Monday, November 01, 2004

Early indications on election night 

Other than exit polls, what are some indications of how the election is going? Since I have some money on the line tomorrow night, this is a question I have given a fair amount of thought. Since the networks are likely to be significantly more cautious about calling states this time around (nobody wants to issue another Florida retraction!), if the vote is close, it may be late in the night before key states like Ohio and Florida are called. But clues can be gleaned from which other states are called and the timing of the calls. Based on this timeline of election night 2000, I've drawn up a set of guidelines.

Ohio: If PA and MI are called at 5pm (all times are PST), it means Kerry is ahead by more than 5 points in these states, and he will likely win Ohio. If neither PA or MI is called by 6pm, Kerry probably loses Ohio. If WV is called before PA or MI, Kerry probably loses Ohio.

Florida: The networks will be especially cautious about calling the Sunshine State this time around. If FL is called for either candidate by 6pm, when the polls close in the panhandle, it means that candidate has a significant enough lead in FL that he will almost certainly win the election.

New Hampshire: If ME (3 of 4 EV's) is called at 5pm, Kerry probably wins NH. If either NH or ME (CD 2) is called for Kerry by 6pm, Kerry likely wins the other one too.

Iowa and Wisconsin: If MN is called before both MO and AR, Kerry probably wins IA and WI. If one of MN is called after one of MO, AR but before the other, Bush has the edge in IA and WI. If both MO and AR are both called before MN, Kerry probably loses IA and WI.

Southwest: This is the trickiest region, because there are four closely related states (NM, NV, CO, AZ). If it comes to this point, we will likely find ourselves wanting to know whether Bush has a chance in NM, or whether Kerry has a chance in NV. If either AZ or CO is called by 8pm, then Bush has a good shot in NM. If NM is called for Kerry by 8pm, or AZ is not called by 9pm, then Kerry has a good shot in NV.

My prediction 

Bush 284, Kerry 254. Same as 2000, except New Hampshire goes to Kerry and Wisconsin goes to Bush. The big prizes, Florida and Ohio, are within reach if we win the turnout war. But there are enough potential problems in these two states -- voter suppression and electronic voing machines chief among them -- that Bush has the edge. Many people would chose Iowa instead of Wisconsin as the likely Bush pickup in the upper-midwest. However, I think the NRA and the suppression of black voters in Milwaukee will end up putting Wisconsin in the Bush column. Finally, although recent polling puts Bush ahead in New Mexico, I think the increased number of Hispanic voters and popular Democratic governor Bill Richardson will put Kerry on top.

While the presidential election could easily go either way, I'm not very optimistic about our senate chances. There are too many open Democratic seats this cycle, and all the competetive races are in red states, where Bush will have coattails. My predictions:

Alaska: Knowles (D)
Colorado: Salazar (D)
Florida: Martinez (R)
Kentucky: Bunning (R)
Louisiana: Vitter (R) surpasses 50%, avoiding a runoff in December.
North Carolina: Burr (R)
Oklahoma: Coburn (R)
South Carolina: DeMint (R)
South Dakota: Thune (R)

New senate: 54 Republicans, 45 Democrats

The potential big news is Daschle's loss in South Dakota. While this would be a short-term negative because it costs the Democrats a seat, I think it will turn out to be a blessing in the long run. We need a senate leader who doesn't have to sell out Democratic values to get re-elected.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Florida weather 

An encouraging forecast for election day: PM thunderstorms in the panhandle, sunny everywhere else.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

It's a 50-50 race 

Tradesports shares of Bush fell briefly below 50% today, tying the all-time low of 49.5% set in July. What's really remarkable is that for the first time ever that I've seen, traders now think Bush is less likely to win the electoral vote than the popular vote. Until this week, Bush has held a consistent 3-5% advantage in the electoral vote contract compared to the popular vote. Now that advantage is reversed, with Bush at 53% to win the popular vote and only 50% to win the electoral vote. This confirms my earlier speculation that Bush's national numbers are skewed by big leads in red states, and that despite the underlying structural advantage the electoral college proffers Republican candidates (a consequence of the fact that there are more red states than blue states, and that each state gets two "free" electoral votes independent of population), Kerry could conceivably win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote.

Monday, October 25, 2004

State vs. national polls 

A rather surprising trend has emerged in the polls over the last several days: Bush's numbers are significantly worse in the swing states than they are nationally. In the RCP averages Bush is polling worse than his national numbers in 12 swing states, and better in only four.

Below national average:

Maine: 42.0
Michigan: 44.7
New Hampshire: 44.8
Oregon: 44.9
Pennsylvania: 45.5
Minnesota: 46.7
Ohio: 47.4
Florida: 47.5
Wisconsin: 47.6
Iowa: 48.0
New Mexico: 48.0
Arkansas: 48.3

National average: 48.9

Above national average:

West Virginia: 49.0
Nevada: 49.2
Colorado: 49.2
Missouri: 50.0

Even in red-leaning states like WV, NV and CO, Bush's state average is only barely above his national average. The only possible explanation for the discrepancy between the state and national figures, other than polling error, is that Bush is doing significantly better in safe red states (e.g. Texas) than Kerry is in safe blue states (e.g. California). And the internals in the latest Gallup poll confirm this:

Red states: Bush 57, Kerry 40
Blue states: Kerry 53, Bush 44

In a way, this trend makes sense. Kerry has been going after swing voters, while Bush is trying to energize his base. Karl Rove is still obsessed with the 4 million evangelicals who stayed home in 2000. The latest round of polls suggests that Rove's strategy of playing to the base hasn't worked. On the other hand, such a strategy revolves around increasing turnout among certain voter groups, and turnout is the factor that polls are most likely to get wrong.

Monday, October 18, 2004

What a comeback 

Tradesports futures contract on Red Sox-Yankees game 4:

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Playing the draft card 

In Iowa yesterday, Kerry raised the spectre of the draft if Bush is elected to a second term. Coming right now, this comment is a little worrying. It's something I expected Kerry to bring up as a desperation ploy if he was down in the polls the final few weeks of the campaign. The reason it's a desperation ploy is that it has a lot of potential for backfiring. The Bush camp can cry foul, accuse Kerry of "fear-mongering," and try to use the comment to undermine Kerry's credibility. It opens Kerry up to the kind of attack that worked so well against Al Gore: "This is a man who will say and do anything to get elected." If that line sounds familiar, that's because it's exactly what Cheney said after Wednesday's debate, referring to Kerry's remarks about his daughter. The line could be applied equally effectively to the draft comments.

So I'm puzzled as to why Kerry brought this up now, when he is nearly tied in the polls. Because undecided voters tend to break against the incumbent, if current polls are accurate and the election were held today, it would be a 2000-style cliffhanger. It could easily go either way. The fact that Kerry chose to play the draft card in this situation could be a sign that Kerry is running significantly worse in the campaign's internal polling than in public polls. On the other hand, some Kerry advisers were evidently surprised by the comment. So it could have been an off-the-cuff remark on Kerry's part rather than a strategic decision by the campaign. Either way, I think it was a mistake to play the draft card with the polls as close as they are and over two weeks still to go before election day. At least wait for the first batch of post-debate polls!

As to whether there actually will be a draft if Bush is re-elected: probably not, but it's hard to be sure. It depends how crazy you think the neocons really are. I do not think the situation in Iraq will worsen sufficiently to require a draft. But I read an article recently, can't remember where, which had quotes from various eminent neocons lamenting the fact that the mess in Iraq had destroyed the public's "appetite" for preemptive war. Clearly there are some people who think we need to keep pursuing the preemptive strategy. Presumably that means Syria or Iran. Invading either one would certainly require a draft. Now it's hard to see how a draft bill would pass congress, unless there's another major terrorist attack. After another attack, all bets are off. The fate of the draft rests on exactly how extreme are the positions of the neocons high up in the Bush administration (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith), and on the possibility of another 9/11-type attack.

The war Bin Laden wanted? 

Paul Schroeder makes the case that by invading Iraq, we played right into Al Qaeda's hands. It's an excellent piece; don't be deterred by the rather strange forum in which it appears, the Buchananite magazine "American Conservative". (Despite being an anti-Semitic wacko, Pat Buchanan seems to have pretty reasonable views on a lot of foreign policy issues.) Although it takes him a while to get to the point, Schroeder proceeds from the logic that we should spend less time demonizing our enemy and more time analyzing him. If Osama Bin Laden is rational, then why did he attack the United States, knowing the harm the American response would surely inflict on him and his organization? Bin Laden surely must have considered the possible consequences: that the United States would take down the Taliban regime, disperse his training camps, kill or capture many of his men and chase his remaining followers into hiding. Saying "he's evil," "he hates America," and so on is not really an answer. There is little doubt that Bin Laden hates America, but why attack in such a way that is not strong enough to cripple America, but is likely to provoke a crippling American response?

Here's Schroeder:

The second reply is that the 9/11 operation was intended as only one step in a long campaign against the United States, a kind of dress rehearsal for worse blows, perhaps with weapons of mass destruction┬Śnuclear, biological, or chemical. Once again, this argument makes no sense. If one intends to start a long campaign to destroy the enemy, one does not begin with an action that can be expected to galvanize rather than cripple the enemy and make him more prepared to anticipate, prevent, and counter new attacks....

The only sensible answer, once the foolish and inadequate ones are discarded, is that Osama bin Laden anticipated the American reaction and wanted it.

Schroder argues that Bin Laden is rational, but that the purpose of the 9/11 attacks was not to cripple America, but rather to provoke the United States into declaring a global "war on terror." Bin Laden's ultimate goal, Schroder says, is a united Muslim world "ruled by true Islamic law and teaching, purged of all evil, materialist, secular, infidel, and heretical influences." The fractious divisions within Islam stand in the way of this goal, and Bin Laden hoped to eliminate these divisions by providing all of Islam with a common enemy: the United States. The Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, along with its perverse insistence that Iraq is part of the war on terror, have played into Bin Laden's hands by broadening the conflict. No longer limited to disrupting the al Qaeda organization, the "war on terror" has become dangerously close to a general conflict between Islam and the West. Secular governments in the Middle East, such as Pakistan's, are increasingly unstable. And Bin Laden is one step closer to uniting the Middle East under his radical banner.

Schroeder's argument has some weaknesses. For one thing, we cannot know for sure whether Bin Laden is rational in the traditional Western sense of the word. Perhaps he believes he is doing "God's will." Perhaps he is just unhinged. It is difficult to get inside the extremist mindset. Are suicide bombers "rational"? Were the 9/11 hijackers acting in their own self-interest? A lot of people had to act "irrationally" to make 9/11 happen in the first place; perhaps Bin Laden was one of them.

Secondly, it is hard to take seriously Bin Laden's supposed goal of uniting and "purifying" the Islamic world, given the seeming impossibility of this task. Schroeder would have us believe that Bin Laden's attacks on America are merely a means to this end. But if uniting the Islamic world is not Bin Laden's long term goal, then what is? Is it not an equally impossible goal to singlehandedly take down the most powerful country in the world using only a few terrorist attacks? The goal that Schroeder proposes is plausible, if only because it is difficult to come up with any rational motivation for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

Thirdly, Bin Laden cannot have known that the United States would invade Iraq in purported response to the 9/11 attacks. The vast majority of Muslims were sympathetic toward the United States in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It is only because of a series of mistakes on the part of the Bush administration -- invading Iraq in the first place, botching the occupation in general, and Abu Ghraib in particular -- that we have come this close to igniting a general conflict between America and the Middle East. Since Bin Laden could hardly have predicted those mistakes, he could not have known with any certainty that his plan to precipitate a broader war would work. All things considered, given the almost certain negative effects both to his personal safety and to the well-being of his organization, it seems an enormous risk for Bin Laden to take.

Finally, if Bin Laden really got what he wanted when we invaded Iraq, is he actually better off today? Doubtful. It's unclear how much control he can really have over Al Qaeda while he's on the run and hiding out in the mountains on the remote Afghan-Pakistani border. And the Middle East is still an enormous distance away from Bin Laden's unified, purified vision. There's a better case to be made that Al Qaeda is better off today. Despite the killing and capture of many top leaders, the rank-and-file may be gaining new recruits as foreign fighters flock to Iraq. The potency of Abu Ghraib is almost impossible to underestimate. It will be a stain on the United States' image for at least a generation, and a major impediment in any effort to convince the Muslim world of our goodwill. Bin Laden succeeded admirably in making a demon out of the United States, and Al Qaeda may be better off for it. But Bin Laden himself is almost certainly worse off.

On the balance: A thought-provoking piece, very debatable on the specifics but rock-solid on the premise that we should demonize less and analyze more. Know thine enemy.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

World's wealthiest blogger? 

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