Monday, October 24, 2016

The Most Effective Campaign Commercial of All Time

For whatever reason the internet loves hyperbole -- particularly of the sort that ignores all but the last eighteen months in the sweep of human history. I had this pointed out to me in 2002 by a smart colleague at my workplace, recounting the tale of a student of his who had just uploaded an essay entitled "The Twenty Greatest Blu-Ray Movies of All Time," and who then refused to see the irony of same when my colleague patiently tried to point it out to him. We all do this, now: Things change so much faster than they used to that we forget how recent the distant-seeming stuff really is.

So forgive me while I chew some precious bandwidth to make the argument that Hillary Clinton's latest one-minute spot, "Captain Khan," is very probably -- and will very probably be remembered for a long time as -- the single most devastatingly effective political advertisement, ever.

But first do yourself the honor of watching it again, because it's worth it.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Republicans are (Probably) in Bigger Trouble Than They Think

Election polling is, as ever, a good news / bad news proposition. The good news about following polling data in an election season is that there is always a great mass of data and there are always a great many stone-cold pros crunching that data and writing articles about it, as well as Nate Silver. But this volume of data and expert analysis happens also to be the bad news -- because the more stone-cold pros there are, the more likely their predictions are to diverge in meaningful ways. And never is this more true than when it comes to predicting so-called "wave elections," in which the mood of the electorate turns so decisively against one or the other of the two political parties that even the best models under-count the damage.

Worse, this kind of mistake is what statisticians refer to as a "systematic error": one in which the divergence between prediction and outcome only manifests in one tail of the probability distribution. For recent examples of this phenomenon, the United States has experienced "wave" elections in three consecutive midterms -- 2006, 2010, and 2014 -- and in all three of them the most trusted and professional pollsters and poll analysts, and Nate Silver, have all missed the victorious party's margin to the low side. But then this much is nearly tautological: Having failed to diagnose a wave, it would be impossible to then over-estimate its size, since missing a congressional margin to the high side would itself constitute the correct prediction of a wave.

So the bigger, more vexing question, then, is why pollsters and poll-analysts so often miss waves altogether -- and whether those explanations could proffer any guidance in predicting the outcome of this year's electoral horse race. Personally I believe that the explanations for un-diagnosed waves are mostly straightforward, and that they do, in fact, offer real promise that the Democrats could be positioned to do much better down-ballot than the punditry is currently predicting. Let's look at the factors that might substantiate this possibility.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

The Map That Should Scare the Hell Out of Donald Trump

Let's be clear: The notion that Donald Trump could win the 2016 Presidential Election without a huge assist from the Vladimir Putins and Rick Scotts of the world was never really as viable an idea as it seemed, even when Trump appeared to be polling close to even with Secretary Clinton. As pundits far more learned and eloquent than your present columnist have indicated, Trump's support has hit a hard ceiling during the lowest moments of Clinton's trying September, and the famed "blue wall" of Democratic electoral votes has rarely, if ever, showed any signs of cracks along the way. Things looked much closer than they should have been when Secretary Clinton had her fainting spell at a 9/11 commemoration, true. And then the first debate happened. And then Alicia Machado happened. And then the world was treated to a hot-mic conversation between the candidate and Billy Bush, which gave rise to a scandal that I won't dignify with the name that others have given it. You know what I'm not referring to just the same.

Polls, as we've seen, lag the real situation on the ground. It takes the public a famous day or two to sort out how they feel about new information -- particularly if it's momentous -- after which the polls have to be in the field for three or four days, then input into statistical software, tabulated, regressed, analyzed, and published. We've seen the first big signs that Trump could be in free-fall, but we won't really know how bad things have gotten for him as a result of Friday's bombshell for ... gosh, perhaps as much as another full week. So in the meantime, let's divert ourselves with some idle speculation about the electoral college, and that big Trump gambit we've heard so much about over these past few weeks.

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