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,”


Can Ryan’s Radicalism Shift the Focus off the Hunt for Romney’s Tax Returns?

So,what better way to take the focus off your own short comings and the way you hide your viewpoints and taxes than to appoint a VP candidate that is sure to be a touch stone with the political press? That’s how I see the Ryan appointment. Romney’s positions are all over the place. Ryan’s are very much on record. Romney’s specific agendas and plans have been as translucent as his tenure at Bain and his tax returns. Ryan’s agenda is very much known. Ryan holds extreme views on abortion and all social issues as well as having introduced two extremely controversial and unpopular budget plans. What a way to change the conversation. Here’s a reminder of the extremist positions of Paul Ryan who still manages to be a media darling. This is from The Daily Beast today and was written by Michelle Goldman.

By now, you surely know, if you didn’t already, that Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, wants to privatize social security and turn Medicare into a voucher system. You might have read that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, his economic plan “calls for radical policy changes that would result in a massive transfer of resources from the broad majority of Americans to the nation’s wealthiest individuals.”

Less attention has been paid, though, to Ryan’s hard-right positions on social issues. Indeed, on abortion and women’s health care, there isn’t much daylight between Ryan and, say, Michele Bachmann. Any Republican vice presidential candidate is going to be broadly anti-abortion, but Ryan goes much further. He believes ending a pregnancy should be illegal even when it results from rape or incest, or endangers a woman’s health. He was a cosponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a federal bill defining fertilized eggs as human beings, which, if passed, would criminalize some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization. The National Right to Life Committee has scored his voting record 100 percent every year since he entered the House in 1999. “I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” he told the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack in 2010. “You’re not going to have a truce.”

Indeed, Ryan exemplifies a strange sort of ideological hybrid that now dominates the GOP. On economic issues, he’s a hardcore libertarian who once said, “[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker…it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” Yet when it comes to women’s control of their bodies, he quickly turns into a statist. “In the state of nature—the ‘law of the jungle’—the determination of who ‘qualifies’ as a human being is left to private individuals or chosen groups,” he wrote in a 2010 essay titled “The Cause of Life Can’t be Severed from the Cause of Freedom.” “In a justly organized community, however, government exists to secure the right to life and the other human rights that follow from that primary right.”

For anyone who wants to know how Ryan thinks, that essay is worth reading. It’s about 1,500 words long, but the word “woman” doesn’t appear in it once. Nor does the word “mother.” To him, a woman’s claim to bodily autonomy or self-determination doesn’t merit even cursory consideration. Here’s his analogy: “The car which I exercised my freedom of choice to purchase…does not ‘qualify’ for protection of human rights. I can drive it, lend it, kick it, sell it, or junk it, at will. On the other hand, the widow who lives next door does ‘qualify’ as a person, and the government must secure her human rights, which cannot be abandoned to anyone’s arbitrary will.”

Here’s the same source but an article written by Paul Begala who focuses on Ryan’s plutocratic upbringing. Today, it’s all about Ryan’s very public radicalism and his hypocrisy.

In selecting Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has doubled-down on the one thing he has never flip-flopped on: economic elitism. Romney, born to wealth, has selected Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who was also born to wealth. As the former University of Oklahoma football coach, Barry Switzer, once said of someone else: both these guys were born on third and thought they hit a triple.

There’s nothing wrong with inherited wealth. Lord knows great presidents from FDR to JFK came into their fortunes through the luck of birth. But there is something wrong with winners of the lineage lottery who want to hammer those who did not have the foresight to select wealthy sperm and egg.

Finally, we have peered into Mitt Romney’s core. It is neither pro-choice nor pro-life; neither pro-NRA nor pro-gun control; neither pro-equality nor antigay. But it is pro-wealth and very anti–middle class. Mitt Romney has decided to go nuclear in the class war.

Paul Ryan, the darling of the New York–Washington media elite, is almost certainly not the most qualified person Romney could have picked. Unlike governors like Chris Christie or Tim Pawlenty, or a former high-ranking White House official like Rob Portman, Ryan has never run anything larger than his congressional office or the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. The elite love Ryan because he speaks for more cowardly members of their class; his stridently anti–middle class policies are music to their ears.

You will often hear people who ought to know better dress up Ryan’s savage economic priorities with euphemisms. Ryan wants to “fix” Medicare. No, he doesn’t. He wants to kill it. Saying Paul Ryan wants to “fix” Medicare is like saying the vet wanted to “fix” my dog Major; that which used to work very well no longer works at all—and Major is none too happy with the procedure.

Ryan’s budget is the fiscal embodiment of the deeply evil, wholeheartedly selfish so-called philosophy of Ayn Rand. In fact, Ryan has described Rand as “the reason I got involved in public service,” and reportedly makes staffers read her works.

Think about that. As my buddy James Carville has said, what would all the Best People say if Nancy Pelosi made her staffers read, say, Margaret Sanger? Or if Barack Obama made interns study Das Kapital? Sure, a few months ago, facing Catholic protestors at Georgetown University, Ryan said he renounced Rand. But as the national Catholic weekly, America, wrote, he did not change the substance of a single policy. Some renunciation. It seems to me Ryan has renounced Rand’s politically incorrect atheism, not her morally bankrupt philosophy of Screw Thy Neighbor.

So, how long will the focus be on Major’s neutering rather than poor Shamus who was strapped to the top of a car for 12 hours?

How long will the focus be on Paul Ryan whose life is an open book compared to the secretive and snaky Willard?

Was this part of the strategy of picking Paul Ryan. Was this an attempt to get the focus off of the car elevators, the dancing horses who get bigger tax deductions than most people’s children, the you don’t get to see my taxes stand, the insults to Japan and Britain and the highly botched tour abroad? Is this all about appeasing the base and getting the punditry to chase a less important bone?