Archive for October, 2008

When Do Undecided Voters Decide?

October 31, 2008

The front page of yesterday’s Wichita Eagle featured an article by McClatchey Newspapers columnist Steven Thomma headlined Analysts: McCain Has a Shot At Upset. The day before, Dick Morris penned an item for The Hill indicating his expectation that Undecideds Should Break for McCain. A random sample of recent newspapers and magazines around the country would unearth myriad examples of the late election “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over” and “miracles can happen” variety. They’re a staple feature of nearly every election. But, realistically, what are the chances that John McCain could “run the table” with undecided voters and pull off a stunning last minute upset contrary to all conventional wisdom?

That an Obama victory is the overwhelming expectation of informed analysts should be evident to any impartial observer. Perhaps the best indicator of expectations is the Intrade Prediction Market, where real dollars are on the table, not mere words: Obama is bid at just shy of 83 cents on the dollar as I write, McCain at 17 and a half cents. Some gutsy speculators are going to make a boatload of cash if McCain pulls off the upset.

The RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Obama leading 49.9 to 43.7, a spread of 6.2 points, and just shy of 50%. Print a listing of those national polls and more than the latest 50 in a row show an Obama lead. You have to go all the way back to the GWU/Battleground Poll of September 21-25 to find any poll with a McCain lead.

And, insofar as state polls go, RealClearPolitics has Obama over McCain 311 electoral votes to 142, a spread of 169, with 85 votes in “toss-up” states. When the toss-ups are allocated by current polling averages, Obama extends his lead to 364 to 174, a spread of 190 electoral votes, and far beyond the 270 required to win. FiveThirtyEight.com, a website which specializes in what they characterize as Electoral Projections Done Right, has Obama at 344.1 and McCain at 193.9.

So, how about it? Can McCain pull in virtually all the currently undecided voters (McClatchey lists about 8 percent of all voters in that category, others more, many less) and win by a whisker?

The short answer is: probably not. (See, for example the CNN Politics blog analysis from two weeks ago in McCain Faces Uphill Climb In Campaign’s Final Weeks). Despite evidence that Obama’s Edge Over McCain Narrows (according to the Fox News poll), such tightening is commonplace in the final days of most elections, and the gap is simply too broad for McCain to bridge. Moeover, the RealClearPolitics composite polls for Bush states Colorado (Obama +6.5), Florida (Obama +3.5), Nevada (Obama +7.0), North Carolina (Obama +2.6), Ohio (Obama +5.8 ) and Virginia (Obama +6.5) demonstrate the extraordinary challenges for McCain in the electoral vote, which is, of course, what counts.

Still, as Washington Post writers Robert Barnes and Jon Cohen suggest, Predicting the Votes of the Undecided is Unusually Hard This Year. The most interesting comment I’ve seen on the probable tendencies of self-described undecideds is that of partisan Democratic pollster Stan Greenburg, in response to McCain pollster Bill McInturff’s memo discussed in the Post article. Suffice it to say that Greenburg sees little opportunity for McClain to close the gap.

But for the long run, Science Daily reports concerning an even more intriguing study under way, Harvard University’s Project Implicit, in Undecided Voters May Already Have Decided, Study Suggests. At the project they are asking the question as to whether “undecided” voters actually make their choices before they themselves consciously realize that they have, based upon implicit preferences of which they may well be unaware. Nearly 25,000 have participated in their test of attitudes — you can participate, too — and after the election they intend to assess their data in light actual voting behavior. Should be interesting.

Debating the “Bradley Effect”

October 12, 2008

Writing in today’s New York Times, Kate Zernike offers a reasoned and balanced but somewhat abbreviated appraisal of the question Do Polls Lie About Race? Her answer is an equivocal: maybe sometimes; depends.

Not so coincidentally, the Washington Post‘s Steven A. Holmes addresses precisely the same question in Pollsters Debate “Bradley Effect”. Holmes offers considerably more background for those who may be unfamiliar with the historical context, and presents a diverse range of views from a variety of pollsters and academics. For me, the most interesting polling numbers are those documenting a precipitous drop in the number of voters from the late 1950s to the present (now down to 5 percent) who would not vote for any black candidate for president. That’s progress. (And that is not intended as some subtle kind of endorsement — just a statement of fact.)

Mighty Yokes from Little Acorns

October 11, 2008

This appalling situation should not be perceived differently by the partisans of either party. No democracy can long survive pervasive voter fraud, or even the widespread perception of voter fraud. However benevolently motivated ACORN may once have been, it is clearly no friend of democracy, and has, wittingly or unwittingly, become a clear and present danger to the preservation of our freedoms. Both parties must firmly and publicly resolve to act decisively and soon to extirpate this threat.

Ouch

October 10, 2008

Some poor county official in New York will sure be taking it on the chin for this one

Wildlife Photographer of the Year Finalists

October 8, 2008

New Scientist magazine offers a brief slide show featuring a handful of absolutely amazing wildlife photographs — all finalists in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 competition. Don’t miss it.

Silence is Consent

October 1, 2008

Today’s Los Angeles Times contains a prescient commentary by Tim Rutten on the malevolent address delivered before the General Assembly of the United Nations this past week by Iranian President and radical FascIslamist Ahmad Ahmadinejad, the substance of which has been utterly ignored by the popular American press.

The entirety of Rutten’s brief article is well worth reading, but his closing paragraphs are those to which we should carefully attend. He quotes a comment forwarded by Ahmadinejad in 2005, then continues:

“‘Israel must be wiped off the map. … The establishment of a Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world.’

“By ‘world oppressor,’ Ahmadinejad means the United States. He happens to belong to a Shiite sect that believes it can hasten the coming of the Mahdi, the Islamic savior, by the creation of chaos in the world. And like his brethren among the Sunni jihadists, he means what he says.

“Mary Halbeck, one of the West’s foremost scholars of jihadism and its religious origins, describes Islamist extremists as ‘committed to the destruction of the entire secular world because they believe this is a necessary first step to create an Islamic utopia on Earth.’ Their ‘view of the enemies of Islam means that their depiction in the Koran and hadith [commentaries on the Koran] is valid today in every detail. The Jews in particular have specific negative characteristics. … They are notorious for their betrayal and treachery; they have incurred God’s curse and wrath; they were changed into monkeys and pigs.’

“This is what the men who brought the hell of 9/11 to America believed. This is what Ahmadinejad believes and what he simply awaits the opportunity to act on.

“When the delegates to the U.N. General Assembly applauded Ahmadinejad’s speech last week, and the American media passed over it in silence, this is the sentiment to which they gave their respective explicit and tacit approval.

Shame on them; shame on us.”