Man Without Qualities

Friday, October 29, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose: Almost The Last On A Nearly Dispositive Day

Although it would be a very good thing for Mr. Bush to win re-election, one cannot help but feel sorry today for the pathetic, doomed Democratic spinmeisters and their mainstream media water carriers. Charged, on the very same day, with whirling to Kerry-Edwards' advantage three developments each of which alone is a catastrophe for the Democratic cause: (1) Maj. Austin Pearson's disclosure that his team removed 250 tons of plastic explosives and other munitions from the Al-Qaqaa depot south of Baghdad on April 13, 2003 ? 10 days after U.S. forces first reached the Al-Qaqaa site, and (2) the new bin Laden video tape, and (3) ABC News broadcasting a videotape of a man describing himself as an American member of al Qaeda who says a new wave of terror attacks against the United States could come "at any moment."

The Al-Qaqaa disclosure would be bad enough for the Democrats, given Senator Kerry's preposterous, hasty embrace of the original flawed, incomplete, spin-heavy New York Times report as the basis for superheated criticisms of the President. The Democrats and mainstream media (such as the AP article linked above) will no doubt work in overdrive to salvage something of the original story. But the holes and uncertainties that have appeared in the original story make one thing clear: It is far too early for anyone to be engaging in the kind of second-guessing of the Al-Qaqaa operation of the scale and tenor chosen by the Times and John Kerry. And it is increasingly apparent that the story isn't that significant even if every word of the Times/Kerry spin were true. Finally, one could positively feel the pain emanate from the CNN newsroom as the video of Maj. Pearson's press conference played. But that was not the worst for the CNN Kerry partisans, who began to make a valiant effort to suggest ways in which the story might be re-spun - only to be informed by another "expert" talking head that the potential of the entire Al-Qaqaa story to affect the election - no matter how the story is spun and exaggerated - is now utterly gone, superseded by the story of the bin Laden tape. O, Boo-hoo-hoo in the newsroom.

But the sadness on the Democrats effected by Maj. Austin Pearson is as naught compared to that effected by bin Laden. Consider the humiliating need to come up with arguments that it's "unclear" which way the tape cuts in the Presidential race. One sees Kerry spokesman after surrogate after water carrier intoning such rubbish. After complaining for months that they were dreadfully afraid that the Administration would concoct some "October Surprise" to refocus the voting public's memory on 9-11 and terrorism (an issue on which Mr. Bush enjoys a huge lead over his opponent), the Democrats now have to explain how a spectacular and completely real October Surprise that is obviously going to refocus the voting public's memory on 9-11 and terrorism will have "unclear" effect. They look and sound like idiots when they do this. The sense of embarrassment in the spokesmen, surrogates and water carriers palpable - one senses they would rather endure a command to run naked through Times Square at rush hour than to have to make the argument they must make - but they have no choice.

I was particularly amazed seeing one CNN "expert" suggest that bin Laden was actually tendering a bit of an olive branch, since his threat to attack America again was "conditional" on continuing United States intervention in the Islamic world (the AP article linked above - headlined "Bin Laden: U.S. can avoid another attack" - also conveys some of this absurd take). United States support of Israel is clearly considered by bin Laden and his kind to be an unacceptable intervention by the United States in the Islamic world, so there's not much room to wonder where the theory of that "expert" will lead. Gee - how can we remove bin Laden's "condition" to grab the olive branch? Well, we don't know everything that's involved, but pulling the rug out from under Israel would certainly be a part of it! And how about those Iranian nuclear bombs? Some "condition!"

And as if to make sure that voters don't allow their re-focused attention to focus overseas too much, there is the obliging American al-Qaida operative and his tape, apparently made right here in the good old USA.

O, yes. A nearly dispositive day.
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Zogbyspeak In The Badlands

The Washington Post provides an amusing glimpse of Zogby Poll "methodology" in the case of the South Dakota Senate race:

[T]he Zogby poll published in the Rapid City Journal ... showed Republican Thune leading Daschle, 48.5 percent to 45.5 percent, just within the margin of error. At first, however, the poll had shown an even larger Thune lead, which seemed so improbable that the pollsters adjusted their voter turnout estimates and arrived at the narrower gap.

So, what about all that baloney one reads about carefully consistent and thought-through polling procedures? Well, forget all that stuff if Mr. Zogby thinks procedures turn out a result that's just "improbable" for his tastes. Then it time to adjust the voter turnout estimates!

Does Mr. Zogby adjust voter turnout estimates by dipping his finger in a double gin-and-tonic and sticking it in the wind?

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Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Very First Time

Many Democrats - including Arianna Huffington - hope that first time voters and their cell-phone-only ways will save Kerry-Edwards. This Pace University Pace Poll/Rock the Vote Survey Research Study opens with words of wisdom from James Carville addressing such hopes:

You know what they call a candidate who's counting on a lot of new voters? A loser.

Or, perhaps, "pathetic ... and bound to lose?" Just asking.

The Pace study also includes these observations, which should warm each Caddell cockle:

Senator Kerry's unfavorability rating [among prospective first-time voters] has risen 10 points since July to 46%. During the same time period, the President gained 8 points on Senator Kerry in the head-to-head ballot question, moving from 40% in July to 48% today. ... [T]he President leads Kerry among new voters 48% to 44%. But first-time voters who remain undecided may wind up supporting the challenger.

Of course, we won't know until after the last poll and the election count is completed. But already there are very few "undecideds" left - Zogby, for example, says that the pool of "undecideds" has shrunk to 3% - 4% at this point.

If Zogby is right, who will be left to "break to the challenger" once the Incumbent Rule kicks in? Setting aside margins of error for the moment, suppose 60% of the "undecideds" break to Kerry-Edwards at that point, and they then make up 2% of the voting public. That means Kerry-Edwards could expect a boost of about .2% from the Incumbent Rule.

Whoopee! Bigger effects are probably caused by bad lighting in polling places (mine is in a neighbor's garage) or voters whose arthritis or tremors causes them inadvertently to pull the wrong lever. Perhaps pollster/pundits should spend more of their time analyzing those factors.

POSTSCRIPT: It is worth a minute to peruse a certain feature of the Incumbent Rule that makes it partially self-fulfilling where the incumbent leads in the final poll, and therefore partially meaningless:

The formulation of the Incumbent Rule means where two candidates are arbitrarily close to each other in the final poll with the incumbent leading, it is perfectly possible for the challenger to "benefit" from the Incumbent Rule but the incumbent sometimes still win the election.

That's because the Incumbent Rule considers any split of the undecideds which is less favorable to the incumbent than the incumbent's ratable share of the determined vote in the final poll to be a "break for the challenger." In particular, if the incumbent leads by any amount in the final poll, a 50%-50% split of the undecideds is a "break for the challenger" even though in such a case such a split can never tip the election to the challenger.

For example: Suppose the final poll shows the incumbent drawing 45% of the vote with the challenger at 40% and the remaining 15% of the voters "undecided" at the time of the final poll. If the "undecideds" split 50%-50%, the incumbent will obvously win with 52.5% and the challenger receive 47.5%. The Incumbent Rule calls that result a "break to the challenger." But so long as the incumbent was leading in the final poll, the incumbent will always win the election if the "undecideds" split evenly.

In other words, the Incumbent Rule relies on some of the wisdom of an old Abbott & Costello routine in which Abbott first asks Costello about a 5-year-old girl whose father is 25 years old, or 5 times his daughter's age. "OK," says Costello. Abbott then points out that in 5 years the girl will be 10 years old and her father will be 30, or only 3 times her age. "OK," says Costello. Abbott observes that after 10 more years the girl will be 20 and her father 40, or only twice her age. "OK," says Costello. Then Abbott pops the key question: How long will it be before the girl and her father are the same age?

Or, correspondingly, how many elections have been won by challengers on account of the Incumbent Rule where the incumbent leads in the final poll and the undecideds break to the challenger by splitting 50%-50%?

Now there's a topic for some intense pollster/pundit research.
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Undecided Voters Break Towards The Challenger? IV: The Rasmussen Variations

Alert Andrew Morton points out that Rasmussen's readings on this election are consistent in spirit with Patrick Caddell's historical observations:

Among voters who made up their minds in the Spring of 2004 or sooner, Kerry is favored by a 51% to 48% margin. This obviously includes some who decided to vote for anybody-but-Bush since 36% of voters made up their mind before the Democratic nominee was selected.

The candidates are essentially tied among those who made up their minds during the summer. However, those who decided in the past month favor President Bush by a 57% to 38% margin.

Mr. Caddell and/or Mr. Rasmussen should commit his (their) observations and research to a prominent Op-Ed piece or the like, formulate them with more specificity and, among other thngs, integrate Mr. Caddell's historical research with Mr. Rasmussen's data. What I saw of Mr. Caddell on the Fox News programs was seemingly focused on the final two weeks of the election cycle - but I had the sense that his research has yielded more extensive results, along the lines of Rasmussen's take.

Kausfiles links to this interesting "energetic debunking."

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A Parallax View II: The Arc of a Rejected Hail Mary

It is becoming increasing obvious that Senator Kerry's most recent "Hail Mary" - his hasty embrace of the New York Times' "missing Iraq high explosives" story - is exploding in his face.

Yet the risks were huge and obvious.

If the Washington Times story holds up, how can Senator Kerry continue to argue that he would have "persuaded" our valued ally - Russia - to cooperate in an invasion of Iraq where that "ally" was busy supplying Iraq with high explosives that it then moved to Syria as the American invasion neared?

MORE: From Maguire.

STILL MORE: From the Financial Times, which has endorsed John Kerry.
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Undecided Voters Break Towards The Challenger? III: Hearing Secret Harmonies

What Kausfiles calls the venerable "Incumbent Rule" - which holds that in the campaign's last hours "undecided" voters tend to "break" for the challenger - supposedly garners empirical support from a 1989 study by Nick Panagakis, president of Market Shares Corporation (the firm that polls for the Chicago Tribune), a study that appeared in a "famous" article in The Polling Report. The Panagakis study found that in 82% of the cases he selected the undecideds "broke" mostly to the challenger. Claims by the Mystery Pollster, for example, that the Panagakis study was based on polls which were all conducted during the last week before an election are flatly wrong. Further, most of the cases in the Panagakis were not particularly similar to federal Presidential races. Here's how Panagakis described the cases he considered:

The 155 polls we collected and analyzed were the final polls conducted in each particular race; most were completed within two weeks of election day. They cover both general and primary elections, and Democratic and Republican incumbents. They are predominantly from statewide races, with a few U.S. House, mayoral and countywide contests thrown in. Most are from the 1986 and 1988 elections, although a few stretch back to the 1970s.

The last time I looked, "most" still meant "more than half." The difference between asserting (as Panagakis does) that "most" of the final polls analyzed in his report were completed within two weeks of election day and asserting (as the Mystery Pollster does) of those final polls that they were all conducted during the last week before an election is huge. Moreover, the Panagakis analysis simply does not say how many of its final polls were, say, one day from the election and how many were, say, two weeks from the election. Why does the Mystery Pollster choose to mention "one week" at all? For all we know from Panagakis' description, 95% of his final polls may have been taken one day before the election to which they relate.

Does it matter if the Mystery pollster's formulation of the Panagakis results is wrong? Yes, it matters. And it may help to explain why Pat Caddell is looking so upset these days - and saying such tart things. In an interview with Neil Cavuto Mr. Caddell said:

[T]he undecideds always break to the incumbent at the end of a Presidential campaign. ...[N]obody studies the history of this. Undecided voters, by the middle of October, have not decided to vote for the challenger, they go for the safe choice, the person they have. ... In other words, if a challenger cannot convince them, it's what I used to call the button problem, it's the war problem. If you're not going to vote for, unless you convince yourself that the challenger will do a better job in protecting the country, or handling particularly foreign policy than will be the incumbent or the incumbent party, then if you haven't made that decision, you stay with what's safe, you stay with what you know, that you're comfortable with. And that's been working for Bush I think coming all along, and it's part of the whole--

In other words, Mr. Caddell is saying that undecideds usually break towards the incumbent.

Or is he? Mickey Kaus seems to construe Mr. Caddell that way: Pollster Pat Caddell dissents from the so-called Incumbent Rule (which holds that undecided voters never go to the incumbent). I'm not convinced. And Mr. Caddell is clearly upset with something that's being said these days. But is it the "Incumbent Rule" - or, rather, all versions of the Incumbent Rule - that has Mr. Caddell fired up?

Probably not. Mr. Caddell seems to be upset with what he views to be a particular misstatement of the "Incumbent Rule" - the one that is now being used to justify Democratic hopes on the basis of poll results now in existence. The Mystery Pollster and Mr. Caddell agree on at least one thing: The Incumbent Rule applies only based on the final poll, which should be taken very close to election day. As the Mystery Pollster cautioned (despite his incorrect description of the Panagakis study):
That is why pollsters continue to interview voters through the final weekend.
The data needed to apply the Incumbent Rule simply do not yet exist.

The Panagakis study's own description of its included cases should give any serious person serious pause in applying it to the current presidential race. "Primary elections?" "Predominantly from statewide races,with a few U.S. House, mayoral and countywide contests thrown in?" Is "thrown in" writing that usually reflects systematic, scientific choice? What would one think of, say, an experimental drug study whose official analysis submitted to the FDA stated that "a few" trial patients of a particular type (older, female, cancer victims perhaps, or those with known heart irregularities, or those who had competed in recent Olympics Games?) were "thrown in" to the study population?

The Incumbent Rule supposedly largely turns on the effect of voters getting to know and understand the candidates. How comfortable does one feel analogizing the primary, state, House and local elections studied by Panagakis - contests in which ordinary voters usually know little about the candidates, especially the challenger, until the end of the campaign (if voters know much even then) with a presidential election in which the national media has been flooding the political marketplace with information for many months? - especially in this case, where the media have been flooding the market with opinion and information about the Democratic challenger the media overtly favor. The Mystery Pollster is almost certainly seriously wrong to conclude that the historical data and theoretical underpinnings of the incumbent rule are far stronger for presidential races - especially with respect to this presidential race, in which mainstream media coverage has left little positive information about Senator Kerry to be absorbed and much positive information about President Bush obscured.

The Cavuto show was not the only Fox News program on which Mr. Caddell appeared and described his frustrations with the current widespread misstatement and abuse of the Incumbent rule. Mr. Caddell also did so last night on Hannity & Colmes, where he elaborated on his own observations. I do not have a transcript of his statements, but I believe the following fairly summarizes his position:

There is, in fact, sometimes a small "break towards the challenger" in the final day or so before an election. That is the valid content of the "Incumbent Rule" as Mr. Caddell sees it. But in the two weeks preceding, say, the second or third day prior to a Presidential election, there is actually an ongoing "break towards the incumbent." In other words, Mr. Caddell thinks the valid application of the Incumbent Rule leads to the conclusion that Mr. Bush will "top out" no sooner than the second or third day prior to the election - after which there may be a smaller "break to the challenger."

Mr. Caddell did not mention the Panagakis study by name. But his comment on the Cavuto program that "nobody studies the history of this" looks like an implied swipe at that "famous" study. In addition, Mr. Caddell also stated on Hannity & Colmes that he, personally had gone back and researched past presidential races in this respect - research on which he was relying to dispute what he considers an invalid version of the Incumbent Rule. His observation that "nobody studies the history of this" therefore seems intended to mean that he thinks that nobody who is advancing the incorrect version of the Incumbent Rule now making the rounds has adequately studied the history of its application in presidential races.

On the whole, Mr. Caddell's skepticism of any "undecided at one week break to the challenger" or "undecided at two weeks break to the challenger" version of the Incumbent Rule seems very well founded. The Panagakis study, which relies on a lot of races not very much like a presidential race at all, and especially not like this presidential race, is very weak evidence to the contrary. Further, if most of the Panagakis final polls were taken within a day or so of the corresponding elections, there is no daylight between the Panagakis and Caddell research. In that case, the Panagakis analysis would simply be the less precise.


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Monday, October 25, 2004

A Parallax View

The Washington Times reports:

U.N. ambassadors from several nations are disputing assertions by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry that he met for hours with all members of the U.N. Security Council just a week before voting in October 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq. An investigation by The Washington Times reveals that while the candidate did talk for an unspecified period to at least a few members of the panel, no such meeting, as described by Mr. Kerry on a number of occasions over the past year, ever occurred.

Does this matter? Probably not in the sense of moving many voters. Senator Kerry's claim to have spoken at length to all Security Council ambassadors was always ridiculous at bottom and lacking in detail. It is very hard to imagine that any substantial number of voters at all points in the political spectrum actually believes that Senator Kerry wasn't grossly exaggerating on this point. So there is very little new information in this report with respect to Senator Kerry's character or experience. (Senator Kerry's potential supporters just don't care that he lies.)

But nonetheless there is a major piece of new information in one aspect of this report: The ambassadors of all those Security Council members were willing to speak to the Washington Times and squarely refute Senator Kerry's claims.

Those ambassadors could have merely said to the Times reporter that as foreign ambassadors they didn't want to get involved in a United States presidential race by responding to the question. Or that they generally don't talk to reporters. Or just refused to take or return the reporter's call. But the ambassadors didn't do any of those things. Instead, they responded to a conservative newspaper in a way guaranteed to undercut the Senator's prospects. That doesn't seem very consistent with the ambassadors and their home countries believing that John Kerry will soon be the President of the United States.

And those ambassadors are not alone in behaving as if they believe President Bush has the race sewed up unless something very big and new happens to put the other man in the White House. Kerry-Edwards, for example, seems to greet every recent morning with a new "Hail Mary" pass with enormous risk. Today, for example, John Kerry fully embraced the New York Times' odd and highly incomplete report of the "disappearance" of 380 tons of high explosives in Iraq. Senator John Kerry seized on the missing cache as "one of the great blunders of Iraq" and said President Bush's "incredible incompetence" had put American troops at risk.

But it was John Kerry who put his campaign at risk by naively accepting a weakly supported report on which to base his harsh assault on Mr. Bush. In addition to being weakly supported, the report comes with many unanswered questions, including why it is being put out after much delay and with obvious intent to influence the American elections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a body that has shown itself to be capable of highly partisan and questionable maneuvers in the past. Now DRUDGE reports that the report is really re-cycled blather from months ago despite the Times' breathless claims to "exclusivity" and Senator Kerry's Hail Mary may have been summarily rejected:

Tonight, NBCNEWS reported: The 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives were already missing back in April 10, 2003 -- when U.S. troops arrived at the installation south of Baghdad! An NBCNEWS crew embedded with troops moved in to secure the Al-Qaqaa weapons facility on April 10, 2003, one day after the liberation of Iraq. According to NBCNEWS, the HMX and RDX explosives were already missing when the American troops arrived. "The U.S. Army was at the site one day after the liberation and the weapons were already gone," a top Republican blasted from Washington late Monday.

Simply put: If NBCNEWS is right, Senator Kerry is going to look like a very big and highly incompetent ass just days before the election. If he believed that the election were really as close as the polls and media are suggesting, his decision to take the risk of embracing a flaky, partisan Times story on the very day it appeared.

But a premature embrace of what may be a major Times embarrassment poses a small risk compared to the risks represented by Senator Kerry's embrace of Bill Clinton.

Why is Kerry-Edwards taking these chances if they believe in their "winning scenario": President Bush's lead is small, and undecideds "break" in favor of the challenger. That's it, right? Just stay the course, and everything should be all right. So why does Kerry-Edwards seem not to be staying any identifiable course at all?

Other items also suggest that Senator Kerry is doing a lot worse than the national public polls and media reports suggest:

Three polls (one in Florida) indicate that between 15% and 20% of African-Americans have "trended away" (Donna Brazille's term) to the point of saying that they will vote Republican. The Florida poll is consistent with the most recent Gallup results in that state placing Bush-Cheney much in the lead there. Kerry-Edwards has also had a great deal of trouble securing its female suburban base. These minority and female problems of Kerry-Edwards appear to be the justifications for yanking the volatile (and popular) but now almost cadaverous-looking Mr. Clinton from his hospital bed to campaign. Mr. Clinton's Philadelphia performance - which urged voters to vote for the candidate who appealed to their hopes more than their fears - was as dubious and "nuanced" as his dreadful Boston convention address that flogged Senator Kerry's blind vanity and the theme that he was a child of privilege.

Bush-Cheney has a small lead in Hawaii and Connecticut in some polls - states that are supposed to be unquestionably and unambiguously in John Kerry's corner.

Senator Kerry actually took time yesterday to drone on about the attenuated and almost irrelevant micro-issue of flu vaccine. This behavior does not suggest that he thinks his big issues are working ... or are going to work.

Mr. Bush is not personally campaigning much in Ohio, as if he and his campaign believe the state is secured. This is consistent with the recent Zogby Poll results in that state that give Mr. Bush a 5% lead.

Tony Blair agreed to move British troops from Basra to points near Baghdad.

The economic models predict Mr. Bush will take about 57% of the vote - that's not a close race at all, even if one allows for a generous margin of error.

There has been no sign, yet, that undecided voters are "breaking" for the challenger. Quite the contrary: Mr. Bush's lead seems to be slowly growing in the better polls and at least stable in the rest. His margin in the better polls seems to be converging to a point within the margin of error of what economic models are predicting.

Even the grifters who manufacture the hilariously manipulated Los Angeles Times poll (the very same people who predicted that California Governor's Grey Davis' landslide recall election would be "close") can't bring themselves to award Kerry-Edwards more than a "tie."

Some liberal Democratic columnists whose work generally reads like the DNC's daily talking points, such as Ron Brownstein at the Los Angeles Times, are wringing their hands over the possible "illegitimacy" of the likely election results.

It is curious that so many factors, including the behavior of many knowledgeable insiders of various political stripes and of international actors, suggest that the race is really not all that close.

MORE: On the NBCNEWS report.

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