The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Nate Silver’

Never Underestimate the Guy Who Beat Hillary

Posted by demkid on November 8, 2012

I did it again!  I underestimated Barack Obama.  The President exceeded my slightly conservative expectations on Tuesday night, beating Willard in the Electoral College 332-206 (the Romney campaign conceded Florida earlier today).  So, I missed my toss up (Colorado) and Florida, which I said he could win if he had a good night.  Hard to believe that the national race was called a mere 12 minutes later than it was in 2008…I was expecting somewhat of a longer night.

How about my other predictions?  The popular vote currently stands at 50.4%-48.0% for the President.  My guess was 50.7-48.3, the exact margin of 2.4%.  I will not claim victory, however, because they are still counting votes around the country, and some have speculated that the final popular vote margin could be over 3%.  Still, I’ll take what I can get!

In the Senate, it was a good night for Democrats, as they actually managed to increase their majority in the upper chamber with some key, close victories.  They’ll have 53 senators (plus the 2 independents) for a total of 55, 2 more than I expected.  2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the “Year of the Woman,” when my former boss, Senator Feinstein, and her California colleague, Barbara Boxer, were elected, along with 2 other women, to the U.S. Senate.  This was the first time 4 women were elected to the Senate in a single year.  I remember wearing a shirt stating, “A Woman’s Place is in the House…and the Senate!”  It was appropriate that in this 20th anniversary year, Senator Feinstein was re-elected, and a NEW “Year of the Woman” happened.  For the first time, there are 20 women senators (naturally 16 are Democrats), and there will be at least 77 women in the House, a new record.  With Tammy Baldwin being the first openly-gay person and first woman elected as a senator from Wisconsin, the Democratic Party and the country are continuing to move forward.

In the House, it looks like Democrats could wind up with a 7-seat pick-up for an even 200 representatives, but there are still a handful of races to be decided.  I’d say my guess of +4 was fairly accurate.  It will probably take a couple of more election cycles before the Dems will have a legitimate shot of reclaiming the majority, as gerrymandering has made many districts non-competitive.

To wrap up my predictions, it looks like I was a little too optimistic in Ohio.  When all the votes are counted, the President will probably win by a margin of about 2%; a bit lower than my 3.5% guess.  The closest state was not, in fact, Virginia, as the President won there by around 3%.  Could the Commonwealth be turning into a light purple state?  We’ll give it another couple of elections to see, for sure.  VA actually ranked 4th on the list of close states, with Florida taking top honors.  They were still counting votes down there as of today, and the President’s margin should wind up perhaps a little less than a full percentage point.  Here are your 10 closest states, via the Washington Post.  I did nail the largest swing from the 2008 election, which was Utah.  John McCain won Utah by about 28 points in 2008, and Romney increased that margin 20 points, winning there 73-25.  It must be tough to be a Democrat in Utah (or a non-Mormon.)  Other big Romney gains were in West Virginia, North Dakota, and Montana (the GOP can have those.)  The votes have also been counted in my domicile, and it was a close, close race for the District of Columbia’s 3 electoral votes.  The President beat John McCain 4 years ago 92-7, and this time around it was a squeaker, with the margin being 91-7.  Apparently a few votes went to Jill Stein.

Finally, I will give myself a pat on the back because my last prediction was dead on: Dick Morris still is the worst political pundit in the entire nation.  I’ve been debating which video of his to post, his initial prediction or his video entitled, “Why I Goofed,” when he stated, “I’ve been in a bit of a mudslide on my face,” but the latter is full of too much BS (even for Dick), so here’s the master prognosticator with his flawless prediction, made a day before the President’s re-election:


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One Year Seems Like a Good Enough Break…

Posted by demkid on August 10, 2012

I wonder how many people have come to The Bright Coast in the past year and have been utterly disappointed due to the lack of any new posts.  Probably not a whole lot, but I can live with that.  The fact is, “brightcoast” and I have moved on to bigger and better things in the past couple of years, and we simply don’t have nearly the same amount of time to devote to crafting award-winning blog posts on “law, politics, and culture,” to use part of the tagline we borrowed from our rival blog.  (That “other” blog has still been going strong, though, as our USD Law professor friends generally have plenty of time on their hands to write about all things conservative.)  The two of us, on the other hand, have become USD Law alums, and neither of us even lives in San Diego, anymore!  That being said, and especially since we’re less than 3 months from what many are calling “the biggest election of our lives,” I’ve caught the blogging bug again, at least to write the occasional election-related post.  Where better to start than to talk briefly about some of my favorite subjects: polling, the state of the race as I see it, and the electoral college.

Despite what our professor friend hopes will happen, that being, a landslide for Willard Romney, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it will never come to pass.  In fact, I can almost guarantee that President Obama will be re-elected in November.  Why am I so confident?  Well, besides the fact that Romney is a super weak candidate, the economy will slowly improve over the next few months, and it’s just generally difficult to defeat an incumbent, the electoral math is clearly on the President’s side.  For Romney to win, there would have to be a pretty significant shift across the country to his side (Obama currently leads nationally by a few points or so), and he would almost have to sweep all of the major swing states.  For an excellent state of the race, check out Nate Silver’s page here, which currently gives President Obama almost a 75% chance of winning re-election.  For me, the proof is in the electoral math, and I’ve created a couple of maps over at to illustrate my confidence.  The following map shows the lay of the land, that is, I would be absolutely shocked if any of the colored states goes the other way on Election Day:

My Solid States

As you can see, I believe that President Obama is a mere 23 electoral votes from re-election.  If he fails to win any of the above blue states, he’ll be in real trouble.  I just don’t see that happening.  So, if he’s at 247, where does he pick up the other 23?  In my mind, there are two clear paths to victory.  Here’s the first:

Nevada (or Iowa) plus Ohio = Victory

In the above scenario, President Obama wins Nevada (where he’s currently up 5 in the polls with a 79% chance to win) and Ohio (also currently up 5 and a 72% chance to win.)  He could also replace Nevada with Iowa, where he’s up 3 and has a 67% chance to win (these percentages come from Nate Silver’s page.)  So, let’s leave in either Nevada or Iowa, and show you the second-easiest path to re-election:

Nevada (or Iowa) plus New Hampshire and Virginia = Victory

New Hampshire and Virginia will get the President to exactly 270.  In New Hampshire, he’s currently up 4 with a 74% chance, and in Virginia, he’s up 3 with a 68% chance to win.

In conclusion, I recommend focusing on polls from the above-mentioned states over the next 3 months.  If you see a bad couple of polls from any of the blue states in the first map, President Obama should be very concerned.  But, if all those hold up, simply look at Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Virginia.  Winning Florida, North Carolina, or Colorado would just be a bonus…these aren’t needed to win.  Also as shown, the President doesn’t need Ohio to win, if he can get Virginia, New Hampshire, and either Nevada or Iowa.  Many paths to victory, and many fewer paths to victory for Romney.  That’s the state of the race as I see it, and that, my friends, is our first blog post in a year.  Perhaps there will be more soon to come!



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Right Coasters’ Favorite Pollster Under Fire

Posted by demkid on January 3, 2010

And that pollster is none other than Scott Rasmussen.  A story posted at Politico over the weekend discusses the “hardening conventional wisdom among prominent liberal bloggers and many Democrats that Rasmussen Reports polls are, at best, the result of a flawed polling model and, at worst, designed to undermine Democratic politicians and the party’s national agenda.”  As a moderate and someone who’s been interested in polling for many years, I try and be as fair as possible when the issue of pollster bias arises.  More needs to exist than simply a consistent skewing of poll results from the average for me to believe that the pollster has an ulterior motive or hidden agenda.  Who’s to say that the pollster whose results generally swing to one side or the other isn’t, in fact, the most accurate?  As Nate Silver explains in his post responding to the Politico story:

What Rasmussen has had is a “house effect”. So far in the 2010 cycle, their polling has consistently and predictably shown better results for Republican candidates than other polling firms have. But such house effects can emerge from legitimate differences of opinion about how to model the electorate.

To his credit, Rasmussen has had some accurate results in recent,  high-profile contests (2008 general election and NJ governor’s race, for instance).  However, even though Rasmussen Reports has had some good final poll results, evidence seems to continue piling up that more is going on than the utilization of a polling model that normally features a more conservative electorate. 

It’s not just the data that Rasmussen’s critics object to — they also have a problem with the way the firm frames questions in its automated polls, which are the staple of its work.

In August, for example, Rasmussen asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “It’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.”

“I think they write their questions in a way that supports a conservative interpretation of the world,” said [Democratic pollster Mark] Mellman. “In general, they tend to be among the worst polls for Democrats, and they phrase questions in ways that elicit less support for the Democratic point of view.”

Nate Silver expands on why Rasmussen should be questioned:

Likewise, Rasmussen recently produced a poll in which they purported to describe the Democratic health care plan to their respondents. Several other pollsters have found that support for the plan increases when it is actually described to respondents, but Rasmussen showed no such increase. However, the second sentence in their description reads: The plans before Congress would prohibit people from choosing insurance plans with lower premiums and higher deductibles. I don’t particularly know where this comes from; Rasmussen claims that its questions came from a ‘summary of the legislation provided by the New York Times’, but such a depiction of the health care policy appears nowhere in the New York Times article. But there it is in the Rasmussen survey, where it appears to be designed to build a relationship in the respondent’s mind between the Democratic plan and higher premiums.

[W]hen they do use unorthodox question wording, nine times out of ten it favors the conservative argument.

Silver also discusses Rasmussen’s choice of subject matter, and explains that “they have a knack for issuing polls at times which tend to dovetail with conservative media narratives.”  So, there are clear examples of why Scott Rasmussen shouldn’t be considered the most independent pollster out there.  However, I’m sure his polls will become more frequent in 2010, and conservatives (like our Right Coast friends) will continue to cite to these polls disproportionately to argue that President Obama and/or the Democratic Party are in trouble.  I get a kick out of how conservatives over-utilize Rasmussen polls, and many times his is the only poll cited in a particular blog post.  Conservatives particularly like to talk about Rasmussen’s daily presidential tracking poll, which always has President Obama’s approval numbers significantly lower than the average of other pollsters.  This poll has always seemed a little weird to me, because Rasmussen also compares people who “strongly approve” of the president’s job performance with those who “strongly disapprove.”  He deems the difference in the numbers the “Presidential Approval Index.”  Sounds fancy, but when you think about it, isn’t there a significantly higher number of rabid right-wingers than their left-wing counterparts?  In this country, self-described conservatives always outnumber self-described liberals.  While a Presidential Approval Index of -18 seems dire for President Obama, should we really be surprised.  In any case, the main approve/disapprove figure can be (and has been) called into question, as well.  Rasmussen likes saying that he always uses “likely voters” in his polling, as opposed to all voters, or registered voters.  This may be the best way to go when polling just before an election, but presidential approval is another matter.  Unless I’m missing something, we don’t vote on whether or not we approve of President Obama’s job performance.  Why should only likely voters be used, then?  The Politico article discusses this:

But critics note that the practice of screening for only those voters regarded as most likely to head to the polls potentially weeds out younger and minority voters — who would be more likely to favor Democrats than Republicans.

 Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist, said there was “huge concern right now” that Rasmussen was polling a universe of largely conservative-minded voters.

 “How is Rasmussen selecting likely voters almost a year before the election? And why would you even screen for likely voters in measuring presidential approval?” said Abramowitz. “My guess is that it’s heavily skewed toward older, white, Republican voters.”

There you go.  Sure, Rasmussen may be using this voter model, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so, but people should just be sure and think twice before viewing numbers from Rasmussen Reports as the most accurate around, and conservatives in the blogosphere should think twice before citing to Rasmussen 95-100% of the time.  I expect a decent amount of bias coming from the other side, but utilizing Rasmussen over and over again gets to be a little ridiculous!

Edit: Nate followed up with another post, entitled, Putting the [R] in [R]asmussen?  He starts:

ThinkProgress has discovered, by way of a cool new invention known as The Internet, that Scott Rasmussen has in fact been conducing polling on behalf of partisan clients, in particular the RNC and the Bush re-election campaign, both during 2003-04.

This appears to contradict all but the most absurdly lawyerly readings of a statement on Rasmussen Reports’ website, which reads: “Scott [Rasmussen] maintains his independence and has never been a campaign pollster or consultant for candidates seeking office.” The statement was also repeated word-for-word in a Politico article without any qualification.

OK, so we’ll score this The Internet 1, Politico’s fact-checking department 0, and Rasmussen a negative something for posting a blatantly misleading statement on their website.

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Are New Airline Annoyances Really Worth It? (The Odds)

Posted by demkid on December 30, 2009

By now, we all know about the new travel restrictions affecting airline passengers in the United States, brought on by the Nigerian terrorist’s attempt to light his underpants on fire on Christmas Day.  These restrictions include less freedom to move around the airplane during flight, removal of blankets and pillows off laps during the final hour of the flight, no bathroom access during the final hour of the flight, shutting off in-flight entertainment systems with embedded maps or GPS software showing the plane’s location, and enhanced security check-ups and body searches at the airports.

This has clearly been the main news story this past week.  In addition to the new restrictions, there’s been thorough discussion of the Obama administration’s response to the incident, how the 23-year-old could have attempted this when he was on a watch list and his father had allerted authorities, and how Yemen has now become the hot zone for Al Qaeda activity.  The one thing that really hasn’t gotten any airtime though, in my opinion, is a discussion of whether this singular failed attempt should really result in so many additional petty restrictions on travelers.  It seems to me that banning blankets or bathroom trips during the last hour of flights is silly.  If a terrorist wanted to take down a plane, wouldn’t he simply try doing it now before that 1-hour time limit is reached?  We can all wait on the now likely news story of a mother having to be physically restrained because she became hostile after not being allowed to take her child to the lavatory for one full hour. 

Bring in Nate Silver to shed some statistical light on this story.  In a recent post, he used some “non-fancy math” to determine the odds of being the subject of an attempted terrorist attack on a commercial flight.  While his analysis doesn’t take into account some points (one really can’t accurately examine a 10-year range when 4 of the 6 incidents happened on the same day, the odds of an incident on a large international flight are likely larger than those on a turbo prop flight from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles), the main conclusion, I think, is a valid one.  If you’re concerned with being blown up in a plane, don’t be.  As we can see from the last incident, the odds of an attempted attack are extremely low, and the odds of that attack succeeding are even lower, particularly due to the heightened diligence of airline passengers after 9/11.  Furthermore, after considering these odds, one really has to ask whether the ever increasing inconveniences to passengers are worth it.  Sure, screening of bags and people is important.  I really wouldn’t mind going through a full body scan prior to boarding if it ensures absolute safety.  It’s entirely arguable though, that little things like blanket and bathroom restrictions (and restricting bottled water from being carried on), are simply overkill.  From Nate’s post:

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these [terrorist] incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

So don’t fret, people.  Let the media do that for you.

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Are Liberals Helping the ‘Death Panel’ Nuts?

Posted by demkid on August 13, 2009

Leave it to a baseball statistician to analyze this whole health care protest rigamarole in a way that’s meaningful and highly-based on simple reality.  Of course, that baseball statistician is Nate Silver, and he’s been cutting through the crap on this and a myriad of other issues for quite some time now.  His latest post, “Are the Health Care Protests Working? And are Liberals Helping Them?”, begins, simply enough, with the facts: right now, we can’t really know a whole lot about the views of average Americans on the pending health care reform bills (or how the protests are affecting these views) because coverage of the protests has been so mindnumbingly partisan on both sides.  This is all eerily similar to the Tea Party coverage earlier this year, when it was difficult to really tell how successful those gatherings were and how they were influencing public opinion.  (Note my April post on Fox News inflating numbers and Silver setting things straight.)  As with most of his analysis, Silver examines the numbers, including a recently-released Gallup poll showing that there is slightly more sympathy to the protesters’ cause because of the uprising.  He cautions, however, that these types of polls are “notoriously slippery,” notes that other polls have not found much change in public opinion, and concludes that while the upside of the protests is debatable, they have at least served to “make views on health care reform more entrenched.”

The most intriguing part of Silver’s post discusses the blogosphere’s reaction to the protests.  Conservatives can say and do just about anything to make the protesters look like angels and the proposals themselves look like vehicles that would bring pain and suffering to every American citizen.  The right is clearly good at using deception to create fear, and there is no real downside to this strategy (the ex-governor writing about “death panels” is just one example of many).  On the other side, though, liberal bloggers and commentators seemingly have to walk a very fine line when talking about the protests.  Silver explains:

On the one hand, some amount of pushback is necessary — you don’t want this to be a one-sided debate. On the other hand, the pushback is certainly propelling the protests — which are being carried out by ultimately a very small fraction of the electorate — further into the public spotlight, which may encourage the mainstream media to cover them. So maybe on CNN, instead of getting a 2-minute, largely sympathetic story on the protests for every hour of coverage, you’re instead getting a 6-minute, somewhat-to-mostly sympathetic story on the protests (that seemed to be about the ratio when I was watching the network during an airport delay today). It’s not clear to me that this is such a good trade-off for liberals.

So, the left must continue to fight back, but being overly-ambitious likely will serve to add fuel to the fire.  This concept makes a ton of sense to me, and it’s a big reason why I consider myself to be a moderate Democrat.  Many times, liberals just don’t know when to zip it.  Faced with utter crap coming from the right, they pick it up and fling it right back, rather than looking for ways to better connect with the electorate.  In response to angry protesters (on many occasions sent by special interests), the left then send their own protesters (from unions, etc.) to join the fray.  Party leaders then use terms like “un-American” to refer to those disrupting town halls.  This in turn provides the right with more talking points and further confuses the main issue.  The strategy is completely backwards, but it’s to be expected in this era of “he who shouts the loudest gets the biggest ratings.”  As I explained in my most recent post, I could care less about the specific reasons behind the protesting.  There, I said that disruptions were disruptions regardless of their legitimacy.  Arguing that those who speak up at these gatherings are doing so for the wrong reasons similarly is a poor strategy for liberal bloggers and commentators, because the main goal is lost.  The left many times forgets that the objective is to get meaningful legislation passed because they’re too busy playing Cowboys and Indians with the far right.  As Silver concludes (and I wholeheartedly agree), the best strategy is to show what the reality is concerning the health care proposals.  This involves settling on a particular plan, having better and more effective messaging, and demonstrating that the protesters are protesting about things that aren’t even proposed.  Focusing on this strategy and avoiding silly cable news-type turf wars would ultimately result in a successful reform package that a large majority of the public could get behind.

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