Monday, 14 November 2016

Last Week the Bird Tipped

There He Goes
Last week, as anyone who has not been watching "another channel" (Another channel?!? It was on all of the channels) knows, the United States held general elections, and the voters shocked, I suspect, even themselves in electing Donald Trump as the next president.

I confess, I, too went from sceptical, to surprised, to flabbergasted as the returns came in. Since we live on the west coast in San Francisco, California, the polls on the east coast - and subsequent projections - began to roll out before our work day was over.

Most everyone in the immediate offices around me were dialled in to CNN or ABC News, or Nate Silver's (creator of the 538 blog that had been tracking the polls for better than a year) web sites, tracing the results.

The Bay Area is decidedly to the left of even the state of California, which itself is left of the US as a whole, so needless to say, the day had begun with an almost gleeful anticipation.

There had been almost a festive atmosphere, as friends, peers, and others spoke of what voting for the first female president (and I do not know of a single person here, personally, who voted for Donald Trump) meant to them. (Aside: I did not vote for Trump or his opponent, Hillary Clinton, so my candidate was assured to lose).

ALL of the pollsters had projected that Hillary Clinton was a prohibitive favourite - some putting her likelihood at 98% (Sam Wang, a neuroscience professor at Princeton, and head of the Princeton Election Consortium). Wangwas confident not only that Clinton would win, but was going to win big (bigly, for those speaking Trump), and stated "If Trump wins more than 240 electoral votes, I'll eat a bug."

The authors mocked Silver for being overly cautious (Silver had projected Trump's likelihood of between 30 and 40%). Seems that the "bug" here was in Wang and his team's methods.

Nate Silver, who used more traditional methods, had been cautioning that estimates were exactly that - estimates with sampling error of 3 or 4% around them. In statistical terms, a 3% "margin of error" is based on what is called a "confidence interval," which is to say, that there is, in reality, an actual, accurate, existing value for that which is being estimated, and when one draws a sample, the range - tied to the sample, and not the value which itself does not move - will cover the true value in 95% of the experiments.

What Silver said was, there is a high confidence that the actual vote will result in Hillary's election, but there is a realistic chance that polls are NOT covering the true vote. And going further, Silver indicated that, IF there is something systematic that is driving biases, then there is a good chance that not one, but many, of the polls are erring in the same direction.

THAT is why Silver's models were much more sanguine about Trump's chances.

Put simply, IF there is a bias that under-estimates Trump's support in Ohio, it likely will under-estimate that support in Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and... 

Well, as we all know, there did appear to be something going on, and the result is President Elect Trump.

What happened?

I am not going to puff my own bona fides up, but I will point to a piece I wrote two months ago here.

In August,  Hillary Clinton had put together a large lead, and seemed on her way to an easy election. Pundits talked about how important the state of Florida was - and that that people needed to focus on Florida and Ohio, the two ultimate "swing" states.

My own feeling then was that the key state to watch was actually Pennsylvania, what I called at the time the Democrats' "canary in the coal mine."

I have long felt that Trump's chances in the general (election) rested on the state of Pennsylvania, and I think that looks stronger today than ever before. The electoral maths favour the Democrats in the short term, and the numbers are going to get longer, rather than shorter for the Republicans over the next few elections.

Just prior to the post, Hillary Clinton made her (now infamous) "basket of deplorables" comment - what I think just has to be regarded as one of the dumbest own-goals in modern politics.

A lot has been said and written about the comment since, with many (to this day) still clinging to a defence that the statement doesn't go far enough, and that there are millions and millions of "deplorable" (or worse, "irredeemable) people in the US. 
When Mrs Clinton made her "basket of deplorables" comment - to a roomful of people who had paid thousands of dollars to have dinner and listen to her, hosted by Barbara Streisand, she was talking about people in central Pennsylvania. Some of them, to be sure, are deplorable racists. But I suspect not as many as Hillary Clinton imagines, and surely, not half of the people.

To be fair, there surely are many Trump supporters who are racists, or sexists, or guilty of any of the accusations about them. But it was just, in my opinion, unprecedented for a major party candidate to make such a naked attack against a huge number of his or her own countrymen - who anyone with any sense must know are more likely to live in states like Pennsylvania or Michigan than they are in California or New York, where the comment was made.

As the election drew closer, Hillary Clinton and her campaign made almost no effort at all to convince working-class people in these states to vote for her, instead, focusing her efforts on driving out the base - what some have called a "coalition of the edges," - radical feminists, black activists of the BLM sort, Latino activists - who really, if we are being honest, have very little politically in common. Rather than talking about trade problems, or job issues, or any of the other myriad legitimate concerns of voters, we were treated to endless scare-mongering propaganda that more or less tried to convince her base that Trump was Hitler with a comb-over and spray-on tan. 

It didn't work.

On the day before the election, Trump was in Michigan, talking to a blue-collar audience in Grand Rapids, while Hillary Clinton was on stage in Philadelphia, being serenaded by Lady Gaga.

This Is All YOUR Fault
As I wrote then:

I think that Donald Trump is going to win in Ohio. And of course, he cannot win without Florida (which also is close).

But if he closes the gap in Pennsylvania, it is almost surely going to be a bellwether of bigger gains. IF Trump wins in PA, he is going to win in Florida, and he is going to win - easily - in Ohio.

So far, the drinking bird is not in the glass, but he may be tipping.

Well, in the end, the bird tipped, and with that, knocked away the presumptive Democratic president-elect.

Trump won not only Pennsylvania, but also, Michigan and Wisconsin, and very nearly Virginia and New Hampshire as well. Hillary Clinton's popular vote total will, ultimately, by higher than Trump's, as she ran up massive advantages in California and New York (she won New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago by nearly 4 million votes), which reflects the strategy her campaign selected to drive up her own base turnout rather than to try to win over fence-sitters. 

The result has been large protests against Trump, and cries to do away with the electoral college. Blame, as well, has been put on FBI Director James Comey for his comments that additional consideration of emails in the on-going, on again, off again "scandal" of Clinton's use of a private email server to send and receive clasified documents. It is very likely that Comey's actions had some effect on the vote totals, but exactly how much will never be known.

As we move forward, it is apparently going to be the Democrats rather than the Republicans who are going to face an internal civil war for the sould of their party. It is hard to state just how remarkable a reversal this is going to be - just weeks ago, all the opinion-makers were discussing whether the election would be, literally, the end of the Republican party.

What I see is that both the Democrats and Republicans are looking at a bit of a preview of the end-game of years of subtle, and more recently, overt identity politics.

As I said in early September:

Mrs Clinton has tried to clarify her comments - no, I didn't mean you are an ugly, irredeemable bigot - I meant the guy across the street. But if YOU lived in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and were historically a Democrat but considering Trump because of Hillary's comments about putting coal miners out of work, is it not possible that the thought might cross your mind that, "maybe she really meant me." These are, as I've said before, the working poor whose prospects under Obama (and to be fair, Bush and Bill Clinton before him) have dimmed, but who entitled Yale students whose apparent greatest problem is Halloween costumes libel as "privileged" in perhaps the single greatest example of lack of self awareness in the past 25 years.

What we saw this year was, finally, the real split in the country coming forward. To the ugly fighting among race, sex, and class, we can now add regional animus.

The Republicans have for some time targeted drinking birds in Pennsylvania, and this year, they finally tipped.