Simple answers etc etc

by Daniel on October 31, 2008

In the course of an article arguing that a large vote for Obama is not a vote for his policies (and, equally curiously, that the total and utter failure of conservative policies is not in and of itself a reason to try something else), Gerard Baker, who is to Thomas Friedman as Ricky Valance was to Richie Valens, says:

What, in these circumstances, would a scientific model predict as the winning margin for the Democratic presidential candidate: 10, 15, 20 percentage points? In fact, as of yesterday, Mr Obama seemed to have a solid but by no means overwhelming advantage of between 5 and 6 percentage points.

In fact, the Ray Fair model, with default values, predicts four points.

It is actually quite easy to look these things up you know.



arbitrista 10.31.08 at 2:48 pm


Steve LaBonne 10.31.08 at 3:12 pm

See, it’s against the “journalist” trade rules to actually look stuff up, but now maybe he can report “Daniel Davies claimed…”


Michael Drake 10.31.08 at 3:36 pm

Easier though to ask tendentious rhetorical questions.


Daniel 10.31.08 at 3:38 pm

That was the easy gotcha, but what really did astound me is that Baker seems to argue: the only reason that Obama is popular is that conservative policies have been a dreadful failure, thus he is not really popular, thus his (presumed non-conservative) policies are not really supported by the American population, thus if elected, he only has a mandate to carry out a policy agenda which is not only ex hypothesi disastrous, but (also ex hypothesi) extremely unpopular.

I do wonder – what could the American people actually do, if they wanted to convince Gerard Baker that they don’t want conservative policies? Clearly, simply saying that they don’t like them in opinion polls doesn’t work, and nor does voting for the candidate who promises to get rid of them. Do you think that boycotting Murdoch owned newspapers and sending a letter to News Corporation demanding that Gerard Baker be horsewhipped until he gets the message might work? Isn’t it at least worth a try.


J Thomas 10.31.08 at 3:55 pm

How could we get explanations about how stupid Baker’s points are, out to many of the people who read Baker and don’t think about it enough to see through it?

They’re the appropriate target audience for criticism of his reasoning, right?


MQ 10.31.08 at 3:58 pm

yeah, the Abramowitz model predicting a 10 point Democratic win seems much more correct. On the other hand, I think a major reason Obama isn’t up by 10 is that McCain is running hard away from Bush. And a 10 point Dem win on election day isn’t out of the question.

See, it’s against the “journalist” trade rules to actually look stuff up

right…no facts please, I’m a reporter!


Preachy Preach 10.31.08 at 4:12 pm

I thought you had a ‘no-US elections’ rule…


Matthew 10.31.08 at 4:14 pm

On the other hand it’s better than Melanie Phillips, who has convinced herself that the Americans are voting for marxism and capitulation to the enemy.


Lex 10.31.08 at 4:24 pm

No, Mel P is better, because reading her is more fun.

Question for those in a predictive mood – can the insanity of the wingnut commentariat grow any greater, without posing a serious danger to the stability of the body politic itself [e.g. by provoking poor saps to actually try to kill elected officials…]? Or can it achieve a steady-state derangement, where those of us with critical faculties just have to accept that our interlocutors across the proverbial aisle are not functioning on the same plane of reality, and yet life goes on?

Yes, wingnuttery has a long and ignoble history back to McCarthy and beyond, but is the intensity of circulation it achieves with modern technology propelling us to disaster, or is it all somehow survivable, no matter how bad it gets?


Righteous Bubba 10.31.08 at 4:47 pm

On the other hand it’s better than Melanie Phillips, who has convinced herself that the Americans are voting for marxism and capitulation to the enemy.

Encourage it. It’s self-marginalization.


Jeff Rubard 10.31.08 at 7:18 pm

I never did grow up to be a social scientist, but let me ask a question of the assembled ones: probabilistically speaking WTF was up with 2000 and 2004, and similar elections like 1960 and 1968 where victory margins in the popular vote were razor-thin? On the face of it, it seems exceptionally implausible that a country of hundreds of millions of people should have elections “decided” by hundreds of thousands: how evenly matched can two people, or the party machines behind them, be in the eyes of the American public? Perhaps there is some very good game-theoretic reason why this is so, but I’d tend to attribute it (as has historically been done) to ahem-structural features of US elections.


Jeff Rubard 10.31.08 at 7:41 pm

To give just one piece, I think we can all agree Coca-Cola and Pepsi products are substantially similar, yet we have our preferences (the *Coke* mythology with Santa Claus, buying the world a, etc. enthuses me and I think I like the taste better). With that in mind, consider that Coca-Cola products hold 42% of the world market share and Pepsi 31%. Curiously enough, before the 2008 election registration push — largely favoring Democrats — the Democrats had 42 million registered voters and the Republicans 31 million nationwide.

Even if we account for the “independents” we just just must must let vote in primaries leaning rightward, and Americans favoring a Caesarist executive acting as a “check” on Congress over a party’s controlling both Congress and the executive, that’s a lot to make up for: Obama’s many strengths and symbolic value hardly would make life easier for Republicans trying to win the presidency fair and square. Basically, as far as I can see the only option left is for the for-real billionaires for Bush and their conservative cronies trying their hand at “urban theater” (vote suppression, inciting race riots, red-baiting).

Really, when it comes down to it the younger Nixon was right: a close election is a stolen one.


Jake 10.31.08 at 8:08 pm

US presidential elections are two-party, winner-take-all. There’s a strong incentive for the trailing candidate to change his unpopular positions to make the race closer.


Jaybird 10.31.08 at 8:13 pm

Here’s how crazy I am:

When I read “that the total and utter failure of conservative policies”, I found myself wondering what those conservative policies, in fact, were.

Foreign intervention? Arguably not terribly conservative.
Increasing the size of government? Arguably not terribly conservative.
Increasing spending in the guise of “compassionate conservativism”? Arguably not terribly conservative.

As a matter of fact, I’d say that the Republicans who have been defending Bush for the last 8 years will probably start feeling like the Democrats felt about Clinton in the final days.

“Holy crap, this guy was the best (other party) President since (Eisenhower/FDR)!”


Bruce Baugh 11.01.08 at 1:46 am

Jeff@11: Well, in 2000 and 2004 the elections followed rounds of massive, deceitful purging of voting rolls, adding up to hundreds of thousands or millions of people being wrongfully denied their votes. So no, it really wasn’t that close if you look at what would have happened in minimally competent and fair elections. (The US fails to meet the standards the UN applies in election oversight, several ways.) And 2008 is more of the same. As long as the Democratic leadership lets Republicans get away with it, it’ll be standard practice, apparently.


DRR 11.01.08 at 10:35 am

The welfare state in the UK seems much bigger and more extensive in the UK than in the US. Egalitarian concerns seem a much bigger deal in the politics there than stateside & to my view the median Republican congresscritter would come off like an absolute nutter if he were running on the same platform in the UK as he does in South Carolina every two years. Why are UK conservatives, considering the structure of their own state, so worried about the supposedly socialist implications of the very cautious Obama platform and do UK conservatives really view their American counterparts as kindred spirits?


nick s 11.01.08 at 6:28 pm

I’ve seen the ‘so, why isn’t Obama leading in the polls by 20 points?’ line from a number of right-wing sources, without a retroactive apology for treating, say, GW Bush’s 2004 victory as an overwhelming popular mandate.

Gerard Baker may well be too dense to appreciate that a 53-47 popular vote spread generally makes the electoral college map look like this.

I do wonder – what could the American people actually do, if they wanted to convince Gerard Baker that they don’t want conservative policies?

Move en masse to Canada France Norway.

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