Friday, October 20, 2006

Election Polling Made Simple – Look Deeper

Like an alley cat in heat, those Democrats and MSM polls are crying "Doom!' well past the point of credibility. But, since it's out there, we need to look at those numbers. Sharpen up those knives, it's dissectin' time!

OK, let's start by clearing out the trash. There are 33 seats in the Senate being decided, along with all 435 of the House Representatives. On the face of it, that makes it seem reasonable that control could change. But historically, better than 90% of incumbents get re-elected. It would take a truly significant set of conditions for the public as a whole to throw over control of Congress in the way that Democrats are predicting, conditions which the facts do not support. And the polls, if you look closely, are no great friend to the challengers.

I went through the Real Clear Politics' list of recent polls for the House and Senate, and here's what I saw:

For 33 Senate races, RCP has poll numbers for only 19 races. For 435 House races, RCP only shows poll numbers for 26 races. Now, I agree that it's possible that RCP is simply posting only the newest data, but I found it hard to find hard specific data on many of the predicted GOP losses. They are just assuming the results on no evidence.

Polling Report, for example, just focused on the generic poll. OK, I grant that there is some effect to a national preference, assuming for now that the polls are not skewed in their demographics or biased in their methodology. But even if we grant that, the notion that a specific Congressional District or State Senate race would ignore its own conditions and requisite politics in order to comply with the opinion from outside their borders is specious at best.

Also, one wonders about the sort of assumptions demanded of a reasonable observer, to accept a claim without something beneath the claim itself for support. Take the 22nd Congressional District in Texas, for instance. Tom Delay's resignation and subsequent dirty tricks by the Democrats certainly made it more difficult for a Republican to win against Nick Lampson, but the notion that voters who gave President Bush 64% of their vote in 2004 and whose Republican position has been unquestioned for a very long time would just hand over the district to the Democrats is laughable. I looked and looked for a poll on Lampson v. Sekula-Gibbs, but only found an old one from the start of September. But that one had Sekula-Gibbs ahead in double digits. Certainly, the need to write-in Sekula-Gibbs will make it tougher, but those people claiming that TX-22 is a sure thing for the Democrats, or even likely at this point, either don't know what they are talking about, they're liars, or both.

My point is, as a starting point for any projection we need to begin with the historical base, then advance conclusions only when there is substance to back them. And the baseline for this election, is that the Republicans hold the majority. It takes substance, not rumor, to change that condition.

Looking at those polls I could find in RCP, in the Senate only four races show polls with the incumbent trailing, and one of those is the Democrat Menendez in New Jersey. You can talk all you want about 'close' here and 'if' there, the fact right now is that the incumbent or incumbent party is leading in 15 of the 19 states where polls were posted. Sure, Chafee could lose Rhode Island, but where's the proof? In fact, from what I could find of the older stuff from September, Chafee was leading and if there is no evidence to the contrary, that's your scoreboard for now.*

In the House, RCP noted 26 races with polls, and the incumbent is leading in 10 of them, with another incumbent behind in one poll and ahead in another. That shows sixteen incumbents with polls showing them trailing, but only nine outside the statistical margin of error and only six where the challenger's lead is greater than the number of undecideds.. Someone tell me please how six seats equals Speaker Pelosi, when they need 15 or more? Yes, it could happen and I will be the first to scream that we all have to get out and vote, but where's the reason for the panic?

I also want to point out something which never seems to get mentioned. Intelligent people will remember that when a margin between two candidates is less than the margin of error, that's a statistical tie. But also, never forget that many of these polls, even as October winds down, still show a large number of undecideds. Dewine, according to the less-than-honest John Zogby, trails challenger Brown, 49% to 45%. Besides being darn close to the margin of error for a poll which queried only 750 people, the number of undecideds - six percent - means that this race is not at all clear. And yes, CBS News did broadcast a much larger margin - 14 points - but that one still only gave 49% to Brown, claiming only 35% for Dewine in a poll which allowed for a sixteen point undecided stake. And the difference between those two unfriendly-to-GOP polls also indicate that there is a lot more doubt in that race than you will hear on the air.

Nothing is over yet, unless you give up.

UPDATE: I went to look up some specific races which, for some reason, were not cited in the link from RCP I originally noted. Here's the detail when you don't just accept the headline:

Chafee: Trails by 5.6 in the RCP average, which accepts as valid polls from Zogby and Rhode Island College, but more to the point cites 13.4% "undecided".

Talent: Within statistical margin of error, with 8.4% "undecided"

Menendez: The link I originally cited had him down by 2, but in any case the average is well within the margin of error, and again cites 12.0% "undecideds"

Burns: None of the polls cited is even close to nominal threshholds for validity, plus again we see 9.3% "undecideds"

Anytime the "undecided" portion exceeds twice the margin of error cited for the poll, that poll is garbage. And traditionally, in Senate and Congressional elections, the undecideds break for the incumbent. Heavily so. I stand by my call.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mid-Term Exams: Discussion and Analysis

Time to shift gears again, folks. I have promised to update my work on pursuing my Masters of Business Administration, and since all my Mid-term grades have come back, it’s time to do a review.

It ain’t pretty.

Now, people who know me will not be surprised to read that I consider myself an intelligent person, smart even. That’s partly because a lot of people have been telling me that I am smart, every so often. Well, in times past that has come back and smacked me, as I have mistaken assumptions I liked for actual knowledge. I thought I had been trying to correct that.

With the Mid-Term exam grades in, here is where I stand in each of my three courses:

Business and Society: The Mid-term grade is the only grade received so far, worth 30% of the total. For that exam, I received a score of 80.5% (80.5 out of a possible 100). Remaining grades to come are my Individual Case Analysis (due October 30, worth 15% of the total grade), my Final Exam (December 2, worth 30% of the total grade), and my Discussion Board grade (posted end-of-semester, worth 25% of the total grade. The professor has said she is pleased with my posts on the Discussion Board (“your discussion posts are great”, she wrote), so at least there I have some hope to raise the numbers. I can get a ‘B’ – not that I want to settle for that – with a 79.8% average the rest of the way, and I can work for an ‘A’ if I can average 94.1% the rest of the way. One thing important about the Business & Society Mid-Term, was that this class used a special browser with which I was less familiar than I thought. What I mean is, I took the recommended practice sessions to get familiar with it, but did not realize what would happen if/when I lost my Internet connection during the test – Roadrunner sucks, by the way. I was way stressed by the time I was able to get back in and finish my exam, so I think I can reasonably say that I did not do my best in part due to unique conditions that should not reoccur. That said, I obviously need to work hard on my Individual Case Analysis, and study more effectively for my Final Exam.

Accounting: And things were going so well! Before the Mid-Term, I had grades as follows:

Quizzes: 90%, 100%, 90%, 90%, and 100% (2% of total grade each)
Assignments: 100%, 96.6%, 96.6% (3% of total grade each)

Discussion: 100% (5% of total grade)

Average before Mid-Term: 232/240 or 96.6%

Mid-Term grade: 72% (216 of 300, 30% of total grade)

Average now: 448/540, or 82.96%

Ouch. The Mid-Term had four “problems”, each of which had several parts. What really slammed me was the first section, where I was shown twelve columns of financial summary data, and twelve companies with a very brief description about them. The problem, worth 60 points out of the total 300 for the test, or 20% of the test grade, was to match up companies with the correct column. Not only that, but to get full credit I had to explain my reasoning for the match.

There are several reasons to be unhappy with that problem. First, it’s easy to get it all or almost-all right, or else all or almost-all wrong. That’s because if you put a company in the wrong column, say company A in column 5 when it belongs in column 6, you not only lose company A but also the company which should have gone into column 5. Further, your remaining choices are predicated on the remaining slots, so one error can easily cascade into other mistakes. Insofar as accountants need to understand how a critical error can cause other errors, I agree that this is a worthwhile and important lesson. However, while this type of problem was briefly touched on in the Learning Resources, it was not addressed in any of the assignments of quizzes, nor even discussed in detail by the test or in discussions. In that light, it does not seem to me reasonable that such a problem should count for 20% of the Mid-term examination. Judging from responses I have read from other students, they had the same trouble I did. There is talk about appealing that question, though in honesty I doubt such an appeal would succeed.

My Accounting class has a dozen grades remaining to be issued, constituting 46% of the total grade. They include two group assignments worth 7% of the total grade, one individual assignment worth 4% of the total grade, five quizzes worth 2% of the total grade each for a collective value of 10% of the total grade, the group Final Report worth 20% of the total grade, a peer evaluation worth 1% of the total grade, a survey of the class worth 1% of the total grade, and the grade for the Discussions worth the last 3% of the total grade. I can get a ‘B’ if I average 76.5% the rest of the way, but an ‘A’ is still possible, but just barely, if I can average 98.2% the rest of the way. There is no Final Exam in this class, so the Group Report and series of assignments and quizzes are very important; I cannot afford to slip up again.

Economics: The Mid-Term exam was the third grade received in the class so far. The other two were quizzes, each worth 2.5% of the total grade. I got a 90 and a 100 for those quizzes. My Mid-Term grade started out as a 96% (96 out of 100), worth 30% of the total grade, but the professor gave everyone a four-point bump, which I am happy to accept. The adjusted 100 grade gives me a 99.2% average to this point in the class, but with 65% of the grades still to come, I know I’d better work hard. Remaining grades to earn in Economics are two more quizzes at 2.5% each, an Industry Analysis paper due November 14 worth 15% of the total grade, the Final Exam (December 3) worth 30% of the total grade, my grade in the Discussions, and my Homework grade. Interesting, that last part – we are not automatically required to turn in our Homework, but the professor may demand it if she has any doubts about whether we have done it. Personally, I like the homework, since the homework is great preparation for the quizzes and exams. I can get a 'B' with an average of 69.7% the rest of the way, which again is below the goal, and I can earn an 'A' with an average of 85.0% the rest of the way.

Analysis: I still consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent man, despite the unfortunate results in two of my three exams. Some of that – I hope – may be due to getting back into studying after so many years in the real world, but I also know that I should be careful to avoid excuses or crutches. I could have done better on those tests, and will just have to man up for the remaining work.

I posted this update in part to vent, but also because I know there are other students going through similar trials. Yes, it really sucks to get a grade worse than you expected, or to have a question hurt you which seems disproportionate to what it should have counted, but that happens in Life, and we all have to pull ourselves back up and press on. A bad grade does not automatically make you stupid, and there are a lot of opportunities to pull things back up. Don’t let the good stuff make you overconfident or the bad stuff depress you, and remember there are a lot of us the same boat. To all my fellow students, press on and remember what you’re working for and why.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why The Democrats Are Lying to You

They are deceitful and hypocritical, they claim a patriotism they never actually put into practice, and they constantly seek the gains of extremists and special interest groups over the rights and needs of regular people, but you can’t say the Democrats are not savvy; the Democrats have figured out their best chance to grab power in Congress these fall elections – lie, lie, and lie.

Most of the lies are obvious, once one thinks about them. Polls have constantly shown that the voters care almost exclusively about National Security and the Economy, but the Democrats have lied to pretend that the Foley mess will be the deciding factor in this election. Individual head-to-head races show many competitive and close contests, but the Democrats harp over and over again about the generic polls – polls which historically have missed the mark more often than a reasonable person should accept in a barometer. To hear the Democrats, there’s no reason for anyone to bother voting, it’s all over and we should just accept Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. Never mind the mounting legal and ethical problems for Reid, and Pelosi’s – well – conflicts in rational analysis.

Always quick to take offense, especially when they are caught red-handed like this, one may expect the Democrats to point to the pollsters, even to certain Republicans like Romney, whose own somber prognosis is getting play. First off, you might want to check out track records of those pollsters – the ones who are going out and predicting big gains for the Donks are the same ones who made similar predictions in 2004 and 2002. Charlie Cook, Larry Sabato, John Zogby, by and large have given up even the pretense of objectivity in favor of putting on cheerleader outfits for the Democrats. The professional polls, like Gallup, Pew, and Survey USA, show a range of results and are not at all quick to predict results in this election. As for those Republicans who have begun to give up, we’ve seen this before – the sad display of politicians who put a finger to the wind instead of holding fast to what they know to be right. It’s useful enough, though, to use these times of trial to see whose backbone has the metal we need for 2008 and beyond.

But enough about how; the question stands as to why the Democrats would play the campaign this way. Surely they have to know how risky it is to simply abandon the issues as they have, to play on trifles in the hope that significant matters will be ignored. Then again, the Democrats don’t have much on their side when matters of substance are considered. It’s ‘all about the economy’? Well then, with low inflation, constantly low Unemployment, a surging Dow, continued strong GDP growth and deficit reduction to boot, one can hardly blame the Democrats for hoping no one asks about the economic results of Republican leadership. Also, recent events around the world have reminded every intelligent person about how dangerous is this world in which we live, and how vital it is to have responsible persons giving the orders, not panty-waists like Kerry or Gore or Dean. Again, it is no shock that Democrats want to shove National Security behind a curtain, lest Americans be reminded about the Donks’ shortcomings there, as well. For the Democrats, strategy is born of tactics, because no feasible strategy has been acceptable yet to the Democrats. One wonders how such a party would manage to govern, but the fact is they are not at all concerned with this question, so long as they win. And that fact alone is reason enough to make sure they lose.

The tactics I refer to are Apathy and Despair. The Democrats have looked back a few years, and have noticed a salient trend, one they hope to play into victory this year. We need only look at the 1992 campaign to understand how it works.

One year before the 1992 elections, President George H.W. Bush looked unstoppable. The Democrats were putting together a largely symbolic campaign, with little hope for success. Then several things happened to change the tide. First, the economy started to tank, by some analyses cast as much worse than it actually was in order to spin against the President. Remember, in those days there was no effective counter to the MSM, and when Dan Rather lied to the camera, there was no way for ordinary people to catch him out. Next, the Republican Party was caught up in an internal fracas between moderates and conservatives, which resulted in a split as some otherwise-reasonable people decided that H. Ross Perot was somehow a good choice for President; the chaos prevented the GOP from sending a unified message and convinced a large portion of the Right to sit at home rather than vote. And the third factor was Bill Clinton – a man unsuited to the responsibilities of national office, but whose skills in political manipulation were superb, enough to turn opportunities into votes when he needed them. In two elections and one Senate trial, Clinton told enough lies skillfully and carefully to achieve the desired result. Like today’s Democrats, Bill Clinton was unconcerned at the time about meeting his duties, but only about winning the moment.

Recalling the victory of 1992 which gave them the White House and the re-election win in 1996, Democrats matched that against their losses in 2004 and 2002, and noticed a key trend – when Democrats work for high turnout, they do not necessarily win, because the Republicans can match and beat them at that game. If turnout is suppressed, however, the hard core of political activism favors the Left. If enough Republicans can be disgusted and enough Independents made disinterested in an election, the Democrats would win essentially by default. And that is the playbook for this year – the party which pretends to speak for Democracy, can only hope to win by persuading most voters to not vote.

That should make you angry, that a major political party is hoping to win not by earning your vote, but by doing all it can to convince you not to vote. But that, in a nutshell, is the modern Democratic Party – only by opposing Democracy, can the Democrats hope to win.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Candidate Qualities, Part 2 – Elections 2006

Wow, what a silence. My last article got less interest than a new record at the NYSE. Small wonder, given the meandering way of it, but there is a purpose. I mentioned some of the basics about candidates’ viability, with a thought about how the best-qualified ordinary people may one day actually be considered for the offices which now seem to be controlled by millionaires and celebrities. I mean, not that it’s a bad thing for candidates to look their best, but it’s no secret that many races overlook qualified people simply because someone else is taller, has better teeth, or is simply sexier. After the lessons in the last decade, is Sex Appeal something which should be considered a primary qualification in the nation’s leaders?

But rather than just complain about what sort of people get elected, it seems more productive to observe how the process works, and why. I read Scot Lehigh’s account in the Boston Globe about how Kerry honestly thinks he can win the White House in 2008. His number one avenue? Dredge up the War in Iraq as a lost cause, again. What is interesting about that, though, is that Lehigh’s article claims that Kerry’s speech “brought the crowd to its feet at least a dozen times, and left the Democrats I talked to impressed.”

Think about that. Iraq was clearly owned as an issue by President Bush in 2004, and for all my admiration of the man, Dubs was not all that eloquent. That can only mean that John Kerry was even worse, n’cest pas? And yet, here’s a roomful of Democrats, apparently high-ranking as such beasties go, who think this is a great idea, having John Kerry campaign largely on the War in Iraq. How, seriously, just how stupid does someone have to be to go after someone where they are strong, and where the record has never given them evidence of good odds to win? The reason this is interesting, is that there are intelligent and reasonable Democrats out there, yet over and over again we see those sort get shut out by those who want to pick a fight where they have poor chances. Remember I mentioned yesterday that to win, you need the party’s blessings? It also seems that this is a major problem for the Democrats, that they insist on blessing candidates with poor credentials. Not that the GOP has a wonderful record of listening to its people, but at least they don’t seem to begin by rejecting the people out of hand. This is one reason to have hope for the 2006 elections.

It seems to me that to win, you want the respect of the voters. Maybe the parties could focus on what the voters think. While I take issue with some of the analysis from CNN, their latest poll is intriguing, not least because the results are so contrary to the theme of CNN’s recent spin. When asked about the top issues for this election, respondents offered these top four:



The Economy

North Korea

Nothing else was close. And while the Democrats could try to play the situation in Iraq to their advantage to some degree, they have not done so lately, and the other three issues clearly belong in GOP territory. Democrats have no meaningful suggestions about how to address Terrorism or Kim Spitwad Il, and with Unemployment well under 5%, continued strong GDP growth, a declining Deficit, and Inflation well under control, the Donks do not dare discuss the Economy. The Issues favor the Republicans, and in a big way. Suffice to say that the adults who vote will go Red.

Which brings us to Turnout. All this noise about Foley is not just the fact that Democrats want America to forget about their own peccadilloes, or at least to scale them down, or even to divert attention from the growing scandal around Harry “Show Me The Money” Reid. It’s because Donk Command has figured out that running a campaign on the issues is just going to lose. They know that 30-35% of the regular voters are going to go their way, and they know they can spin another 8-10 points off the old Top 10 lie, “Republicans are Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil” (even as they claim that the GOP runs campaigns by playing on people’s fears). The whole question of the election, then, comes down to how many Republicans and Independents vote. The Donks want those groups tired, depressed, and apathetic. Think about that, when you are choosing your activities on Election Day.

As unattractive as some of the Republicans are, it’s really this simple: Anything which is not a vote for the Republican, is a vote for the Democrat. So would you rather have a party in charge which did not anticipate the unseemly behavior of a Representative, but which made him resign when they discovered his actions and who are moving forward with criminal investigations, or would you prefer the party which not only did not pursue legal action against a Representative of their side of the aisle who actually had sex with pages, who neither resigned nor was punished for his behavior?

Would you rather support the party who still argues about the best way to stop the flow of illegal immigration, or the party which sees no need to enforce our laws in this area?

Would you rather support the party which is trying to protect America from another terrorist attack, or the party which repeatedly demands we protect the ‘rights’ of terrorists?

Would you rather support the party which demands we stay until we finished the job in Iraq and left the country only when it is stable and a success, or the party which wants to desert our allies and ignore our solemn promises?

Would you rather support the party which most active-duty troops support, or would you rather support the party which historically defunds and disrespects our soldiers?

Would you rather support the party which considers your money to be your money, or would you rather support the party which considers your money to belong to the government?

Would you rather support the party which wants you to speak your mind in places like blogs, or would you rather support the party which is happy with you speaking your mind only when it matches the party line?

That’s really what this election comes down to – one side or the other. Neither one perfect, but by all that’s true there is a great and profound difference between the two parties, what they intend, and the course they would set for America. And I think we all know that.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Election Candidate Qualities

One of the nicer compliments I have received since I began blogging, is that some people think I should run for office. While I am flattered by such confidence, I am also well aware that I would not do half so well in office as my supporters believe. This is for a number of reasons, which I mention here in the course of understanding what a mess we have in general with our elected officials.

The American system of politics is, for all its flaws, the best in the world. With an eye towards people named Foley, Reid, Schumer, or Murtha, this suggests that the world in general is really hurting for quality leadership. Part of this is due to the way the system works. Prior to, say, the start of the Reagan Administration, democratic republics were few in practice. In the past quarter-century, this has changed significantly, to such a point that even a oligarchy like Communist China feels a greater need to actually listen to its citizens than in past years. But while installing a system which listens and responds to voters is a good idea, there are always problems to be worked out due to the change in culture and the local conditions. Anyone familiar with American History between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 (apparently around one-half percent of the American public) will recall the chaos surrounding the development of the first political party and its opposition. While the first direct conflict began as a result of the 1824 elections, the causes were in place as soon as the Congress realized it could control the course of legislation.

Fast forward to 2006. Running for any office requires not only the desire and a reasonable belief that you are qualified, but the backing of a political party as well and/or considerable personal resources. As an example, look at the four candidates for Governor of Texas – Rick Perry and Chris Bell are backed by the Republicans and Democrats, and by that I mean those parties pretty much locked out any other candidates. This brings up Carole Keaton Strayhorn, a bitter renegade who used to be a Republican, but when she did not get the party’s support, she went guerrilla and started up her own run on the strength of her own bank account, notoriety, and ego. Then there is Kinky Friedman, a man singularly unqualified for an executive position, especially in the public trust, but because of his money and fame there he is on the ballot. Now I have made clear that many people would be better qualified to serve as Governor (including me) than these four candidates. But what these four well-dressed - and more to the point well-known - clowns have in common is that their names are recognized, they have a lot of money to invest into the race, and they have backers behind the scenes who create the marketing for the candidate, everything from focus groups for issue positions to advertising campaigns tailored to key demographics. And this, I think, is one reason why the GOTV effort is so hard for each party - people are unhappily aware that the ticket never offers the most capable person, the person with the highest integrity, or the person least likely to abuse their responsibility. We always get the less-than-excellent, and everyone knows it.

The blogosphere, I hope, can and will address this. But it will take a long time at best, and there will have to be serious reform at the grassroots level, and a willingness to radically alter the mindset that believes that only someone handed down from a national or state committee can be a viable candidate. I am optimistic enough to think this will happen, and in my lifetime. And I suspect it will be the rebirth of the Democratic Party. I say this because only desperate people are willing to try new and unproven things, and between the two major parties the GOP is relatively successful with its routine, and therefore disinclined to accept the risk of nominating ordinary people for office. Democrats continue to lose at every level however, and at some point they will be forced, at the peril of their existence as a party, to reform and regroup. And when that happens, they wil rediscover the party of Grover Cleveland, and of Harry Truman; the party willing to do the hard work to get the job done. Democrats will lose most of their lock on the minority vote, but it will force them to pay attention to the country's core values, and those are best espoused and performed by regular folks.

Why not a police officer for Attorney General?

Why not an engineer for Governor?

Why not a middle-management accountant for President?

Sure, those jobs do not automatically suggest those roles. But why in hell does anyone think that lawyers and career politicians are better fits for the country's leadership, than people who really work for a living and see the world at street level?

Before 1824, regular citizens were not "allowed" to vote directly for a candidate running for President.

Before 1865, only whites could vote.

Before 1869, no woman could vote anywhere in the United States, and before 1920 only men could vote in federal elections.

Things change over time, and we can get past some bad habits. It's time we found a way to get normal people into the jobs which most affect normal people.