Thursday, June 19, 2008

Let Not Your Heart be Troubled – Or Fooled By Polls

I saw an article by The Anchoress (who apparently did not read my discussion of the Quinnipiac poll) regarding the apparent dominance by Democrats in polling. Her theory is that because voting by Democrats was so heavy in the Spring, this means that Democrats will dominate voting in the fall.

Mmmmmmmmmm ... no, that's not really a good description of the situation. Polls are not quite the magic ball they are hyped to be.

For example, take a look back in 2004. Kerry got a lot of excitement among Democrats because he had strong primary support, and a lot of pundits were saying this meant trouble for the fall. Then 62 million voters decided they preferred President Bush for another term, defying the media’s proclaimed scenario. And while I will grant that 2008 is different from 2004, human nature is notoriously hard to change. For this election, that means the following points will continue to matter:

[] Barack Obama, like John Kerry, built a lot of his support through young voters in the primaries. However, even young voters who vote in primaries are relatively unlikely to vote in the general election. Candidates have been trying to change that condition for decades without significant success.

[] John McCain’s core constituency appears to be senior voters, pro-military voters, and moderate Republicans. The first two of these groups have established a strong representation in votes.

[] Hillary Clinton’s 18 million supporters are not completely enthused by Obama’s campaign. While most of them will support Obama, fewer will actively work for his election (as in recruiting new voters and pursuing grass roots operations), and there have already been reports of Hillary supporters working to get McCain elected.

[] Voters’ opinions and mood can change quickly, but their core beliefs are slow to change, and will change only when confronted with strong evidence. The essential differences between Barack Obama and John McCain will resonate in the election results.

[] Every presidential election, there are states which appear early on to be ripe for a candidate to ‘steal’ from the other side’s roster, but in actual fact few states change philosophies, and the general election is seldom a great surprise to anyone familiar with History.

[] The essential strategic difference in mood between Senators Obama and McCain, is that Obama started with strong positive support and almost no negative reaction, but his attractiveness has steadily declined as the election season progressed, while in McCain’s case he began with strong opposition and little support, but his competence and consistency have strengthened his campaign as he progresses. The result of these trends will depend on the speed of their progress relative to the election date, and whether these trends are halted prior to the election.

[] Opinion polls are the product of polling groups, which are often reported as news, but that representation distinctly is not correct. An opinion poll is the result of a collection of interviews using a standardized set of questions and methodology. That poll is weighted to match a desired demographic profile, and any error in demographic assumptions, in party identification, or methodology as relevant to the real population pool will be reflected in erroneous conclusions. It is a salient fact that most opinion polls which attempt to reflect the specific voter results more than one day ahead of the election will be off by more than the statistical standard deviation, and therefore no opinion poll should ever be taken as a predictive indicator of voter intentions.

All in all, it’s June and that makes it the noise of spin, nothing more.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Poll Puddling and Quinnipiac

The new Quinnipiac poll has Obama leading McCain in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. If those numbers are accurate and hold up, it would obviously indicate that Senator Obama is in great shape, picking up 47 electoral votes to add to his position. However, I noticed that Quinnipiac hid a bit of its methodology. In opinion polls, the demographc weighting is an important element in their accuracy. The gist of the Quinnipiac polls was not really anything new; young voters prefer Obama and older ones prefer McCain, women lean towards Obama while men lean towards McCain, and so on.

It’s also important to notice that Quinnipiac never defined what they mean by ”likely voter””. A respondent who voted in the primaries, for example, is far more significant as an indicator of true voter mood than someone who just says he thinks he will vote in the fall, still months away from the mid-June poll.

I also noticed clear discrepancies in the Quinnipiac poll. Quinnipiac, for example, says President Bush has a 22% Job Approval rating in Ohio, against 29 percent from a University of Cincinnati poll.

I was also preplexed by Quinnipac’s announcement that President Bush enjoys only 60% from Republicans, when the polls I have seen show around 80% from Republicans. The stated numbers demonstrate a lean to the Left, from what I see. How much of lean depends on how you account for the discrepancies. The problem is while the skewing is evident, it appears to be a result of the methodology rather than simply the weighting. Therefore, the numbers may be taken to reflect the situation only in a general manner and with the normal caveats that Quinnpiac is a good poll, but hardly the most reliable.

A poll which misses by an average of 7 points is not where I would look for an election barometer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

John McCain, Hero

Many on the Left have been attacking John McCain viciously. Not his Senate record or positions on the major issues so much, as they have been attacking him for his service in Vietnam. Given Barack Obama’s lack of significant accomplishment in anything other than selling books and making speeches, it is hardly surprising that he and his followers would regard McCain’s most distinctive service as a threat to Obama’s ambition. It is also apparent that most Obama supporters have no real idea of what McCain did as a Navy officer that sets him apart from so many of his fellow veterans. I have written before that I disagree with a number of McCain’s political positions, and I dislike the way he has treated fellow Republicans, especially President Bush. None of that, however, diminishes what John McCain accomplished as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

On October 26, 1967, Lieutenant Commander John McCain was shot down during his twenty-third mission in an A-4 Skyhawk bomber over Hanoi. Commander McCain was on that mission as part of his long service to the United States; he graduated from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1958, and remained on active duty despite having his plane literally shot out from under him in an accidental missile discharge from another plane on the deck of the USS Forrestal earlier that year.

The destruction of his jet caused McCain serious injuries. He broke bones in both arms, one leg, and landed in a lake. Once he reached shore, the already injured McCain was attacked and beaten by North Vietnamese soldiers, one using a rifle butt to dislocate hs shoulder while another bayonetted him. He was denied medical treatment for four days, during which time he was beaten and interrogated using real torture methods, not the stuff liberals like to call ‘torture’ now. McCain refused to give information beyond his name, rank, and serial number. It was only when the North Vietnamese realized that McCain’s father was a senior Admiral that he received medical treatment, and it was not much even there. No anesthesia or antibiotics were used, and the bones were not even set for another half-week.

Up to this point, John McCain’s story is that of an honorable man who suffered from conditions of war and cruel abuse. What follows is where we see his heroism.

The North Vietnamese understood that Commander McCain’s father was Admiral McCain, and from the beginning tried to use this for propaganda purposes. While men like John Kerry played the system in order to go home early from the war, Commander McCain repeatedly refused special treatment and offers to be set free ahead of men he knew had been longer in captivity. He also refused attempts by the North Vietnamese to use him in propaganda films, and for this was designated for “special treatment”, a regimen of regular torture and deprivation that killed most men who suffered it. In the first six weeks of his imprisonment, McCain lost 50 pounds and temporarily the use of his arms and legs; when he was finally allowed to share a cell with two other officers, his condition was so grave that they did not expect him to survive for more than a week. His fellow officers nursed McCain to somewhat better health, and for this were assigned to different quarters. McCain again refused to cooperate with the North Vietnamese and he was locked in a muddy room with no windows, a tin roof and only two holes drilled in to keep him from suffocating, and McCain was kept there for two years.

Unknown to the Communists, McCain had already started his work from the inside. He had memorized the names of all 335 men he knew to be prisoners in North Vietnam, and when Major Norris Overly, USAF, was released he carried McCain’s information with him. Even in prison, John McCain continued to serve his country.

In mid-1968, the North Vietnamese decided that if they released McCain, it would not only show them as merciful but suggest that American ‘elites’ expected to be treated better than ordinary soldiers. But Commander McCain consistently refused to play along, refusing to be released unless every man who had served as long as him was also released, and refusing on all occasions to say a single bad thing about the United States or the war effort. Despite his solitary confinement, McCain used a tap code to make contact with Ernie Brace, a civilian pilot shot down over Laos. Brace had been badly abused by the Communists and was in bad shape emotionally. McCain worked to restore Brace’s spirit and confidence, and in so doing bolstered his own.

In June of 1968, the Communists again tried to talk McCain into accepting special treatment, and in return McCain said he’d be glad to go – after all the men he knew had been waiting longer. They tried again in July, after Mccain’s father became CINCPAC. McCain again refused, for which he was beaten, his ribs cracked and one of his arms rebroken, and after which he was left bound between beating sessions for another four days. To shame him, the Communists left McCain naked and unfed.

McCain knew what could happen in the prisons, like Dick Stratton’s being burned with cigarettes and his fingernails being pulled out. He knew men who had been beaten to death, like Ed Atterberry. Punishment in a Communist prison was brutal and swift, yet even so McCain continued to resist his captors, tapping out communication and encouragement to other prisoners, as a true officer leads his men. Commander McCain was beaten for refusing to lie about conditions in the prison, for resisting the Communists’ propaganda programs, for communicating with other prisoners, and often for no reason other than he was a man they could not defeat, could never own. McCain refused to meet with antiwar delegations, refused to cooperate with nations like France who supported the Communists, and always - always - refused to accept anything that was not provided for all his fellow prisoners. McCain was tortured for holding church services, for praying, for singing the National Anthem, for refusing to admit “war crimes”, and for cheering when Nixon ordered the bombing of Hanoi. McCain was no Superman, he felt every burn and cut and bruise and scrape of bone and tearing of ligament. Yet over and over and over again, he chose to accept torture rather than put himself ahead of his fellow prisoners, or his country.

On March 14, 1973, John McCain was finally released by North Vietnam, as one of the final prisoners to return home. He faced months of surgery and physical therapy to rebuild his body, but his spirit was unbroken and his mission fulflled. Whatever one thinks of John McCain’s politics, he was and is a hero, and anyone who cannot admit that is a poor shell of a human being, too dismal to count as a true person, let alone an American.

Sources: Wikipedia, “John McCain: An American Odyssey” by Robert Timburg, US News & World Report (May 14 1973 issue)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Obama’s Delusion Continues

Some time back, I promised that a Republican would win the White House in 2008. Good job I didn’t promise a Conservative, but then again, the closest thing the GOP has put up to copy Reagan was George W. Bush. No, I am not saying W is a pure Reaganite, but look at our nominees and major candidates since Ronnie left office, and you will see what I mean. It’s not as if the RNC has been looking hard for The Next Gipper. As a result, there has not really been an opportunity since 1984 for Americans to say whether they want another Reagan. Given that fact, winning three of the last five gives an indication of just poor the Democrats’ selections have been. And that tradition of snatching defeat from the jaws of opportunity is one which Barack Obama seems determined to continue. This morning, CNN posted an article wherein Senator Obama boasted that he does not need either Ohio or Florida to win, trusting instead that he will claim victories in Virginia, Georgia, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, Alaska, Iowa and North Dakota.

Obviously, if Obama can claim all those states and hold the ‘blue’ states from the 2004 election, he would be correct, but the problem is that this assumption by Obama displays some very foolish mistakes:

[] Michigan and Florida are bitter about the way their primary results were handled by the DNC and Obama’s camp. Making a public statement that reinforces the idea that Florida does not matter, is an incredibly stupid blunder, especially given the historical importance of that state. Obama hastened to say he will work hard to win Florida, but the insult was already delivered, and made the headline.

[] In every election, there are states which appear to be in play, but which revert to historical norms in the actual election. This is a critical flaw in opinion polling, which sometimes represents false trends in elections. In 2004, for example, the Democrats wrongly believed they were stronger in Southern states than they actually were, and Republicans wrongly believed they were stronger along the Pacific coast than they were. Demographic analysis is a critical component in any allocation of resources, and several of the states targeted by Obama are extremely poor investments in allocation of resources.

[] In my analysis of the states’ historical performance and likely returns this fall, one of the most important indicators is the behavior not only of the candidate, but his supporters. To that end, consider the comments made by Obama supporters in the CNN article I noted. Many of them seem unaware that George W. Bush is not running again, many seem to think that independents are already on board and do not need to be convinced, many resort to quick insults and personal hostility when challenged to defend their candidate’s record and statements. Acting like a spoiled middle-schooler is not the best strategy to convince undecided voters, and since Obama has shown no effort to restrain his troops from personal attacks, he has tied his image to their invective.

Obama is in a strong strategic position, but he cannot afford to keep repeating these blunders of assumption and judgment.