Tag Archives: election

The GOP’s electoral triumph

You knew there was one, right?  While the national party was crying in its beer, Wisconsin Republicans held the State Assembly and took back the State Senate, undoing the results of last year’s recalls and regaining complete control of the legislative process.  After a December special election to fill the seat left open by Rich Zipperer (best political name of 2012?) the Republicans are expected to hold a Dale Schultz-proof 18-15 majority in the upper chamber.

That’s not such a surprise; a GOP-friendly redistricting generated a slight majority of Republican State Senate districts in this purple state.  More impressive is that Republicans may not have lost any of the healthy majority they hold in the Assembly, an advantage obtained in 2010 when the GOP gained 15 seats out of 96 in play.  That means there are a lot of new Assembly members who are well to the right of their districts.  With the 2012 electorate back to a more normal partisan distribution, how did all these people keep their seats?

My guess is that people just don’t pay much attention to Assembly races, and that the incumbency advantage there is even bigger than it is for federal positions.  After all, it’s reasonably safe to vote for the US Senate candidate nominated by your preferred party; that person’s been vetted at a high level and the chance that they’re an incompetent or a loon can reasonably be considered pretty small.  But a State Assembly candidate?  If the first time you see their name is on Election Day, it’s not totally nuts to go with the incumbent.

My guess is that the Assembly won’t switch control again, or even move close to 50-50, until there’s another Democratic wave election.  Despite the many reasons Democrats have to be happy today, this election wasn’t it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Walker and Obama

Back in June, before the recall election, I argued against the view that a Walker victory spelled trouble for Obama’s re-election campaign in Wisconsin:

“if Walker actually wins by 7, it means there’s no massive shift to the GOP going on in this state, and you’re a broadly popular incumbent President whose hometown is within a half-day’s drive of most of Wisconsin’s population, your prospects here are pretty good…..

In 2010, Walker won as a non-incumbent in a regular election. If he gets the same margin against the same opponent, as a sitting governor, in a recall that not all Democrats think should have happened, I take that as a signal that the state of the electorate has shifted back to something like normal,, from the abnormally Democratic year of 2008 and the abnormally Republican year of 2010.”

In fact, Walker did win by 7.  And I think my assessment of what that meant for the November electorate is looking pretty good!

 

 

 

 

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Will Mitt Romney be the next Al Gore?

He could, like Gore, win the popular vote while losing in the electoral college.  He will certainly lose his home state, as Gore did (and is pretty likely to lose the state where he grew up, as well.)  And, like Gore, his campaign has kept the previous two-term President from his own party decidedly at arm’s length.  (OK, in Romney’s case, it’s more like a Gadget arm.)

If Romney loses, will he devote his post-political career to a cause as Gore has with climate change?  What would Romney’s cause be?

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If you can’t say anything intelligent about probability, don’t say anything at all

This, from Politico’s Dylan Byers, is infuriating:

Prediction is the name of Silver’s game, the basis for his celebrity. So should Mitt Romney win on Nov. 6, it’s difficult to see how people can continue to put faith in the predictions of someone who has never given that candidate anything higher than a 41 percent chance of winning (way back on June 2) and — one week from the election — gives him a one-in-four chance, even as the polls have him almost neck-and-neck with the incumbent.

Why?  Why is it difficult to see that?  Does Dylan Byers not know the difference between saying something is unlikely to happen and declaring that it will not happen?

Silver cautions against confusing prediction with prophecy. “If the Giants lead the Redskins 24-21 in the fourth quarter, it’s a close game that either team could win. But it’s also not a “toss-up”: The Giants are favored. It’s the same principle here: Obama is ahead in the polling averages in states like Ohio that would suffice for him to win the Electoral College. Hence, he’s the favorite,” Silver said.

For all the confidence Silver puts in his predictions, he often gives the impression of hedging. Which, given all the variables involved in a presidential election, isn’t surprising. For this reason and others — and this may shock the coffee-drinking NPR types of Seattle, San Francisco and Madison, Wis. — more than a few political pundits and reporters, including some of his own colleagues, believe Silver is highly overrated.

Hey!  That’s me!  I live in Madison, Wisconsin!  I drink coffee!  Wait, why was that relevant again?

To sum up:  Byers thinks Nate Silver is overrated because he “hedges” — which is to say, he gives an accurate assessment of what’s going on instead of an inaccurate one.

This makes me want to stab my hand with a fork.

I’m happy that Ezra Klein at the Post decided to devote a big chunk of words to explaining just how wrong this viewpoint is, so I don’t have to.  You know what, though, I’ll bet Ezra Klein drinks coffee.

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Obama 5, Romney 3 in the 7th

Lots of people are following Nate Silver’s election tracking over at 538, especially his top-line estimate of the probability that Barack Obama will be re-elected in November.  Silver has that number at 79.7% today.  Sounds like good news for Obama.  But it’s hard to get a gut feeling for what that number means.  Yeah, it means Obama has a 4 in 5 chance of winning — but since the election isn’t going to happen 5 times, that proportion doesn’t quite engage the intuition.

Here’s one trick I thought of, which ought to work for baseball fans.  The Win Probability Inquirer over at Hardball Times will estimate the probability of a baseball team winning a game under any specified set of conditions.  Visiting team down by 4 in the 2nd, but has runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out?  They’ve got a 26% chance of winning.  Next batter strikes out?  Their chances go down to 22%.

So when do you have a 79.7% of winning?  If we consider the Obama-Romney race to have started in April or May, when Romney wrapped up the nomination, we’re about 2/3 of the way through — so let’s the 7th inning.  If the visiting team is ahead by 2 runs going into the 7th, they’ve got an 82% chance of winning.  That’s pretty close.  If you feel the need to tweak the knobs, say the first two batters of the inning fail to reach; with two outs in the top of the 7th, bases empty and a 2-run lead, the visitors win 79.26% of the time, just a half-percent off from Silver’s estimate.

So:  Obama 5, Romney 3, top of the 7th.  How certain do you feel that Obama wins?

Update:  (request from the comments)  Silver currently has Obama with an 85.% chance of winning.  That’s like:  home team up 5-3, visitors batting in the top of the 8th, runner on first with one out.

 

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Absentee ballot non-hijinx in the Wisconsin recalls

I’m in the Atlantic today talking about the charges that GOP-linked groups sent Democratic voters absentee ballot applications with the wrong due date, in order to trick them into missing the election.  It can’t be denied there’s been a lot of sleaze and bad acting in this election, but I think this one was an honest mistake.  The anti-Fred Clark ad Wisconsin Family Action is running, on the other hand, is vile.

 

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Iranian election statistics — never mind the digits?

I blogged last year about claims that fraud in the 2009 Iranian election could be detected by studying irregularities in the distribution of terminal digits.  Eric A. Brill just e-mailed me an article of his which argues against this methodology, pointing out that the provincial vote totals (the ones with the fishy last digits) agree with the sums of the county totals, which in turn agree with the sums of the district totals.  In order for the provincial totals to have been made up, you’d have to change a lot of county totals too (changing the total in just one county by a believable amount presumably wouldn’t make a big enough difference in the provincial totals.)  But if you add Ahmadinejad votes to a county here and a county there, the provincial total would be the sum of a bunch of human-chosen numbers, and there’s no reason to expect such a sum to have non-uniformly distributed last digits.  The Beber-Scacco model requires that the culprits start with a target number at the provincial level and then carefully modify county and district level numbers to make the sums match.  But why would they?

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On the Iranian election returns, in Slate

In today’s Slate I write about the claim that the official Iranian election returns are too linear to be true.

The graph (via Tehran Bureau) looks pretty amaing; but in fact, as I explain, it’s pretty much what you’d expect real election data to look like.

One point there wasn’t room for in the piece; if you look carefully at the chart above, you’ll see that the folks at Tehran Bureau got the election returns to fit the line y = 0.5238x – 742642 very well.  But in some sense that’s irrelevant, unless there’s some reasonable expectation that  clerical powers-that-be would want faked election numbers to follow a funny line with a negative y-intercept.  When R.A. Fisher went after Gregor Mendel, it wasn’t just because Mendel’s results looked suspiciously regular; it was because they looked suspiciously close to Mendel’s theoretical predictions.  If Mendel shaded the data, consciously or not, that’s the direction it would go.

I mean, I can fit a really nice quadratic in x to the Iranian election data — or, for that matter, U.S. election data — but absent any reason to posit a vast parabola-loving conspiracy, it’s just not that suspicious.

Update: (June 18)  Lots more material around the web about Iranian election stats.  A preprint on the arXiv claims the official numbers violate Benford’s law, but Andrew Gelman says no. On the other hand, via Mark Blumenthal at Pollster, I learn that Walter Mebane at Michigan finds some suspicious-looking irregularities in the town-level data.

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In which CJ masters the concept of taking turns

This morning we told CJ that Obama won and would be the President.

He thought this over and said, “McCain can be President next time.”

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Contest: worst math-related election metaphor

Just kidding: there’s not going to be a contest, because nobody’s beating Andrew Sullivan:

In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm.

What th-?

Googling reveals that I am not the first mathematician to read this sentence and say “What th-?”

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