Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wisconsin and many reasons

In social science we recognize that there is more than one reason that explains social phenomena. It is the one good impulse behind the complicated models we use in academic writing to try to prove a particular hypothesis, but leaves most people out of the conversation. This is a frequent complaint we hear that our journals are too mathematically oriented and don't address real world concerns. But like with many bad ideas, there is more than a grain of truth in the premise. There is no direct cause and effect that makes one thing the true answer. It is many things.

So why did Hillary Clinton lose Wisconsin to Donald Trump (by a skinny 27,000 votes)? There are most likely many reasons. First and foremost, the decline in voter turnout. As of today the total vote cast in Wisconsin is down 120,000 votes from 2012. Based on Dave Wasserman's vote count total (which seems very comprehensive) and state archives, that decline is almost all explained by the reduction in the Clinton vote from where Barack Obama stood in 2012. Obama 1.62 Million in 2012 and Clinton 1.382 Million while the Romney to Trump vote was down only 5000.

In Milwaukee county alone the turnout was down 52,000 votes from 2012 and there is a great explanation of most all of Clinton's loss of 27,000 statewide. However, in Dane County (home to Madison) the vote total was about the same as in 2012 and Clinton actually performed a small amount better than Obama (2000 votes) and overall turnout was up 6000 plus. Clinton also did a small amount better than Obama in suburban Waukesha County (where she and other democrats do poorly but still) while Trump was down 20,000 votes from Romney's total four years earlier. In fact, across the three counties Clinton's margin increased over Obama's by 20,000 (245,811 from 225,425).

So the rest of the state must have been a disaster. And it was. Compare the 2012 map with the 2016 map and you can easily see the wave of red that took over other counties in the state. So the question is still why? The mix of answers that we have seen across the flipped states probably apply ... voter suppression (a form of racism), the impulse for change, poor campaign messaging and tactics (for the region), the email nonsense, sexism and general lack of enthusiasm for the candidates. In order to address these issues the Democratic Party should take the time in 2017 to go talk to voters in the flipped counties and get a sense for what is on their minds. This is critical to mount a comeback at the state and local level in 2018.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What happened in Michigan?

Michigan, like some hanging chad from an earlier election, has yet to be called by the AP and other news organizations. In the midst of the Electoral College upset on Tuesday, I went looking deeper into the numbers there to see if there were simple answers as to why Trump carried Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and perhaps Michigan (given that the re-canvas may change the results but it won't change the overall outcome of the election).

Critical to Democratic chances in Michigan is a strong showing in Wayne County that includes Detroit. There the obvious problem was a decline in voter turnout since 2012 where total votes cast went from 820,654 down to 779,971. Moreover, the Obama total of 595,846 slid to 517,447. Some have focused on the growth in Green Party vote in the state as a problem but I find that to be a thoroughly weak minded argument. The fact is that in Wayne County the Clinton vote was down 78,000 votes from the Obama total and Stein only received 5,000 more votes there. Moreover, the Libertarian Party (who wasn't on the ballot in 2012) received 18,753 votes way up from the scattering of write-ins they received in 2012. But the total write-ins also went up this year to 5.545. As did the blanks (meaning ballots that had no preference) which increase three-fold to 5,687. Finally the Trump vote increased over Romney by 15,000. All told the Clinton vote in Wayne was 66% of the true total (include blanks) down from 72 % in 2012 of the true total.

So most of Clinton's loss was a decline in turnout, increase in Trump support over Romney and a softness in the Clinton vote in all possible categories ... blanks, write-ins, alternative candidates. So why did this happen. Well, a good authority would be Wayne County Member of Congress Debbie Dingell of the long-time political dynasty in the area. Her Washington Post op-ed tells a tale of ignored working class voters that doomed the campaign. The punchline for the Michigan analysis is that overall turnout in Michigan was up in 2016 from 2012. There were over 92,000 more voters statewide casting ballots. The Clinton total was down over 300,000 from Obama. This wasn't an issue of third parties. Over 87,000 people took a ballot and didn't vote for President in Michigan. It was an issue of not running a campaign that got people's attention and made them feel that you were on their side. This is the inescapable conclusion. More on what that meant in coming days.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The greatest mystery franchise of our time

Tonight is the end of the chapter for Inspector Lewis. It has been terrific to spend some time with Lewis and Hathaway this summer, especially since their original intention was to end the series in 2014 (at least in the US). The Morse franchise has extended since 1987 and Kevin Whatley has spanned two of the entries. He will be missed but the time has probably come. Like Ian Rankin’s Rebus, the real-world does call for retirement at some point. And tonight Inspector Lewis will leave the Thames Valley PD. Having read every world written by Colin Dexter, I have had these characters as old friends for over 30 years.

What makes this franchise so special is the loving kindness shown by the author, producers, actors and fans to each other. When John Thaw was nearing his end from cancer, Colin Dexter wrote the death of Inspector Morse because he could not see his character live past that of his human incarnation. In fact Dexter has prevented the original Morse from ever being revived now that Thaw has passed. The books were clever and Dexter created a character right from the tradition of Hammett and Chandler. But Morse was not just a hard drinking detective, he was an intellectual frequently doing crosswords and listening to Opera. Morse had the difficult life of one who say through the clutter to cut to the heart of the dirty secrets kept by those who did wrong, frequently murder. It was left to Robbie Lewis to maintain the family and live in the “regular world”.

The connection is shown in smaller ways that fans can appreciate. In the third installment of the series, the prequel Endeavour, Thaw’s daughter Abigail plays a newspaper editor that maintains an easy friendship with the young Morse. In Shaun Evans’ Endeavour one sees the heart of Morse; alone, misunderstood, brainy, artistic and committed to the work of clearing mysteries. It is possible that the franchise can move forward based on Hathaway played by Laurence Fox. Dexter himself at age 85 is still consulting on Endeavour and why not more? If it could continue with the same kind of respect for the origins … no easy stories with all the complexity and subtlety of great mysteries. That would make for more great Sunday nights.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Oh my word pundits are fools

One of the themes that is emerging in the last half of the delegate selection process on the Democratic side is the open versus closed state issue. The statement goes something like this ... "Bernie Sanders has done well with independents in open primaries but in New York there is a closed primary where only Democrats can vote and that will help Hillary Clinton". Except the premise is totally wrong because voters are a bit smarter than pundits give them credit for ...

New York State Dem Enrollment ... 5.2 Million
New York State Repub Enrollment ... 2.7 Million
New York State Indepen Enrollment ... 475 Thousand


Massachusetts Dem Enrollment ... 1.5 Million
Massachusetts Repub Enrollment ... 468 Thousand
Massachusetts Indepen Enrollment ... 2.27 Million (technically called Unenrolled in either)

See the difference? In New York where Independents can't vote in primaries almost nobody enrolls as an Independent. In Massachusetts where you can vote in either primary tons of folks register that way even if they have a leaning or commitment to one party or another.

Institutional structures matter. Apparently not to pundits however.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why Pundits are always wrong

As I write the voters of New Hampshire are voting in the first real primary of the season (though the Republican system in Iowa is pretty close) and the pundits are hard at work predicting meaning at an uncertain outcome. On the Republican side the race has been fairly well conceded to Donald Trump even though he does not have the sort of on the ground organization that is usually associated with victory in New Hampshire. The issue that the pundits want to speculate on is who comes in second, third, fourth, whatever. And then attach significance to the order of finish even though in a country with a general election electorate of 130 Million voters the difference between second and fourth is minuscule.

On the Democratic side the issue has been conceded to Bernie Sanders and the pundits are trying to set a standard that he must win by double digits to "meet" expectations. This of course is absurd as this is the first real vote where they are getting counted (as opposed to the fiasco in Iowa where by definition nobody knows who actually corralled the most people at the polls) so in a two way race it is usually fairly clear who gets the most votes and the most delegates. In this case a win should be  win.

But what is the importance of the win? Small. As the nominating process is long and complicated and has barely begun. Primaries and Caucuses will stretch into the late Spring even though a huge chunk of delegates is selected by mid March. What will winnow the Republican field? When the money dries up for the respective candidates. Those that have a well funded superpac can go a distance into the schedule. Typically it is when the donor money disappears that candidates "suspend" their campaigns and try to balance their books. If the suppress is funded, well then they can keep going.

What should pundits look for in the returns beyond who is winning and losing? The total vote in the respective primaries. Compare the D's to 2008 (288K) when the total vote climbed significantly over 2004 (220K). For the R's against 2008 and 2012. In 2008 the R turnout was 239K. In 2012 it was 248K. So in neither 2008 or 2012 did the Republican vote total reach that of the Democratic total in 2008. Significantly, President Obama carried the state both times. Which party has more excitement this time? There are 882K total voters so well over 50% participate and the Secretary of State is predicting 231 K for the Dems and 262K for the Reps. Let's hope he is wrong.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How the Iowa Caucus is like Major League Baseball

Institutional arrangements matter and in turn they help us predict and understand outcomes of policy and elections. In the case of the upcoming Iowa caucus those rules vary between the parties and one must wonder if those important differences are too complex for the accompanying media narrative. So like Major League Baseball the two parties/leagues have different rules (thinking designated hitter here).

In Iowa on the democratic side the caucus is a caucus. Participants gather and listen to people give brief talks on behalf of the various candidates and then huddle in corners for their respective candidates. The goal is to elect delegates to a county caucus as the first step in the process of selecting national convention delegates, a process that won't be completed for several months. All indications are that the number of people attending the caucus will be pretty evenly split between Sanders and Clinton with almost nobody caucusing for former Governor O'Malley. This is critical as to have a viable group to elect a delegate(s) to the county convention you must have at least 15% of the attendees of your precinct in your group. As O'Malley is polling at less than 5% he will have very few precincts where his supporters make a group above the threshold. In a close race it could be determinant as to where his supporters go ... Of course there is the option of going home or being in a larger uncommitted group. But there are always rumors of deals among the campaigns ... Say like if you support Sanders to help him win the precinct his supporters will elect your folks to the county convention.

The fascinating question is always which set of numbers will the press use to create the narrative? Is it caucus goers when they huddle or the results of delegate elections? Here are figures from The New York Times in 2008 where the results were results as state convention equivalents. This style of reporting basically eliminates less popular candidates. (The candidates not Obama, Edwards or Clinton split 3.1%.)

On the Republican side the caucus has an additional step. When caucus goers arrive they participate in a straw poll which allows them to indicate their first choice preference.In the same Times link they were indicated for the Republicans. Note for example, eventual nominee John McCain came in fourth with 13.1%. If the results were reported based on state delegate equivalents elected (like in the Democratic race) then McCain would have faired worse as he might have not been viable in half the locations. Would that weak of a showing enabled McCain to win the New Hampshire primary shortly thereafter?

These rules have an impact on tactics, spin and reporting. In the end one must remember that the Iowa event is not an election it is by design a gathering of the hard core party faithful, a party possibly crashed by newly enthusiastic "outsiders". The final Des Moines Register poll is out and the trend continues as described above. Trump leading Cruz for the R's and Clinton with a slight lead over Sanders for the D's. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

GE is coming to Boston and it is a very bad deal

It was announced today that General Electric picked Boston as the site for a new corporate headquarters fleeing its long time base in Fairfield County, CT. While the final site has not been picked it looks like there are two contenders in the Seaport District of Boston. So the irony is that they probably picked the only other spot in New England where property values are as high as Fairfield County. So it is not surprising that along with the announcement came word that the City of Boston and Commonwealth of Massachusetts are promising tax incentives of up to $150 Million dollars over some period of time (probably 20 years) to sweeten the pot.

graphic from Citizens for Tax Justice

Keep in mind that this is the same GE, one of the largest firms by market value in the US, which had over $90 Billion in cash at the end of 2014. And now they must get millions of dollars per year to relocate to one of the hottest commercial and residential neighborhoods in North America. There is no way that these incentives will ever be worth the money payed out to this firm. While Boston is chronically underfunding its schools and Massachusetts is looking at a billion dollar hole for next year's budget it might make more sense for GE to be giving money to the government. The only hope is that since GE doesn't really deign to pay state taxes anyway so that the incentives which are based on state income taxes won't ever be used. That leaves Boston holding the bag for the property taxes forgiven as part of the horrendous TIF.

As I will have a longer piece coming soon to this point I won't belabor it here but these incentives are most effective at making politicians look good in the face of weak coordination of job and workforce development efforts. Smiling and holding a big pair of scissors is good for big votes. It is not good for public finances or public policy.