Friday, May 31, 2024

In the aftermath of the verdict, things are going to get ugly. You'll see things you can't unsee (and that's just in the data journalism section)

Even under the best of circumstances, reading the polls at this point hoping to see who will win the election is a bit like weighing yourself to see whether or not you will be obese in six months. There is some correlation, but it doesn't actually tell you that much. Under the current circumstances, however, it's like weighing yourself on what is probably a worthless scale while jumping up and down like Andrew Gelman's kangaroo.

Why are things going to get so ugly?

1. The inverse relationship of information and certainty, squared. As a general rule, the more uncertain the situation, the greater the demand for reliable information. In the case of big, black swan events, the incentives for journalists not just to speculate, but to speculate wish an air of assurance can be irresistible. Analysts and pundits who were already way too confident before Thursday are about to try to convince you that they are the Oracle of freaking Delphi.

2. We are about to see a wave of thrown-together crappy polls. Part of this will be due to demand, part of this will be due to interested parties trying to grab the reins of the narrative, all of this will lead to noise and distraction.

3. The potential for selection effects is huge. Remember only a very small part of the population bothers to respond to polls. It doesn't take a lot to swap that signal, and we have every reason to believe that different segments of the public will be more or less likely to respond because of this news.

Back in 2012, we hypothesized that self-selection would tend to amplify the impact of good news and bad news through self-selection (a theory that has since been backed up by research*). This would presumably create a false surge for Biden caused by happy Democrats being more eager to talk to pollsters. On the other hand, we have both anger and cognitive dissonance on the right, which would presumably make Trump supporters more likely to pick up the phone either to vent or to convince themselves that their beliefs were not actually being shaken.

Add to that people who will be more eager to talk about something because it's big news and people who will be less likely to respond because they are getting burned out on the whole thing. How big will the selection effects be? How long will they last? How will they play out? I have no idea. And more importantly, neither does anyone you are about to read in the New York Times or see on CNN. Nobody knows.

4. A cannonball in the kiddie pool. Even if you could get a true picture of public opinion through the polls, it would still tell you virtually nothing. We can expect violent swings in the next few weeks, but we have absolutely no way of telling which are transitory and which are permanent. Which shifts will be followed by a backlash? Which moves will be permanent? Nobody knows.

5. Narrative preservation and the coming cherry picking epidemic. We are about to be swarmed by serious sounding journalists all insisting that they are channeling the data like a carny medium communing with the spirits. The trouble is, even more than normal, most of what you can get from the data over the next few weeks will be noise and contradiction. The only way to get a nice, clean, editor-friendly narrative at the moment is to ignore certain parts of the data while credulously accepting others. For example, expect to see I have lot of "this won't change anything" stories that unquestioningly repeat polls that say people are mainly concerned with inflation and the border (despite research suggesting these voter influence results aren't reliable) while dismissing or ignoring polls where Republican voters said that a conviction would make them less likely to vote for Donald Trump. Should we trust those latter polls? How the hell should I know? As I believe I've mentioned earlier, nobody knows.

How should you deal with this?

Here's my advice. It may sound a bit radical at first, but it's really not. Just go cold turkey in June. Unless you have some professional reason for needing to follow the polls and the resulting political commentary, don't. There will be vanishingly little real information in those articles you skip and distinguishing between the worthwhile and the worthless will be next to impossible. Reading these pieces will waste your time, possibly raise your blood pressure, and may well leave you more misinformed than you started. Spend the month reading other things (If you enjoyed Gone Girl, I recommend A Kiss Before Dying). 

You'll have plenty of time to catch up with the polls in July. You might even find yourself wishing you'd taken even more time off.

Jesus Christ. Back in 2012, you completely anticipated the main result of our Mythical Swing Voter paper, which is based on data we collected in 2012, analyzed in 2013, wrote up in 2014, and published in 2016, and which other people picked up on in time for the 2016 campaign.

I probably even read your post when it came out, but I didn't get the point.

There's something wrong with the world that your blog doesn't have a million readers.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Thursday Tweets -- If your verdict isn't delivered in thirty minutes or less...

I don't know what the impact of RFK jr is going to be in November (nobody knows) but for someone funded in large part by Trump supporters as a stalking horse, he's certainly spending a lot of time playing to the right.

Been a long time since I've seen a good Martha Mitchell reference.

Remember, don't blame the reporters for the headlines, blame the editors. (Guess which editors we're talking about this time.)

Even my considerable reserves of snark wouldn't be up to this.

I taught math/English at the high school and junior high level and math/statistics at the college level. If my students didn't know basic facts, I considered my responsibility. How much responsibility does the press have for the what the public doesn't know?

What the fck happened to Felix Salmon? He used to be so good.
The press locked into a doom narrative and it proved comically wrong but rather than admit it, they're changing the meanings of the words. Anything to keep the vibecession going.


We should have kept up better with the education reform story. Lots to talk about.

And while on the subject of ed reform, how about a Goodhart callback?

Between quotes on abortion and clips like this, the Democrats might want to outsource all of their ads to Republicans this year.

Also useful for those "I can't vote for Biden" leftists.

We've talking about ratcheting of the right for years. Good to know we're on the same page.


Let's see how things are going back in Arkansas.

I've been following the Huckabees for around thirty years and I can tell you, they're soulless, every damned one of them. 

And check in with my birth state.

This one connects to at least a couple of threads I've been meaning to do about the meangirling of Harris, the growing realization on the sensible left that this was a big mistake, and the general sharpening of the mind we're seeing in a lot of quarters.

Polling news

AI -- As long as there are tech bros, we'll all have a reason to drink.


Great thread for the ag and forestry nerds in the audience.

This is a pretty one.

 What's the point of having a micro-blogging platform if you can't have clips of puppies attacking door stops?

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

"she, like so many Americans before her, could imagine no greater spiritual fulfillment for herself or the nation than an extinction event."

I grew up in the Bible Belt and was still living there in the late 90s when things started to change. We were never evangelical, instead opting for the Fred Rogers wing of the Presbyterian Church (and even by those very lax standards, I still soon qualifed as lapsed). Arguing with evangelicals was something I had done my entire life, sometimes good-naturedly, sometimes with more of an edge. Nonetheless, there was generally at least some level of respect.

Things are  different today. It is a very different movement. Less spiritual. More political. Less interested in theological questions. For what still claims to be a fundamentalist religion, woefully ignorant of scripture (though I personally don't believe in divinely inspired texts, I can still appreciate scholarship and a sincere desire to live up to what you see as holy words). Ironically, the one change which is often held up as a positive sign strikes me as decidedly mixed. Evangelical acceptance of Catholics and Mormons is far greater than what I saw growing up. If this represented a general move toward tolerance, that would be a wonderful thing, but I am mostly convinced that it is the product of expediency and growing disinterest in the religious part of the religion, becoming what I have called previously secular evangelicalism, a movement based more on culture and political beliefs than on faith and spirituality.

I strongly suspect that one of the overlooked causes of the shift was Y2K mania. The denominations' deeply ingrained tendency toward millennialism lined up too perfectly with the popular fascination and anxiety over a possible mass failure of computers and automated systems, something that even mainstream media often described in apocalyptic terms. For those inclined to believe, it very much felt like the nightly news and the cover of Time magazine were laying the groundwork for the Book of Revelations. The overlap between Southern Baptists and preppers grew quite noticeable. I remember seeing a sign in a Bible store window advertising water purification tablets.

With the notable exception of a very good front page story in the Wall Street Journal, all of this passed unnoticed by the national press, but having arguably the country's most influential religious group go through an actual when prophecy fails experience is probably something we should pay more attention to. The non-apocalypse described in this account by Emily Harnett preceded the Y2K bug by a decade, but it's still instructive as well as being a fascinating read.

In 2021, General Michael Flynn, the Christian nationalist and former national security adviser to Donald Trump, gave an address at a nondenominational church in Nebraska that internet sleuths suspected had been plagiarized from one of Elizabeth’s “dictations,” as her dispatches from the Masters were known. One helpful YouTuber spliced together footage of the two for comparison. Both propose a religious call to arms and entreat the “freeborn” to resist becoming “enslaved by any foe,” while making confusing allusions to “sevenfold rays” and “legions.” But Flynn recited this prophetic word salad with the delivery of one’s least-favorite uncle plodding through an ill-prepared wedding toast. Elizabeth—with her precise elocution, her terrifying and obvious sincerity—sounded like a woman on the brink of a great cosmic battle.

QAnon conspiracy theorists, who quickly noted that some of Flynn’s language wasn’t exactly biblical in origin, believed the “occult prayer” exposed Flynn as a satanist. But if the incident reveals anything besides the mutinous humor of Flynn’s ghostwriter, it’s the degree to which millenarian rhetoric has saturated American public life. In 1960, the sociologist Daniel Bell predicted “an end to chiliastic hopes, to millenarianism, to apocalyptic thinking—and to ideology.” But as the historian Paul Boyer has noted, after the great revolutionary movements of the Sixties waned in America, much the opposite came to pass. Prophetic belief—whose adherents, in Boyer’s description, “take very seriously the Bible’s apocalyptic sections and derive from them a detailed agenda of coming events”—exploded in popularity during the Seventies and Eighties. Such beliefs have shaped not only American religiosity but our understanding of the human psyche itself.

In the Fifties, the psychologist Leon Festinger coined the Psych 101 term cognitive dissonance, based in part on research he’d done for the book When Prophecy Fails, which described the mental state of a Fifties UFO cult after its leader’s apocalyptic predictions went unrealized. There have been so many of these groups, flourishing and flaming out in endless cycles, trading places in a Beckettian limbo wherein divine reckoning approaches but never arrives. They have furnished streaming services with an endless supply of podcasts and documentaries rehearsing the history of America’s ill-fated apocalyptic sects and outsider religions. But whenever I try to place Elizabeth in this tradition, I come up short. She would be easier to categorize had she been more like Jim Jones, to whom she was often compared, or Charles Manson, whose Family had allegedly sent her death threats. But while her church was armed to the hilt, they never killed anyone; although Elizabeth could be mercurial and vindictive, she was a beloved mother of five. Were it not for her prophecies of nuclear Armageddon, it’s possible that the church would have remained one of the many fledgling religions eking out its existence far from the center of American life. Perhaps the one thing Elizabeth had in common with the believers of those other faiths was that she, like so many Americans before her, could imagine no greater spiritual fulfillment for herself or the nation than an extinction event.


Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Three quick observations on Donald Trump's not so good Saturday night

Interesting to compare this to the reception they gave RFK jr.

Some observers thought it went great, such as this Fox contributor.

 "The enthusiasm of the crowd"

Here's the CNN account:

Trump loudly booed at Libertarian convention when he asks attendees to ‘nominate me or at least vote for me’ 

... and here's how it was featured on the NYT site.

It didn't make the front page either. They did run an article... on A15, which is a good lead-in for my first observation.

1. Much of the "respectable" press, particularly the New York Times, is reluctant to pile onto an embarrassing story about Republicans. We won't go into the underlying causes – – God knows we been into that enough times already – – but the end result is often interesting and even important stories getting buried. This story is certainly entertaining, but is it important? Well that depends on...

2. How is the story of RFK Jr and the anti-VAX movement going to play out? This is why we've spent the past two or three years hammering home the importance of feral disinformation. What started out as an attempt from Trump and his supporters to minimize the political fallout of the pandemic has evolved into a political force that no one, least of all its creators, can control. Vaccines and anti-covid measures were arguably the one issue on which DeSantis was able to successfully attack Trump from the right.

We have no way of knowing how big the impact of this issue is going to be or even which direction it's going to break. It is possible that antiscience fringe liberals will go with RFK while like-minded conservatives will come back to Trump. It's possible that the anti-VAX crowd, which is disproportionately Republican, will break for RFK along party lines which would inflict considerably more damage on Trump than on Biden. It's possible that the whole thing will turn out to be a nothing-burger. Nobody knows and anyone who tells you that they do should not be trusted, but we can say that the potential impact could be enough to swing a close election under the right circumstances.

3. And what effect will this have on Trump and his campaign? Lots of moving parts on this one. As we have mentioned before, Trump has neither money nor surrogate, and his old go to, earned media, has become a decidedly mixed bag to say the least. Trump can't rely on ads and he can't send his running mate out on the campaign trail. His only real option to advance his message and shape the narrative is personal appearances, and yet, unless I forgot one, in the past month or so he has been exactly one day campaigning in swing states (his recent stop in NC didn't seem to include any events beyond waving). Since that day, he has given speeches in New Jersey, New York, and Texas. There were places he badly needed to be last Saturday.

The decision to appear at the libertarian conference (not to mention the considerable albeit failed effort to game the event) indicated that the campaign is worried about at least some of the third-party candidates taking support away from Trump, a notion further supported by the increasingly virulent attacks that he has been making on RFK.

If the objective was to shore up support among libertarians and the anti-VAX crowd, it appears to have been not only a failure, but a costly one in terms of embarrassment, opportunity cost, and wear and tear. Donald Trump is under a tremendous amount of stress and we have numerous anecdotes and indications that it is getting to him. What effect might this have on the election? There's really no telling. We are, once again, way out of the range of observed data.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Memorial Day Repost

A good day for a recommendation

There is, of course, no such thing as the military perspective -- no single person can speak for all the men and women who have served in the military -- but if you are looking for a military perspective, my first choice would be Lt. Col. Robert Bateman who writes eloquently and intelligently on the subject for Esquire. Here are Bateman's recent thoughts on Memorial Day.
When the guns fell silent in the Spring of 1865, they all went home. They scattered across the country, back across the devastated south and the invigorated north. Then they made love to their wives, played with their children, found new jobs or stepped back into their old ones, and in general they tried to get on with their lives. These men were no longer soldiers; they were now veterans of the Civil War, never to wear the uniform again. But before long they started noticing that things were not as they had been before.

Now, they had memories of things that they could not erase. There were the friends who were no longer there, or who were hobbling through town on one or two pegs, or who had a sleeve pinned up on their chest. There were the nights that they could not shake the feeling that something really bad was about to happen. And, aside from those who had seen what they had seen and lived that life, they came to realize that they did not have a lot of people to talk to about these things. Those who had been at home, men and women, just did not "get it." A basic tale about life in camp would need a lot of explanation, so it was frustrating even to talk. Terminology like "what is a picket line" and "what do you mean oblique order?" and a million other elements, got in the way. These were the details of a life they had lived for years but which was now suddenly so complex that they never could get the story across to those who had not been there. Many felt they just could not explain about what had happened, to them, to their friends, to the nation.

So they started to congregate. First in little groups, then in statewide assemblies, and finally in national organizations that themselves took on a life of their own.

The Mid-1860s are a key period in American history not just because of the War of Rebellion, but also because this period saw the rise of "social organizations." Fraternities, for example, exploded in the post-war period. My own, Pi Kappa Alpha, was formed partially by veterans of the Confederacy, Lee's men (yes, I know, irony alert). Many other non-academic "fraternal" organizations got their start around the same time. By the late 1860s in the north and south there was a desire to commemorate. Not to celebrate, gloat or pine, but to remember.

Individually, at different times and in different ways, these nascent veterans groups started to create days to stop and reflect. These days were not set aside to mull on a cause -- though that did happen -- but their primary purpose was to think on the sacrifices and remember those lost. Over time, as different states incorporated these ideas into statewide holidays, a sort of critical legislative mass was achieved. "Decoration Day" was born, and for a long time that was enough. The date selected was, quite deliberately, a day upon which absolutely nothing of major significance had occurred during the entire war. Nobody in the north or south could try to change it to make it a victory day. It was a day for remembering the dead through decorating their graves, and the memorials started sprouting up in every small town in the nation. You still see them today, north and south, in small towns and villages like my own home of Chagrin Falls -- granite placed there so that the nation, and their homes, should not forget the sacrifices of the men who went away on behalf of the country and never came back.

Friday, May 24, 2024

We can no longer say "the most disastrous vehicle launch since the DeLorean." We might not be able to say "since the Edsel."

You can make the case that no auto has ever achieved punchline status faster than the Cybertruck. Certainly none have ever achieved it more deservedly.

Back in Black | The Daily Show

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Deferred Tuesday Tweets -- “Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a ‘Book of Trump,’ much like it has a ‘Book of Esther’"

Some stories are just made for Pitchbot...

Weird convergence of Fox and Nate Silver/Alex Shepard/Ezra Klein

More on this from Scott Lemieux  here and here.

Elsewhere in polling news

On to politics.

The GOP continues to have a vetting problem.

Dems in relative array

As we mentioned before, a substantial part of the GOP is convinced that the Black Lives Matter protests left many if not most American cities in smoldering ruins.

A substantial number of Republicans also believe this.

You really need to watch this video. The descriptions don't do it justice.

Trump and vaccines -- something to please everybody.

Another one for our brilliant billionaires file (# lords of Ithuvania)

First and last in our Red Lobster series.

"Keep watching the skies!"

How can you tell when a word is starting to lose all meaning.

AI and tech bros

This is less a well formed line of thinking and more the sort of thing you would throw out to students to get them thinking along different lines. A Zen koan for a comp sci class.

Kinda flows naturally from the first sentence.

The history of mathematics is filled with people who obviously had too much time on their hands.

Ten years ago at the blog -- when ed reform met Peanuts

Friday, May 23, 2014

Good grief! -- Sally Brown on New Math

 I have been working on a long piece on the parallels between the New Math of the Sixties and the Common Core math of today. As part of my research, I came across an amusing quote from a Peanuts strip of the time.

From Wikipedia:

In 1965, cartoonist Charles Schulz authored a series of Peanuts strips which detailed kindergartener Sally's frustrations with New Math. In the first strip, she is depicted puzzling over "sets, one to one matching, equivalent sets, non-equivalent sets, sets of one, sets of two, renaming two, subsets, joining sets, number sentences, placeholders." Eventually she bursts into tears and exclaims, "All I want to know is, how much is two and two?"
What surprised me was how well Schulz captured the terminology. The part about one to one matching was particularly apt.

[Found it]


Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The cost of being wrong – – political polling edition

Note: in this context, when I talk about the accuracy of the polls, I mean the correlation between the election results and where the polling averages were at the time the polls were being discussed. If I write a post today and ask if the presidential polls are accurate, I mean is what we're seeing in May a good indicator of what the results will be in November.

This is what pretty much everybody means when they talk about the accuracy of the polls except for pollsters and political scientists who generally mean the correlation between the election results and what the polls will be in the final three or so weeks of the campaign. These are very different concepts often producing very different numbers and those of us who work with or talk about numbers for a living should really clean up her act on this one.

Let's start with the recent primary in Maryland.


There were some very strange things about the polling around this election and probably the election itself, but the one aspect are interested in here is how it affected the decision to do this...

I have to admit I have not read the article (my queue is full and you'll notice there's no revenue coming in from this blog) so if I'm wrong about this, please let me know in the comments, but I doubt that Trone would have spent what is for most of us a substantial fortune had the polls consistently shown him behind by 10 to 15 points instead of ahead by that margin.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the impact wasn't that big a deal one way or the other. Billionaires often spend their money on even more wasteful things. At least this stimulated the state media economy. For a case of inaccurate polling causing truly disastrous results we would need to go back about eight years.

This article by Amy Chozick is essential reading whether you're interested in the history of the 2016 election or in the workings of the New York Times. In the case of the latter, this is the most honest and unflinching writing I've seen about the paper from anyone still in its employ since they lost Margaret Sullivan.

[Emphasis added]

It’s dizzying to realize that without even knowing it, you’ve ended up on the wrong side of history. Months after the election, every time I heard the words “Russia” and “collude,” this realization swirled in my head, enveloping everything.


 Editors and reporters huddled to discuss how to handle the emails. Everyone agreed that since the emails were already out there — and of importance to voters — it was The Times’s job to “confirm” and “contextualize” them. I didn’t argue that it appeared the emails were stolen by a hostile foreign government that had staged an attack on our electoral system. I didn’t push to hold off on publishing them until we could have a less harried discussion. I didn’t raise the possibility that we’d become puppets in Vladimir Putin’s master plan. I chose the byline.


A few weeks before Election Day, I was stuck in my cubicle poring over John Podesta’s emails. I wanted to be on the road. “I just feel like the election isn’t happening in my cubicle,” I said. “But it’s over,” an editor replied, reminding me that the Times’s Upshot election model gave Mrs. Clinton a 93 percent chance of winning. The ominous “they” who would keep the glass ceiling intact didn’t look that powerful then.

We can go back and forth as to whether the polls were wrong or the NYT model was wrong (I'm inclined to say more the second than the first), but either way, if the editors and reporters at the paper had believed that Hillary Clinton had a 60% chance of winning or worse yet a 50-50 chance, it is unlikely they would have made those same decisions. As the account spells out explicitly, they knew they were at best in that ethically gray area, helping a foreign power influence a national election in exchange for revelations of limited news value. I am a bit of a cynic, especially when it comes to the New York Times, but even I don't believe they would have been so reckless had they known what they were likely to unleash.

Journalism professor and press critic Jay Rosen says reporters should focus on the the stakes of the election, not the odds, but when you focus on the odds and get them wrong, that's the worst of both worlds.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

A quick note on Ezra Klein's latest exercise in meta-panic

As previously mentioned, the definitive rebuttal to Ezra Klein's NYT opinion piece is Josh Marshall's "A Quick Survey of Numbers, Vibes and the Inner Lives of Campaigns" which actually came out two days before Klein's piece (making it technically a pre-buttal). At the risk of piling on, I am going to add a few comments starting with this.

Klein buys into the Biden is in denial narrative with the following:

From Seven Theories for Why Biden Is Losing (and What He Should Do About It)

The polls are wrong. This appears to be Biden’s view. “The polling data has been wrong all along,” he told CNN last week. Axios reports that polling denial is pervasive in Biden’s campaign.

There are two things to say about this. The first is that it’s false. Even as pundits predicted a red wave in 2022, the polls showed Republicans falling short, and they were right. “The polls were more accurate in 2022 than in any cycle since at least 1998,” FiveThirtyEight reported.

Putting aside the problems with Axios's story, there are at least three problems with this claim.

1. It ignores the clear reality of how candidates spin news. If everyone who was behind in the polls and suggested they were wrong was delusional, then the great majority of politicians of the past 75+ years were at some point mentally imbalanced.

2. The polls actually have been wrong in a substantial and consistent way regarding the primaries, particularly the performance of Nikki Haley. The NYT's own Nate Cohn actually wrote a column offering different explanations for the repeated fails. (These explanations are not aged particularly well, but that's a topic for another post)

3. And this is the biggie. The 538 link that Klein provides does not in any way support his point. Time frames matter. The 538 piece, which is quite good, clearly states they are talking about how closely the average of the final 21 days matches the actual vote. This is a very different question than do polling numbers six months away from the election correlate strongly to the final outcome. That is an answerable question and there has been some research into it, but it is not, as far as I can tell, addressed at all in this piece.

We'll come back to this later. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

Meta-panic -- intensified panic over the lack of panic in another.

This piece from Josh Marshall nicely captures the divide in what we somewhat euphemistically call the "liberal press."On one side is the meta-panic crowd, represented by people like Ezra Klein and Nate Silver, journalists and pundits equally worked up about what they see is the inevitable doom of the Biden campaign and by the fact that Biden and so many others don't actually see it is doomed. On the other side are calmer voices such as Josh Marshall and Tom Bonier who are more sanguine about how things are going, are more likely to take a holistic view of the data, and who, to be ball peen hammer blunt, tend to have a way better track record. (Obviously, I'm not playing coy about whom I'm inclined to agree with here.)

The post also serves as a remarkably effective prebuttal to the op-ed Klein published a few days later, effectively dismantling most of the NYT opinion piece's arguments days before Klein made them. Marshall comments directly on the op-ed in this Twitter thread. He was not impressed.

We'll try to say more about Klein's arguments in some future posts, but TPM is the essential read here.

 From Marshall's "A Quick Survey of Numbers, Vibes and the Inner Lives of Campaigns":

Remember that Axios piece that said Biden was in denial about his poll numbers? The idea here is that because Biden isn’t shaking up his campaign or firing his campaign manager or switching his message he’s not only behind but sleep walking toward defeat. When I saw the whole debate thing flare up yesterday it struck me as a total power move by Biden. He dared Trump to debate him. Trump quickly agreed. In principle. Then Biden said, great let’s do this CNN one. Not only a power move but Biden got Trump to agree to what is almost universally seen as a less-than-Trump-friendly format — no Fox, no audience, just the two men and two legit journalists, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.


[Jonathan Last piece in the Bulwark] is quite good. It captures the balance, the heart of it. Yes, Biden’s a bit behind. But there is a poverty to what we might call “make some changes” discourse. It’s tough running behind in a campaign. It’s tough running just a bit behind (which is the accurate characterization of this race) when the stakes are so damn high. You also want your candidate to have a good theory of the campaign and be confident in that theory. We’ve seen plenty of campaigns hit a point where they just start throwing spaghetti against the wall, seeing what will stick. A “reboot,” a “reset,” a new campaign manager. The result is almost universally ugly as fuck. You ditch your strategy for a new one. But that one doesn’t work any better. How long do you hold on to a runner-up strategy when it’s not working any better than your first choice? Probably not long. Soon you’re on to your second reboot and your third strategy and everyone inside the campaign and out knows you’re in a death spiral. It’s pretty hard to get your voters and activists and campaign workers pumped when you’re sending the signal loud and clear not only that you think you’re losing but that you’ve decided you have no idea what to do to change the situation. Like I said, a death spiral.

Sometimes you’re 10 points back a month before Election Day and your theory of the campaign hasn’t worked so … really, what the fuck else are you going to do? This is why a lot of campaigns not only lose but lose ugly. Because they’re simply out of options. And if you’re definitely losing the non-risk of losing ugly is worth taking for the slight chance you’ll happen on something that works better.

Needless to say, being a point or at most two back six months before the election is not that situation. You absolutely don’t want your campaign doubting its theory of the election or its strategy, “making changes” as they say. Especially when it is a good theory of the election (which I take to be: use key issues to consolidate fractures in the D coalition and focus everyone on the binary choice between Biden and Trump). But you do want to remain on the offensive and be on the lookout for opportunities to create moments of volatility in which existing strategies can get traction. And like Last, I think this debate move is a good example of that. Stay on offense, always on offense. Maximize the time you’re acting rather than reacting.


Friday, May 17, 2024

Things continue to heat up

This is a fairly minor turn in the ongoing New York Times saga, but it's still interesting as an indicator of just how tired of the paper of record many serious journalists have become.

Here's the tweet started it.

Astead W. Herndon is a national NYT politics reporter who has been remarkably loyal to the narrative for a long time now.

Notice what Herndon did there. He took one data source and tried to pass it off as two. The claim that voters say that age is the biggest issue is based solely on polls. Even back on February 8th, when we had actual primaries and elections, we saw no indication of that whatsoever. For the record, I'm sure he actually believes the narrative. Unfortunately, when you're talking about a dysfunctional culture, believing can be worse than lying.

But getting back to the May 14th tweet. In and of itself, a silly but hardly unexpected statement. It combines adherence to the paper's established narrative (particularly with respect to MSNBC) with the absolute conviction that the speaker is correct and that anyone who disagrees is either stupid or blinded by ideology.

What was surprising was just how out of f*cks the normally easy-going Josh Marshall and James Fallows were. I'm going to be a bit redundant here and print out the texts of the tweets just so everything will be properly displayed.

Here's Fallows:

Post below is from NYT politics reporter. Here's how "clearing the field" actually works. 

1) Both parties full of people who think they should be prez. 

2) *As soon* as any of them thinks it would pay off for them, or the party, to run against an incumbent, they do so. See: 1968 D, 1976 R, 1980 D, 1992 R. 

3) For 2024, No Dem (ex Phillips) thought this made sense. See: Newsom, Whitmer, anyone else. 

4) When an incumbent gets a serious primary challenge, THAT PARTY LOSES. See: 1968 D, 1976 R, 1980 D, 1992 R. Not proof, but a pattern. 

5) Only recent incumbent to lose *without* a serious primary challenge: Trump in 2020. 

6) Dem candidates, and Dem voters, were ones who "cleared" this field.

And Marshall:

I was chatting with a timeser recently abt some of my criticisms of the paper. And this person made some very good/fair points. But there are ears melting and being broken down to subatomic particles on other planets by the intensity of this “YOU DIDNT TAKE MY ADVICE TO HEART” primal scream. This is a straight news reporter. How can you hope to cover a race with any degree of perspective when you’re this gunned up about it? 

Also Dems cleared the field? What? You don’t clear the field for the incumbent president. That’s a deeply silly thing to say. He’s the incumbent president. There’s no field. The question is whether someone takes the inherently publicly self destructive decision to challenge the incumbent which also almost always makes it even harder for the party to win the election. Those are the reasons it almost never happens. 

How do you say something like this? How can you play football if you don’t know the ball isn’t round? 

These are really elementary things.

And of the related subject of the reaction to Joseph Kahn's dickish interview.

Having read the interview, I suspect that the person looking for the safe space was Kahn.

Lots more on this next week.