Thursday Reads: Empathic Elephants, Meaningful Lives, Hillary Harassment, and Miranda Decision

baby elephants

Good Morning!!

A fascinating new study found that Asian elephants comfort each other in times of stress by touching each other with their trunks and making consoling vocalizations. From National Geographic:

Asian elephants, like great apes, dogs, certain corvids (the bird group that includes ravens), and us, have now been shown to recognize when a herd mate is upset and to offer gentle caresses and chirps of sympathy, according to a study published February 18 in the online journal PeerJ.

Joshua Plotnik, a behavioral ecologist at Mahidol University in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, and primatologist Frans de Waal, director ofEmory University’s Living Links Center, have shown through a controlled study what those who work with elephants have always believed: The animals, in this case captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), offer something akin to humans’ sympathetic concern when observing distress in another, including their relatives and friends.

The scientists observed a group of 26 elephants in Thailand for a year. It was a naturalistic study–researchers waited until a stressful situation occurred and then noted the animals’ behavior toward each other. From The Christian Science Monitor:

A stress-inducing situation might be a dog walking by or a snake rustling the grass, or the roar or just the presence of a bull elephant. Sometimes the stressor was unknown. Regardless, scientists know elephant distress when they see it: erect tails and flared ears; vocalizations such as trumpeting, rumbling, or roaring; and sudden defecation and urination tell the story….the scientists witnessed bystander elephants—those not directly affected by a stressor—moving to and giving upset elephants physical caresses, mostly inside the mouth (which is kind of like a hug to elephants) and on the genitals. 

Bystanders also rumbled and chirped with vocal offerings that suggested reassurance. Sometimes the empathetic animals formed a protective circle around the distressed one.

There was also evidence of “emotional contagion,” when herd mates matched the behavior and emotional state of the upset individual. In other words, seeing a “friend” in distress was distressing to the observers. Those animals also consoled one another.

It makes you wonder if the elephant is really the appropriate symbol for the Republican Party. Read more about elephant empathy at The Christian Science Monitor and Wired.

what-can-money-buy

Here’s another interesting study at Scientific American–this time about humans: A Happy Life May not be a Meaningful Life. The results reminded me of all the super rich guys who are constantly complaining about how victimized they are by the rest of us peons.

Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” For most people, feeling happy and finding life meaningful are both important and related goals. But do happiness and meaning always go together? It seems unlikely, given that many of the things that we regularly choose to do – from running marathons to raising children – are unlikely to increase our day-to-day happiness. Recent research suggests that while happiness and a sense of meaning often overlap, they also diverge in important and surprising ways.

Roy Baumeister and his colleagues recently published a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology that helps explain some of the key differences between a happy life and a meaningful one. They asked almost 400 American adults to fill out three surveys over a period of weeks. The surveys asked people to answer a series of questions their happiness levels, the degree to which they saw their lives as meaningful, and their general lifestyle and circumstances.

As one might expect, people’s happiness levels were positively correlated with whether they saw their lives as meaningful. However, the two measures were not identical – suggesting that what makes us happy may not always bring more meaning, and vice versa. To probe for differences between the two, the researchers examined the survey items that asked detailed questions about people’s feelings and moods, their relationships with others, and their day-to-day activities. Feeling happy was strongly correlated with seeing life as easy, pleasant, and free from difficult or troubling events. Happiness was also correlated with being in good health and generally feeling well most of the time. However, none of these things were correlated with a greater sense of meaning. Feeling good most of the time might help us feel happier, but it doesn’t necessarily bring a sense of purpose to our lives.

Interestingly, the researchers found that money can buy happiness, but it can’t guarantee a meaningful life. This is something I’ve come to believe through long and painful experience. I think a sense of meaning comes from working your way through problems and difficult times and coming out the other side stronger and wiser. Rich people are often able to shield themselves from life problems, but at the same time they miss out on opportunities for emotional growth.

Of course relationships are also important for both happiness and a sense of meaning.

In Baumeister’s study, feeling more connected to others improved both happiness and meaning. However, the role we adopt in our relationships makes an important difference. Participants in the study who were more likely to agree with the statement, “I am a giver,” reported less happiness than people who were more likely to agree with, “I am a taker.” However, the “givers” reported higher levels of meaning in their lives compared to the “takers.” In addition, spending more time with friends was related to greater happiness but not more meaning. In contrast, spending more time with people one loves was correlated with greater meaning but not with more happiness. The researchers suspect that spending time with loved ones is often more difficult, but ultimately more satisfying, than spending time with friends.

This is something else I can testify to. I spent about 18 years being a primary caregiver for my ex-mother-in-law. At times this was a thankless, frustrating task that certainly didn’t make me happy all the time–but in the end, I realized that the experience had been meaningful and I had grown a great deal from it.

Bill De Blasio Sworn In As New York City Mayor

It looks like Hillary is going to be in the news a great deal between now and the 2016 presidential primaries. We’ve seen the Republicans ramping up their campaign against her–so far by focusing on old gossip from the 1990s. Even the Vince Foster conspiracy theories are coming back to haunt us. Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter reported yesterday that Fox News was set to resurface not only Vince Foster myths, but also Kathleen Willey’s claims that Bill Clinton sexually harassed her.

One of the top shelf conspiracy theories about the Clintons had to do with the suicide of White House advisor Vince Foster, which topped a list of other suspected deaths at the hands of Bill and Hillary. Now, 13 years after the end of that administration and at the outset of the would-be presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, everything from the ’90s appears to be back on the table.

We’ve already heard from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who was the first to invoke Monica Lewinsky. And now here comes Fox News Channel resurrecting the Vince Foster conspiracy theory.

On tonight’s The Kelly File, Megyn Kelly welcomes Kathleen Willey who famously accused President Clinton of sexual harassment. An independent counsel discredited the groping allegations. Nevertheless, Willey has gone on to accuse the Clintons of not only assassinating Vince Foster, but also of murdering her husband.

Sigh . . . I don’t know if anyone here watched that travesty–I wonder if Megyn explained why Hillary should be held responsible for things her husband did (or was accused of doing) decades ago.

As an antidote to that nonsense, here are a couple of very interesting polls:

Politico: Hillary Clinton sweeps GOP in Ohio

Hillary Clinton buries Gov. Chris Christie and other potential Republican presidential candidates in the crucial swing state of Ohio, according to a new poll on Thursday.

The former secretary of state, who led Christie 42 percent to 41 percent in November, now tops the New Jersey governor 49 percent to 36 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

Read the rest of the numbers at the link.

Now here’s a poll that will make Dakinikat smile: In a Stunning Turn Poll Shows Hillary Clinton Could Make Louisiana Blue in 2016 (Politicus USA)

A new Public Policy Polling survey of Louisana found that Hillary Clinton would be the strongest Democratic presidential candidate in the state since her husband Bill was on the ballot in the 1990s.

According to PPP, “All the Republican contenders for President lead Hillary Clinton in hypothetical contests, but the margins are closer than they’ve been in the state since her husband was on the ticket. Christie leads her by just a point at 44/43, Jindal’s up 2 at 47/45, Paul leads by 4 points at 47/43, Huckabee has a 5 point advantage at 49/44, and the strongest Republican with a 7 point edge at 50/43 is Jeb Bush.”

Hillary Clinton’s numbers represent the best showing for a Democratic presidential candidate in the state since her husband Bill Clinton won Louisiana by 5 points in 1992 and 12 points in 1996. George W. Bush won the state by 8 points in 2000, and 15 points in 2004. McCain beat Obama by 19 in 2008, and Mitt Romney defeated the president by a margin of 18 points in 2012.

Wow! It’s still very early, but that is exciting news.

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You may recall that last August, Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport in London and questioned about documents he was carrying–top secret documents that had been stolen by Edward Snowden from the U.S. and Great Britain. Miranda’s computers, flash drives and other electronic devices were also confiscated. Greenwald and Miranda sued, claiming that Great Britain charging him under their “anti-terrorism laws was unlawful and breached human rights.” Yesterday the court released its decision, saying that judges said it was a “proportionate measure in the circumstances” and in the interests of national security. From BBC News:

Steven Kovats QC, representing the UK home secretary, previously told the High Court that the secret material seized from Mr Miranda could have ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda.

But Mr Miranda’s lawyers argued the detention at Heathrow was illegal because it was carried out under the wrong law: Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

They said that in reality he was detained on the say-so of the security services so they could seize journalistic material.

Mr Miranda was carrying 58,000 highly classified Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) files, the judge said.

He added that Oliver Robbins, the UK’s deputy national security adviser at the Cabinet Office, had stated that “release or compromise of such data would be likely to cause very great damage to security interests and possible loss of life”.

But could Miranda be called a “journalist” just because he was carrying material that his partner had written about in a newspaper, The Guardian?

In his ruling, Lord Justice Laws said: “The claimant was not a journalist; the stolen GCHQ intelligence material he was carrying was not ‘journalistic material’, or if it was, only in the weakest sense.

“But he was acting in support of Mr Greenwald’s activities as a journalist. I accept that the Schedule 7 stop constituted an indirect interference with press freedom, though no such interference was asserted by the claimant at the time.

“In my judgement, however, it is shown by compelling evidence to have been justified.”

Here’s the full decision of the court. There is a subtle but emphatic slap-down of Glenn Greenwald’s arguments in points 54-56. The judged noted that Greenwald appeared to be lecturing the court when he discussed “responsible journalism,” and responded that the “evidence” Greenwald offered was “unhelpful,” because he took the position that British law enforcement officers deliberately acted in a way that they (officers) knew to be wrong; he ignored the fact that the material Miranda was carrying was stolen and could end up in the wrong hands; and that

Mr Greenwald’s account (paragraph 33) of the “many ingredients to the sensible reporting of very sensitive information” is insubstantial; or rather, mysterious – the reader is left in the dark as to how it is that “highly experienced journalists and
legal experts” (paragraph 33(1)) or “[e]xperienced editors and reporters” (33(2)) are able to know what may and what may not be published without endangering life or security.

Miranda and Greenwald hope to be granted the right to appeal the decision.

I’m just about out of space, so I’ll conclude with a quickie from Sochi: Olympian Films Wolf Stalking Her Hotel Hallway.

Olympian Kate Hansen tweeted out a video of what appears to be a wolf trotting down her hotel hallway with the message, “I’m pretty sure this is a wolf wandering my hall in Sochi.” via

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a great day!


Election Day Mid-Morning Open Thread: Polls

There are good signs for President Obama in the latest national polls, and among the poll aggregators. Two of the most recent national polls show Obama at 50% and leading by 3 percentage points.

The final Pew Poll from Nov. 4 had Obama at 50% and Romney at 47% nationally, and The WSJ/ABC News Poll found the same result yesterday.

At HuffPo, Mark Blumenthal has the latest aggregated results from Pollster showing a likely Obama win. Here are the latest national polls.

And the latest Ohio polls.

You’ll find lots more info and charts at the HuffPo link.

Nate Silver put up a late post at 1:42 this morning: Late Poll Gains for Obama Leave Romney With Longer Odds

Mitt Romney has always had difficulty drawing a winning Electoral College hand. Even during his best period of polling, in the week or two after the first presidential debate in Denver, he never quite pulled ahead in the polling averages in Ohio and other states that would allow him to secure 270 electoral votes.

But the most recent set of polls suggest another problem for Mr. Romney, whose momentum in the polls stalled out in mid-October. Instead, it is President Obama who is making gains.

Among 12 national polls published on Monday, Mr. Obama led by an average of 1.6 percentage points. Perhaps more important is the trend in the surveys. On average, Mr. Obama gained 1.5 percentage points from the prior edition of the same polls, improving his standing in nine of the surveys while losing ground in just one.

Right now, Silver estimates Obama’s chances of winning at 91.6% and projects he’ll win 315 electoral votes. Romney’s chances of winning are only 8.4% and he is projected to win 223 electoral votes.

Finally, here’s Sam Wang’s latest post: Presidential prediction 2012 (Election Eve) He is also predicting an Obama win.

Have you voted yet? Were the polls crowded? If you’re in a swing state, or in touch with people in swing states, what are you hearing?


Nate’s Numbers: the numbers converge

I’ve spent all my professional life drenched in numbers and statistics so Nate Silver’s numbers fascinate me. It’s probably the same reason they drive Republicans and pundits to distraction. Unraveling trend is easier with numbers than hateful, wishful thinking motivated by political piety. So, Karl Rove got on TV–probably trying to save what’s left of his credibility–saying that Romentum was stopped by Sandy. Romentum was a bit of canard and it turns out so is Sandy. Silver tries to discern the possible factors behind the recent numbers and looks at the Sandy Factor.  That’s a relatively simple task for any one with a database and a background in trend analysis.

When the hurricane made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, Mr. Obama’s chances of winning re-election were 73 percent in the FiveThirtyEight forecast. Since then, his chances have risen to 86 percent, close to his highs on the year.

But, while the storm and the response to it may account for some of Mr. Obama’s gains, it assuredly does not reflect the whole of the story.

Mr. Obama had already been rebounding in the polls, slowly but steadily, from his lows in early October — in contrast to a common narrative in the news media that contended, without much evidence, that Mr. Romney still had the momentum in the race.

Moreover, there are any number of alternatives to explain Mr. Obama’s gains before and after the storm hit.

  • Mr. Obama was adjudicated the winner of the second and third presidential debates in surveys of voters who watched them.
  • The past month has brought a series of encouraging economic news, including strong jobs reports in October and last Friday.
  • The bounce in the polls that Mr. Romney received after the Denver debate may have been destined to fade in part, as polling bounces often do following political events like national conventions.
  • Democrats have an edge in early voting based on states that provide hard data about which party’s voters have turned out to cast ballots. Some voters who were originally rejected by the likely voter models that surveys apply may now be included if they say that they have already voted.
  • Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have been running lots of advertisements, which could have some effect, especially in the swing states.
  • Mr. Obama’s voter-targeting operation may in fact be stronger than Mr. Romney’s and may have begun to show up in the polls.
  • Mr. Obama’s approval rating is at 49 or 50 percent in many surveys, a threshold that would ordinarily predict a narrow re-election for an incumbent.
  • Some elections “break” toward one or another candidate at the end as undecided voters tune in and begin to evaluate their decision.

Each of these hypotheses could merit its own article. But the point is that the causes for Mr. Obama’s gain in the polls are overdetermined, meaning that there are lot of variables that might have contributed to the one result.

If I had told you in January that Mr. Obama’s approval rating would have risen close to 50 percent by November, and that the unemployment rate would have dropped below 8 percent, you likely would have inferred that Mr. Obama was a favorite for re-election, with or without a hurricane and what was judged to be a strong response to it.

Whatever the causal factors, Nate’s numbers look good for the President.  Sam Wang–a Princeton number kruncher–says it not only looks like the President will hold his office but that the US Senate might see a Democratic Pick up of two.  This is an important firewall for those of us that care about things like Supreme Court appointments and getting rid of the filibuster silliness that has allowed the Republicans to basically thwart governing.  Dems may pick up Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

Rather than responding to the analysis, the Republicans continue to attack Nate Silver the man.  You may recall this Krugman piece last week about The War on Objectivity.

Brad DeLong points me to this National Review attack on Nate Silver, which I think of as illustrating an important aspect of what’s really happening in America.

For those new to this, Nate is a sports statistician turned political statistician, who has been maintaining a model that takes lots and lots of polling data — most of it at the state level, which is where the presidency gets decided — and converts it into election odds. Like others doing similar exercises — Drew LinzerSam Wang, and Pollster — Nate’s model continued to show an Obama edge even after Denver, and has shown that edge widening over the past couple of weeks.

This could be wrong, obviously. And we’ll find out on Election Day. But the methodology has been very clear, and all the election modelers have been faithful to their models, letting the numbers fall where they may.

Yet the right — and we’re not talking about the fringe here, we’re talking about mainstream commentators and publications — has been screaming “bias”! They know, just know, that Nate must be cooking the books. How do they know this? Well, his results look good for Obama, so it must be a cheat. Never mind the fact that Nate tells us all exactly how he does it, and that he hasn’t changed the formula at all.

This is, of course, reminiscent of the attack on the Bureau of Labor Statistics — not to mention the attacks on climate science and much more. On the right, apparently, there is no such thing as an objective calculation. Everything must have a political motive.

This is really scary. It means that if these people triumph, science — or any kind of scholarship — will become impossible. Everything must pass a political test; if it isn’t what the right wants to hear, the messenger is subjected to a smear campaign.

Any kind of scholarship has become challenging under Republican fanaticism as witnessed by the attacks on evolution, climate change, and the economic analysis that shows there is no such thing as an economic benefit created by low marginal tax rates for the rich.  Just ask scientists trying to get grants to study things like stem cell research. Fox gets people to believe anything.  Science causes them to retreat to their medieval churches and scream about intervention by celestial beings.  (So, if gawd caused Sandy to take out NJ and NY because of Gay Rights, does this mean gawd caused Sandy to give Obama momentum?  Ask Grand Inquisitor Pat Robertson about that one.)

Yes, Nate’s numbers took another upward tick this morning.  He also believes that Obama will take the popular vote which should be dismaying to all those journalists that keep wanting to turn this into a white knuckle election.

Silver also added to Obama’s likely number of electoral votes on Monday. He now sees the president winning 307.2 to 230.8 for Mitt Romney, a tiny tick higher than he saw the race on Sunday.

He also sees Obama capturing the popular vote, taking 50.6 percent to Romney’s 48.5.

Rachel Maddow insists the Republicans see the numbers and actually believe that their man Mittster is a goner.  The blame game has already begun.  Haley Barbor blames Sandy.  Lindsey Graham is actually looking at numbers and notices that that demographics are not in their favor.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  ”If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95% of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”

– Politico quotes Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), saying that demographics would be the only reason for a hypothetical Mitt Romney loss Tuesday.

Yeah, the blame game has begun and the election isn’t even over. Funny he should bring up Hispanic and black voters. Latino Decisions found that Hispanics support President Obama in historic numbers — 73 percent. They believe that’s enough to carry President Obama to victory in four swing states and ultimately to win re-election. Those four swing states are  Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida.

This is closer to the truth.  Republican policy statements as expressed by “severely conservative” Mitt have driven off the young, hispanics, blacks, and women.   I had MSNBC on mute most of the weekend when they were following the candidates around.  All you have to do is look at the people used as back drops for candidates’ speeches to realize who really is on the losing side of US demographics.  This is part of the numbers game.  You can’t build momentum or fantasize a trend based on capturing an ever decreasing slice of the American Pie.

Which brings me to the post election deconstruction that should occur in the Republican party.  When will the actually give up on the Southern Strategy?  We’ve seen more race baiting in this election that I’ve frequently wondered if the ghost of George Wallace is running the Romney campaign.  We’ve seen attacks on women’s rights that make me wonder if Republicans know that women got the right to vote. We’ve seen support of policies that are based on show us your papers that remind me of old NAZI movies.  You can’t attack and demonize the majority of the electorate and expect the numbers to come in for you.  You also can’t build policy on attacking scientific models and theories.  The Republican party has definitely shown that its plan for America is to try to recreate the past no matter what the cost.

All I can say is go Nate go!  Win one for Ada Lovelace and the country.  There are easy ways to figure out which events contribute to trend and what’s just random.  People should pay more attention to Nate Silver and a lot less attention to the likes of Karl Rove and Haley Barbour.  Nate Silver bet Joe Scarborough $2000 that his analysis was right saying “Occam’s Razor: Pundits are useless”.   That’s something I completely grok.

“I think I get a lot of grief because I frustrate narratives that are told by pundits and journalists that don’t have a lot of grounding in objective reality,”


Obsessive Poll Watching Open Thread: Pew has Obama by 3 . . . Plus, microtargeting voters for GOTV

I’m sure glad MSNBC is running real programming tonight, because I can’t think of much other than the upcoming election. The polls have been moving toward Obama over the past few days, and suddenly he’s ahead in the Pew Poll which has been showing Romney ahead for some time.

Nate Silver reacted on Twitter, saying that the results match his findings:

Nate Silver ‏@fivethirtyeight
Simple average of national polls released Thursday: Obama +0.9. Friday: Obama +1.2. Saturday: Obama +1.3. Today (so far): Obama +1.4

Pew reports:

In the Pew Research Center’s election weekend survey, Obama holds a 48% to 45% lead over Romney among likely voters.

The survey finds that Obama maintains his modest lead when the probable decisions of undecided voters are taken into account. Our final estimate of the national popular vote is Obama 50% and Romney 47%, when the undecided vote is allocated between the two candidates based on several indicators and opinions.

The interviews all took place after superstorm Sandy struck.

Obama’s handling of the storm’s aftermath may have contributed to his improved showing. Fully 69% of all likely voters approve of the way Obama is handling the storm’s impact. Even a plurality of Romney supporters (46%) approve of Obama’s handling of the situation; more important, so too do 63% of swing voters.

Pew expects voter turnout to be lower than in either 2004 or 2008, which could help Romney, but other data favors Obama.

Nearly four-in-ten (39%) likely voters support Obama strongly, while 9% back him only moderately. A third of likely voters support Romney strongly, compared with 11% who back him moderately. In past elections, dating to 1960, the candidate with the higher percentage of strong support has usually gone on to win the popular vote.

Similarly, a much greater percentage of Obama supporters than Romney supporters are voting for him rather than against his opponent (80% for Obama vs. 60% for Romney), another historical indicator of likely victory. And far more registered voters expect an Obama victory than a Romney victory on Nov. 6 (52% vs. 30%).

Obama’s increases in likely voter support are most notable among women, older voters, and political moderates. Women now favor Obama by a 13-point margin (53% to 40%), up from six points a week ago and reflecting a shift toward Obama since early October. Right after the first presidential debate, the women’s vote was split evenly (47% each). Men, by comparison, favor Romney by a 50% to 42% margin, with little change in the past month.

At the Guardian UK, Ewen McAskill writes:

The findings are similar to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published at the weekend. The two offer the first firm evidence of the impact of Sandy on the election. Pew carries one caution for Obama, suggesting turnout may be lower than in 2008 and 2004, which could help Romney.

Obama’s team claimed that Romney’s frantic campaign schedule reflected a sense of desperation, squeezing in a late visit to previously neglected Pennsylvania Sunday in the search for elusive electoral college votes elsewhere. The Obama team also cited visits Monday to Florida and Virginia, two states it said the Romney camp had claimed to have locked up.

In an interview with ABC, David Plouffe, who organised Obama’s re-election bid, expressed confidence the president will win on Tuesday, and seized on a comment by Karl Rove that Obama had benefited from superstorm Sandy. Democrats are interpreting this as Rove, George W Bush’s former campaign strategist and co-founder of the Crossroads Super Pac that has poured millions of dollars into Romney’s campaign and those of other Republicans, beginning to get his excuses in early.

“A few days ago he [Rove] predicted a big Romney win. My sense is Karl is going be at a crossroads himself on Tuesday when he tries to explain to the people who wrote him hundreds of millions of dollars why they fell up short,” Plouffe said.

Another Obama strategist, David Axelrod, commenting on Romney’s Pennsylvania trip, told Fox News: “They understand that they’re in deep trouble. They’ve tried to expand the map because they know in states like Ohio. They’re behind and they’re not catching up at this point.” He added: “They understand that the traditional, or the battleground, states that we’ve been focusing are not working out for them.”


On Microtargeting . . .

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been reading some interesting articles on the GOTV efforts of the two campaigns. I was struck by this piece at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about a woman in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, Priscilla Trulen, who received a spooky call on Halloween.

“It was Mitt Romney saying, ‘I know you have an absentee ballot and I know you haven’t sent it in yet,’ ” Trulen said in an interview. “That just sent me over the line. Not only is it like Big Brother. It is Big Brother. It’s down to where they know I have a ballot and I haven’t sent it in! I thought when I requested the ballot that the only other entity that would know was the Mukwonago clerk.”

Other voters are being “creeped out” by calls from Democratic groups.

In Brown County, residents are unnerved about “voter report cards” from Moveon.org that show the recipients how their voting participation compares to those of their neighbors.

The solicitations give only a small glimpse into how much digital information the campaigns are able to access about voters.

Corporations working for candidates request publicly available voter data as well as information about absentee ballots from state governments, which they can combine with other data to target individual voters.

The cost of the entire state database is $12,500. Four requesters have been willing to pay that since Sept. 1, Magney said: Catalist (a progressive voter database organization), the Democratic National Committee, and data analysis firm Aristotle – all based in Washington, D.C. The last requester was Colorado-based Magellan Strategies, a firm that specializes in “micro-targeting” for Republican parties and candidates….

In an interview with PBS that aired in October, Aristotle’s chief executive officer, John Phillips, said the company keeps up to 500 data points on each voter – from the type of clothes they buy, the music they listen to, magazines they read and car they own, to whether they are a NASCAR fan, a smoker or a pet owner, or have a gold credit card. Some of that information comes from commercial marketing firms, product registration cards or surveys. Other information is obtained through Facebook, door-to-door canvassing, petitions and computer cookies – small data codes that register which websites the user has visited.

Through data modeling, analyzers can categorize voters based on how they feel about specific issues, values or candidates. They then try to predict voting behavior and figure out which issue ads voters are most likely to be susceptible to – for instance ads on education, gun control or immigration.

One of the companies that requested the full Wisconsin voter database, Magellan Strategies, explains on its website that it conducts surveys on people’s opinions and merges that with their political, consumer and census demographics.

Whoever targeted Trulen made one important mistake, however. She tends to vote Democratic although she lives in a Republican district.

According to Sasha Issenberg, author of the book The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, writes that in 2008 and 2012, the Democratic microtargeting operation is far superior to the Republican one.

In fact, when it comes to the use of voter data and analytics, the two sides appear to be as unmatched as they have ever been on a specific electioneering tactic in the modern campaign era. No party ever has ever had such a durable structural advantage over the other on polling, making television ads, or fundraising, for example. And the reason may be that the most important developments in how to analyze voter behavior has not emerged from within the political profession.

“The left has significantly broadened its perspective on political behavior,” says Adam Schaeffer, who earned graduate degrees in both evolutionary psychology and political behavior before launching a Republican opinion-research firm, Evolving Strategies. “I’m jealous of them.”

In other words, the Republican dislike of science and academia may be holding Romney back in the microtargeting area.

Schaeffer attributes the imbalance to the mutual discomfort between academia and conservative political professionals, which has limited Republicans’ ability to modernize campaign methods. The biggest technical and conceptual developments these days are coming from the social sciences, whose more practically-minded scholars regularly collaborate with candidates and interest groups on the left. As a result, the electioneering right is suffering from what amounts to a lost generation; they have simply failed to keep up with advances in voter targeting and communications since Bush’s re-election. The left, meanwhile, has arrived at crucial insights that have upended the conventional wisdom about how you convert citizens to your cause. Right now, only one team is on the field with the tools to most effectively find potential supporters and win their votes.

Go read the whole thing if you’re interested. It’s quite a long article, but fascinating. After reading some of his pieces yesterday, I was also able to heard Issenberg on MSNBC’s “Up with Chris Hayes” this morning. So many books to read, so little time.

Now what are you all hearing/reading? Are you as excited as I am?


Remain Calm …

The latest republican trick is one again to attack the polls, lie about the polls, and make up shit.  Here’s some great pollsplaining from one of the great nerds of statistics and polls Sam Wang.

First, thing up … there is no Ro-mentum and Obama’s lead is static.

In either case, the overall picture is the same: a narrow Obama lead that is static – or perhaps widening. There is no evidence for Ro-mentum.

I’ve been pulling my hair out over the total lack of understanding by a lot of media punditry over white noise or random variation.  I think it’s ignorance and not deliberate.  Any series of numbers reported over time will go up or down randomly because that’s just the behavior of a variable reported over time.  That’s when you have to apply the idea of what’s the top and bottom border of are representing random.  This is measured by Standard Deviation and it’s what underlies the idea of being within the margin of error.  You have to see fairly clear and sustained patterns in order to call it not random.  That’s why you can’t hang on every up and down.  Basically, it takes 7 ups or 7 downs to bust out of the three standard deviation realm of what’s normal.   Take a look at the graph over there.  It goes up and it goes down.  The deal to figure out is what is ‘statistically’ significant. You can’t hang on every blip of every poll.

Poll correctness has a lot to do with the way the sample is treated.  That’s the basis of the guess of how many republicans you should sample or democrats in the overall sample.  You have to estimate–base on historical patterns or something else–what the patterns of voter turn out will be.  That’s what most of the complaints about polls tend to reflect.  These assumptions lead to weighting the samples differently.  That’s why a lot of folks do meta-analysis or look at a poll of polls.  This has to do with the law of large numbers which tells us that averages of averages tend to reflect reality. But, the core reality is that pollsters make money by producing accurate pictures and not by telling people what the want to hear.  One legitimate concern is if you should look at all voters or likely voters.  A lot of the rest of the so-called sampling biases that pundits scream about tend to be based more on wishful thinking than anything.  There are some differences in terms of how statistics are used.  Both Gallup an Rasmussen are median-based polls and this can make a difference when comparing to a poll that’s not based on the same metrics.

Wang points to the echo chamber and the Romney minions that are focusing on single polls and screaming or clapping.

Paul Krugman is calling out National Review Online for their attempted takedown of Nate Silver for biased methods and somehow cooking the books. Krugman writes:

This is, of course, reminiscent of the attack on the Bureau of Labor Statistics — not to mention the attacks on climate science and much more. On the right, apparently, there is no such thing as an objective calculation. Everything must have a political motive.

Now more commentators on the right, including Jay Cost (The Weekly Standard) and Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post), are getting in on the act. Wow, dogpile on the rabbit!

A popular approach to undermining technical knowledge is to throw mud, assert expertise, make picky points, and sow doubts among the less savvy. In this case, what’s the argument? The NRO writer, Josh Jordan, makes this core criticism:

When you weight a poll based on what you think of the pollster and the results and not based on what is actually inside the poll (party sampling, changes in favorability, job approval, etc), it can make for forecasts that mirror what you hope will happen rather than what’s most likely to happen.

Jordan sounds like many partisan polling enthusiasts – on both sides. However, his style of poll-dissection can very easily lead a person astray. The human mind has a large capacity for finding reasons to reject a piece of disagreeable evidence. I’ve written about this in the context of how people form false beliefs in politics (“Your Brain Lies To You,” NYT, June 27, 2008). Polling internals lend themselves very well to such “motivated reasoning.” It is always possible to find something not to like in a poll. This is why I discourage all of you from chewing over single polls.

Part of the reason that conservatives are hating on Nate Silver is that they aren’t getting the results they want.  It’s the idea that if you scream loud enough, you can get things to change.  Check out Silver’s latest.  Romney’s chance at getting the electoral college is less than 30% which is basically where it’s been for a very long time . A few up blips do not change a long term trend unless they occur over a period of time.

Any way, calm down and let the metrics be with you.  Here’s some interesting snapshots of trends on a state by state basis.