Saturday, May 28, 2016

Third party chances? None.

Despite the hyperventilating among the punditocracy, there’s a simple fact about the US election this year: The next president will be either the Republican nominee or the Democratic nominee. This is because it’s impossible for a third-party or independent candidate to win, so any vote for them is only a protest vote. This is especially relevant for disaffected Republicans and rigid supporters of Bernie Sanders.

The first barrier to a non-Democratic and non-Republican challenger is ballot access. The process by which third-party and independent candidates get on the ballot is determined by state law, and those laws vary widely from state to state. As a result, the only candidates who will be on the ballot in all 50 states and Washingon, DC are the Democratic and Republican nominees. This gives them a head start in the battle to win the 270 Electoral Votes needed to become president.

The second barrier is that all but two states allocate their Electoral Votes on a winner takes all basis. That means that whichever candidate has the most votes wins ALL the state’s electoral votes (except for Maine and Nebraska). To do so, a candidate needs to win only a plurality of votes in a state—one vote more than the second highest polling candidate—and not an outright majority. The more candidates are on the ballot, the easier this becomes, but that still favours the two dominant parties because have the most money to spend on promotion and get the most (well, all, actually…) of the mass-market news media’s attention. This is also why it makes no difference how high a third party candidate is polling nationally—all that matters is if they’re polling high enough in enough states to win enough states to get a total of 270 Electoral Votes, or if they can at least come in third, should no candidate reach 270. More about that later.

Third, with limited ballot access, the need to win more votes than any other party, and the tendency of the news media and voters alike to focus only on the two dominant parties, third parties and independent candidates have no chance.

Two third parties—the Green Party and the Libertarian Party—are courting Bernie Sanders’ supporters and the Libertarians are also courting disaffected Republicans. I’ll look at whether that’s realistic later, but right now, let’s look at the problems faced by those two parties, the biggest alternatives to the Republicans and Democrats.

Ballot access first: According to Wikipedia—which had the only comprehensive list I could find—neither the Green Party nor the Libertarian Party is in a position to win the election outright.

At the moment, the Green Party is on the ballot in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Washington D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin (21 states and DC). Together, that adds up to 296 electoral votes out of 538. Since 270 is needed to win, that may look promising. However, look at that list again, and notice how many of those states the party stands zero chance of winning. In fact, in most of them they’re likely to get a tiny percentage of the popular vote, and in none of them will they be able to come ahead of both the Democratic and Republican parties—and the Libertarian Party.

In 2012, the Green Party was on the ballot in 38 states and DC, meaning that 83.1% of voters saw them on their ballots. Yet the party received only 0.36% of the popular vote nationwide, and was behind the Libertarian Party nearly everywhere. In sum, the Green Party wasn’t a threat to the two main parties—or even the Libertarian Party—in any state.

The Libertarian Party is in a better position—kind of. The party’s on the ballot in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming (32 states and DC). Together, that adds up to 335 electoral votes out of 538. However, their odds are no better than the Greens’.

In 2012, the party was on the ballot in 48 states and DC, and 95.1% of US voters saw the party on their ballots. Even so, the party still only managed 0.99% of the popular vote nationwide, an extremely distant third to the two main parties. In sum, the Libertarian Party also wasn’t a threat to the two main parties in any state.

This year, it seems likely that the nominees of the two minor parties will be the same as in 2012, not that most US voters would know that, of course. Still, with some Republicans in the “Never Trump” camp, and some of Sanders’ most fervent fans pledging “Bernie or bust”, could this be the year that a third party makes a difference?

Of course not.

As we’ve seen, the two largest third parties have been little more than footnotes. Some Republican voters may vote Libertarian, and some of Bernie’s may vote Green, but there are unlikely to be enough to make a difference in any state, and they’d need to win in many states to win the presidency. Time and time again, despite what they claim at the end of the nomination process, US voters divide up among the two main parties or staying home, and there’s nothing—yet—to indicate that this year will be any different.

Besides, apart from voting against the candidate who beat the party candidate they preferred to see nominated, what do the two main alternative parties offer to disaffected partisans? Not a lot.

In my view, only the Green Party is a logical fit for Bernie’s most fervent fans because it’s mostly leftist on both social and economic issues. The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, is conservative on economic issues and merely similar to liberals on some social issues, like marriage equality and abortion, but only because they think the government has no right to be involved (but private businesses can do and discriminate as they please, which liberals disagree with). Because Sanders’ entire campaign has been focused on economic issues, I simply cannot see his most fervent fans going for a candidate who’s far more conservative on economic issues, even if there could be a little overlap here and there.

For Republicans, it’s even more complicated. They could be drawn to the conservative economic policies of the Libertarian Party, but its position that government mustn’t forbid abortions or prevent gay couples being married or transgender people from using the correct public toilets in government buildings would leave many Republicans—especially the fervent fans of any of the “Christian” candidates—pretty hostile to the party (especially the fact it doesn't want to outlaw all abortions as the Republican Party does). So, the only Republicans who might vote Libertarian are those who are most “moderate”, so called, and not the base of the party or even necessarily a large number of voters.

Of the two camps, it’s much more likely that disaffected Sanders supporters would vote Green than that most anti-Drumpf Republicans would vote Libertarian. It’s more likely that such Republicans will hold their noses and vote Republican (most likely, in my opinion), anyway, or simply stay home. At the moment, it looks like what Sanders’ most fervent fans would do is a toss-up between voting Green or staying home. Sanders’ more pragmatic supporters would be the most likely to hold their noses and vote for Clinton as a realistic and utilitarian way of stopping Drumpf and the Republicans—or they’ll stay home rather than actively helping Drumpf win.

But, let’s play a wild fantasy game here, and let’s say that either or both third parties DO somehow pull off a miracle and win a state or two. Let’s also pretend that they were really big states, or maybe even that they won several smaller one so that together the third parties kept either major party candidate from getting the 270 Electoral Needed. What then?

The US Constitution’s 12th Amendment happens: If no candidate receives 270 Electoral Votes for president, then the House of Representatives chooses the president among the top three highest polling candidates. Each state delegation casts only one vote, and the winning candidate must receive a majority—26 of the 50 states (the District of Columbia doesn’t get a vote). This can continue for many ballots.

This happened under the 12th Amendment only once, in 1825, though in 1801 it happened under the old rules of Article II, Section 1, Clause 3, and that took 36 ballots. In both cases, politics played a role in who the House selected, and it certainly would now.

Similarly, if no vice president candidate receives a majority—and, since the president and vice president run as a team, if one doesn’t have a majority, neither will the other one—then the Senate chooses the vice president. Unlike the House, each Senator has a vote (again, DC gets no vote).

This matters because if the House is deadlocked and hasn’t chosen a president by Inauguration Day, then the Vice President chosen by the Senate is sworn in as Acting President. If neither chamber chooses someone by Inauguration Day, then the Speaker of the House becomes Acting President until one chamber or the other finally selects someone. This has never happened.

Here’s how this all works, using the current Congress as an example: Republicans control the House 246 to 188, and so, a majority of the state delegations. That matters because we have to assume that the state delegations would vote along party lines to select their state’s choice, since both sides would want a president of their own party (and, besides: When are they ever NOT partisan?! Moreover, the two times the House selected the president, it was highly political). So, if the current US House considered the results, Drumpf would win 34 to 13 (three states have evenly split delegations, but they wouldn't change the outcome if they decided on one party or the other). Similarly, Republicans control the current Senate 54 to 44, so the Republican vice presidential nominee, whoever he is, would be chosen.

However, because of the Twentieth Amendment, the new Congress would decide who was president, and there’s absolutely no way this far out to guess what the shape of the new Congress would be; the example here is for illustrative purposes only. However, if Democrats do well enough to completely change the partisan makeup of the House (especially) and Senate, then it’s unlikely that they’d fail to win the Electoral College vote.

So, due to the structure set up under the US Constitution, the difficulty for third parties to get on state ballots, the lack of attention they get from the news media, and the fact that they need to beat all the other parties in enough states to win 270 Electoral Votes, no third party candidate can be elected president. The ABSOLUTE best they could hope for is to come in third and win enough Electoral Votes to put the choice to the US House. But, since Congress is controlled by the two main parties, it’s pretty clear that no matter what happens, the next president will be either the Republican nominee or the Democratic nominee.

This system—which, though modified, is more than 200 years old—has become a barrier to electoral change, and skews the results to ensure the two main parties are entrenched. REAL reform is needed, but that’s a big subject in itself. The important thing about that for this post is that without real reform, the current reality cannot change, and the next president will be the Republican or the Democrat. There is no chance a third party will win the presidency.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What next?

It’s official: Donald Drumpf today acquired enough delegates to become the Republican Party’s official nominee for US President. From the very beginning, pundits and political insiders were writing him off, and they continue to do so, though not with quite as much certainty or laughter as they did when he first announced. This is wise: “The Hair” may actually become president—that’s actual president, not some silly TV role.

Many people—Democrats and even many Republicans—see the importance of defeating Drumpf in November. Well, MOST Democrats—there are still some who inexplicably claim it doesn’t matter, which is high on the list of the most absurd nonsense I’ve heard in the 40 years I’ve been involved in politics.

The Democratic Party itself, meanwhile, though still in the midst of a nomination process grinding down to its inevitable conclusion, is trying to focus attention on stopping Drumpf. The graphic above was part of an email I received today from the Democratic National Committee urging people to donate to the party’s Stop Trump Fund, which is, of course, a donation to the DNC’s campaign efforts. The Democrats also have a page for Democrats living outside the USA, since US Federal law has all sorts of rules about who can donate and how, and there are special procedures for US citizens living overseas who want to contribute.

It’s a good idea to get a head start on fundraising, since it’ll take a LOT of money to defeat Drumpf and the billionaires who will use their SuperPACs to try and help him win. And, of course, there’s control of the US Congress at stake, which is every bit as important as keeping Drumpf FAR away from the presidency.

The coming campaign will be expensive, and it will get very nasty. At this point, there’s no way to know who all that will benefit the most, but it’s important to remember that Drumpf has gotten to be the Republican nomination through unrelenting nastiness, and he’s been rewarded for it. Republicans also have a huge money advantage, so if the US news media continues to give Drumpf free and largely uncritical coverage, then Hillary Clinton will have huge barriers to overcome.

But all that’s still come. Right now, it’s important to commit to stopping Drumpf, and donations to help stop him will be money well spent. That, and voting to ensure his defeat, of course.

And successfully defeating Drumpf is what’s next.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tooth Tales: My majesty

I now have a crown—but I’m not one to stand on formality, so you need not address me as “your majesty”; simply “majesty” will do. Well, a little levity brightens most situations, and this was one that needed brightening. But, I got there in the end.

I had my first of two (expensive) periodontal treatments last Friday, and it went well, all things considered. As usual, I didn't feel the anaesthetic being injected, however, the pocket he was working on was quite deep and at several points I did feel it—very much. He noticed and asked if I wanted more pain relief. But, I reasoned (hoped?) it didn’t have much longer to go, and I declined.

To access the tooth properly, he needed to remove the temporary crown, which snapped in half. This was actually a good thing because it meant that he couldn’t reattach it, and that would mean my gums would have a chance to heal a bit before the permanent crown was put in. That’s important, I learned, because the cement can be forced down into the pocket, which isn’t good. He said it would be good if I could leave the temporary crown off until Monday at the earliest, or even all week if I could stand it.

After he was done, I asked why this kept happening. “My dental hygiene is the best it’s ever been,” I said. He agreed it was good, and said that he could see by looking at most of my teeth that was the case. However, he added that when there are deep pockets involved, as I have had, they usually need treatment again and again.

This was good news to me. Yes, I could do without the (expensive) periodontal treatments every 12-18 months, but the important thing to me is that it’s not due to a failing on my part. Sure, arguably, past failings are at least part of the reason I have to go through this, but the important thing to me now (since I can’t change the past) is that my efforts to fix things and prevent further damage are paying off. That made me very happy.

Today was the appointment for my coronation, and last night when I went to bed, I was feeling pretty good. But when I woke up around 6 this morning, I felt really bad again, and even considered ringing up to reschedule. However, I couldn’t do that until 8:30 or 9, and by then I was feeling okay.

This was good, because I really didn’t want to delay the appointment: I’d had temperature sensitivity, particularly to cold, and that was kind of painful. Plus, I didn’t feel I could properly clean my teeth in that part of my mouth.

So, off I went and got there a few minute early. Once in the chair, the dentist showed me the crown. I’d never seen one before, and since maybe you haven’t either, I’ll say that underneath it’s a metal cap that’s cemented onto the “platform” of the old tooth (basically, the tooth ground down). On the top and sides of the cap is porcelain (you choose the precise colour to best match the rest of your teeth).

The dentist first cleaned the platform, which involved air (cold—that hurt) and also a little work with the handset to remove the old cement. That part didn’t hurt, but the cold water from the handset did, as did the cold air across the platform caused by the suction device.

Next, he did a sort of dry fit, checked my bite and took some x-rays. He removed the crown, made the platform clean and dry (air again, which hurt again), then put in the cement and put the crown on. This required some pressure, which didn’t hurt, but was a bit uncomfortable.

Once the cement had set enough, he cleaned up around it—the drill thing, which didn’t hurt, but the cold water did hurt a little (less so now that the platform was covered). Finally, he took more x-rays and then cleaned up the cement under the gumline with the handset thing, and a lot of that hurt, particularly as he had to go down the root to get it all.

All of this was without anaesthetic. The plus side was, I didn’t need to wait for anything to wear off, but the downside was I immediately felt the discomfort I feel when the anaesthetic wears off. All that pressure pushing the crown in place, all that pain from temperature sensitivity, and the pain from the grinding under the gumline left that tooth really sore.

I had to wait a half hour before I could drink anything, so I picked a few things up from the grocery store, and by the time I got home, the half hour was up. So, I took Maxigesic and in about 20 minutes or so, I felt okay again—the pain was gone. I also took Maxigesic after my periodontal treatment, but that was after the anaesthetic wore off, so the discomfort sort of snuck up on me.

Some hours later, I needed another dose of Maxigesic, but other than that I haven’t had any problems—well, apart from my cold making me feel icky again.

I go for my second of (expensive) periodontal treatment a week from today, on the other side of my lower jaw. Sometime after that, I can go back to the orthodontist to have the mould done again, and we can re-start that process. That will depend, in part, on when I can get an appointment.

The other crowns I need—two or three more—will wait until after the orthodontic programme is complete, at which time the dentist will do any crowns and veneers I may need, because by waiting they can get the best possible alignment. But, at the moment, I’m not scheduled to see the dentist for a year, and then just for a check-up.

So, this detour on the journey has been a royal pain, but I’ll soon move back onto the main path. The story continues.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

The NZ Budget 2016

NZ Labour Party budget meme.
Today John Key’s government released the latest New Zealand Budget. Yawn. It’s the budget of a government that’s tired, arrogant, and totally out of ideas. This budget was in many ways John Key’s government giving New Zealand the middle finger.

I can’t remember often saying this, but NZ First Leader Winston Peters is right: This is the “get stuffed budget”. And while the cultural reference is overly dated, Greens Male Co-Leader James Shaw was right when he said, "This government is the political equivalent of Milli Vanilli—lip synching when they should be leading."

Labour Party Leader Andrew Little pointed out the weaknesses in the budget, not just on housing, but also on health. Despite the big numbers announced, the actual increase in health spending is, basically, nothing, since the increase won’t even keep pace with increasing costs and demand. Andrew Little put it well: "More New Zealanders will wind up in greater pain for a lot longer."

But it is on housing where the government is dramatically out of touch. When increasing numbers of people are living in the cars or garages because they can’t afford housing, most thoughtful people would call that a crisis—but not John Key and his subordinates in Cabinet. They’ve all agreed to spin it by only using the word “challenge” instead of crisis because, obviously, the correct word—crisis—shows how incompetent John Key and National are. Even Paula Bennett was publicly caught pivoting her spin to match up with National Party directive.

John Key and National have not increased housing supply, and haven’t even made up for the state houses they sold off. They’ve utterly failed to reduce demand, flat out rejecting the single most common sense approach yet proposed, namely, to limit the purchase of residential property to only those resident in New Zealand. Instead, John Key and National are threatening local councils—Auckland Council in particular—to open up more land for sprawling housing devlopments or face having John Key and National passing new laws to force them to allow virtually unchecked urban sprawl.

But, that’s their sole incompetent response to the housing crisis—sorry! I meant to say challenge! And National’s fetish for urban sprawl will cost Aucklanders: Auckland Council estimates that expanding urban sprawl will cost $17 BILLION dollars over 30 years for service infrastructure, but John Key doesn't care that Auckland ratepayers will have to pay that cost through higher rates.

But, that's the story for this year. Next year is an election year, and John Key and National will spring all sorts of surprises in the 2017 Budget. That figures. This year’s budget offers nothing to ordinary New Zealanders, and with no new ideas left, they’ll have to try and bribe New Zealand voters—next year.

This year, though, we got nothin’.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Here I go again

I have a cold. Or, something. All I know for sure is that I feel yucky. I should have seen it coming.

Sunday night, I slept some nine hours—nearly ten—which is unusual in itself. But when I did wake up, I struggled to become fully awake, and the rest of the day I had a real lack of energy.

Last night, it was nearly nine hours, with the same slow start and lack of energy, only my low energy levels were even worse. And then it changed.

Sometime late this afternoon, I was aware that my throat felt hot, and I was starting to feel cold-like. By evening, I was coughing and my thoat was becoming sore. And now, it seems, I’m starting to sneeze, too. Great!

Nigel started this affliction yesterday, so I’m tracking about a day behind. I think we were both exposed to a virus over the weekend, and mine just took a little longer to incubate.

In addition to the unexplained tiredness, this would also seem to be why I couldn’t quite concentrate well enough to successfully write the blog posts I wanted to do yesterday or today. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

If the words still won’t flow tomorrow, maybe I can at least do research for ones I want to do. And, there are always videos I’d to share…


The photo up top is my own, and I first used it last year, when I also had a cold.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Men’s body issues

Men have issues with their bodies every bit as much as women do, but it’s still not really okay to talk much about it. The video above (some language NSFW) explores some of that, and possible ways forward. But talking about the issue is a good first step.

In this video, BuzzFeed’s “The Try Guys” try to recreate photos of famous, good-looking men, when their own bodies are nothing like those they’re imitating. Photoshop turns them into the men like those they’re copying, with surprising results.

The first part of the video, where the guys talk about the issues they have with their bodies, shares common attitudes that men (and women) have toward their bodies, namely, that they’re not “good enough” as compared to some supposed “ideal” body type. Those ideals bombard us constantly through visual media—television, movies, print ads, etc.—and are often themselves Photoshopped to make the bodies in the final photos both unreal and unrealistic.

The end part, when the guys see their Photoshopped selves, was especially interesting. For example, the fact that Eugene looks at an idealised version of himself and still thinks his stomach looks fat.

Body dismorphia is a relatively common condition in which a person goes to sometimes extraordinary lengths to hide or change some perceived “defect” in their appearance. For most people, though, strategies involve simple measures, like Keith wearing sleeves down to his elbows. It becomes a problem when the strategies interfere with one’s life or happiness, or become an obsession.

For most of us, the things we don’t like about our bodies aren’t always at the front of our minds, and are only an issue when, for some reason, we’re confronted by the thing we don't like. For example, I’ve written several times about how much I’ve hated my smile, but I only actually thought about it when I looked in the mirror or saw a photo of myself smiling.

Ironically, it was only when I started to take steps to fix my smile that I became more obsessive about it. Now, I seldom smile showing my teeth, and it’s even the real reason I stopped making YouTube videos: I realised that sooner or later I’d be making a video that I’d need to be in, especially because I wanted to make some in which I interviewed others (although, I worked out ways I could make such videos without me actually being in them—that’s a coping strategy).

I have some common body issues, too, like that I’m too fat and not muscular enough, or have “defective” body parts, but none of that affects my life—apart, maybe, from feeling more comfortable in looser clothes, even though I know intellectually that dressing that way doesn’t make one look thinner. I use humour as a deflection, too. The point is, one has coping stretgies to deal with what we don’t like.

What I don’t think is particularly helpful is to tell people that they just need to love themselves as they are. Well, of course they should—duh!—but saying that and knowing it are FAR easier than living it. The problem is that despite the well-meaning admonition to love ourselves as we are, and the knowledge that this is what we really should do, we have whole industries fighting against us.

First, and most often talked about, is popular culture constantly bombarding us with perfect—and, for most us, perfectly unattainable—body types. There’s been a move to get women’s fashion magazines to stop using skinny and Photoshopped models because of the harm it does, especially to young girls. I think that’s a great goal, but should be extended to imagery of men, too.

Another way we get messages about how our bodies are all wrong is through doctors. Many of us go to the doctor and they tell us we need to lose weight, we need to eat better, and we need to exercise more. Well, who doesn’t know all that?! Most of us fail at one or all of those things sometimes or always, and a trip to the doctor becomes just another opportunity to feel bad about our bodies and ourselves.

Doctors should focus less on the obvious things we all know too damn well, and more on being encouraging, especially of small—even tiny—changes that get us toward the larger goals. They shouldn’t be setting us up for failure and opportunities to feel bad about ourselves, they should be working with us to help us get to where we need to be, and at our own pace.

Issues with my teeth notwithstanding, my own body issues are relatively minor and inconsequential most of the time. Like "The Try Guys", I either don’t think about them most of the time or have simple strategies so that I don’t have to think about them. Also, again apart from the teeth thing, my goals are about being healthier now, and living longer and in good health, not about appearance (I started to get over body shape issues about the time I turned 40).

A large number of men and women alike have body issues, but most of us never talk about it. I talk about such things on this blog because some day some guy might run across this post and realise he’s not the only one who faces such issues, and I think that’s the real point of the video above. Talking about the issue is a good first step.

Recognising the patterns

Pattern recognition is an innate ability humans possess, something that first evolved to help our ancient ancestors recognise threats: Was the grass moving because of the wind, or because a predator was stalking them? Is that fruit good to eat, or will it kill us? Over time, it also helped our ancestors to recognise kin versus strangers, which is useful for a whole lot of reasons. It’s the modern expression that can cause problems, and the video above helps to show why that is.

The video, the latest in the “TED Ed” series of lessons from the TED Talks folks, talks about the mathematics behind patterns. They exist everywhere, and, as the video tells us, the probability that a pattern exists can be predicted.

However, just because humans see a pattern, that doesn’t mean the pattern reveals any actual meaning. Instead, it can be random coincidence.

I come up against this frequently. Whenever we talk about humans’ social behaviour—whether politics, pop culture fandom, religion, anything at all—we have to be very careful to limit our attempt to understand that behaviour to what we can verify empirically. A single study or opinion poll, however interesting it may be, is only a starting point until more data is collected to support the conjecture.

So, an election opinion poll by itself tells us very little. This is why political scientists urge observation of trends, rather than specific poll results. A well-constructed “poll of polls” (such as the work done by Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight) can be useful. Combining the data from reputable polls makes it easier to see real patterns, rather than imagined (or hoped for) ones.

The vast majority of us don’t believe in or subscribe to conspiracy theories, the starting point for the video, but the video’s starting device helps explains how otherwise reasonable people can get sucked into them and into anti-intellectualism like climate change denial and anti-vaxxers, to cite just two highly prominent examples. The people who believe conspiracy theories probably aren’t crazy or simple: They’re merely following their genetic tendency to see patterns where there is actually randomness, and to ascribe particular meaning to those patterns despite any the lack of any corroborating evidence.

Pattern recognition allowed our ancient ancestors to survive and procreate so that we could evolve. But pattern recognition sometimes threatens to undo all we’ve achieved over the millennia as we fall for dangerous ideas.

This is why we must always challenge our assumptions, including the belief in a pattern or its meaning. In an election year, that can be a very difficult thing to do, no matter how intelligent or rational we may be. But it’s the only way we can know if the grass is moving because of the wind, or because a predator is stalking us.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The story beneath

There are reasons why Hillary Clinton is doing better among Democrats than is Bernie Sanders, and also reasons why it wasn’t a cakewalk for her. Some of those reasons were revealed in a new poll from Gallup, and it also hints at what’s ahead in the coming presidential campaign.

Gallup reported that Democrats are likely to describe themselves as liberal on social issues—57% as opposed to 28% who are moderate and 13% who are conservative. On economic issues, however, Democrats are less liberal, with 41% choosing that word, 37% choosing moderate, and 21% choosing conservative. These results give us a glimpse into what’s going on in the current Democratic nomination process.

Both Hillary and Bernie are liberal on social issues. In fact, in most cases, their positions are virtually identical. Sure, there are nits to be picked about both their records, but, overall, they’re pretty much the same. Their economic positions, while very close in most respects, do have more differences than their positions on social issues.

While neither candidate has a clear advantage on social issues, other polls (exit polls in particular) have shown Hillary with an advantage among LGBT, African American, and female voters, while Bernie has an advantage with younger voters and Democratic-leaning Independents. So, while on paper there’s not much difference between them on social issues, and Democrats generally are likely to back their positions, Hillary has a slight advantage on social issues.

Bernie’s strength has always been on economic issues, and he’s centred his campaign on a call for massive economic reform—a “revolution”, as he often describes it. Here he’s actually on shakier ground with Democrats.

While 41% of Democrats say they’re liberal on economic issues, that’s not a majority. The difference in many state contests has come down to the 28% of Democrats who consider themselves moderate on economic issues. If they side with Bernie, he gains a majority of their support, but if they side with Hillary, she does.

Put in practice, in some states Democrats who describe themselves as moderate on economic issues may actually lean conservative, and if neither candidate has a clear advantage on social issues, then economic issues can help determine which candidate they supported. Bernie’s economic policies scare those who are conservative, and sometimes even those who call themselves moderate. Even in states that Bernie has won, this factor seems to account for why Bernie hasn’t scored a knockout blow.

Come November, the Democratic nominee will face a general electorate that is more conservative than are Democrats: 20% call themselves liberal on economic issues, 35% moderate, and 41% conservative. So, in the general election campaign, economic conservatives start with a plurality, and are twice as numerous as economic liberals. Economic moderates, who are often more conservative-learning than liberal-leaning, can easily tip the balance toward support for conservative economic policies, and less easily toward liberal policies.

This is why some Democrats who aren’t particular fans of Hillary nevertheless back her because, given public attitudes, they reason that the economic reformist agenda of Hillary will be easier to sell than the economic revolutionary agenda of Bernie. Whether one agrees with that assessment or not, this is where it comes from.

Social issues provide a very interesting picture. Americans are almost evenly divided, with 32% choosing liberal on social issues, 31% moderate, and 34% as conservative. The Gallup chart at the top of this post shows the overall trend over the past 15 years, and how Republicans and Independents have remained relatively consistent over time, while Democrats are becoming more liberal on social issues (the anomaly of 2010 notwithstanding).

This relatively even split on social issues means that they’re unlikely to be a major issue in the November election, though they will be for some groups that favour Democrats, anyway, like pro-choice voters, as well as LGBT, African American, and Hispanic voters. Similarly, those who are strongly opposed to abortion, LGBT rights, etc., are probably unlikely to vote Democratic.

This means that, as with economic issues, the battle will be for those calling themselves “moderate”. The Republicans may calculate that they already have an advantage on economic issues, and may be divisive on social issues to try and rile up those voters. My guess right now—and at the moment it IS only a guess—is that except in already conservative areas, Republicans are likely to stay away from social issues and concentrate on economic issues.

Both presumptive party nominees will have support from their respective bases, though Hillary may not necessarily excite the most leftward side of left in her party, and Drumpf may not necessarily excite the most rightward side of right in his party. However, if they both win enough support from the ends of their parties’ ideological spectrums, they’ll be in a good position to go after the moderates’ votes.

And so, the polling data shows why Bernie is so strong among Democrats, yet also why he couldn’t win the nomination: Not enough Democrats consider themselves liberal on economic issues, and his positions on social issues aren’t different enough to overcome some of Hillary’s advantages. At the same time, Bernie's positions resonate with a large enough percentage of Democratic voters that he's been able to deny Hillary and easy win of the nomination. The same polling data also suggests why so many Democrats have concluded that Hillary will be the stronger candidate against Drumpf.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll see more analysis of where voters are at on various issues, and that will help us work out more of what’s likely to happen in November. In the meantime, a good place to start is to look at attitudinal polling to find out where US voters’ predispositions are, and what the story beneath the campaign reporting really is. This latest report from Gallup is a helpful step toward doing exactly that.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Harsh realities

There’s a simple fact that some people will refuse to hear, but it doesn’t change the fact itself: Hillary Clinton will be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, and there’s absolutely no chance that it will be Bernie Sanders. It’s time that people started to prepare for the battle in November. But, that’s not the only harsh reality some Democrats need to face up to.

Hillary Clinton needs fewer than a hundred delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. That means that she needs only 12% of the remaining available delegates, and no one could seriously argue that she won’t actually win far more than that percentage.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, would need to win every single delegate remaining, plus peel away a more than a hundred of Hillary’s superdelegates. Neither will happen. The odds of Bernie cobbling together some sort of hybrid—say, most of the remaining delegates and half of Hillary’s superdelegates—also won’t happen.

This isn’t about favouring one candidate or the other, it’s about arithmetic.

Bernie Sanders has done the best in caucuses and open primary states because both allow non-Democrats to participate. But, even that’s a relative thing: Bernie won the open primary in Indiana, but only got 44 delegates to Clinton’s 39—nowhere even remotely close to the percentage he’d need to score an upset in the final contests. In Oregon, Bernie won just under 60% of the delegates, which at this late stage is also far too low a percentage to give him any hope of a last minute upset.

So, it’s dishonest for Bernie’s campaign to lead supporters to think he could still win, and it makes them look silly when they repeat the meme. But in recent months Bernie’s most fervent fans have had a clear problem with facts.

Before the Oregon primary, my social media feeds were filled with declarations from Bernie’s most fervent fans that there was a “conspiracy” in Oregon to deny Sanders a victory, and the Democratic National Committee and the state government were in collusion. It was all delusional nonsense, based a complete lack of understanding of how Oregon’s system works. And, when Sanders won, not a single Sanders supporter admitted that they’d been wrong. Funny, that.

This paranoid fantasy that the DNC, state parties, and even state governments are all engaged in a conspiracy to deny Bernie the nomination is very concerning because it ignores all facts and reality that show what nonsense it truly is. The rules they so relentlessly attack were drawn up a very long time ago, before anyone—including Bernie—had announced their candidacy and those rules were—or should have been—well known to everyone before anyone announced. Not knowing or understanding the rules does NOT mean they were created to prevent Bernie from winning the nomination: His inability to win enough votes is the reason he won’t win the nomination, not the rules that were set out in way before the contest began.

There absolutely needs to be campaign reform, which is a huge topic in itself, but I have no desire to play a game of whack-a-mole with Bernie’s most fervent fans about why some arcane rule or other isn’t part of an imaginary conspiracy against Sanders.

Pretty much anyone paying attention to the campaign has heard the negative comments about Bernie’s most fervent fans, the “Bernie Bros” being chief among them. They’ve certainly dominated social media, but that doesn’t mean they represent all of Bernie’s supporters.

Bernie is attracting the “anti-Hillary” voters among Democrats and Independents. Because those voters are motivated primarily by anti-Hillary animosity, they’re highly likely to engage in inappropriate behaviour and rhetoric, thereby tarnishing ALL of Bernie’s supporters with tinges of sexism, racism, and even violence toward those who don’t support Bernie. I’m quite sure that those are not the people that Bernie himself thinks of when he thinks of his supporters, but neither can he utterly reject them, not if he really wants influence at the Democratic National Convention.

Bernie’s supporters claim that Hillary’s most fervent fans are “just as bad”, always a dangerous claim to make in politics, given the extreme reliance on the perceptions of people with an ideological dog in the fight. As with Bernie’s most fervent fans, I’ve also seen inappropriate behaviour and rhetoric from Hillary’s most fervent fans—but it’s been entirely different.

And that’s what concerns me the most about this: The battle lines between Bernie’s most fervent fans and supporters of Hillary are becoming not just fiery, but also quite toxic—much to Republicans’ glee. Every time one of Bernie’s most fervent fans says a Clinton supporter is “an idiot” or needs to be educated, or refers to Hillary as “$hillary” (and her supporters as “$hills”), or declares that Hillary is “just Trump with a vulva”—all of which I saw yesterday evening—they’re doing the Republicans’ work for them.

Today, I saw some of Hillary’s most fervent fans mocking Bernie’s supporters with language that was mostly ageist (calling them “Bernie Brats”, for example, or referring to Bernie as "grandpappy") and implying his supporters are too young and na├»ve to really understand the issues. But I didn’t see any of Hillary’s most fervent fans calling Bernie’s most fervent fans “an idiot”, or dismissing their apparently deeply held opinions as paid for by big corporations, or declaring that Bernie’s most fervent fans are all neo-conservatives. The only directly comparable thing I personally saw was when one of Hillary’s most fervent fans referred to one of Bernie’s most fervent fans as a “progressive”—with quote marks, just as Bernie’s most fervent fans do to Hillary’s.

And then there’s this: I have a personal, real-life friend who is a kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and very intelligent person who has taken down several posts talking about Hillary because Bernie’s most fervent fans took it as their mission to tell her how very wrong she is to support Hillary. Ironically, the most recent deleted post was a share of an article about why more people don’t openly support Hillary on social media.

My friend’s experience is with real people, not “bots” as the two sides sometimes dismissively call each other. What my own Facebook friends have posted have been almost exclusively in support of Bernie, often trashing Hillary, while the two or three people I know who post about anything positive about Hillary always do so with a compliment of some sort about Bernie. Hillary’s supporters simply don’t have the same freedom to express their support for their candidate as Bernie’s supporters do, and it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise.

But—and this is the most important thing I can say about this—SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL LIFE! Social media encourages people to be extreme and exclusionary, to denigrate and condescend to others rather than have a rational discussion. What happens in social media is NOT in any way transferrable to real life and doesn’t even remotely mirror the behaviour of the majority of people. Heck, I can’t even be sure that either candidate’s most fervent fans aren’t actually Republicans trying to sow division and animosity among Democrats.

So, while on social media this may seem like the most toxic Democratic primary election campaign we’ve ever seen, in the real world, it’s quite different.

A new poll from Gallup has found that 70% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the Democratic race is not harming the Democratic Party at all. Hillary’s supporters are somewhat more certain the process has not damaged the party than are Bernie’s supporters, which is interesting given the narrative that Hillary's supporters allegedly blame Bernie's supporters for wrecking the party's chances in November, but that difference is within the margin of error and may not be very significant.

What I worry about, however, is that it’s not merely the perception of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents that matters, but them combined with non-aligned Independents. No candidate can be elected president with the support of only Democrats or only Republicans, so the opinion of non-aligned independents matters. Does the ongoing fight for the Democratic nomination—especially since the end result is known—turn them off? We simply don’t know.

Still, the important thing in this poll is that the vast majority of Democrats clearly don't participate in or pay any attention whatsoever to Internet fights. Nor should any of us. It seems to me that the most fervent fans of both Bernie and Hillary would do us—and the country—a favour if they’d grow the fuck up and stop acting like spoiled children arguing in the schoolyard. The stakes are far too high for that childish nonsense. The Republicans will be united in November, and Democrats must be, too.

And that, too, is a harsh reality both sides’ most fervent fans must grasp.

The graphic up top is an Internet meme I spied this afternoon, though I have no idea who created it. It mocks the declaration of some of Bernie's most fervent fans that Hillary is the same as Trump, an utterly stupid idea, of course, so this struck me as funny.