Handicapping the U.S. Election of 2016

MATTHEW DOWD, ABC: I think she’s got about a 95 chance to win this election, and I think she’s going to have a higher margin than Barack Obama did in 2012. Higher margin. She’s going to win by more than 5 million votes. She’s going to win a higher percentage. And interestingly she’s going to have a more diverse coalition than Barack Obama even did when you take the final vote into consideration. Every piece of data points in that direction.[1]

Contrary to the existentialist “wish as reality” analysis of the Versaillean soothsayers of the Potomac and Hudson, who have been consistent in their misreading of the entrails from the get-go of this election cycle; I suspect that most pieces of data point to very iffy outcome in either direction. There is reasonable chance that while Hillary Clinton may win the popular vote by up to 2%, Donald Trump may squeak through an Electoral College victory. There is even a plausible possibility of a tie, with all the partisan hell that that would entail and ensue.

In the first place, one cannot help but be skeptical of the integrity and competency of public opinion polls. The variances between the different polls results in a situation whereby even a good plurality of competing polls are outside of the “margin of error” of other polls. To explicate: if Poll A claims that Hillary will win by 5% percentage points with a margin of error of 2.5%, 19 times out of 20; but a good third of competing polls claim that it is tie; those third are well outside the margin of error parameters of Poll A. How credible can polling be with that state of affairs?

Methodological finagling, beneath the surface of the stated approach, is so easy to do and has been much in evidence. The demographic composition that is chosen; the means by which the poll is solicited; even the order by which one frames the survey questions can solicit a significantly different result, especially from those who really haven’t given the matter serious final thought.

Consider those poll of polls averages, whereby one single outlier poll can so distort the averages, that Electoral College predictions can change hands. The Granite State Poll (University of New Hampshire) gave HRC an 11% lead, which, by its own singular influence, placed the state onto the Blue side.

Poll Date Sample

Size

MOE Clinton Trump Johnson Stein Spread
Emerson 11/4 – 11/5 1000 LV 3.0 45 44 5 3 Clinton +1
WMUR/UNH 11/3 – 11/6 707 LV 3.7 49 38 6 1 Clinton +11
Gravis 11/1 – 11/2 1001 RV 2.0 41 43 7 2 Trump +2
Boston Globe/Suffolk 10/31 – 11/2 500 LV 4.4 42 42 5 2 Tie
ARG 10/31 – 11/2 600 LV 4.0 43 48 4 1 Trump +5
UMass Lowell/7News 10/28 – 11/2 695 LV 4.3 44 44 5 2 Tie
WBUR/MassINC 10/29 – 11/1 500 LV 4.4 39 40 10 3 Trump +1

Why then are the competing candidates heavily campaigning in New Hampshire in the last days before the election? Even Olympic events, which depend upon such type judgments, toss out the outliers.

We dwell in the Age of Mendacity, where propagandistic advocacy poses as journalism, and sociological surveys ape as science. One suspects that these advocates hope for a bandwagon effect; but which, if it ever existed, vaporizes if virtually everyone has become knowledgeably jaded to such dissembling.

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I remain convinced that any poll, even if conducted with the highest degree of intellectual integrity and competence, will understate the Trump support. As a rule of thumb, it is the Right and the radical Left who are most tender about privacy concerns, and therefore tend to hold their cards close to their vest. And in the present American political milieu, it is less socially acceptable and economically advantageous to appear to be a member of the “irredeemable deplorable,” especially if the higher classes (a.k.a. employers), whether of the elite Right or elite Left, who may have influence over one’s welfare, display a universal detestation for this vulgarian. Furthermore, there exists more evidence of harassment, death threats, and low-level violence emanating from the Left than from the Right in this election cycle.

If Trump was able to appeal to the “irredeemably deplorable,” who rarely voted in prior elections, to vote in a primary/caucus, it seems implausible that they would not lift themselves from couch potato positions for the general election. These from the “rube class” may or may not be accurately demographically apportioned in political polls. Likewise, it is understandable if the tribalist instincts of Blacks are less enthusiastic to vote for a white woman than from one of their own “species.” It is likewise understanding if the Hispanics are aroused who consider Trump an existential threat to their own well-being.

The early voting seems to confirm these premonitions, with the proportion of the white vote marginally ahead, while the black vote is significantly behind in places like North Carolina, where they constitute 22% of the population; Florida (17%); or Philadelphia.

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Presidential elections have been rather static affairs since 2000, each side appealing to their respective bases. Donald Trump has substantially altered the axis upon which this electoral divide is premised and indeed, has made voting intentions more fluid. Even if Clinton was to maintain the same popular vote lead as Obama in 2012, the shift has placed hitherto solid-Blue states into play. Clinton has little over a two percent lead in Pennsylvania, which Obama won by 10%+ points in 2008, and 5.5% in 2012. New Hampshire is dead even with advantage Trump, which Obama won by 9.5% and 5.5% respectively. The same goes in a myriad of mid-west states (e.g. Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio).

I have great suspicions that many voters will become last-minute shoppers, sizing up the possible consequences of the respective future administrations. While the vulgar, self-serving, unsympathetic, intemperate, inconsistent, intellectually ignorant albeit shrewd instincts (Reptilian Brain – Joe Stein of Time Magazine) of Trump may break such an undecided vote towards the Democratic camp; the thought of yet another Clintonesque ordeal and politically deadlocked paralysis at a time of greater perils; or the overwhelming evidence of corruption, public collusion with private interests, and the use of the organs of state to promote partisan interests, may make break it the other way.

Finally, one must consider the zeitgeist, in light of the Brexit vote. The Financial Times poll of polls placed the Remain side ahead by 2%. Yet the Leave side won the vote by 3.8%, as the turnout in the cosmopolitan areas was significantly lower than that found in Little Britain’s hinterland. The lower classes and the hinterland are up in arms everywhere in the West.

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Even so, as indicated by the states which the respective candidates are visiting in the last days, the battleground states seems to show a Trump offensive and momentum.

  • Ohio
  • New Hampshire (especially)
  • North Carolina
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota (which seems like a Trumpian feint)

Barring a last minute shift of sentiment; because of the lower turnout of Blacks in North Carolina, I suspect that that Red State remains Red. Ohio, like Iowa, which went Obama in 2008 and 2012, seem solidly on the Red side. The very close electoral college (current predictions of 272 – 266 in favor of Clinton) pivots on Florida and New Hampshire, with an outside chance of Pennsylvania and Colorado making a difference. If the Hispanic vote makes up for the lagging Black (and millennial) vote, while the “white nationalist rube” vote remains subdued, the Democrats win. If the New Hampshire vote is reflected by the myriad of late polls giving Trump the edge rather than that Granite State outlier, while Florida goes Red, Trump wins 270 – 268. If one district in Maine, which is presently in the Red camp goes Blue, there exists an Electoral College tie.

Thus, I cannot make any firm prediction other than it might not make any difference in the end in regard to the great unravelling of the Republic as a free civic polity.

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Therefore, contrary to pontifications of ABC News Matthew Dowd, which, I believe, are without common-sense merit and sufficient, let alone universal evidence (“Every piece of data points in that direction”); there is a better chance of a Trumpian victory at the Electoral College than expected, even if, as I suspect, Clinton squeaks a popular vote victory; barring a major shift in sentiment her way.

If the world was presently sane, and merit actually meant something, and the mainstream media was more concerned with their own long-term credibility and viability than short-term partisan gain, I might have applied for Dowd’s job, if I prove right.

 

 

 

[1] Matthew Dowd, “Clinton Has 95% Chance To Win, Will Win By 5 Million Votes,” This Week (ABC News), November 6, 2016, http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2016/11/06/matthew_dowd_clinton_has_95_chance_will_get_higher_margin_than_obama.html.

The Mendacity of American Journalism – Yet Another Flagrant Example

One of the thematic lessons, to be derived from study of Hitler’s Nazis and their all too easy and rapid overcoming of the impediments to autocratic rule normally posed by civic institutions and independent social organizations, was the role played by pre-existing public distrust and contempt towards those entities. In view of a similar present and persisting repugnance in the U.S. for its islands of tyrannical resistance, including its news media, the peril of demagogues and warlords can be sighted on the horizon. One would think that a modicum of prudence might, at least, infect the veteran sages within those social/civic entities. But alas, wisdom has likewise “caught the last train for the coast.

One of the devices, deployed by Satan in the Temptation of Christ, was to cite scriptural text while omitting key phrases which substantively alter the meaning of that text (Matthew 4:5–6). It seems that our modern Wormwoods understand the lesson, although less subtle practitioners.

James Fellows, veteran national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, excerpted a speech from Trump’s recent Miami political rally (September 16, 2016), and thereafter suggested that the presidential candidate hinted at “bodily harm against his opponent.”

I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Miami. “I think they should disarm. Immediately. What do you think. Yes? Take their guns away. She doesn’t want guns. Take them. Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, O.K. It will be very dangerous.

The cadence of that quote suggests that it was originally part of a larger argument. And lo and behold, such intuitions are well founded as these “incriminating” sentiments were preceded by . . .

You know she’s very much against the Second Amendment. She wants to destroy your Second Amendment. Guns, guns, guns, right. I think that what we should do is she goes around with armed bodyguards like you have never seen before.

. . .  highlighting the hypocrisy of such a political stance; or alternatively, another example whereby Hillary Clinton considers herself above the rules that she would exact upon others.

Such rhetoric by Trump is hardly new. In a tweet earlier this year, Trump wailed, “Hillary said that guns don’t keep you safe. If she really believes that she should demand that her heavily armed bodyguards quickly disarm!” The integrated compactness of that tweet might make selective parsing a harder enterprise for our modern day Wormwoods.

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What makes this particular dabble in sophistic deceit by the veteran journalist such a lark is the irony of The Atlantic concurrently publishng “Why Do Americans Distrust the Media?”; or in the piece “Why Americans Hate the Media,” written by this same James Fallows in his prime. But one hardly need thrash the sociological bushes to uncover the reasons. The answer lies spread-eagled like a cheap tart on the pages of the same website; loss of intellectual integrity.

The “members of the punditocracy” are perplexed by the inability for Trump’s lies, blatant in their obviousness and childish in their silliness, to sink his candidacy. Certainly, an outside observer, with little skin in the partisan games, might cite the lack of evenhandedness in this regard by the media; neglecting, dismissing, and excusing the lies of Trump’s opponent, which are more serious in nature in that they have directly involved the public interest. But a simpler answer lies in the conundrum of veteran practitioners of the arts of partisan spin, lies, and sophistic deceit, calling another out for mendacity. The Fifth Estate has so debased their currency of influence that they can no longer credibly act as checks against the ambitions of potential demagogues and warlords.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (Re: Why This Recovery Is So Lousy – WSJ)

“Truth,” it has been said, “is the first casualty of war.” – Philip Snowden[i]

A theme, long sustained within conservative economic circles, is that FDR’s New Deal crippled the recovery and prolonged the Great Depression. Screeds, like the following by Phil Gramm, a not insignificant player in legislative assemblies past, is stereotypical of this meme.

In all recoveries following all 30 economic contractions since 1870, only two have failed to have strong rebounds after deep recessions. Only two are now labeled “Great” because of the long periods of suffering they caused. And in only two recoveries did government impose economic policies radically different from the policies pursued in all the other recoveries—different than traditional policy but similar to each other— FDR’s Great Depression and Mr. Obama’s Great Recession.

From 1932-36, federal spending skyrocketed 77%, the national debt rose by over 73%, and top tax rates more than tripled, from 25% to 79%. But the tectonic shift brought about by the New Deal was the federal government’s involvement in the economy, as a tidal wave of new laws were enacted and more executive orders were issued than by all subsequent presidents combined through President Clinton . . .

. . . As government assumed greater control, private investment collapsed, averaging only 40% of the 1929 level for nine consecutive years. League of Nations data show that by 1938, in five of the six most-developed countries in the world industrial production was on average 23% above 1929 levels, but in the U.S. it was still down by 10%. Employment in five of the six major developed countries averaged 12% above the pre-Depression levels while U.S. employment was still down by 20%. Before the Great Depression, real per capita GDP in the U.S. was about 25% larger than it was in Britain. By 1938, real per capita GDP in Britain was slightly higher than in the U.S.

Considering that in the four years following FDR’s ascension, the American economy grew at 10.88, 8.88, 13.05, and 5.12 percent respectively, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA); or 10.74, 8.92, 12.91, and 5.23 percent respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce; I am not quite sure what would constitute a strong bounce back for these partisans. There certainly has not existed any comparable rebound since.

This revisionist representation of the Great Depression abounds in sophistries and what we, in biblical circles, would call statistical proof-texting. Why, for instance, include years 1929 to 1932/3, a period when private investment totally collapsed, in determining the impact of New Deal policies from 1933 onward? (With inordinate price and asset deflation between late 1930 and mid-1933, investing one’s money in one’s mattress or backyard garden guaranteed that “investor” a 5–10% real return tax free.)

Nor is it fruitful to compare with other industrial nations without also mentioning that except for Germany and Canada, the economic downturn in America from 1929 to 1932/3 was considerably greater. Great Britain is, in particular, an egregious ploy, considering that the Great Depression was for Britain, a Great Recession within a Long Depression which began after WW1.

The national debt may have increased 73% in nominal terms from 1932–6. But as a percentage of GDP, it only increased from 32.5% to 40% during very trying times.[ii] Even so, comparing federal revenues and expenditures from (June) 1932 instead of (June) 1933, when Republican President Herbert Hoover governed for 8 of those 12 interim months, is but more statistical gamesmanship. In the final two years of the prior Republican administration, federal spending as a percentage of GDP was 10 (1932) and 13.5 (1933) percent respectively. Prior to WW2, FDR’s administration, except for 1934 (17%), never topped the last year of Hoover’s administration.

Indeed, FDR seemed not to have been particularly sold on Keynesian economics, which dominates the current economic thinking in Obama’s White House. Indeed, while John Maynard Keynes had hitherto expressed some rudimentary musings on his thesis, his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was only published in 1936. Deficit spending during WW2 was mandated far more from existential survival than economic theory.

Did Gramm also fail to mention that Hoover’s administration deemed it necessary to raise top income tax rates to 63% in 1932?

Considering how easily accessible the extant documentation is to refute Gramm’s assertions, articles like these constitute an incompetent form of mendacity. Does The Wall Street Journal seek to vie with Vox for the gold medal in Mendacity in American Journalism.

[i] Philip Snowden, Introduction to Truth and the War, by E. D. Morel, (London: National Labor Press Ltd., 1916), p. vii.

[ii] GDP in 1932 was $60 billion, national debt $19.5. In 1936, the figures are $85B and $33.8B respectively.

Interpreting the Signs of the Times

One of the bloggers, I follow, as somewhat of a Dionysian foil to my severe Apollonic propensity is Rick Marschall. I may not always concur with the views of this “social critic, political commentator, and Christian writer.” But I, nevertheless, cherish one those cultivated rarities who are well-informed about their own heritage. However, Mr. Marschall occasionally galvanizes a reaction such as in his recent article, People of Faith Ask, to Trump or not to Trump, which complacently soothsays that the current commotion in the American body politic is not unlike those of yesteryear. Mr. Marschall thereupon gives a fairly detailed history of past political turmoils in his nation; particulars, much of which supplement my own knowledge; and as is therefore much appreciated.

I tend to look upon history more from the perspective of broad ideological, cultural, and social trends. Furthermore, as a student of world history, I will situate American history and politics within the context of a larger ideological narrative with sociopolitical consequences. Whereas, you will find many Americans, such as George Will, unable to think outside of their Exceptionalist box. Historical and external events are measured in the context of American situation and psyche, a civic form of (Ayn) Randian egoism, which I would suggest poses a great noetic stagnation.

It is not unusual for persons dwelling inside the kettle of a society to be oblivious to the tumult that is about to occur within their midst; and when it begins, to be freshly surprised on frequent basis as new travesties and atrocities unfold. I, on the other hand, am inclined to be on the side of the Chicken Littles.

However, this tumult in the U.S. has been anticipated, as has been claimed elsewhere, since the late 1980s. Events since then have pretty well gone to script of previous run ups to civic conflagration. And indeed, I have noticed in the last couple of years, a remarkably dizzying acceleration in the disintegration of the social peace and cohesion such that I am having problems catching up. Continue reading “Interpreting the Signs of the Times”

Far From the Frenzied Herd

A frenzied herd of U.S. reporters and media political analysts rushed to proclaim the immanent ascension of Donald Trump. Like reading many a movie review, one suspects that these pundits never actually watched the ‘film’, but pieced together their op-eds on the basis of the pre-release trailers, the undigested ruminations of fellow reviewers who did likewise, and Google.

Super Tuesday . . . a total renegade came close to clinching the presidential nomination of the opposing party. – CNN

Donald Trump is on the verge of winning the Republican nomination . . . Trump dominated a diverse coalition of states. – NBC

Trump is now unstoppable. It’s game over for Cruz, Rubio, Kasich and Carson . . . Game over! This was a rout, America. Winning seven states and the vast majority of delegates is a landslide. – Fox

It will be a Trump tsunami. The question is how high has the water will rise. – RealClear Politics

But the click bait hype fails to correspond to any objective political realities. On the morning of Super Tuesday, Tom Bevan, “syndicated” political analyst to multiple networks, and co-founder of RealClearPolitics, in the space of 250 words, made the following claims about an oncoming Trump political tsunami.

• “the only state that [Trump] is not winning is the state of Texas”
• “six polls taken [Texas] in the last ten days show Cruz with about a nine-point lead”
• “every other state . . . Trump has double-digit leads”
• “the only place where [Trump is] under double digits is Oklahoma and he’s 8.6%.”
• On Minnesota: “one poll that was taken in January, which is like ten years ago, in the way that this race has progressed, that showed Rubio up a couple of points”
• “Rubio is solidly behind Trump in all the states”

These were the ensuing realities.

• Of the eleven states in play, Trump lost 4, not 1.
• In Texas, Cruz’s lead was 17 percentage points, not 9.
• In only 4 of the states, not 10, Trump retained double-digit leads
• Trump’s high single-digit lead in Oklahoma, turned into a 6 point lead for Cruz, a difference of 14 percentage points
• Rubio, not merely barely won Minnesota, but won by high double digits over Cruz, and 15 points over Trump
• Rubio was ahead of Trump in 1 state, and barely behind in 2 others (Virginia, Oklahoma)

To paraphrase Churchill, “Some tsunami!” Indeed, the only diagnostic which proved correct was “[Trump] is in solid shape.” A ten-year old, sufficiently informed in current events, might have reached that same epiphany.

Instead of demonstrating a little humility, which invariably would undermine the credibility of his brand and business, this professional political prognosticator perpetuated this mythological tsunami narrative after the event. “The Trump and Clinton tsunamis crashed ashore as predicted . . . only adds to his momentum heading into the winner-take-all phase . . .” Bevan considered Cruz the only other Republican winner on the night. In retaining his home state, and adding a couple more, Cruz “[bolstered] his case that he’s the only candidate in the field who can defeat Trump.” Such facile and maudlin tripe raises suspicions as to whether Bevan is one of Trump’s sycophantic trumpets.

The Hard Tacks of Real Journalism

A little homework would quickly reveal that Trump’s popular support within the Republican Party remains stuck at 35%, evidencing no sign of momentum; momentum, seeming to be the primary Trump campaign strategy and expectation, considering Trump’s high negatives. Surely, momentum works in stock market manias, doesn’t it!
Trump’s actual electoral performance, in comparison with public opinion polls, should be worrisome for him. Of 10 of the 11 races, in which a reasonably recent poll existed, Trump strongly outperformed polls in only one losing cause (Arkansas), did mildly better in 3 (+3–5%), did mildly worse in 2 (-4–6%), and considerably worse in 4 others (-10–24%). Rather than people hiding their sentiments in his favor, they are brandishing a false image, reconsidering at the last moment, or support has recently dipped.

As for Cruz, Super Tuesday was his explicitly expressed firewall. While Cruz benefitted from late surges in Texas, Oklahoma, and perhaps Alaska; if one subtracts Texas, Cruz actually ran 2% behind Rubio in largely God and country Southern Baptist land.

Finally, the numbers proffer evidence of an organic Anybody-But-Trump movement. How otherwise does one explain the varied late-day surges, apparently undetected by late polls, in Oklahoma (Cruz), Virginia (Rubio), and Vermont (Kusich)?

Conclusions

These privately ascertained insights are not without confirmation. Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard seems to have also done his homework, arriving with similar observations. A foreign newspaper, not caught within the frenzy, makes the prosaic and tedious note, that contrary to having won the vast majority of delegates, Trump has about 46% of all delegates overall; only 42–43% of the latest catch. Some vast majority! Some momentum! Another Canadian pundit expresses near perfectly the current existential crisis in the Republican union.

The politicos and pollsters continue to rely on historical precedents and traditions to determine existing and future prospects. This continues, despite the near flawless incompetence of that frenzied herd. But if the context of the sociopolitical milieu has been considerably transformed (e.g. the relative futility of campaign money), to what extent can historical precedent be reliable?

As for me, I largely stand by my August 2015 premonitions.

I watch bemused [at] the gladiatorial spectacle of Donald Trump from afar. He is, without doubt, a thuggish buffoon with the subtlety of mind of a solid cube; who pummels through prudence, rationality, empathy, civility, tact and virtue like a rhino in heat. He is the “ugly American,” raised to the third power, whose simpleton appeal to imbecility, confirms democracy’s devolution towards a Confederacy of Dunces.

The meretricious courtesans of political punditry hope that a fickle populace is merely toying with the witless minds and anxious hearts of a neglectful elite. They give the idiocracy too much wit.

Trump is the Rob Ford of the American [ideological] Whatever. (It becomes practicably difficult to identify a consistent and rationally coherent ideology or feasible strategic policy to his constipated outbursts.) But with Rob Ford; even after a season of Jimmy Kimmel easy-to-make vignettes about our clown naturale; the Bulldozer of City Hall retained a stubborn third of the popular vote in Toronto, indeed of liberal Toronto; before our Ford finally suffered electoral defeat to cancer. I likewise suspect that contrary to “wish-upon-a-star” analysis, the Trump Nation will endure. The ramifications of the long decline of mind and culture of the American Idiocracy is finally coming [home] to roost.

I would probably now add that contrary to a momentum-based coronation, there is real likelihood of a brokered convention and duplicitous machinations in a 1968-style tumultuous melee in Cleveland. And contrary to my initial scorn concerning Trump’s ideological incoherence, Trump is indeed a true conservative; just not the Exceptionalist American kind. His simple-minded, authoritarian “style” has historical if foreign precedents with the völkisch, nationalist, and intrinsically anti-democratic German National People’s Party (DNVP); which for lack of deeper study, Wikipedia must suffice to provide this little gem.

The spring 1924 campaign was largely led and organized by charismatic, media savvy Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz who was presented as the “savior” type figure, able to rally together the entire nation to both win the election and then restore Germany back as a great power.

© Copyright John Hutchinson