Political Animal

Blog

October 30, 2014 10:28 AM Odds of Overtime

Having spent months handicapping individual Senate races and the probability of each party controlling the chamber, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight is now giving odds on when we’ll know the results:

There’s a 25 or 30 percent chance of a big, sweeping win for Republicans. There’s a 10 or 15 percent chance the Democrats retain the Senate with surprising ease. And there’s a 60 percent chance that we’ll be sweating out the races on a state-by-state basis, possibly for weeks to come.

The “sweat” comes from probable runoffs in LA and GA (though Nate thinks the odds of David Perdue winning without a runoff have gone up a bit in the last few days), the tightening of the race in slow-counting Alaska (where contests decided by less than 5 percent of the vote—a 70% probability at present—generally aren’t resolved until at least a couple of days), and the high probability of one or two close races somewhere else going into “Recountland.” Add in the continuing possibility of Greg Orman winning in Kansas and then refusing to choose a party caucus until January, and the 60% overtime odds seem reasonable enough. That will be another variable everyone will be trying to calculate when the exit polls start leaking out late Tuesday afternoon or early evening.

October 30, 2014 9:07 AM High-Stakes Elections

In the final week before a midterm election in which national media coverage has focused very heavily on the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, millions of Americans will be deciding whether or not to vote. Many will decide not to on various grounds, including the idea that it really doesn’t matter who wins, because (a) there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties (a hardy perennial attitude that long pre-existed the centrist heresies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and the rise of a Tea Party convinced the GOP had sold out its conservative principles), or (b) the “stakes” aren’t high, either because of the location of the voter or the sense national politics won’t significantly change regardless of any feasible outcome.

This very last argument is taken on forcefully today by TNR’s Alec MacGillis, who reminds us that even if you believe a Republican Senate won’t materially change the dynamics in Washington, there are many state elections with more tangible—indeed, life and death—stakes. His example is Maine, where an unlikely Tea Partyish Republican governor, Paul LePage, is wreaking havoc with the social safety net, and is in reasonably good position to secure another term as governor because Eliot Cutler, the same indie candidate that enabled him to win with 38% of the vote in 2010, is again on the ballot (though he was just abandoned yesterday by Sen. Angus King, his most prominent supporter, who’s now backing Democrat Mike Michaud).

Alec’s right, of course; there are many fateful and highly competitive state races concluding next Tuesday, especially for governorships. Several (GA, FL, KS, WI) involve challenges to Republican governors who have rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. In another, AR, a extraordinarily delicate compromise allowing a Medicaid expansion under a GOP legislature and Democratic governor could easily become undone by GOP gains. And even in states where health care policy isn’t an issue, many other extremely vital decisions are at stake. Just one example: if CO, Republican Bob Beauprez wants to reduce both state and local controls over oil and gas drilling because “Never in the history of man have we harvested natural resources better, more efficiently, safer.” As noted here yesterday, Colorado’s a state where the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature could flip D to R, particularly if turnout is low.

If you can’t find any reason to vote, you’re probably not looking very closely.

October 30, 2014 8:00 AM Daylight Video

It’s Grace Slick’s 75th birthday, mirabile dictu. Here’s a particularly well-recorded Jefferson Airplane performance of “Eskimo Blue Day” at the Family Dog in 1970.

October 29, 2014 5:53 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Six days from now, we’ll be trolling for early exit polls. Let’s hope the nightmare of 2002, when the exits crashed, does not return (in any respect!).

Here are some remains of the day:

* GOPers high-fiving each other over Harvard Institute of Politics survey indicating “certain to vote” millennial voters prefer a Republican Congress. I’m waiting for some methodological analysis before taking it all that seriously.

* Hillary Clinton jumps into Iowa Senate race and bops Joni Ernst for dodging editorial boards.

* At the Atlantic, David Graham games out the end of the federal litigation on marriage equality.

* At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys reports U.S. prison finally begin to reduce capacity after years of expansions.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer reports on an experiment with paying teachers like small business executives. It worked, but isn’t, he says, something that will happen nationally.

And in non-political news:

* 13-foot, 765 pound gator captured by hunters. Not at all an omen for this Saturday’s Georgia-Florida game.

That’s it for Wednesday. We’ll close with Lazy Lester performing one of his hits, “Sugar Coated Love,” performed at Antone’s Record Shop in Austin in 2011.

Selah.

October 29, 2014 5:14 PM Forecasting the Elections of January 6

It’s been known for a good while that the Senate race in Georgia could well fail to produce the required majority winner, producing a rare January 6 runoff (separate from a December 6 runoff for state offices, which is when the governor’s race could be decided). But other than a general assumption that Republicans have an advantage in low-turnout “special” elections, there really hasn’t been a whole lot of serious discussion of what might happen in such a runoff—until Josh Katz’s piece for The Upshot in an update of its Senate forecasting model:

One approach would be to look at previous runoffs in Georgia, an approach that doesn’t give much comfort to the Nunn campaign. Georgia has had five previous statewide runoff elections. There were two in both 1992 and 2008 — each time for senator and for public service commissioner — and one in 2006 for public service commissioner. In all five of those elections, the Democrat lost.

You could make the argument, of course, that in 1992 Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler was an overconfident incumbent who had spent a lot of time alienating swing voters and that in 2008, Democrat Jim Martin was an underfinanced and little-known challenger to Sen. Saxby Chambliss who barely made the runoff on the strength of the Obama surge in African-American voters. And control of the Senate wasn’t a factor in either race.

If it is this time, all bets could be off as we’d see the mother of all mobilization efforts on both sides.

In the end Katz throws his hands up:

With so many variables working to dilute and degrade the data we would use to forecast a January runoff, we think it’s not unreasonable to treat the runoff forecast with zero information, and assign each candidate an even chance.
October 29, 2014 4:36 PM Fairly Stable State Legislative Map

It occurred to me that I haven’t written in a good long while about what’s going on in the battle for control of state legislatures. But fortunately, Governing’s Louis Jacobsen had an update of his unique race ratings just last week. The landscape is a lot like that of the U.S. House, and for a lot of the same reasons: Republicans will benefit from turnout patterns and redistricting, but their gains will be limited by Democratic under-exposure (when you’ve recently lost a lot of seats, there are far fewer marginal seats to lose).

Jacobsen shows a total of 18 chambers at some risk of changing party control, 11 from D to R and 7 from R to D. The biggest disruption could occur in Colorado, where Democrats control the governorship and both legislative chambers; all three are up in the air at the moment, with a shift to all-mail voting creating a lot of uncertainty. Republicans could gain total control in Arkansas by winning the governorship and hanging onto the House. Democrats hope finally to gain control of the New York Senate. And there will be some states where big shifts short of a change of control could be significant: e.g., in California, where Democrats are in danger of losing a supermajority in the Senate, and in North Carolina, where the backlash against a GOP legislature could give Democrats significant gains in both chambers.

As always on and after election night, beware of assessments of shifts in total state legislative seats, since those are wildly overinfluenced by the 400-seat New Hampshire House, where Republicans are very likely to make significant gains. And keep in mind that closely divided legislative chambers are often subject to party-switching and coalition-making, which means that what happens on November 4 may not “stick.”

October 29, 2014 3:46 PM Fundamentally, Some Candidates Suck

Earlier this week Jonathan Bernstein helped take the air out of one argument you hear in the cold war between journalists and political scientists (with “datajournalists” being more or less their allies, except for Sam Wang), and at the same time demystifying one of the practices of the former tribe:

It’s a good time to discuss how the quality of individual candidates and campaigns — as opposed to the party balance of the electorate and national forces — might affect the midterm election results.
Dave Weigel of Bloomberg Politics, on Twitter this morning, tweaked projection models for one big miss: early forecasts that Republican Terri Lynn Land would be a solid candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan. She’s been awful. National Republicans have pulled out, and she appears to have scant chance to win. Weigel, singling out FiveThirtyEight, said that “datajournalists who judged Land to be a good candidate should have done reporting.”
It’s correct that good political reporting can, in the right circumstances, beat early forecasts from Nate Silver (or the Monkey Cage, or anyone else using objective indicators). But that hardly discredits what these modelers do or how they do it. Remember, too, that even good reporters can and do get it wrong sometimes; after all, there’s a whole army of spin artists out there doing their best to confuse the picture…..
[I]t’s certainly not the case that political scientists always dismiss the importance of individual candidates. What matters is the context. In presidential general elections, candidates aren’t often important because anyone who survives the nomination process is going to be solid, and campaigns aren’t too important because both sides are going to have ample resources and talent available. Those conditions don’t hold in races below that level.
The North Carolina Senate race provides another illustration of how tricky objective candidate assessments can be. Republican challenger Thom Tillis is speaker of the North Carolina House, but whether that means he’s a good candidate (because he has serious political experience) or a weak one (because his post isn’t a statewide elected office) isn’t clear. Given how few Senate elections there are with similar candidates, it isn’t always possible to figure out how to treat any specific qualifications, and modelers may disagree, leading to differing early projections. That’s fine; as long as the forecasters are transparent, we consumers of forecasts can learn from their differences just as we can learn from how they reach consensus.

Okay, so it seems “fundamentalists” do take candidate quality into account, but rely on “objective” measurements of same, such as degree and level of experience. I assume that’s based on some empirical data on the kind of candidates that typically do and don’t succeed. But still, there’s room for reporting and that vastly underrated quality I try to exemplify in the absence of databases or travel budgets, analysis. Don’t want to brag here, but months ago I identified Joni Ernst and David Perdue as “gaffe-prone” Senate candidates who might have problems with undisciplined utterances. That wasn’t based on my own original reporting or on any kind of data collection, but simply careful observation of what was in the news. But it was spot-on.

I see no reason why datajournalists or political scientists could not put a thumb on the scales of the fundamentals now and then if their rational observations so warrant. And it’s the very essence of being a good reporter to know when a “moment” in a campaign does and doesn’t indicate a big problem in candidate quality that’s likely to become apparent over time. I don’t, BTW, agree with Jonathan that the quirks and records and rhetorical habits of presidential candidates are entirely bleached out by the “fundamentals,” either. You can’t tell me any old Democrat (say, Mike Dukakis) would have done as well as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, or that the combination of Mitt Romney’s background and his “47 percent” gaffe didn’t matter at all. That doesn’t mean the game can always “change” at the drop of a hat, but it does keep a bit of mystery in the process if only at the margins.

UPDATE: Yes, commenters, I realize Joni Ernst and David Perdue could both very well win. But both of them were cruising towards very comfortable, maybe even landslide wins, until their opponents began hammering them for their off-message utterances. So my argument stands that candidate quality mattered in both races, and particularly since both candidates made their qualities central to their successful primary campaigns.

October 29, 2014 1:57 PM Lunch Buffet

My big morning news flash was that the NCAA has extended Georgia Bulldogs football star Todd Gurley’s suspension until November 15, meaning he misses two more games but will be back for the big game with Auburn. The University of Georgia is appealing and asking for the 2-game suspension (already served) they assumed.

Here are some less personally urgent midday news/views treats:

* Maine Indie gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler holds news conference to announce—he’s not withdrawing from the race. Good news for Paul LePage.

* The Upshot publishes some useful charts on who has benefited so far from the Affordable Care Act.

* Cyberattack on White House computer system—allegedly by hirelings of Russia—wreaked havoc on routine operations but did not, reportedly, involve significant security breach.

* At TNR Jason Zengerle argues that Martha Coakley isn’t “blowing” MA gubernatorial race, even though Charlie Baker could very well win.

* At the Prospect, Paul Waldman suggests the bigger winner in a Senate GOP victory could be John Boehner, who will experience a lot less heat.

And in sorta non-political news:

* Former Panamanian jefe Manuel Noriega loses California lawsuit against videogame maker who used his likeness in “Call of Duty” games.

As we break for lunch, here’s Lazy Lester performing “Blues Stop Knocking At My Door” with Jimmy Vaughan and John Nicholas in Austin.

October 29, 2014 1:01 PM The “American Jihad” Against Americans

I don’t want to lend too much significance to the opinions of random Fox News “personalities”—in this case a psychiatrist—but on the other hand, Dr. Keith Ablow’s call for an “American Jihad” is a good example of where American Exceptionalism in the hands of conservative ideologues can lead.

Let’s understand at the outset that Ablow is not using “jihad” to mean nothing more or less than a military “holy war,” though he’s not ruling that out, either, suggesting the term means a “war or struggle against unbelievers” or “a crusade for a principle or belief.” On the other hand, he’s certainly not referring to the broadest meaning of “jihad,” which is an internal struggle to identify the truth. Ablow appears to consider any kind of self-doubt among Americans about the absolute and eternal superiority of our system (as defined by the Constitution, as defined by people like Ablow, of course) a heinous crime.

But while most people hailing or mocking Ablow have focused on his statement that his American Jihad would “spread around the world our love of individual freedom and insist on its reflection in every government,” what struck me was his attitude towards America’s present constitutional leaders:

An American jihad would turn back and topple the terrible self-loathing in our citizens set in motion by President Obama, beginning with his “apology tour” — a psychological plague. It would make American pride not only acceptable, but celebrated, again. And, remember, American pride is nothing more than being proud to support truths that are self-evident, irreducible, elemental and inevitable.

So Americans, even and perhaps especially those who are democratically elected, must believe in and without a moment of self-reflection proclaim Ablow’s ideas of truths that are “self-evident” but somehow not obvious to said leaders or to the nefarious foreigners, either. I’m guessing this involves some mixture of laissez-faire capitalism and theocracy, to be imposed by force of law, it would appear:

An American jihad would make every tax dollar a tithing and the squandering of those dollars a sin. An American jihad would make every hour spent working in an American company — or founding one — an offering. An American jihad would make every teacher of American history not only a public servant, but a servant of the Truth.

Wow. Maybe he’s talking about a theocracy of the Golden Calf, wherein the wage-earner would literally be a spiritual as well as a physical slave of the live-giving Corporation.

In any event, it should be pretty obvious that like most super-patriots, Ablow has an exalted view of America but doesn’t care much for Americans—or at least those (very very likely a large majority) who don’t agree with his view of what America is “really” about. This is, as I’ve tried with mixed success to make clear on multiple occasions, the key to understanding Constitutional Conservatism, the ascending ideological framework on the Right: it uses that document as a charter for eternally enshrining a very particular governing model against that no popular majority should ever, ever have the power to change. For some that mainly means absolute private property rights or the “sovereign” rights of states; for others it’s about the rights of zygotes to be carried to term or of patriarchs to govern families. I don’t know exactly how specific Ablow’s own understanding of the Constitution is. But it’s clear all this brave bold trumpeting of Americanism to the world must in his view begin with the suppression of internal dissent—in the name, of course, of Constitutional liberty!

October 29, 2014 12:17 PM Early Voting Numbers: Hard To Know Who’s “Winning”

With an estimated 7-8 million votes having already been cast by last weekend, all sorts of guesstimates are being made of what it all tells us about the shape of the midterm electorate and who’s likely to win very close races. A lot of attention is being paid to Iowa, where mail ballot voting has been underway for weeks with very regular reports being issued. And the headline there has been that Republicans are doing better than usual, briefly even taking the lead over Democrats in the number of mail ballots that have been returned by their registered voters.

Molly Ball of The Atlantic reinforces the impression of Republicans winning the early voting war in Iowa with a piece that relies heavily on an interview with an individual veteran Democratic canvasser who seems to be having a harder time than usual getting people to talk to her (and who has probably now been chewed out for talking so much to Ball).

Ball reports but clearly does not buy two plausible Democratic counterarguments about the early voting numbers: (a) the “no party” mail voters are actually overwhelmingly Democratic leaners, and (b) Democrats are disproportionately reaching voters who didn’t participate in 2010, thus expanding the electorate instead of just banking votes from people who would otherwise vote on November 3. There’s a third data point Ball doesn’t mention that could cut either way: Democrats have been registering a lower return rate for requested mail ballots, which could either mean poor “enthusiasm” or a reservoir of last-minute votes that could give Democrats the kind of advantage in early voting they’ve usually shown in Iowa.

Personally, I think it’s still too early to make big judgments about early voting in Iowa, but in any event, I’d trust the data and analysis of the University of Florida’s Michael McDonald, long the guru of early voting, on the trends more than the kind of anecdotal material supplemented by he-said-she-said partisan opinions that Ball is mainly relying on. And what impresses McDonald most about Iowa is how high the numbers are for early voting all around, which could mean a surprisingly high turnout or alternatively that one or both parties is simply banking votes early that they would have eventually obtained. He also figures Iowa Democrats may be about to conduct a return-your-ballot push that might restore their traditional advantage.

The picture isn’t a whole lot clearer for two other big early voting states with significant reporting, as analyzed by McDonald. In North Carolina, he thinks Democrats are doing a good job of compensating for reduced in-person early voting days, but Republicans maintain an advantage in mail ballots. The same is true in Florida (where mail ballots significantly outweigh in-person early votes), but Democrats seem to be rapidly reducing the traditional GOP margins. And in Georgia, the lack of party registration makes it difficult to figure out who’s “winning” early voting, but Democrats are encouraged by the fact that 35% of early voters so far are nonwhite.

It’s often impossible to judge early voting until “late voting”—last-minute mail ballots and of course November 4 voting—is competed. That’s probably the case this year as well, no matter what that canvasser told Molly Ball.

UPDATE: As Nate Cohn reported at The Upshot, African-Americans dominated in-person early voting in Georgia and North Carolina last Sunday, representing over half of the total vote. The success of black-church-based “souls to the polls” drives on Sundays near Election Day explains why Republicans almost everywhere have tried to restrict or ban Sunday voting.

October 29, 2014 10:49 AM Edwin Edwards’ Last Moment in the Sun

When things get dull on Election Night next Tuesday, you can expect to hear a colorful report on 87-year-old former governor and federal prison inmate Ed Edwards running first in the Sixth Congressional District of Louisiana. He’s not going to win the majority required for election, of course, and his first-place standing will be largely attributable to a large GOP field in a reliably GOP district. But it will be great fun to watch the old reprobate greet his troops with a “victory” statement.

In a look at the race for the Times-Pic, Emily Lane tries pretty hard to get observers to say Edwards will actually have a chance in the December 3 runoff. And even that most cautiously calculating of observers, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, suggests that if a particular Republican, far-right state Rep. Lenar Whitney (described by Wasserman in a July WaPo article as the “most frightening” congressional candidate he had interviewed in his seven years as a Cookie) were to make the runoff, Edwards would be “fairly competitive.”

In any event, you have to figure Edwards is enjoying the attention. And his runoff campaign, running alongside what will probably be a desperate survival effort by Sen. Mary Landrieu, could actually drive up public interest and turnout, especially if he’s opposite a raving wingnut like Whitney. And I suppose the improbable could happen in that case. Maybe Edwards should bring back that great bumper sticker slogan from his 1991 gubernatorial victory over David Duke: “Vote for the crook. It’s important.”

October 29, 2014 10:22 AM “We Work Hard At Being Last:” Obamacare in Mississippi

If you want to understand how the intersection of ideology, intergovernmental relations, and a complex health care system have in so many places stymied the Affordable Care Act, do not let the sun set on you tonight without reading the piece on Mississippi by Kaiser Health News’ Sarah Varney, published by Politico Magazine.

Varney’s story is in every respect a tragedy. Mississippi was actually well-positioned to implement Obamacare thanks to a decision by former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour to set up a state-based insurance purchasing exchange (before ACA was enacted) on the advice of the Heritage Foundation. And Lord knows Mississippi needed every element of Obamacare, given the horrific health needs of its population and an existing Medicaid program that was among the most restrictive in the country (in no small part thanks to Barbour).

But then the Supreme Court made ACA’s Medicaid expansion optional, and Barbour’s successor, the Tea Party champion Phil Bryant, decided not only to reject the expansion but to kill the existing state purchasing exchange before it could become a vehicle for Obamacare. And so the state that most needed health reform was caught very flatfooted when the ACA fully arrived, with its initially screwed-up federal exchange and its cuts in non-ACA funding for hospitals serving the poor. For a good while it looked like insurance would not be available at all in big parts of the state, and even when an insurer stepped up to cover all counties, it did so with the assurance of no competition in many.

But underlying the whole fiasco was the rejection of the Medicaid expansion, as Varney explains:

The state’s low standard of living means many people earn less than the federal poverty limit but too much for Medicaid; under the health law, they can’t buy insurance on the exchange, leaving 138,000 Mississippians who fall into what has come to be known as the Medicaid gap…. The Medicaid gap also fueled a negative feedback loop about the law. As [ACA Navigator Minnie] Wilkinson describes it, people felt deceived: “They were under the impression that the less money you made, you get insurance for free.” It killed momentum even for those who could have bought heavily subsidized coverage on the exchange. Word spread quickly: This Obamacare is a waste of time, and Obama was to blame.

The quote that really sums up the whole piece, and the highly unfortunate reliance of the Obama administration for ACA implementation on states whose leaders have been devoted to sabotaging health reform, is from Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program: “We work hard at being last.”

Read Varney’s account, and remember it next time you hear someone rhapsodize about the glories of “devolution” or “federalism” in health care policy. It’s a killer.

October 29, 2014 9:25 AM Nationalized, Localized, Whatever

An election-season cliche that’s not as overused or as inaccurate as “momentum” but that still causes confusion is discussion of midterms as “nationalized” or “localized.” In some respects it’s just another name for the ancient argument between those who think elections are determined by “fundamentals” and those who stress internal campaign dynamics; where the confusion really comes in is in connection with the notion that this or that midterm cycle has been “nationalized” (or not), as though it’s an entirely external phenomenon like El Nino.

In any event, my weekly column at TPMCafe dwells on how individual candidates push for “nationalized” or “localized” comparisons, and stress personality and biography (more conducive to “localized” elections) or issue contrasts (encouraging partisan and ideological choices that don’t have much to do with individual campaigns). Fortunately, the campaigns of Joni Ernst of Iowa and David Perdue of Georgia provide a classic illustration of the two strategies, and their practical convergence, with both candidates trying to get across the finish line before the distorted image of themselves they’ve presented gets twisted back into recognition by voters.

October 29, 2014 9:11 AM GOP Triumphalism and the “Big Mo” Illusion

Those of you who tire of my periodic whinging about the spinning frenzy engaged in by GOP partisans shortly before every election must forgive me: it’s getting really, really bad right now. Just looking at RealClearPolitics’ front page at the moment, there’s “Things Are Better For Republicans Than They Dreamed” by Ed Rogers; “How Reid Doomed Democratic Senators” by Jonah Goldberg; “Republicans Begin To Pull Away” by Joseph Curl; and “Desperate Dems Turn to Racial Attacks” by Ellen Carmichael. I’ve never understood why conservatives think predicting total victory in all states has value; maybe they really do think “enthusiasm” is what politics is all about, and some of them clearly don’t worry about their future credibility.

It’s not just stone partisans, however. Some MSM types are really getting into the “wave” and “Big Mo” talk. There’s Politico’s Alex Isenstadt with “House Democrats Fret Debilitating Losses” and Balz and Craighill’s big poll-driven WaPo piece from yesterday, “Midterm Momentum Belongs To GOP.”

That last piece clearly aroused Nate Silver and Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight to reprise their warnings about the frequently illusory character of “momentum” in politics:

You might be hearing that Democrats or Republicans have “momentum” heading into the final week of the 2014 campaign. On Tuesday, for example, a Washington Post headline asserted “Midterm momentum belongs to GOP.” That was based on a generic ballot poll showing a 6 percentage point Republican lead. But later in the day, a Fox News generic ballot poll came out showing Democrats up by 1 point instead — Fox had previously shown Republicans ahead.
This pattern — or rather, this lack of a pattern — has been typical throughout this election cycle. Whenever one party seems to be gaining an advantage, the other party has countered it with some good news of their own.
Republicans have maintained a narrow overall edge in their quest for a Senate majority, but the magnitude of their advantage hasn’t changed much throughout the campaign. When the FiveThirtyEight model launched Sept. 2, it gave Republicans a 64 percent chance of winning Senate control. In our latest forecast, their chances are 62 percent. They’ve never been higher than 66 percent or lower than 53 percent.
We’ve critiqued the media’s use of the term “momentum” before. It’s one of those clichés that’s easy to misapply.
In many elections — unlike this one — the polls have consistently drifted toward one party for some extended period of time. Their was a sharp break toward Democrats in Senate polls throughout September and early October 2012, for example.
Even in these cases, however, the m-word should be applied carefully. When used in a more technical sense, momentum implies positive serial correlation. What the heck does that mean? It means you’re predicting the trend will continue in the same direction. If you say that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has “momentum” because it has risen from 16,000 to 17,000 points, you’re suggesting it will continue to go up.
The stock market doesn’t behave like this; it’s much closer to being a random walk, meaning it’s equally likely to go up or down on any given day. Nor does it matter in which direction the movement has been in the past. If the stock market rises from 16,000 to 17,000 points, it’s roughly as likely to revert back to 16,000 as to continue rising to 18,000.
For the most part, polling is the same way. There are some exceptions to this…mostly involving primary elections and cases where the polling is out of step with the “fundamentals” of the race. But to a first approximation, you should assume there isn’t any momentum in the polls.

We’re all susceptible to the “momentum” illusion; it’s overused incessantly in sports, for example. And there are certain elections (e.g., 1980 and 2012 Senate races) that reinforce the hope or fear that close contests will all break in the same direction thanks to one party’s “momentum.” But for the most part, it’s the imagination taking over from the brain and supplying missing evidence for what we want to transpire.

October 29, 2014 8:21 AM Daylight Video

Stumbled on this video last night featuring blues harmonica legend Lazy Lester, performing “They Call Me Lazy” a few months ago in Lafayette, Louisiana with the L’il Buck Sinegal Band. I just love these old-school Loosiana musicians who look like they were cleaning catfish an hour earlier.

Watching this video, don’t you just want to be there?


Political Animal Archive