Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The endless capacity for self-delusion

You'd think we would have learned in the 2012 election -- or, you know, maybe back when Iraq invaded Kuwait -- that the one thing the courtier press can't afford to do is give bad information to the party. When that happens, we get a condition called "bounded rationality": leaders make decisions that appear perfectly rational, as long as nobody minds that the information they're based on is clueless. And in that light, Bill Kristol is hard to distinguish from the advisers who told Saddam Hussein that invading Kuwait would be a nearly consequence-free way of settling his lingering interstate disputes over slant-drilling and those pesky loans from the earlier war:

The new Quinnipiac poll of the New Jersey Senate contest shows Jeff Bell only 11 points down to Cory Booker, 51 to 40 percent, among likely voters. It goes without saying that a race can move a dozen points in the final five weeks of a campaign—especially when a little known challenger (but one who's well-regarded by those who do know of him) is taking on a pro-Obama incumbent who's barely above 50 percent in an anti-Obama, anti-incumbent year.
... But take a further look at the poll results. Booker leads Bell, 51-40. Seventy-six percent of Booker supporters and 84 percent of Bell supporters say their mind is made up. Do the math. Among those whose mind is made up, Booker leads Bell 39 to 34 percent.
So Booker's hard lead over Bell is a mere 5 points.

"Hard lead" is kind of a novel statistical concept, so maybe it's rude to point out that with a +/- 3-point maximum margin of sampling error* (at 95% confidence for the full sample of 1,058), this one's also pretty close to the traditional standard of statistical significance. But by all means continue:

He'll outspend Bell over the next month. But money can't buy you love. Sometimes, it can't even buy you votes. If New Jersey flips in November, we'll remember this Quinnipiac poll as Jeff Bell's fire bell in the night.
Or not. Two more recent polls (CBS/NYT, in the field Sept. 20-Oct. 1 with 2,011 likely voters, and Monmouth, in the field Oct. 2-5 with 477 likely voters) give Booker even larger leads. Without Quinnipiac's "is your mind made up, or do you think you might change your mind before the election?" question, we can't calculate "hard support" in those polls, but let's follow Kristol's suggestion and take a "deeper look" at the Quinnipiac results anyway. Since we're all making up our own stats, we can test the Uppity Black Guy Factor: How is support for one smooth-talking black dude related to opposition to another smooth-talking black dude?
Take Quinnipiac's 85% of Republican respondents who say they're voting for Bell and multiply by the 51% of Republicans who say their Senate vote is a vote against Obama. Now take the 91% of Democrats who plan to vote for Booker and multiply by the 58%** who say the Kenyan usurper isn't "much of a factor" in their Senate vote. I get a UBGF of .43 for Republicans and a counter-UBGF of .53 for Democrats. If you were into made-up-on-the-spot statistics, you could say that means Democratic LVs in New Jersey are more likely to be voting for a Senate candidate and Republican LVs in New Jersey are more likely to be voting against the president, and it's sheer coincidence that Booker and the Kenyan are both uppity youngish black dudes. 

I'm not at all sure what that means for intensity of likely-voter commitment in an off-year Senate race, nor am I suggesting a newly fabricated benchmark is more relevant than the observation that 65% of likely New Jersey voters -- including 48% of the Republicans in the sample -- hadn't heard enough about the Republican candidate to form an opinion about him. But then again, I'm not rallying the dispirited hordes around the party flag (or telling the heroic leader that the US won't really mind if one desert autocracy bumps off another one, as long as the oil keeps flowing).  It won't surprise anyone to learn that Bill Kristol is a deluded hack whose views about public opinion in a Senate campaign are worth every Canadian halfpenny you paid for them. But it might lead some curious readers to wonder why lying about the evidence is increasingly a property of one party and one political philosophy:

RUSH: First off, the jobs news.  Isn't it amazing?  Just prior to the 2012 election, for the year or two years leading up to the 2012 election, the Drive-Bys repeatedly reported a statistic.  The statistic was that no president had ever been reelected if the unemployment rate was 8% or higher on Election Day.  In fact, the month before the election.
Well, it was obvious what was gonna happen, and I so stated that miraculously, the unemployment rate would end up, the last report before the election, November 12, would have it below 8.0%.  And it did, 7.9.  It was a magic thing.  The last jobs report before the 2012 election came in at 7.9% unemployment, and on cue, the Drive-Bys went banshee. They went bonkers with happiness and glee.
They said, "Okay, we've taken care of that stat. So Obama's no longer a prisoner to that stat. We've got an unemployment rate that came in under 8%."  The way they did it was to massage the numbers.  The unemployment rate came down because more people stopped looking for work. It had nothing to do with how many people found jobs.  It was the universe of jobs fell because of people leaving the labor force.

So the percentage of people out of work also fell since the overall number was smaller.  Well, we have an election coming up in November.  Isn't it amazing? Two years later, and look at this.  The unemployment number is at 5.9%!  It's such a beautiful thing.  It's under 6%. This is as low as it has been since Obama's first year in office.  Isn't this amazing?  Why, it was just yesterday that Obama was out talking to some college students and telling everybody how great the economy is.
Counting the individual lies in a single Rush broadcast is sort of like playing Angry Birds: It's not very good for productivity, but you can take comfort in knowing that somewhere, a pig dies with every successful hit. But the higher-end condos in the echo chamber are shot through with this particular flavor of self-delusion as well:

The problem with punditry, of course, is not that pundits are conservative but that pundits are pundits. They're experts in being experts. They don't specialize in public opinion or current Near Eastern history or quantitative measures of employment; they specialize in conventional wisdom. The specific problem with contemporary right-wing punditry is that the habit of making up new facts when the current ones look unpleasant is getting pretty deeply entrenched. It may look like what the party wants to hear, but it's not the sort of thing you want your camp to be basing its strategic decisions on.

* Which candidate's support is better described by this figure? Discuss.
** Of course, that's what Alinsky would tell them to say.

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