Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

Happy No-Government-Shutdown Day!

September 30th, 2015, 10:42pm by Sam Wang

The U.S. Congress has reached the point where not shutting down the federal government at the start of a new budget year is considered an accomplishment. Wow.

The other day, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo asked his readers for their favorite government shutdown. My favorite shutdown is the original ones in 1995 and 1996. Why settle for cheap copies when you can have the original?

The ascent of Newt Gingrich was a turning point for the modern Republican Party. The slide toward the right on issue positions began in 1974. This accelerated, and the tone took a sharp turn too, when Newt and Company came in. I was working in the U.S. Senate as a committee staff fellow. People were still adapting to the shock (or rush, depending on one’s party) of the Contract With America, which seemed to be filled with unrealistic goals. As a scientist naive to the appropriations process, I attended a briefing by the GOP budget director. I asked why one would link the debt ceiling with day-to-day funding of the government. To me, it seemed like asking for trouble. She replied that it was “a strategic move.” What an understatement!

All these steps were mind-blowing and extreme at the time. It’s all with us today. Back then it was so fresh, so new.

It seems that the departure of John Boehner as Speaker dramatically decreases the likelihood of a shutdown this year (though we’ll see what happens in December, when the temporary spending bill runs out). Furthermore, if House Republicans have any sense of self-preservation, they’ll refrain from doing so in the run-up to the 2016 election. That’s a big if. Still, one wonders if the next shutdown will have to wait until the first term of a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton (there, I said it).

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What does probability mean to a journalist?

September 25th, 2015, 5:23pm by Sam Wang

From Math with Bad Drawings comes this gem, depicting what probability means to a political journalist. “The threat is real.” Heh.

There’s a whole series of such drawings. Check them out!

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In time for the equinox, the Summer of Trump wanes

September 21st, 2015, 1:59pm by Sam Wang

In time for the autumn equinox on Wednesday, the Summer of Trump is waning. Surveys are now out with samples entirely postdating GOP debate #2. Taking a median of the last 4 pre-debate polls gives Trump 33.0±0.7% (estimated SEM). Then, in the last 4 pre-debate polls, Trump is now at 26.5±3.0%. The combined uncertainty (sigma) is 3.1%. He has dropped by 6.5%, which is greater than two times sigma and therefore statistically notable. Where does this end? Has Trump peaked and will he continue to head down? It’s hard to say .

Note that the HuffPollster graph above is shown just to give a visual impression, not for extracting the numbers I give above. As useful as HuffPollster is, their smoothing algorithms tend to boost the size of swings in the last few data points. “Less smoothing” gives the closest result to the simpler calculation of medians, which is why I show it.

The fraction of GOP voters willing to go with outsiders who have never held office (Trump, Carson, Fiorina) still adds up to over 50 percent, but they have redistributed a bit. Considering Fiorina’s problems with accuracy and her dismal performance as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO, it seems likely that her rise will also be transient. If 2012 is a guide, she will last one or two months then fade, just as Cain, Gingrich, Santorum, and Bachmann did. And now, maybe Donald Trump – though his unique combination of issue stands (maintained domestic programs and extreme nativist attitude toward immigrants) and his persona could keep him from dropping all the way. It seems likely that many Trump/Carson/Fiorina voters will eventually turn to establishment candidates…but who?

Walker’s fallen below 2% [P.S. and has dropped out] and Jeb! is stuck around 8%, for now anyway. Assuming those trends persist, the highest-finishing serious candidate is Marco Rubio. As I have said before (link to The New Republic), Rubio is a relatively likely consensus candidate. In the past, the GOP has usually settled on a strong general-election candidate. Rubio polls relatively well against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. If the past is a guide, then at some point party donors/actors and primary voters may fall into line.

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GOP debate #2 open thread

September 16th, 2015, 6:34pm by Sam Wang

Step 1: Turn on CNN.
Step 2: Refer to Matt Taibbi’s Debate Drinking Game.
Step 3: Comment!

Open thread.

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Trump 1st+2nd choice reaches 50%; Carson least upsetting

September 10th, 2015, 9:07am by Sam Wang

This is interesting, from CNN/ORC: those who list Trump as their first choice added to those who list him as their second choice now add up to 50%. In principle, this opens the possibility of a clean win if the whole narrowing-down process were to play out immediately, using today’s opinion among GOP voters.

However, an actual Trump win by next year’s convention is still highly unlikely because of opposition by Republican Party leaders – and primary voters too. Of GOP voters surveyed, 21% said they would be “upset” if he were the nominee, not far from the number who would be upset about Jeb Bush.

Who was least upsetting? Ben Carson at 5%, followed by Marco Rubio at 7%. If the primary process were allowed to play out in an orderly manner (a big if, with Trump acting as a wrecker, to use the old Soviet term), these two would seem to be in a better position to make it to the final stages of the primary season.

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There is a great deal of activity in the field

August 25th, 2015, 6:39am by Sam Wang

I’m on “vacation,” working on projects that sometimes remind me of this quote from Richard Feynman. Replace the green block with an area that comes to mind.

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Top 10 GOP candidates

August 4th, 2015, 2:58pm by Sam Wang

…with appropriate error bars! From Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR.

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Is Donald Trump Really The Frontrunner?

July 20th, 2015, 1:18pm by Sam Wang

Conventional horserace polls put him in first or second place. However, these single-choice polls are a terrible way to tell who is likely to make it in a field of 16 candidates.

Today in The New Republic, I argue that horserace polls are asking the wrong question. Instead, a more elaborate method – instant runoff voting* – may more accurately answer who is likely to survive the coming campaign. Read on!

*Postscript: I’ve been hearing from people who point out the problems with instant-runoff, both as an actual voting system and as a feasible polling technique. One possibility that may address both concerns is Bucklin voting.

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SCOTUS Upholds Arizona Redistricting Commission

June 29th, 2015, 11:17am by Sam Wang

Update, 10:05pm: At Slate, Mark Joseph Stern thinks this case might be seen someday as the most important one of this Supreme Court term. I agree with him. -Sam

This morning, the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision on redistricting in Arizona. Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned the opinion. For anyone interested in redistricting, this is a big deal – and in my view, a good development, for reasons I wrote about in 2013. Here’s what happened…
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Train travel is incredibly safe

May 13th, 2015, 9:08am by Sam Wang

Television “news” media, as is often the case, is good at blowing an event out of proportion. In the wake of the Amtrak train crash (and hey, I am totally against train crashes!), we have this:

In contrast with this statement, the bar graph above shows actual transportation fatality risk in the United States, from an article by Ian Savage at Northwestern University. His data end in 2009, but note that the overall tendency is for travel to get safer over time:
From the work of Ian Savage, Northwestern University

Take a look: death rates have gone down for all forms of travel: car, train, airplane, and boat. Despite this, such gore is a staple of news broadcasts. However, maybe some good can yet come of this: there is a major need for repairs and upgrades in U.S. infrastructure. Train travel is one place to invest the dollars.

It is a shame that we are intensely visual primates. Actual threats like climate change are too abstract to appreciate, while on TV we get panic about Malaysian jets and train crashes.

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