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Monday, February 8, 2010

Beware Statisticians Bearing Advice

Nate Silver, January 5, 2010, Wicked Awesome Thoughts on Massachusetts Special Election:
Rasmussen is supposed to have a poll out tomorrow (Tuesday) on the Massachusetts Senate Special Election, which will take place on the 19th. There's been some speculation, mostly from Republican blogs but also from some Democratic analysts, that the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, might have a chance, which would potentially wreck the Democrats' chances to pass health care reform.

I'll be curious to see what Rasmussen and the other pollsters (PPP? Suffolk?) have to say, and bears remembering that special elections are highly unpredictable affairs. But I'd be somewhat surprised if the election turns out to be especially competitive.
Nate Silver, January 14, 2010, OK, It's a Toss-Up:

Earlier today I tweeted about how there wasn't enough evidence to describe the Massachusetts special election as a "toss-up", as some other forecasters have done, based on the information available to us at that time.

Well, now there's some new evidence. And it isn't good for Martha Coakley.In particular, the evidence is a Suffolk University poll that shows the Republican, Scott Brown, ahead by 4 points, 50-46.

Nate Silver, January 17, 2010, 538 Still Rates Massachusetts as Toss-up:
Please don't be too enthralled with/scared by the specific numbers below. They're based a number of assumptions which may not be valid. However, I agree with the characterization that the model comes to, which is that the Massachusetts special election should continue to be regarded as a toss-up.
Nate Silver, January 19, 2010, Defying Odds, Republican Brown Becomes Next Senator from Massachusetts:
In an outcome that would have been unthinkable just weeks ago, Republican Scott Brown has become the Senator-elect from Massachusetts.
Nate Silver, February 8, 2010, Sarah Palin Needs Help:

Sarah Palin needs help. So does almost every politician -- but Palin needs it more than most. She is young. She is inexperienced. She's not especially well connected. She's strong-willed and a little impulsive. And call me a hater, but the woman just ain't that bright...

Update: Talk about failing to see the forest for the trees, here is Nate Silver's latest, Republicans -- Not Obama -- More Often on Wrong Side of Public Opinion. "More often" means nothing when the public is against Obama on the single biggest agenda-item of the Obama administration, health care. And when the public opposition to that agenda reflects a broader distrust of Obama's plans to expand government further into our lives and to spend our way into unsustainable debt. That is the forest, but Democrats keep looking at the trees.

Update No. 2: Jay Cost from Real Clear Politics gets it about right:

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  1. Prof. Jacobson,

    The reason Brown won was because Democrats and Independents got behind him. While campaigning for Brown, I talked with many people who supported Brown because he is moderate, sensible, and competent These same people do not have the same affection for Sarah Palin.

    While I think Palin has been unfairly attacked by the media--sometimes savagely--I cannot support her as a presidential candidate. Watching her speech on youtube I was surprised by her lack of creativity in co-opting Libertarian and Tea Party jokes, which other have been making for months, as her own. I understood the arguments she was making, and I agree with most of them (the non-religious ones), but I did not get a feeling that she understood them. I don't most objective Americans will either!

    To take back the presidency, we need another Scott Brown. Palin is too polarizing. On the far right, the support for Palin is intense and real, but once we get out of a bloody primary battle, will Palin appeal to the general public? I don't think so.

    We need a better option.

  2. If Justin's thoughts are the pulse of the Republicans, I say goodbye to the party I just rejoined. Perhaps a Sarah and Scott Brown run then either one as the Prez the other as VP?

  3. I thought that Sarah had it more together than evah at the Tea Party gathering. She is better at thinking on her feet.

    My only concern is this and it has to do with image. I wish she would either wear her hair up all the time in public or cut it. When she has it down these days, it is longer than ever. Even Beethoven didn't wear his so long. She would look more in control and less casual about things if she did. Call me shallow and perhaps unkind but it is for her own good. She needs to look more professional. Hey, even M. Obama cut hers and in her case, she looks less like a Chicago street chick. I had better say "goodnight Gracie."

  4. I concur with Justin. If we are genuine about rescuing the country in the upcoming elections, we need to stop engaging in the fetishization of Palin. I respect her niche appeal, but speaking as an Independent, why rehash '08? Scott Brown has set the general standard for other GOP candidates.

  5. ThomasN

    Good point. A fresh look at the future. Sarah knows this. That is why the study and image building and public speeches. It's like being in a movie. You're only as good as your last speech.

  6. This boy is not too bright himself or so it may seem. Other than following the party line, he may be a bright fellow. But it appears he has one master and it isn't himself.

  7. @Justin,

    thing about being polarizing is that it sure helps attract people like a magnet. In other words, what the DNC claims to be a negative is very much a positive..... think about that.... troll.

  8. Think about what exactly, Maggie? You have no analysis whatsoever. You think the DNC's claims are actually positives, but you don't answer my central argument: independents and democrats dislike Palin and find her extreme/unqualified. You provide nothing to support your point, whereas I point to recent empirical history--you can check the polls yourself. Do you want to win the White House or not?

    Do you even know what the word polarizing means? To polarize means to strongly divide opinion. That means you attract some and you REPEL others, in this case moderates. It's not good when you're trying to create a coalition of independents and moderate democrats to vote for you. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but a GOP candidate cannot win without independents. Scott Brown couldn't, and I helped get him elected so I saw it firsthand. I'd like to hear how exactly you think Palin is going to win in a general election.

    Don't call people trolls; it's the internet version of the race card. You want an intelligent debate, I'll take you to class.

  9. If the goal in 2010 and 2012 is to rid this country of the leftists that are intent on destroying it; I see no advantage of Brown supporters putting down Palin supporters. It will take more than one person to get this country turned around and headed the right way. Brown appears to have experience, Palin certainly has experience. Why not combine the two camps and move forward?

  10. First for Professor J: thanks for your bloggin about the MA election specifically, and your points about the broader implications--you are a breath of fresh air.

    With respect to the presidential election of 2012--there are three years to go and FAR too much can happen--I personally don't think its worth speculating on other than an exerise in navel gazing.

    More to the point is the momentum from Scott Browns election and its consequences for 2010 midterms--clearly there a fair amount of Dems who are running scared--Mr. Obama has proved himself impotent in rallying the democratic faithful--all the polling I have seen is a diminution of independent support for Mr Obama and the democrats--I suspect Mr. Obama will be campaigning only in safe democratic districts in October--other than that he appears to be the kiss of death for dem candidates in contested seats--Interesting times ahead.

    Lets bag the speculation on the presidential race in 2012 and focus on the 2010 midterms--Mr Obama seems to be content to throw senators like Nelson and Lincoln under the bus (to use the current metaphor)--since congress critters sine qua non is reelection,that isnt going to cut it with the threatened congress critters. Mr Obama's political capital is shrinking daily--much like the american economy and, I suspect, directly tied to it.

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  12. Prison is full of brilliant scholars. I have not seen anyone with enough pure intellectual force that can compensate for other qualities of leadership that are vital to a successfull presidency. To date, Obama appears to be a combination of Carter and Nixon's worse characteristics, and impulses. While Regan was called a dunce, he was always clear what his value and belief system was, and even those who opposed him could respect it. Integrity is a rare quality in an individual, the ability to discern an issue, stating your beliefs, and taking a risk in acting on those beliefs.

    You could say Obama has integrity if it weren't for the fact he tends to say one thing, then do another, or rely on the teleprompter to speak, or having to backtrack on things because he shot before taking aim (lack of discernment).

    I'm not sure Palin is the best choice, but think it is early. She understands average Americans better than most politicians. Today's elites need to be reminded daily that the country was designed by better men than themselves for the average citizen to manage and benefit from.

  13. I think it was more fun to read the commentary by Nate Silver as the election blew up in their faces than it was to read the pro-Brown commentary. I hope I get to do in again come November.

    On a side note, it doesn't seem like Healthcare will die for good. Do you think the Dems will pass something less controversial but still damaging this year? They do still have crazy huge majorities that they are hopefully not going to see again in our lifetimes. Luckily, they still can't seem to govern, even when they control everything.

  14. Can anyone can think of a way to encourage Nate Silver to express serious doubt about the likelihood of any Republican candidate (i.e., regardless of who it might turn out to be) to succeed in winning the special election that will be held later this spring (most likely May 18th, primary day) to fill the sudden vacancy occasioned by the unexpected passing of Congressman Jack Murtha in the 12th Congressional District of Pennsylvania?

    According to the WaPo (link above) there were two Republicans lining up for the primary, prior to Murtha's untimely death -- "2008 nominee Bill Russell and businessman Tim Burns -- but that there no indications yet as to whether either one or both of them, or of other candidates -- on both sides of the aisle -- who might now jump into the race.

  15. I think what Justin and others fail to consider in the whole equation is effectiveness. Love her or hate her, Palin is being very effective at what she is choosing to doing this very moment.

    She is proving herself smart in the ways that matter as evidenced by her increasing effectiveness in face of white-hot hate from left and continuous reporting on her imminent decline.

    Palin clearly has the ability to generate strong and seemingly unerring support amongst her followers. Though holding no elected position, she is moving mountains in terms of focusing a portion of the public will and direction, while at the same time, eliciting childish condescension and apoplectic fear responses from her opposition.

    My two cents worth is that she has no plan to run for President, but she knows it tweaks the left no end for her to leave the prospect open. That gives her power over them that they seem helpless to deal with. And to her credit, she knows it and uses it.

    Who knows, she may become a conservative Oprah, make millions of dollars, and still wield a great deal of political power without ever running for office.

  16. For those who think Palin is not running for president, what do you think she would be doing if she were running that she is not doing now?

    If the Obama administration and their flacks did not think she is a likely candidate, why would they spend so much effort to denigrate and disparage her? (The little stunt by Gibbs the other day was very revealing of how they view her.)

    Would the Nashville Teaparty Convention have been more than a tiny blip in the right-wing blogosphere if Palin had not been the keynote speaker? She is acting as the shadow president and as such is the default leader of the GOP. No one else is doing much to rally opposition to the Obama administration. Isn't being the default leader a good place from which to launch a presidential bid?

    The reason I am convinced that Palin is running for president is that if I, sitting in the boondocks, could see that Obama, a Marxist with no experience in anything other than self-promotion, was destined to be a disaster, certainly Palin would have seen the same thing from her much better vantage point. The Republican nomination in 2012 will be a valuable prize and she must have understood this even when so many Leftist pundits were certain that Obama would be the greatest president of our lifetimes.

    I do not know if Palin will be the right candidate in three years--a lot can change in that time. I am confident, however, that the failings of Obama will be projected onto her (as they have always been). We will hear that the Obama debacle shows that we need candidates with a lot of experience, that we should avoid candidates who are charismatic, etc.

  17. Justin:

    Liked your posting. Great analysis about Brown's election and Palin's lack of boradness to win a general election. Her appeal is limited and her hopey-changey line offends a lot of people. I did not vote for Reagan, but he had class and would never attack a political opponent or their followers....unless you a SoCal hippie.