John McCain

Headline of the Week

From the Courier Mail in Queensland.

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The story itself is hilarious:

FORMER foreign minister Bob Carr was last night labeled “arrogant” and “foolish” for risking diplomatic ties after leaked extracts of his new diaries revealed him complaining about taxpayer-funded first and business class travel and questioning whether top US leaders had plastic surgery.  Read more »

Debunking Oversampling

Rabid Republican supporters have constantly attacked me for not following their particular party line in predicting a Romney win. I even have a bet with Leighton Smith that Obama will win, not that I want him to win but simply because the math, the polls and the facts do not support any other contention.

In effect it is me with the safe bet. Nonetheless I get constant emails pointing out the error of my ways, constant comments doing the same and people pointing me to discredited loons who have come up with a conspiracy that suggests that all polling companies with the exception of Rasmussen are colluding to keep Obama president in conjunction with the liberal media paymasters.

Me? I prefer facts. Nate Silver looks at the current conspiracy of the day…oversampling:

In 2004, Democratic Web sites were convinced that the polls were biased toward George W. Bush, asserting that they showed an implausible gain in the number of voters identifying as Republicans. But in fact, the polls were very near the actual result. Mr. Bush defeated John Kerry by 2.5 percentage points, close to (in fact just slightly better than) the 1- or 2-point lead that he had on average in the final polls. Exit polls that year found an equal number of voters describing themselves as Democrats and Republicans, also close to what the polls had predicted.

Since President Obama gained ground in the polls after the Democrats’ convention, it has been the Republicans’ turn to make the same accusations. Some have said that the polls are “oversampling” Democrats and producing results that are biased in Mr. Obama’s favor. One Web site,unskewedpolls.com, contends that even Fox News is part of the racket in what it says is a “trend of skewed polls that oversample Democratic voters to produce results favorable for the president.”

People forget that these conspiracies follow the cycles. They also forget that they are wrong.

The criticisms are largely unsound, especially when couched in terms like “oversampling,” which implies that pollsters are deliberately rigging their samples.

But pollsters, at least if they are following the industry’s standard guidelines, do not choose how many Democrats, Republicans or independent voters to put into their samples — any more than they choose the number of voters for Mr. Obama or Mitt Romney. Instead, this is determined by the responses of the voters that they reach after calling random numbers from telephone directories or registered voter lists.

Pollsters will re-weight their numbers if the demographics of their sample diverge from Census Bureau data. For instance, it is typically more challenging to get younger voters on the phone, so most pollsters weight their samples by age to remedy this problem.

So what about the charge of partisan bias:

If the focus on “oversampling” and party identification is misplaced, however, FiveThirtyEight does encourage a healthy skepticism toward polling. Polling is difficult, after all, in an era in which even the best pollsters struggle to get 10 percent of households to return their calls — and then have to hope that the people who do answer the surveys are representative of those who do not.

So perhaps we should ask a more fundamental question: Do the polls have a history of being biased toward one party or the other?

The polls have no such history of partisan bias, at least not on a consistent basis. There have been years, like 1980 and 1994, when the polls did underestimate the standing of Republicans. But there have been others, like 2000 and 2006, when they underestimated the standing of Democrats.

What does Nate Silver do that is different?

We have an extensive database of thousands of polls of presidential and United States Senate elections. For the presidency, I will be using all polls since 1972, which is the point at which state-by-state surveys became more common and our database coverage becomes more comprehensive. For the Senate, I will be using all polls since 1990.

That is a pretty impressive amount of data, and one of the reasons why Nate Silver is the most accurate political statistician and why I follow his predictions. What does the data actually say, rather than the partisan hackery:

In the 10 presidential elections since 1972, there have been five years (1976, 1980, 1992, 1996 and 2004) in which the national presidential polls overestimated the standing of the Democratic candidate. However, there were also four years (1972, 1984, 1988 and 2000) in which they overestimated the standing of the Republican. Finally, there was 2008, when the average of likely voter polls showed Mr. Obama winning by 7.3 percentage points, his exact margin of victory over John McCain, to the decimal place.

In all but three years, the partisan bias in the polls was small, with the polling average coming within 1.5 percentage points of the actual result. (I use the term “bias” in a statistical sense, meaning simply that the results tended to miss toward one direction.)

Nate Silver also looked at state polls which showed similar traits. His conclusion over all is:

On the whole, it is reasonably impressive how unbiased the polls have been. In both presidential and Senate races, the bias has been less than a full percentage point over the long run, and it has run in opposite directions.

That does not mean the pollsters will necessarily get this particular election right. Years like 1980 suggest that there are sometimes errors in the polls that are much larger than can be explained through sampling error alone. The probability estimates you see attached to the FiveThirtyEight forecasts are based on how the polls have performed historically in practice, and not how well they claim to do in theory.

But if there is such an error, the historical evidence suggests that it is about equally likely to run in either direction.

Nor is there any suggestion that polls have become more biased toward Democratic candidates over time. Out of the past seven election cycles, the polls had a very slight Republican bias in 2010, and a more noticeable Republican bias in 1998, 2000 and 2006.

They had a Democratic bias only in 2004, and it was very modest.

Still, 2004 went to show that accusations of skewed polling are often rooted in wishful thinking.

I can almost taste my lunch now.

Why Romney is pushing the proverbial uphill

In These Times

Mitt Romney is going to struggle on teh electoral college…especially in Ohio. Time is ticking by and things are getting harder for him not easier:

Can Mitt Romney lose Ohio and win the election? Not likely.

Assuming that President Obama takes Ohio and that Romney wins Florida, Romney would need to win 50 of the remaining swing state’s 53 electoral college votes. If Romney loses both Ohio and Florida, where he now trails by about a point, he has essentially no chance of winning. (This analysis is based on the Real Clear Politics electoral map.)

The critical question, then, is whether Romney can win Ohio. With the standard caveat that anything could happen between now and November, it looks increasingly doubtful.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls over the past month gives Obama nearly a five-point lead in Ohio, with the most recent poll giving him a six-point lead. As with polling at the national level, the numbers have moved very little over the past several months. Romney has led in just three of the 23 polls released since the beginning of the year. The average of polls released in April gave Obama the same five-point lead that he now enjoys.

Obama beat John McCain by a seven-point margin—53 to 46 percent—in the popular vote in 2008. The faltering economy was often cited as the reason for Obama’s victory. The same bad economy is now cited as Obama’s great weakness.

Three things are preventing Romney from winning Ohio:

Sherrod Brown’s campaign, Ohio’s relatively strong economy, revitalized unions and the renewed focus on Catholicism’s social-justice tradition—are a perfect storm of bad news and bad luck for Romney. Can he win the presidency in spite of them? Stranger things have happened.  A month or two of terrible economic data before the election might trump them all.

Short of that, Romney’s best hope is to stay in close touch with the Catholic bishops. It’s going to take a miracle.

Quote of the Day

Political Wire

“The only person who has seen Romney’s taxes is John McCain and he took one look and picked Sarah Palin.”

– James Carville, interviewed by CBS News.

Show us the money

Sydney Morning Herald

Tim Andrews of the Australian Taxpayers Alliance writes in the Sydney Morning Herald:

In 2006, in the US, the senators John McCain and Barack Obama co-sponsored the US federal funding accountability act. Its premise was simple: that taxpayer expenditure be placed online in an easily searchable database, so all taxpayers can find out how their money has been spent.

Since then, the City of London, the European Union and 38 US states have enacted similar online portals – many with no thresholds, so every cent of taxpayer expenditure is publicly available. In some cases, literally every expense of government is made public after being entered into a database.

The benefits are obvious: not only are taxpayers empowered, but also savings can be easily identified, waste exposed and unethical behaviour discouraged. Those who want spending to remain hidden might argue that informing people is too costly, that it just cannot be done. But international experience proves this to be false. The website usaspending.gov, which provides the details of all US federal government expenditure of more than $US25,000 ($25,800), cost less than $1 million to set up – and the software is now available free of charge in the public domain.

Texas, with a population greater than that of Australia, was able to create a spending portal for $380,000, and Nebraska did it for only $30,000. Such minor costs are nothing compared with the benefits such portals bring.

What agreat idea, we need something like this here. The Taxpayers Alliance in Australia is making similar calls:

It is time Australia joined this revolution. Everywhere that transparency portals have been tried, the results to date have been breathtaking. Citizens have been searching these websites in record numbers. In Missouri, with a population smaller than NSW, 15 million hits were reported in the first year. Millions in savings have been identified. To use just one example, Texas reported $8.7 million in savings directly attributable to their transparency website in just the first year of operation.

Opening the government books to an army of online citizen investigators has uncovered waste and duplication, and made junkets or pork-barrel spending near impossible. Corruption and rorting cannot occur when the records are freely available – sunlight truly is the best disinfectant.

Such portals should be a ”no-brainer” for policymakers. This is not a partisan issue – people on all sides of politics should agree that empowering citizens through transparency can only lead to higher outcomes. There is no logical argument to oppose their creation, unless you have something to hide.

Once the cost argument crumbles, the only opposition to transparency portals can come from vested interests seeking to preserve their misuse of taxpayer funds.

The lobbyists and vested interests of course oppose such transparency:

It is time our politicians stood up for the average taxpayer against these special interest groups and rent-seekers, and called for the establishment of transparency portals at all levels of government.

The Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance is calling for all politicians and political candidates to publicly pledge their commitment to taxpayers by supporting this initiative. If they truly represent their electors, and are not beholden to other influences, if they truly have nothing to hide, they should support it without hesitation.

Would our own politicians make a similar pledge?

The Blood and Guts election

New York Magazine

The US presidential election this year is shaping up to be the blood and guts election:

But if the Obama 2012 strategy in this regard is all about the amplification of 2008, in terms of message it will represent a striking deviation. Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’ ” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

The Obama effort at disqualifying Romney will go beyond painting him as excessively conservative, however. It will aim to cast him as an avatar of revanchism. “He’s the fifties, he is retro, he is backward, and we are forward—that’s the basic construct,” says a top Obama strategist. “If you’re a woman, you’re Hispanic, you’re young, or you’ve gotten left out, you look at Romney and say, ‘This fucking guy is gonna take us back to the way it always was, and guess what? I’ve never been part of that.’ ”

Has anyone told Mallard?

The Atlantic

There is now a site that captures and publishes deleted politician’s tweets. Has anyone told Trevor Mallard the bad news yet?

Today, the transparency-minded folks over at the Sunlight Foundation are releasing a new service: Politwoops, which exists solely to resurface deleted tweets from politicians’ accounts. The project follows the official Twitter feeds of, among others, President Obama, members of Congress, and presidential candidates; when a pol has a deleted a tweet, Politwoops records the deletion and archives the message. It also records, helpfully, the time of deletion and the amount of time elapsed between posting and deletion. Think Tweleted, only politics-focused and operational.

The Politwoops team has been compiling a database of deleted tweets for six months now — so, though today marks the service’s official launch, Politwoops has already recorded over 3,000 deleted tweets for your schadenfreudistic enjoyment. These include: Senator John McCain mocking the tears of Vladimir Putin after the latter’s re-election; Newt Gingrich’s campaign account tweeting, Dole-like, in the third person; and Representative Jeff Miller tweeting a link to a Facebook poll asking, “Was Obama born in the United States?”

The deleted tweets vary from the embarrassing-and-humanizing to the horrifically awkward … but, either way, they add another layer of accountability to the churning machine of political communications. While we probably did not need another reminder that politicians make mistakes, there’s a certain power in seeing the deleted tweets collected into this odd archive of political anti-matter.

Maybe Obama wasn’t a pussy after all

The New Republic

A great article putting his campaign in context for those who thought Obama heralded a new era of positive politics. Two thirds of his ads in 2008 were negative.

But let’s not forget—they were putting out some pretty tough, and arguably unfair, ads and mailings back in 2008, as well. They hammered Hillary Clinton for requiring that everyone buy health insurance or pay a penalty (wait, isn’t that…yeah) and over her support for the passage of NAFTA during her husband’s administration, attacks that provoked a memorable tirade from her (“shame on you, Barack Obama!”). During the general election, Obama went after John McCain for supporting a huge tax increase—McCain’s proposal to replace the tax exemption for employer-provided health care with a new tax provision that would make health insurance partly deductible for all taxpayers, including those who buy health insurance for themselves. The plan had major flaws, but Obama’s attack seriously distorted it, and a limited version of McCain’s idea—cutting back on the tax preference for employer-provided insurance—has also made it into Obama’s health care law, in the form of a tax on high-priced employer-provided health plans. All told, tallies after the 2008 campaign found that at least two-thirds of Obama’s ads in the general election were negative attacks on McCain. So even in ’08, hope and change went only so far.

EXCLUSIVE: Footage of Pork Chop on the beach at Mercury Island

Uhhhmmm…close but sorry it isn’t.

It is however the 40th anniversary of The Video of the Exploding Whale.

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The Whaleoil Awards

Announcing the new Whaleoil Awards

The Whaleoil Approved Government Employee: Employee of the month goes to the state sector employee that most cares about not pissing away ratepayers/taxpayers money.

The Loretta Award for being a splitter on the left: Chris Trotter would win this most of the time, but there has to be a rookie somewhere in the ranks of the left.

The Bill English Award for monumental electoral fuck ups: distributed to any politician that does something really dumb that will cost votes.

The Andrew Williams Award: Inconsistency and Incompetence in local government.

The Michael Laws Award: Telling the unvarnished, unpalatable truth to the liberal elite.

These will be awarded each month. Suggestions for the awards are welcome at anytime from readers via the tipline.

About the 15th of December I will have the Whaleoil Awards Night to annouce the annual award winners.

I will also accept suggestions for other awards.

 

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