Putting it in perspective

I don’t have the energy or time to write the summary of how I feel about the election, except to note that others have already done a pretty good job of summarizing for me.

From a campaign strategy perspective, 2008 will be discussed for many years, but a few things I found interesting in looking at what worked this time around are below:

Outperforming past Democratic candidates: Obama versus Kerry and Gore – War Room – Salon.com. By the numbers, it’s an impressive performance, but it’s more impressive if you visualize it, as one poster in a thread on Politico.com did:

the red states are states in which obama did worse than kerry
The red states are states in which Obama did worse than Kerry.

The red states are the states where Obama did worse than Kerry. That’s a pretty good illustration of the heart of social conservatism in the US.

That aforementioned thread suggests that there was some interesting gamesmanship going on in the end to bring the McCain campaign so deep into Pennsylvania, a state that it ultimately lost by a double digit margin.

Interesting that even after a blowout, there’s pressure from the media saying Obama needs to move to the center.

Both McCain and Obama’s campaign systems were hacked and compromised, and Palin took runaround money meant to buy three suits for the convention and bought enormous quantities of clothes for her family and herself, including some items that have apparently been lost.

Threats to Obama, as monitored by the Secret Service, were directly correlated to Palin’s feral rallies.

New mix: Funky President

  1. James Brown, “Funky President (People It’s Bad)”
  2. William S. Burroughs, “When Did I Stop Wanting to Be President”
  3. The Cure, “Primary (Morgan Studio Outtake 9/80)”
  4. Max Roach, “Freedom Now”
  5. Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come”
  6. Virginia Glee Club, “I shall not die without a hope” (Testament of Freedom)
  7. Jay-Z and Danger Mouse, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
  8. Youssou N’Dour, “Hope”
  9. Branford Marsalis, “Freedom Suite: Interlude”
  10. The Flaming Lips, “Suddenly Everything Has Changed”
  11. Arcadia, “Election Day”
  12. Extra Golden, “Obama (Live, KEXP)”
  13. Funkadelic, “One Nation Under a Groove”
  14. Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed”
  15. Parliament, “Chocolate City”
  16. Lou Reed, “Voices of Freedom”
  17. Miles Davis, “Freedom Jazz Dance”

Fired Up, Ready to Go

I voted this morning at around 8:25 am. I was number 325 at my precinct; a line about 100 people long had been there at 7 am, so I was catching things at a brief resting point. There was a PTA bake sale on the way out. It was a traditional end to a most untraditional election.

This has been the most amazing presidential election I can remember. I followed 2004 closely but wasn’t too plugged into it–went into the general election behind Kerry but was never a huge fan. As I drove cross country the week of the Democratic National Convention listening to podcasted speeches on my iPod, the one that impressed me most was Barack Obama’s, and I didn’t know who he was then. I think we all do now.

Now we’ll see what happens. I’m “fired up, ready to go” but I’m also nervous as hell. It’s been too long a road and there have already been too many notes about dirty tricks for me to relax now. But we knew it would be a long road and I’m ready for a long night tonight if necessary.

There are things I can think of to pass the time–like a little online competition to see who guesses the electoral college split–but I don’t want to jinx the outcome. So for now, to work, and we wait.

And watch the early returns. By all indications this will be a huge turnout election, and it’s already breaking some precedents–like Obama becoming the first Democrat to win in Dixville Notch, NH since 1968.

By the way–when did they stop handing out “I voted” stickers?

The fifty state strategy in action

A piece in the Las Vegas Sun about Howard Dean caught my attention. After the “Dean Scream” got played into the ground by the media, Dean has largely been ignored by the popular press, but I think his actions at the DNC have been substantial in positioning the Democrats in 2008. And it’s instructive to take a look at the actual speech which preceded his “scream”:

Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin, we’re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we’re going to California and Texas and New York … And we’re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we’re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yeah!

I linked to electoral poll results for each of the states Dean called out. It’s interesting to see that while many red states have stayed red, Arizona, North Dakota, and Michigan are all clearly in play, while New Mexico has moved solidly into the “safe Democratic” column. And geez, look what’s happened in Virginia and North Carolina.

I think that the overplaying of the Dean Scream may have been one of the biggest injustices ever done to a presidential candidate by the media, but in the long run, maybe the party is better off for having him in the internal role that he’s excelled at.

The really interesting question, raised by Kos this weekend, is: who will the right find to rebuild the party? Who will play Howard Dean for the GOP?

Follow-up: Intrade confirms artificial inflation of McCain trading

I don’t know if Erik‘s seen this, but I found this report on Talking Points Memo interesting. Apparently Intrade’s internal investigation confirms that someone is artificially inflating the value of McCain (that is, the probability that he’ll win in November) by dumping huge amounts of money into the market in an irrational fashion. The CQ article says that it’s a single “institutional” member of Intrade and that they’ve been in contact with the investor, but that there’s no evidence that the rules of the exchange were violated.

I guess what this proves is that:

  1. Intrade is small enough to be manipulated, if you have a little spare change, and therefore its predictions aren’t trustworthy. Double-check any important prodictions with the Iowa Electronic Market and Betfair.
  2. There are McCain supporters out there who are willing to spend, and lose, large amounts of money to influence an outlying marker of the campaign’s success.

Unfortunate camera-mugging

Thanks to John Gruber for pointing to Austrian coverage of last night’s debate, complete with this bizarre picture of McCain. I think the caption says that he was reacting after he mistakenly turned the wrong direction to shake hands with the moderator. But there couldn’t be a worse image to sum up his debate performance last night:

Voter registration vs. voter suppression

What does it say about our politics that one party regularly tries to engage new voters and the other regularly tries to suppress them? If you believe the complaints from the GOP, they’re just trying to stave off widespread vote fraud. But study after study has shown that there is no widespread vote fraud conspiracy, which surely the Republicans know full well. Salon’s article Behind the GOP’s voter fraud hysteria covers some of the studies, including the fact that from 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud, 20 were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once, while the GOP worked to ensure that thousands more were disenfranchised.

And that’s really what the voter fraud suppression efforts are about: disenfranchisement on a massive scale.

Hey, Republicans: how about you go out and register your own voters rather than suppressing newly registered ones?

Nasty moments in Presidential debates

The commentariat are going to love this moment, because it sums up some things that the conventional wisdom has been saying about McCain — cranky, really angry, hotheaded — and surfaces some new memes. Like disrespectful. Like borderline racist. Like, can’t believe he’s losing to this guy.

I think this is McCain’s “heavy sigh” moment.

YouTube – McCain Calls Obama “That One”.

What are they betting on?

My friend and undergrad classmate Erik Simpson has been following an interesting trend on Intrade, the prediction market that allows predictive “bets” on realworld events. Specifically, Intrade’s prediction results were diverging from other predictive models, specifically those of fivethirtyeight.com. More research dug up the interesting fact that Intrade doesn’t agree with other predictive markets either. Yesterday Erik followed up these posts with the logical question: why not simply arbitrage the difference? If Intrade and the Iowa Electronic Markets are really efficient markets, there should be no persistent price spread, but since there is a price spread there’s an opportunity to make risk free money by selling on IEM and buying on Intrade, then reversing the trades after the election, when the outcome is locked. (As of this writing, Intrade has a 70% probability of Obama winning, vs. a 74.9% chance on IEM.)

The persistent difference in value can be explained by one of two market frictions: either there are one or more irrational actors who are making trades based on something other than rational economic decisions, or there is information asymmetry: the trader knows something that we don’t about the outcome of the election. I’m inclined to think it’s the former. But I don’t rule out the latter, for the reason that the GOP and its followers are starting to scare the hell out of me (anyone else wonder why someone shouting “Kill him” at a GOP rally wasn’t immediately brought in for questioning by the Secret Service?).

It’s not hard to see why the GOP might be frustrated at this point. The Democrats have done a superb job of keeping their powder dry, waiting until McCain really stepped up the smears to point out that he has deep roots in banking and real estate corruption through his membership in the Keating Five. This campaign has refused to roll over and play dead while smears and attacks were directed at them, and while they’ve played hard in return, it’s been to point out how McCain and Palin have specific unsuitabilities to deal with the issues in front of the country right now.

The downside of this campaign–one of the few really well contested matches we’ve seen in recent years–is that it doesn’t leave much room for discourse on the issues. I’d love to see Obama clear enough of the smoke to start talking about how we get out of this mess, but I think he’s going to be facing enough crap for the next few weeks that we won’t hear substantive proposals for a while.

VP debate, the morning after

I livetweeted the debate last night (start, end) and was reminded of a few things in the process. First, writing about anything as it happens means you’re paying much closer attention to what’s said. I got more of a substantive understanding of Biden and Palin’s positions, a closer awareness of both of their stumbles and gaffes, and a much deeper engagement in the process than if I had simply been watching it.

Aside: why did I ever try to do liveblogging before there was Twitter? Even if each post is 140 characters or less, it’s still a superior user experience to a heavyweight blogging CMS.

Now, the downside of liveblogging the debate. I didn’t have my eyes on the TV very much and so missed some of the nuances–I had to see someone else’s tweet to realize that Joe Biden spent much of his time looking at the moderator rather than the camera when he answered his questions, for instance. And I think that there was a downside to paying such close attention to individual exchanges, namely: I came away without a feeling about how the debate had played overall. Oh sure, I thought Joe took it on substance, but as I tweeted late last night, I’m not 100% sure that’s what matters to the American undecided voter. And I can certainly see a scenario (reinforced by the GOP spin from last night) where Palin and McCain get a bounce because her performance wasn’t a miserable failure and because she came across as a folksy, relatively human person.

I kind of hope, though, that we don’t hear any more “maverick” after last night.

Update: Doc has the same concerns about the debate performances that I did. That doesn’t mean, btw, that I think that focusing on personality is right; just that the pragmatic view is to ask how well each debater played in Peoria.

Keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times…

…because something tells me this race is going to be a rollercoaster for the next few weeks.

Screenshot below from the excellent Election ’08 iPhone App, from Pollster.com and Slate. For a more nuanced view, look to the fine folks at Electoral-Vote.com, which shows Obama’s lead 338 to 185 electoral votes, with 15 ties. This high margin is pretty new in the race–back in early September, the lead was only about 100 electoral votes.

For more context, check out the historical trends on Electoral-Vote.com, where you can see what happens if you don’t count the states with a less than 5% margin of victory (answer: we don’t have a clear winner yet).

Instant karma

There are some moments of karma that are just too good not to post. This is one of them: GOP delegate’s hotel tryst goes bad when he wakes up with $120,000 missing. An attendee of the RNC convention who argued that the US should “bomb the hell” out of Iran and seize its resources to pay for the invasion picks up a woman in the hotel bar, who … makes him drinks, gets him bombed, and seizes his resources:

In an interview filmed the afternoon of Sept. 3 and posted on the Web site LinkTV.org, Schwartz was candid about how he envisioned change under a McCain presidency.

“Less taxes and more war,” he said, smiling. He said the U.S. should “bomb the hell” out of Iran because the country threatens Israel.

Asked by the interviewer how America would pay for a military confrontation with Iran, he said the U.S. should take the country’s resources.

“We should plant a flag. Take the oil, take the money,” he said. “We deserve reimbursement.”

A few hours after the interview, an unknown woman helped herself to Schwartz’s resources.



Meta campaigning: what to do when the other guy won’t talk straight

American representative democracy is based on some non-intuitive principles–that we the people should care enough about how we are governed that we develop an informed opinion on it, that power is best when dispersed and checked–and on some non-obvious assumptions. The one assumption that is absolutely key is that the people will have access to enough information on the candidates to make an informed decision.

This election is testing that assumption. With one side, we had a bitterly fought primary that lasted almost eighteen months and went right down to the wire, a candidate who has written two books and multiple detailed position papers about his views and policy proposals, who has said all along that he wanted to get above politics as usual to address core issues. On the other side, we have a ticket that has played fast and loose with the truth about themselves, particularly about Palin, and about their opponent. In this environment, there’s information asymmetry and the voter loses.

So how do you get back to the point where a balanced and fair exchange of views is possible? Well, maybe you run an ad that calls the other candidate on the lies he’s been telling, and you do it by summing up all the independent press coverage across the political spectrum that’s been written about it. An ad something like this:

Will it move the base, who are hoping against hope that McCain and Palin, against all odds, will actually embody the small government principles they want to see in Washington? I don’t know. I just hope it moves some independent voters. But I’m happy to see the campaign going on the attack about this.