Monday, December 31, 2007

Power Rankings and More

Cross-posted from BlueOregon, for the reader who doesn't read both blogs.


Good, rational, sober bloggers should continue to have broad interests no matter how interesting a particular story is. I am not one of those bloggers: this week it's going to be impossible to focus on anything unrelated to the Hawkeye State. Giving way to this urge, I therefore offer the following analysis with no further apologies.

Iowa Volatility
For those who don't follow Iowa closely, you may not be aware of how radically things shift in just the days before the Iowa Caucuses. In 2004, polls still weren't picking up the Kerry/Edwards movement even a month out--they still had Dean and Gephart 1-2. But in the week prior to the election, the polls did register the shift--of eight polls done in that week, six had Kerry beating Dean. Only the Des Moines Register had Edwards also beating Dean, but savvy insiders, looking at the trendlines, might have been able to see that Edwards would catch Dean by the Caucuses. So when looking at the polling, forget about everything that has come before--only those polls done in the last week or two have any real validity, and in this year's race that's especially true.

Iowa_trends_2Fortunately for us, has put together handy charts that track not only current trends based on aggregate poll numbers, but also charts tracking recent trends. Normally pollsters like to lag aggregates somewhat since poll-by-poll variability means that outliers can create the false appearance of changing attitudes. However, since Iowa is so volitile, it makes sense to pay more attention to those early indicators. I have cobbled together the trendlines of the three major candidates from these data and created this comparative chart at right.

The red line indicates the sensitive trend, and both Hillary's and Edwards' show that the candidates may be getting some late-breaking interest. Obama's, however (say it ain't so!), is headed down, even while his standard trend continues upward. One caveat: no one has ever tried to poll people during the holidays, so it's unclear what effect this may have on polling.

With the caucus system, initial support isn't the final factor. The degree to which candidates are organized in the caucuses themselves can hurt or help them to the tune of +/- 5% or more. In 2004, for example, pollsters did what they call an "entrance poll"--they asked people who they supported. But a funny thing happened--the entrance polls, while being the most accurate of any poll in determining the places of the candidates, didn't line up with the final delegate count:

The results there further favored Kerry and Edwards. Kerry moved up to 38% of delegates, from 34.8% in the entrance poll and 25.9% in the pre-caucus poll trend. Edwards got 32% of delegates, up from his 26.2% in the entrance poll and 21.4% in the poll trend. Dean ended up with 18% of delegates, down a bit from the 20.5% in the entrance and 20.3% in the poll trend.

Lesson? Look at the polls for a general sense of things, but don't bet the farm on what they're showing.

Iowa Power Rankings
Sports sites love to do power rankings of various sports leagues. They normally revise it once a week, but maybe I'll revise this once or twice more based on the arrival of new polling data. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong.


  1. Edwards. Although he's still trailing Clinton in the polling, two things suggest he may be able to pull it out in the end: the "anti-Hillary" forces may fracture in the caucuses, as Obama and Edwards supporters decide to back the candidate they think can beat the NY Senator; furthermore, those in the know say Edwards is strongest in rural Iowa and has the best organization.
  2. Clinton. She took it on the jaw and she's still leading the polls. If she pulls out Iowa, the rest of the states become a coronation.
  3. Obama. Unless he can make the case that he's the plausible alternative to Hillary, he's most vulnerable to a big slide on caucus night.


  1. Huckabee. This may change; his current numbers are all headed in the wrong direction (he's actually trailing Romney in the five-poll average). But he has a 20% floor of Christians who will not forsake him, and this gives him the edge.
  2. Romney. Everyone says attack ads kill you in Iowa, but Romney, who was already experiencing rigormortis, decided "what the hell." It worked. If he finishes a close second, he should stay around a little longer.
  3. McCain. Rudy's numbers are bottoming out, as are Thompson's. Only Ron Paul is edging up among the second tier candidates, and that's because he started at bupkis. Wouldn't it be interesting to see a strong McCain third-place heading to New Hampshire, especially if Romney finishes second?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Iowa: Three Scenarios

Things are starting to clarify. After Obama's robust rally, he's begun to fall again slightly and Hillary shows improved strength. Edwards continues his slow, steady incline. Since we know that the days just before the election in Iowa are more important indicators than the months leading up (by many factors), this is critical news. Based on what we're seeing right now (and we won't know if this trend holds--since it's still polling from two weeks ago), these are the three most likely scenarios I envision. For Obamaniacs like me, we best hope that Chris is able to rally the troops. Here goes.

1. Edwards wins.
One of my assumptions is that there are really two major camps, the Hillary and the not-Hillary. While some define themselves as (in particular) "Edwards voters," only a small portion have Hillary as a backup. Instead, if Obama rallies and Edwards is in trouble and the winner looks like it will be between Hillary and Obama, they may bolt. But I think the bolting is more likely to go in the Obama to Edwards direction, especially if he is successful at poaching the under-15s, those voters who support Biden and Kucinich and so on. Edwards has two advantages over Obama in the "not Hillary" crowd: he's strongest in rural districts, and his brand has the most solid backers. I think it's going to be an exciting day, and Edwards will capitalize on a lot of the hope that Obama's been running on.

2. Hillary wins.
Hillary's numbers shouldn't be overlooked. The major late-tracking shift is headed her way. I don't know why or what propels it or whether it's solid, but it's real. Iowa watchers should avoid dismissing it. However, she is the weakest in rural districts, and there's reason to believe that in Iowa, her support is the most provisional. So she has cause for concern.

3. Obama wins.
I regard this as increasingly unlikely because of what Hillary's rally suggests: Obama is losing votes to Hillary based on overall electability and experience, and to Edwards on populism and economic liberalism. When the horses start to trade, I think he's in the weakest position to make the argument that he's the best candidate. The way it looks to me, he's a number two for both Hillary and Edwards voters, but that won't help if he's not in the top two.

While I formerly thought a shocker like a Biden rally was possible (third place for him, beating one of the titans, would be considered a serious victory), it just doesn't seem to be in the polls. Something to watch, though.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Peace to All

Whatever your beliefs, this day offers us all a moment to stop and ponder the larger implications of the day. It commemorates an incident specific to one faith, but the implications have a much larger, non-sectarian (indeed, supra-religious) meaning. Within Christianity, Christmas celebrates the act of grace--God's gift to humanity in the form of a tiny being. In the case of Christianity, God sent this being not as a gift to a tribe, or to the worthy, but to everyone, including those who were most certainly not worthy by any conventional standard. This is the transcendent impulse of the faith, and one that is sometimes obscurred when religion is dragged into the spheres of government and politics.

For all of us, it is a day set aside to think of this transcendent generosity, in whatever form inspires us. We may use this day to imagine what it would be like to extend to our most troublesome enemies the greatest gifts of compassion and peace we can imagine. Maybe this means just sitting for a moment to release the animosity we have, to feel the peace of silence that comes from not nurturing it.

Christmas is a day associated with a single religious tradition, and for that reason, alienates some people. But, speaking as a Buddhist, I think it's possible to lay aside the sectarianism it may imply and think about the larger possibilities. May we all have peace on this day and experience the relief and release of not nurturing our inner violence and hatred.

Peace to you all--

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Edwards Rally

I still don't see how John Edwards becomes president, but winning Iowa--he may indeed pull that off. Until December, Hillary was doing surprisingly well in Iowa, in one of those bizarre feedback loops you see in politics. She was killing everyone nationally, and it appeared that Iowans were going with the mo. But when Obama showed life this month, it broke loose the logjam Hillary had established. Iowans began giving Obama a second look. As he moved abreast of her in the polls, voters in the next two states, NH and SC, started to reconsider her inevitability--and Obama soared in those polls, too. This appears to have created a feedback loop back to Iowa, as Hawkeyes now consider that if Hillary is not inevitable, maybe they can consider voting for someone else. And so they're giving Edwards a second look:

What about Iowa? There are two metrics, one of which we don't have available: their hard count of confirmed caucus goers. The other is crowds.

Not only has Edwards been greeted by unusually large crowds for him, he is outdrawing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton head-to-head. In Des Moines Monday, Edwards drew 400 to Hillary Clinton's 200; in Mason City on Saturday night, Edwards drew 600 to Obama's roughly 300....

Democrats with access to the internal polling data of some of Edwards's presidential rivals say that he may be winning back male voters he lost to Barack Obama and is consolidating his strength with the union electorate in Iowa.
Edwards has some organizational advantages, too--he's spent years in rural Iowa. Hillary has all but forsaken rural Iowa, and Obama's presence there may be thin. If Hillary and Obama duel in the population centers while Edwards sweeps rural districts, look for an upset on January 3. Of course, that's grim news for Obamaniacs like me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Random Election Item #2

Rudy is really in freefall. As recently as last Tuesday, I thought a Huckabee win in Iowa would give Rudy enough of a boost to keep his "Florida first" scheme afloat. Or maybe not:
A new Strategic Vision (R) statewide survey of likely primary voters in Florida (conducted 12/14 through 12/16) finds [that among] likely Republican primary voters, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani runs slightly ahead of former Gov. Mike Huckabee (25% to 21%) in a statewide primary.

Two new SurveyUSA automated survesy of likely voters in Florida finds [that among] Among 431 likely Republican voters in Florida asked to choose between five candidates, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani narrowly leads former Gov. Mike Huckabee (29% to 24%) in a statewide primary.
It becomes difficulter and difficulter to imagine a victory scenario for the Rudester.

Random Election Item #1

The USA Today, that emblem of journalistic independence, has a candidate-selector quiz. Of course, Kucinich came up top on my list, or would have, had I not answered the idiotic 11th question (asking what experience I think is most valuable--I selected "senator," vaulting my man Obama into first). But what I found interesting were the distribution of questions: three on Iraq, two on immigration, and one each on gay marriage and taxes (the tax question being a series of Republican proposals). Just two questions on health care, none on the economy, and one on global warming.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Candidates' Net Worth: $385.2 million

You know Mitt Romney is the richest candidate running for president. But did you know that Hillary Clinton has a net worth of $34.9 million? Who says public service doesn't pay? Have a look at a CNN report out this week (apparently the story was started before Huckabee became a serious contender):
Democrats' Net Worth - $90.6 million
$54.4 million - John Edwards ($44m in cash and stock)
$34.9 million - Hillary Clinton ($30m in cash and bonds)
$1.3 million - Barack Obama ($250,000 in cash)

Republicans Net Worth - $294.6 million
$202 million - Mitt Romney ($19m in cash.
$52.2 million - Rudy Giuliani ($21m in cash and stock)
$40.4 million - John McCain ($2.1m in cash)
Clearly, only Obama is by any stretch a middle class candidate. And he may legitimately be called one. Most of his wealth comes from his $1.9m home. Since we now have something like $400k in real estate, thanks to a crazy housing market, I don't regard this as signs of blue blood. (We bought our first house in '99 with 3% down--or about $6,000, including closing costs--and everything since then has been appreciation. You didn't have to be a financial wizard to make money in the early '00s.) Obama's also in the hole $1.3 million, probably due to mortgages and student loans. All of that looks pretty familiar to the average American.

Remind me: why is Hillary so much the friend of the little guy? Why is Obama the candidate of the Democratic elite?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Romney, Religion, and the Moral Lessons of Superbad

A rare crosspost from BlueOregon. Mainly for the archives.

On this day when Mitt Romney gave a speech about Mormonism and the country pauses collectively to consider the larger question of the role of religion in politics, my mind turns to lessons I learned this weekend watching Superbad. For those of you who missed this important artistic treatise, a thumbnail recap: two teenage boys about to graduate from high school try to use the sentimentality provoked during the waning days of senior year as a platform from which to score chicks. SuperbadIt is among the most profane films ever made (I'm waiting for a masters thesis on how it outscores Pulp Fiction in profanities-per-minute), jejune, and cringe-producingly honest. It is also beautifully humane, and yet another retort from Judd Apatow to the Jerry Falwell moralism that has dominated the US for 20 years.

The most potent example of the Apatow oeuvre comes from an outtake that didn't make it into The 40 Year Old Virgin. In a cameo, Apatow himself plays a father who comes to shop at a big-box electronics store for his two-year-old daughter, whom he holds in his arms (played by his real-life daughter). The store is the setting for the movie, and one of the main characters haplessly tries to sell him a high-tech robot even as Apatow protests that robots scare his daughter. Predictably, she begins to cry--causing her father to (unpredictably) roar back a sting of profanity so blue it would embarrass a Marine. He clutches her tenderly all the while. Given the cultural mores of our time, this comes off as shockingly transgressive (no wonder it got cut). What offends is not the behavior--a non-English speaker watching would remain nonplussed--but the profanity. In front of a two-year-old--for shame! Hold that thought.

The Republican Party has become the party of a certain God--the two so fused that it becomes a crisis when a Mormon runs (wrong God) while wholly unremarkable that a front-runner is a parson. Romney's candidacy is viable, perversely, because our current cultural and religious context favors deeply conservative expressions of faith and family. Romney runs as an overtly religious candidacy ("it is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions")--promising to solidify not only the values, but even the status of the dominant faith, to which he does not subscribe. This is bizarre, but also a metaphor for the type of socio-religious expectations the country now holds.

Continued at BlueOregon.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Puddle Blogging

The early reviews are in (okay, review actually). After just 35 pages, Chuck Butcher has seen enough to call it "well drawn"
I can already tell you that there is an economy of styling and language and the protagonist is well drawn and developing over time without the irritation of the author doing all the work and leaving me just reading words.
True enough--as an author, I have always been exceptional about not doing all the work. (Some have said I don't do any at all, but that's a post for another time.) Will Chuck like the book at page 135 or 264 (the final page)? No time to wait for those judgments--when good reviews are to be had, I'm taking them.

It provides the additional opportunity to flog the novel--something other bloggers do relentlessly when they put out a book. True, those are generally related to politics, but this is no time for quibbling. You've heard it from a reliable source, so now you know what to do: go buy this well drawn novel.

It takes roughly 7-10 days from the time you order for it to arrive, so there's still plenty of time to order 37 copies and have done with all your holiday shopping. Or, you know, one. Whatever. Just don't delay--order your copy now, while supplies last!!!*

Just to further entice, I'll include an excerpt in the comments--I'll select a particularly fine example of me doing not doing all the work.

*Damn print-on-demand, robbing me of a legitimate sales hook.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bush on the NIE (or Pathology of a President)

Bush serves up a rare naked lunch: in today's press conference, he quite baldly offered two amazing bits of reasoning related to the Iran-ain't-got-no-stinkin'-nukes National Intelligence Estimate. I summarize.

Q: So it turns out Iran has no nukes. The attack's out, right?

A: The NIE proves that Iran is extremely dangerous and we'll probably have to attack, just as I have always said and believed.*
Q: There's no nukes, but you warned darkly of WWIII. What the hell?

A: I didn't hear about it until last week.

Q: So while you were warning of WWIII, no one from intelligence mentioned that Iran was no danger?

A: Yup. And anyway, this NIE doesn't change anything; Iran is still trying to enrich uranium and bomb soccer moms on their way to pick up groceries.**
A couple things bear mentioning. Bush could not have more clearly described his mental pathology had he been Sigmund Freud. One has belief, which is real, and facts, which must serve the reality of belief. Iran is dangerous because he believes it is; whether they have nukes is wholly beside the point. This has not been in dispute since mid-2003, but rarely have we had such a clear view of it.

Speaking of 2003, the second point is this: Bush's madness is abetted by those who pretend it's not madness. Chief among the enablers are the members of the press corps, who seem to write around the strange insanity of the most powerful man on the planet. It will be interesting to see whether they report this as dire evidence that our president is disconnected from reality, or the usual Bush-said, facts-say formulation.

*Actual exchange:

Q: Mr. President, a new intelligence report says that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago, and that it remains frozen. Are you still convinced that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb? And do the new findings take the military option that you've talked about off the table?

A: Here's what we know. We know that they're still trying to learn how to enrich uranium. We know that enriching uranium is an important step in a country who wants to develop a weapon. We know they had a program.... And so I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. And the reason why it's a warning signal is that they could restart it. And the thing that would make a restarted program effective and dangerous is the ability to enrich uranium, the knowledge of which could be passed on to a hidden program.

Actual exchange:

Q: On October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in '03 had already come to light to this administration. So can't you be accused of hyping this threat?

A: In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze. Why would you take time to analyze new information? One, you want to make sure it's not disinformation. You want to make sure the piece of intelligence you have is real. And secondly, they want to make sure they understand the intelligence they gathered: If they think it's real, then what does it mean? And it wasn't until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.

Q: Mr. President, thank you. Just to follow, I understand what you're saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as "World War III" was making it into conversation, at no point nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, maybe you want to back it down a little bit?

A: No, nobody ever told me that. Having said -- having laid that out, I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger. Nothing has changed in this NIE that says, okay, why don't we just stop worrying about it. Quite the contrary. I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace. My opinion hasn't changed.

Now, the Iranians -- the most difficult aspect of developing a weapons program, or as some would say, the long pole in the tent, is enriching uranium. This is a nation -- Iran is a nation that is testing ballistic missiles. And it is a nation that is trying to enrich uranium.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Catastrophe of Hillary

Okay, as much I keep thinking I'll be able to talk myself into accepting Hillary, she goes and does something so petty and bizarre that I am reminded why I never voted for Bill. From a current press release, she accuses Barack Obama of lying about wanting to be president because in Kindergarten and again in third grade he wrote essays saying he'd like to be president. No shit:
In third grade, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled 'I Want To Be a President.' His third grade teacher: Fermina Katarina Sinaga "asked her class to write an essay titled 'My dream: What I want to be in the future.' Senator Obama wrote 'I want to be a President,' she said." [The Los Angeles Times, 3/15/07]

In kindergarten, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled 'I Want to Become President.' "Iis Darmawan, 63, Senator Obama's kindergarten teacher, remembers him as an exceptionally tall and curly haired child who quickly picked up the local language and had sharp math skills. He wrote an essay titled, 'I Want To Become President,' the teacher said." [AP, 1/25/07 ]

This is the kind of politics that takes a slight electoral advantage and turns it into a monumental electoral backlash. Bill was the king of this kind of stuff, and during his eight years, the Democratic Party was reduced to rubble. Hillary will be a catastrophe. And yes, I think she's still going to win.