sharply, and the people who are most likely to move for better opportunities are the highly educated.

Second, higher levels of education are increasingly correlated with voting Democratic. This has been most starkly on display in the 2016 election, as polls suggest that Donald J. Trump may be the first Republican in 60 years to not win a majority of white voters with college degrees, even as he holds his own among white voters without degrees. But the trend of increasing Democratic identification among college graduates, and increasing Republican identification among non-graduates, was underway before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene. Today, Democrats hold a 12-point edge in party identification among those with a college degree or more. In 2004, the parties were even on that score.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Larry Lessig’s awesome reaction to being insulted in hacked emails.

2) Big Pharma to America: More pills.  Always more pills.

3) Great response from the editor of the Arizona Republic for the deplorable backlash they received in response for endorsing Clinton.

4) My daughter is generally loving kindergarten, but it is undoubtedly too focused on academics without enough time for fun.  Pretty jealous of they do it in Finland.

5) Josh Barro on why he left the Republican party (and I highly recommend following him on twitter).

6) Former grad school friend David Kimball on actually effective election reforms (as opposed to Voter ID).

7) Aziz Ansari with a great video on why you should vote (it’s short, just watch):

8) Jamelle Bouie on how this election could make the Latino vote as Democratic as the Black vote.

For Trump, Latino immigrants join Muslims and Syrian refugees as potential threats, fundamentally incompatible with American life. If they’re here, they have to be removed, and if they’re not here, they need to be kept out. In turn, for Latino Americans and their families, this makes Trump an existential threat to their lives and livelihoods. Only 21 percent of Latinos say the GOP cares about their community, and 70 percent say that Trump has made the Republican Party more hostile to them. In another survey, polling and research firm Latino Decisions asked Latino registered voters to gauge two statements: “Donald Trump’s campaign talk and policy views make me fear for the future of my family and our country” and “Donald Trump truly has the best interest of my family and our country in mind.” Eighty-two percent of respondents agreed with the first statement, that Trump makes them fear for their families and their country. Eighteen percent agreed with the latter…

In the wake of Obama’s election, the national Republican Party was already on this path. But Trump has been an accelerant, driving Latino Americans away from the GOP with xenophobia and unyielding hostility. And in fact, this has had an unintended side effect: Asian Americans are leaving the Republican Party, too, in record numbers, and for similar reasons. A GOP that nominates Trump—and embraces nativism—is one that lacks room for all immigrant and nonwhite groups.

9) Trump has called for term limits.  Fortunately, the terrible idea of term limits has really dropped off.  But not surprising for Trump to embrace a terrible idea.  Lee Drutman explains why term limits are a bad idea.

Term limits also strengthen the power of lobbyists and interest groups for the same reason. In term-limited states, lawmakers and their staff have less time to build up expertise, since they are there for a limited time. But like the executive agencies of the state government, lobbyists and interest groups are also there year after year. They are the true repeat players building long-term relationships and the true keepers of the institutional knowledge. This gives them power.

It’s a nice fantasy that what Washington needs is a bunch of good old-fashioned common sense — common sense that can only come from people who aren’t “career politicians.” But the machinery of government is now incredibly complex. And the more we cling to the fantasy of electing uncorrupted political neophytes as saviors, the more we empower the lobbyists and bureaucrats who can accumulate a lifetime of experience and knowledge.

10) Trump and the increasing generational split among Evangelicals.

11) Republican election lawyer on the impossibility of actually rigging American elections.

12) NYT Editorial on “shameful silence” of Republicans on Trump’s vote-rigging claims.

13) I like Harry Enten’s formulation for the analysis of the gender gap this year, “Men Are Treating 2016 As A ‘Normal’ Election; Women Aren’t.”

14) The sugar conspiracy (thanks, DJC)

15) I really like the idea behind this piece– how to make a psychological exit ramp for Trump supporters to leave his odious campaign behind.

16) John Oliver clearly speaking directly to the Millennials who might think it a good idea to vote for Johnson or Stein.


17) Want to know what’s up with Trump always saying “the Blacks” and “the Hispanics”?  Read this.

18) David French on what happens when a conservative prominently opposed Donald Trump.  It’s ugly.

19) James Fallows on the debates:

From the opening moments of the first debate, she sent out a a nonstop stream of provocations, subtle or obvious, all tailored to wounding Trump’s vanities. The topics ranged from his not really being rich, to being a man of the beauty-pageant world, to not paying taxes, to being a chronic liar, to generally being preposterous. Sooner or later in each debate, usually sooner, it worked! Trump simply could not resist the bait. He would go off on exactly the tirades the Clinton campaign was hoping to evoke from him. You saw it again last night: for the first 30 minutes or so, he was so stately as to seem semi-sedated. Then she began teasing him, and she got him to snap and interrupt.

So from an unprecedented and potentially unpredictable confrontation, we saw the behavior many people anticipated from each candidate. Very carefully prepped Belichick-type execution of a precise plan from one side. On the other side, wild slugging by someone who might as well have had a bucket over his head. [emphasis mine]

20) With all the recent talk of Al Gore (who acted entirely appropriately regarding conceding the election) here’s a look back on how we was so robbed (it’s all about the overvotes).

21) Really interesting piece from Daniel Engber on the role of frame rate in film.

22) In case you missed Colbert’s R-rated “Venn diagram.”

23) I must say, one of the more enjoyable features of twitter this election season is the fact that Bill Mitchell is a real person posting non-ironically.

24) Ezra on Hillary and the debates:

Two things have been true throughout the debates. One is that Trump has been, at every turn, underprepared, undisciplined, and operating completely without a strategy. In one of the third debate’s most unintentionally revealing moments, Trump said, “I sat in my apartment today … watching ad after false ad, all paid for by your friends on Wall Street,” an inadvertent admission that he was inhaling cable news when he should have been prepping for the debate.

But the other reality is that Clinton has been, at every turn, prepared, disciplined, and coldly strategic. She triggered Trump’s epic meltdown purposely, and kept Trump off balance over multiple weeks that probably represented his last chance to turn the election around. She was ready for every question, prepared for every attack, and managed to goad Trump into making mistakes that became the main story the day after every single debate.

It is easy, now, to assume her victory was assured, to read Trump’s collapse as inevitable. But remember that he triumphed over a talented, 17-person Republican field in debate after debate to win the primary — one-on-one contests are unique, it’s true, but there was no particular reason to think Trump couldn’t use his bullying, blustering showmanship to take over the stage and expose Clinton as inauthentic and out of touch. The reason he didn’t is because she never let him.

We aren’t used to this kind of victory. We aren’t used to candidates winning not so much because of how they performed but because of how they pushed their opponent into performing. But the fact that we aren’t used to this kind of victory doesn’t make it any less impressive. Hillary Clinton has humbled Donald Trump, and she did it her way.

25) Dark Mirror season 3 came out yesterday on Netflix.  So loved the first two seasons.  Especially, the Christmas episode with John Hamm.  Brilliant.


How polling firms are like mutual funds

Ever research a mutual fund to buy?  Just maybe, you’ve seen “past performance is not an indicator of future results.”  Yes, some mutual funds really are better than others, but there’s a hell of a lot of randomness going on in mutual fund performance.  I read John Bogle’s (guru of index fund investing) book on the matter way back in graduate school and he explains nicely how when you have literally thousands of funds, just by sheer statistical chance, a certain number of funds are going to beat the market for a 5 or 10 year run.  Now, maybe some of those funds have great stock pickers, but it is just as likely that they were basically on a lucky run.  Buy a fund because it’s got a good record over 5 years, it is far more likely to regress to the mean than to keep over-performing.

Why a long paragraph on mutual funds?  Because IBD/TIPP has just released a poll that has Trump up by 1 (here it is in the Pollster average).  And, apparently, they were among the most accurate pollsters in 2012.  Now, some pollsters really do use more careful and effective methods than others (i.e., cell phones and landlines with multiple callbacks, etc.), but even those using state of the art procedures are going to get some pretty different results.  And, statistically-speaking, that’s just going to happen.  More likely that IBD is just somehow better than Selzter and Monmouth (to name a couple of 538 A+ pollsters), or that they quasi-randomly had a final election sample that was right on the nose in 2012?  I think you know the answer.  Short version: never get too excited (or worried) over a single poll!  Shorter version: stick with the aggregate.  Oh, yeah, and index funds.

Photo of the day

Just discovered this photo from my 5th grade visit a few weeks ago:

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