Category Archives: Elections

The free-market, more accurate than polls?

HubDub is a great company based in Edinburgh (where I used to live), who apply the principles of the free market to predicting the outcomes of news stories. I’ve had a good chat with them, and they say that their market tends to be spookily accurate. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that when this type of market is applied to predicting when internal projects will be completed within Microsoft, they were universally more pessimistic, and more accurate, than the project manager’s estimates.

Here is the current prediction for who will win the US Presidential election, right now it has Obama winning (phew!). It will be interesting to look back and see how accurate it was in retrospect:

Matt Damon on Sarah Palin

I normally don’t look to actors for political insight, but I think Matt is spot on with this one. I could live with McCain as President, at least he’s no Bush, but Palin would be worse than Bush in almost every way. She is more of a religious-right ideologue (even Bush has come around somewhat to global warming, apparently she hasn’t). She has far less leadership experience than he did (Texas > Alaska), and my impression is that she has less foreign policy experience (which is hard).

A McCain Presidency would be a kick in the teeth, but a Palin Presidency is truly a frightening prospect and we can’t afford even the chance that it would happen.

Here is what Matt had to say:


Mirror of Palin trooper firing phone call

There is some controversy over Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin’s daughter getting pregnant at the moment. I agree with Obama that a politician’s family should be out-of-bounds.

There is another controversy that is very legitimate, Palin’s firing of Alaska’s Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, allegedly motivated by his refusal to fire Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, who was going through a messy divorce with Palin’s sister (see Wikipedia‘s entry on the controversy).

This is important given the current administration’s scandalous hiring and firing of supposedly non-political civil servants on the basis of personal or political motivations. Now, it may be the case that this trooper deserved to get fired, but shouldn’t Palin have left this to the normal processes to avoid the appearance of improper interference, given her personal history with this guy?

I found the audio of a phone conversation between Palin aide Frank Bailey, and a Lieutenant in the state trooper’s office. This is on the Alaska state website, and who knows how long it will be there, so I mirrored it here – its about 25 minutes long – enjoy!

(Press the play button above to start)

She said what?

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don’t understand it,”

This was Clinton yesterday, explaining why she was still in the race.  What was she thinking?  Many, including their brother Ted, have drawn comparisons between Obama and John and Robert Kennedy, two inspirational and transformational candidates in their time, both assassinated.

At best, she was simply pointing out that Democratic primaries often extend into June, but why drop the “A-bomb” to make this simple point?  Is it conceivable that she was making some kind of argument about how she was less likely to be assassinated, and therefore would be be better candidate?  Did we just catch a brief glimpse into a darkly cynical political mind?

“That’s a nice Presidential candidate you have there, what a shame if something were to…. happen to him”

Incompentence of Clinton’s campaign

In a strategy session last year Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that a win in California would put Clinton over the top by picking up 370 state delegates.

There was only one problem with this prediction: it could only happen if Clinton won 100% of the vote, a practical impossibility.  You see, as anyone that has followed a Democratic primary knows, delegates are allocated proportionally; it’s not “winner take all” like the GOP.  Amazingly it seems that Clinton’s chief strategist didn’t understand one of the most basic aspects of how Democrats choose their nominee, its amateur hour in the Clinton camp!

Even though I suspect someone pointed out his error to him at some point, Clinton’s strategy still seemed to be predicated on that elementary misunderstanding.  She focussed her efforts on the big states, while Obama spread his attention across all states, big and small.  Her strategy made sense in a winner-take-all system, but those weren’t the rules of the game she was playing.

This is why you now hear Clinton complaining “if we had the Republican system I’d be President right now”.  She lost in part because her strategy seemed to assume that the Democrats already used the Republican system!

Now, maybe you feel sympathy for her, losing because of this error, but I don’t.  One role of a primary is to test a candidate’s skills at running a large organization.  This is particularly important when the candidates are Senators, as opposed to Governors who (one assumes) already have this kind of experience.

A big part of a President’s job is choosing the right people for the most powerful roles in the United States.  If she can choose a chief strategist that doesn’t have a clue about the strategy of winning a democratic primary, what would that say about the people she would put in charge of our government should she be elected President?

The good news is that barring some kind of unanticipated calamity, Obama has won the primary, and from there I give him 3:1 odds on being the next US President.

Clinton resorts to anti-intellectualism

Clinton’s proposal to alleviate the hardship imposed by high gas prices by not taxing gas is a joke, its basically a gift to the oil companies from taxpayers (and lets face it, they’ve been having a really hard time lately, haven’t they?).

The price of gas is limited only by how much people are willing to pay for it.  If less of what they pay goes to the government, the beneficiary will be the oil producers and distributors because the pump price will simply increase to the point where consumers are paying what they otherwise would if the tax was still there.

The effect of removing the tax is that consumers pay the same, the treasury gets less tax money to fix our road infrastructure, and the oil companies make even more money than they already are.  It really doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand this, little wonder that the Clinton surrogate most vocally arguing in favor of this is also a lobbyist for an oil company (but he’s not her pastor, so that’s ok).

So how does Clinton respond when economists point out this relatively obvious problem with her proposal?  She dismisses them as “elites”.  Its the same well-worn argument thats rolled out whenever a politician wants to do something that experts, you know, the people who know what they are talking about, think isn’t such a great idea.  “Oh, don’t listen to them, they’re just geeks, look – I can do shots and drink beer!”.

Its unclear whether Clinton will get a bloody nose for this, after all, the media seems much more entertained by important issues like whether Obama wears a flag-pin.

The American media’s obsession with identity politics

There is much to complain about with the British media, but one respect in which they seem far better than their US counterparts is that they do seem more interested in the effect a politician will have on their country, as opposed to extremely patronizing identity politics.

For months now you hear pundits and anchors (the distinction gets more vague every day) on CNN and the other 24 hour news channels break things down into whether white people will vote for a black candidate, or whether black women are more likely to vote for someone that is the same color, or the same gender as themselves.

Isn’t it just possible that there are a few people in this country that might be voting for the candidate that will make the best President, regardless of gender or color?

Punch and Judy is a reference most British people will understand immediately, and most Americans will not. Its best described as an ultra-violent Victorian version of the Simpsons in the form of a puppet show, typically performed by a single puppeteer.

Punch is a deformed, child-murdering, wife-beating psychopath who commits appalling acts of violence and cruelty upon all those around him and escapes without punishment. Judy is his punch-bag/wife. It may shock people to know that the intended audience are small children, who find it profoundly entertaining (I’m not kidding). I should clarify that it may only shock non-British people, because in Britain it is so ingrained in the national psyche that its total insanity is only really appreciated when you point it out to people and force them to think critically about it for a moment. Here is a video to give you the general idea (starts about 14 seconds in):


Yes, I’m sorry but its true, the British are certifiable. Oh, and if any British people you know try to dispute this, ask them to explain how this got to #1 in the British music charts in 1993:

Anyway, I digress. I don’t bring up the subject of P&J to convince you that the British are certifiable, rather I bring it up because it provides a very useful simile, “Punch and Judy Politics”.

This is a view of politics that the media likes to promote, this is for a very simple and obvious reason: When you’ve got 24 hours a day of TV to fill (minus advertisements), they’ve found that a relatively simple and mindless way to attract recurring attention is to frame things in terms of a simplistic battle between two vicious fighters thrown into a cage and forced to battle to the death.

And so rather than looking at the real differences between potential political leaders that might have an effect on the country should they be elected, they focus on childish point scoring. They ask questions like: Did Hillary make a gaffe here? Did McCain make a gaffe there? Is Obama’s pastor just one big walking gaffe? How will this play out in the media?

But they are the media! They have a choice about what they devote their attention to, and they have an obligation to devote their attention to substantive matters. But they don’t, they focus on trivia. They then use the circular argument that they are focusing on it because its what the media (themselves) are focussed on, thus absolving themselves of any responsibility as to the subject matter that they choose to cover.

The media must acknowledge that they have a lot of control over the level of discourse, and it is their responsibility to use that power wisely, in a manner that will best inform voters, such that they make a good decision in the ballot box.

It is this higher responsibility that separates them from the Punch and Judy show, that means the difference between news and simple entertainment.

Clinton adopts “scorched earth” policy

Clinton seems to have adopted a policy of providing so much material to the McCain campaign against Obama, that he can’t win the general election, making her the obvious candidate for Democrats. She and her surrogates have now repeatedly asserted that Obama won’t win against McCain, even going so far as to claim that she and McCain have the foreign policy experience, but Obama doesn’t. Won’t that be great ammunition for the GOP against Obama in the general election? He will be able to say “Your fellow democrat thinks I’m the better candidate”.

Of course, like many of the Clinton campaign’s recent assertions, this is rubbish. According to a March 8th poll, the Washington Post reports that either of them would beat McCain, but Obama has a better chance (with a 12 point lead, as opposed to a 6 point lead for Clinton).

Of course, the irony is that the closer people look at her supposed foreign policy experience, the less real it gets. She claimed to have contributed significantly in the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict, yet those actually involved say that her involvement was peripheral, really that of a cheerleader (no I’m not being sexist, there are male cheerleaders too you know ;).

I’m pretty confident that this will backfire. Standing in line for the caucuses here in Texas last week, one thing I heard from a number of people planning to vote for Clinton was that they felt she was being treated unfairly, and they was therefore voting out of sympathy for her.

Its hard to imagine much of that sympathy remaining if Clinton continues on her current “scorched earth” policy. It is very unlikely that remaining undecided Democrats will reward her for this strategy.

Turns out Obama won Texas by 4 delegates

Apparently the Texas Secretary of State is set to certify the official election results, and Obama has won 99 delegates, compared to Clinton’s 95.

Clinton got more delegates from the popular vote (step one of the “Texas two-step”), she won 65 relative to Obama’s 61, but Obama was way ahead in a caucus (step 2), winning 38 delegates to Clinton’s 30.

I’m surprised that Clinton isn’t challenged more every time she claims to have won Texas, seems like the news media has uncritically accepted her spin ever since Saturday Night Live made fun of them for being pro-Obama.

Obama and Clinton are different species of politician

What a shock, I know I’m really going out on a limb here, choosing my horse so early in the race 😉

One of my frustrations during the coverage of this election is that the US media is simply awful at articulating the differences between the candidates. Rather than doing some detailed analysis, they rely on pundits whose often patronizing theories (blacks will vote for Obama, women for Clinton, black women can’t decide etc etc) are proved irrelevant after almost every state primary, yet for some reason these people still get air time.

So we turn to the Internet. My friend, Stanford Law Professor, and founder of Creative Commons, Larry Lessig, has created a a wonderful video that elegantly articulates why he supports Obama over Clinton.

If you find yourself falling into the trap of thinking that there isn’t much between the two remaining democratic candidates, you really need to watch Larry’s video, in which he argues that this isn’t just a debate between “hope” and “experience”, these two are entirely different species of politician.