Category Archives: news

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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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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Jonah Lehrer, Niall Ferguson, the lecture economy

They apparently had the same problem — their brand was “person who writes books” but their actual business model became “person who gives lectures for five-figure fees.”  The demands of the two roles are very different.

Ideally, a public lecture should be an advertisement inducing people to read your book and engage with your argument presented in full.  What a disaster if the book becomes an advertisement for the lecture instead.

Update:  Stuff on this theme is all over the place today:  here’s Daniel Drezner on “Intellectual Power and Responsibility in an Age of Superstars” and Justin Fox on “the rage against the thought-leader machine.”  Both pieces are great.

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Higgs

Since someone asked me today: yes, the Stanley Higgs who appears in my novel was named after the Higgs boson. I thought it would add a very slight tinge of cosmic mystery to the character. Not any more, I guess.

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It’s a recall, not an omen

Already time to take back, or at least complicate, the nice things I said about the Times’s Wisconsin coverage.  Today above the fold:

Broadly, the results will be held up as an omen for the presidential race in the fall, specifically for President Obama’s chances of capturing this Midwestern battleground — one that he easily won in 2008 but that Republicans nearly swept in the midterm elections of 2010…

A Marquette Law School telephone poll of 600 likely voters, conducted last week, found Mr. Walker leading 52 percent to 45 percent; the poll’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points for each candidate.

I suppose I can’t deny that the results “will be held up as” an omen for November’s election by some people.  But those people will be wrong, and the Times should say so.  At the very least they should avoid giving the impression that the recall vote is likely to be predictive of the presidential vote, an assertion for which they give no evidence, not even a quote in support.

I’m just going to repeat what I said in the last post.  Wisconsin is split half and half between Republicans and Democrats.  In nationally favorable Democratic environments (2008) the state votes Democratic.  In nationally favorable Republican environments (2010) the state votes Republican.  At this moment, there’s no national partisan wave, and you can expect Wisconsin elections to be close.  But incumbency is an advantage.  So Walker is winning, and so is Obama. As the Times reports, the Marquette poll has him up 7.  What the Times doesn’t report is that the very same poll has Obama beating Romney by 8.

I guess the recall might be an omen after all — 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.

Arguing against myself:  2006 was also a great year for Democrats nationally, and incumbent Democratic governor Jim Doyle beat Mark Green by only 7.

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Bayesian Linference

I hate to go up against Nate Silver on a subject he knows much better than I do, but is he really right that there’s a one-in-four chance that Jeremy Lin is actually a Hall-of-Fame-level superstar, based on his first four starts in the league?

Silver observes that only 41 times in the last 25 years has a player scored 20 points, shot 50% from the field, and recorded 6 assists in four straight games, as Lin did last week.  Most of those players were really, really good — about a quarter are in the hall of fame.  Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas — you get the idea.

But there’s something fishy here.  This isn’t a list of “streaks as good as Jeremy Lin’s first four games.”  It’s a list of “streaks which are good as Jeremy Lin’s first four games in the exact same way as Jeremy Lin’s first four games.”  Every Hall of Fame – eligible baseball player with 1600 RBI and 2800 hits is in the Hall, except Harold Baines and Rafael Palmeiro.  But that shouldn’t make you think Baines deserves to be in, because I chose my criteria precisely to match what is impressive about Harold Baines.

Then, too:  Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Isaiah Thomas were ranked as elite players before they ever set foot on a professional court.  Jeremy Lin had a strong but not dominant college career against Ivy League competition, and has been let go by several NBA teams that have watched him play.  I am as happy as anybody to see a Harvard player succeed in the bigs, but surely it’s reasonable to start with a pretty down-weighted prior.

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Was Russian election turnout too non-Gaussian to be real?

 We’ve talked about attempts to prove election fraud by mathematical means before.  This time the election in question is in Russia, where angry protesters marched in the streets with placards displaying the normal distribution.  Why?  Because the turnout figures look really weird.  The higher the proportion of the vote Vladimir Putin’s party received in a district, the higher the turnout; almost as if a more ordinary-looking distribution were being overlaid with a thick coating of Putin votes…  Mikhail Simkin in (extremely worth reading pop-stats magazine) Significance argues there’s no statistical reason to doubt that the election results are legit.  Andrew Gelman is not reassured.

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Are Wisconsin Democrats blowing the recalls?

That might seem like a strange question, given that United Wisconsin claims it already has the 500,000+ signatures they need to force a recall election this spring, and are aiming for a million by the end of the 60-day petition period next month.

But the Walker-Kleefisch recall isn’t the only one going.  Petitions are circulating on five state senators — four Republicans and one Democrat.  Democratic gains in the last recall left the GOP with a precarious 17-16 majority in the upper chamber.  So if Democrats gain one seat, they take over Senate control.

There’s a big difference between this recall election and the previous one.  The state senators recalled last year were elected in 2008, a year of Democratic dominance;  the Republicans who managed to get elected that year were strong candidates in Republican-leaning districts.  And even so, two lost their seats.  This time around, it’s the opposite.  Van Wanggard, Pam Galloway, and Terry Moulton all knocked off Democratic incumbents in the 2010 Republican sweep; and even with that wind at their back, Wanggard and Galloway each won by modest 5-point margins.  There’s every reason to think those two, at least, would be vulnerable to Democratic challengers.

So why aren’t Wisconsin Democrats putting more resources into these races?  The Van Wanggard recall has just about reached the required number of signatures, but will need a lot more to be safe from legal challenges.  Pam Galloway’s petition is only 70% there.  And with Christmas and New Year’s coming, the second month isn’t likely to be as productive as the first.  Per the linked Isthmus article, none of the recall committees has more than $7,000 on hand.  Why?

I get that the Walker recall is the main event.  But with no obvious candidate to oppose the governor, the recall election is at best a coinflip for Democrats.  Maybe the state senate recalls are a coinflip, too:  but changing control of either one would effectively halt Wisconsin’s ability to make meaningful legislative changes.  For Wisconsin Democrats, that would be a huge success.  And one coinflip out of two  is a much easier game to win than one out of one.

And some good news for people who like poll news:  my colleague Charles Franklin, who knows more about polling data than anyone I’ve ever met, is taking a year’s leave of absence from UW to poll the hell out of Wisconsin in 2012 as head of a new project at Marquette Law.  Expect lots of posts here about his sweet crunchy data.

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Scott Walker: not toast

Much was made of the WPR/St. Norbert poll released last week, in which 58% of respondents said they’d vote for Scott Walker’s opponent if a recall comes to pass, with only 38% saying they’d vote to keep the Governor in office.  Worth noting the numbers below the top line, though:  in the sample of 482 voters, 34% reported voting for JoAnne Kloppenburg in April’s Supreme Court election, against 27% who said they voted for Prosser.  In fact, those votes were evenly split.  So it’s way, way, way too soon to say that Walker’s behind in a potential recall election, especially with Wisconsin D’s still in search of a candidate.

(Another interesting result from that poll:  people in Wisconsin apparently really like electing their Supreme Court, and in fact would prefer that the prospective justice’s party affiliation be listed on the ballot!)

 

 

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