27 February 2016

Another political science point

Political science point that emerged in the result of South Carolina as a narrative among Sanders' fans. 

Supposedly, I am told, the lower Democratic primary turnouts relative to Republican primary turnout are a bad omen as a basis for how well Clinton will do later on. The only thing they were a bad omen for was the message and campaign of Bernie Sanders, which would need higher turnout (mostly among younger voters, and mostly whiter voters) both to succeed and be competitive against Clinton or to establish the narrative upon which he was running in the first place (that he would excite and attract new voters to the Democratic ticket). This has not happened. I have regarded it as a bad sign for this theory that there are indeed new legions of very liberal voters. There has always been a constituency of liberal voters within the Democratic party (particularly among younger voters) and certainly these have been more energized voters by Sanders than by Clinton. But this is different than saying these are many new voters.

In any case. This concept very likely has little to do with anything later on. This is a common problem among Sanders fans is they seem to expect politics to operate on the peek-a-boo principle of whatever I saw last is how it works. But it actually typically follows predictable principles. Those have broken down in the Republican primary which is a total clusterfuck of insanity, for various reasons (they've been out of power for a while in Presidential terms meaning they cannot enact much of their agenda, frustrating base voters, they have moved very far to the right as a party where moderating influences are less effective, and they have pretty poor quality political figures from which to choose from, which failed to crowd out crazy people). I don't think these exist as problems in the Democratic party, at least in this cycle. The rules were still the same. For example. Appealing to people other than white liberal voters is a necessity in their political party (both to win a nomination and to win a general election), because white liberals are not a majority of their polity, much less the country as a whole. Sanders wasn't able to do that, or at least hasn't been able to so far. This was obvious months ago. Comment threads after he was pretty handily beaten in South Carolina involving Sanders fans remain pretty ignorant of this problem as to how it would translate to other states of more significance to both the Democratic nomination and to the general election (say Virginia, Florida, Colorado, or Ohio).

To the specific point. Participation in primary elections is much higher with multiple candidates when it is seen to be competitive, among more partisan voters, and with an older and whiter voting bloc (all of which tends to be Republicans). Participation in a Presidential election cycle is determined by other factors, but it's basically way, way higher among all demographic groups than partisan primary elections. Comparing these two things is unlikely to mean very much as it isn't even apples to oranges. It's more like comparing peppers to cookies for who shows up and why.

That does not mean that Democrats should or will be complacent with a Clinton nomination against an increasingly strange possibility of a Voldemort GOP nomination. They really cannot be complacent against the still plausible case of a Rubio nomination (I still have a bet to win there), assuming Voldemort doesn't go rogue and run as an independent at that point, as they still have a good chance of losing in that scenario. They will still need a large turnout operation, in part based upon having plausible policy goals, but mostly based upon "look at this horrible person the other people have nominated! We must defeat them!". Since that seems to be what gets voters to come out.

But this is not a sensible worry for now to concern Democratic/liberal voters. Clinton is not a talented politician, and not a popular person, but she's far more skilled at campaigning than any of the idiots in the GOP race who couldn't take out Voldemort, and she's still noticeably more popular than he is.

*Note: I am extremely unlikely to vote for Clinton. I would probably have to make a voting error to do so. I will almost certainly vote third party. I am not a Clinton backer. This is simply me observing the structure of the primary race and the things that are worrying people from within it. I did this in 2012 with Romney voters and would have gladly made some money off of them if they hadn't chickened out.

I side with

isidewith was an interesting attempt started back in 2012 to get some members of the public to think more about matching their policy interests and goals with political candidates who might better support those. I'm rather skeptical that this project is likely to have much fruitful action in and of itself, for reasons that have to do with how most people vote and why not having very much at all to do with policy goals, particularly in a polarized voting environment. But it was a laudable project at the time to try to get people to think about third parties and more rigorously evaluate their policy visions and compare them to something like the actual positions of candidates.

I'm less sure of its current development still fulfilling that mission, but I have other uses for it all the same.

*I don't really have a positive opinion of some of the methods of matching being used, and the site seems to have taken a somewhat more distinguishably liberal tone to some of its questions and answers rather than being more obviously neutral (I say this as someone who on many issues regards Democratic candidates as illiberal squishes rather than anyone invoking a liberal political and policy tradition). A further problem may be the online sampling is likely to skew younger than the overall population. This has implications on a variety of issues more likely to be popular among younger voters than older voters (note these are not necessarily predictable. Support for entitlement reform for instance tends to be greater among older voters than young people). What that may be suggesting is that some of these issues that are closer in appearance here may be possible for reform, but not for several more years as demographics shift to have fewer of the existing older voters still alive.

But there's still some interesting results in looking at the poll results on specific questions that I wanted to pull apart more.

Issues with general agreement of some kind across parties that might actually get something done in the next few years (and not totally annoy me). 

Welfare-work requirements: Pretty popular with both parties. About 3/4 of Democrats and 80% of Republicans are in favor. I think this would make a possible case for an expansion and better tax incidence smoothing of the EITC and other social welfare programs. But not something like a negative income tax (my favored solution instead of min wages and smoothing out transfer payments by eliminating many programs and consolidating them as a cash transfer.)

Paid family/sick leave: Popular with both parties (60-40 Republicans, 90-10 Democrats). I would prefer this be implemented by having the government pay for it, in a way that it operates like disability insurance of a sort, rather than risk providing distorted incentives for employers to fire or not hire people who are more likely to get sick or avoid hiring or promoting fertile aged women capable of reproducing. It is however an issue on which there appears to be some possibility for reforms, which is rare.

Universal background checks for guns: This gets almost 90% support from either party. One caveat to this is that the support for "more gun regulations" is highly split (80-20).

Euthanasia: There's a gap here, but both Republicans (55-45) and Democrats (90-10) supported this as an option.

Issues with odd divides or near uniformity that annoy me:
ISIS - declaration of war ends up being mostly pro. Democrats were split about 35-65. I could see some number of people suggesting a legal procedural problem of allowing the military and President to conduct a conflict without the input of a Congressional vote but this wasn't offered as a legitimizing feature in the "more options" categories. A very similar partisan split occurred in using "ground troops" however, suggesting that if there is some sort of legal procedural voting bloc, it isn't very big.

"Decrease the military budget" - Republicans were almost united in opposing any decrease, but even Democrats were about evenly split. This was utterly horrifying to me given how much money we expend on defense budgets annually and what little return we receive for it (even in reference to what the defense department receives, this is less than clear it is getting what it asked for in exchange for the money allocated).

Foreign aid - reliably, everyone hates this (across both parties). Also reliably, I expect pretty much no one knows how much we are spending and on what.

GMO labels. The only political group that opposed these in substantial numbers is libertarians (and then it was still about 50-50). Both Democrats and Republicans were at 80-20 margins.

Drug testing welfare recipients. Despite considerable evidence this is either unconstitutional or totally ineffective, both parties supported this. Republicans do so to an absurd degree (93-7). But Democrats do themselves no favors (58-42).

Farm subsidies: There's not much of a divide here. Democrats are marginally more supportive of them. Republicans are about 50/50. Again, libertarians were the only political group that opposed these in substantial numbers. There hasn't been a good economic case for these since the Progressive Era under Hoover. Which is to say there is not one.

Prosecuting bankers for the 2008 financial crisis attracted bipartisan support (more from Democrats, but it's about 60-40 from Republicans). I am unclear what good this would do and tends to be pretty hard to do.

Marijuana legalisation: Still pretty opposed by Republicans (60-40). Democrats are up to about 90-10 in favor. I'm constantly annoyed this has not translated at the elite level very much at all. Few Democratic candidates are openly in favor. Drug decriminalisation more broadly (potentially including say, cocaine) has a similar split of around 70-30.

Patriot Act/NSA reforms, not supported very highly by either party. Republicans are more apt to back the existing architecture of the national security state. Libertarians of course hate these powers. The Apple-FBI fight has a similar split in support of demanding Apple hack phones for the government.

Social security. Both parties tended to have about 70-30 opposition to raising the retirement age for Social Security. I had other ideas on how best to fix the problems here (means test the benefits). Others would prefer raising the tax limit for it. But I can't really see a basis for leaving the age where it is either.

Term limits. Both parties support this at nearly 90%. I've never seen a good argument in favor of this idea. It's entirely populist nonsense. Fortunately nobody in office will do anything about it.

Campaign finance laws: both parties oppose the current Citizens United framework. I think the case against this is pretty weak and that greater funding transparency would be of sufficient fix for now. It misdiagnoses the problem as election laws rather than lobbying.

Voter ID laws: Both parties support these. Republicans are at extremely high rates but Democrats are still at around 2/3s. I find there's little or no basis for this form of voter fraud protection and that methods of suppressing or preventing individuals from voting are really poor ideas (even though I think many voters are poorly informed at best, and misinformed at worst).

Death penalty: Supported by both parties. Democrats around 2/3s. Republicans at 90-10. I can conceive of a moral case for killing certain people based on the severity of crimes and the possibility of rehabilitation, but the amount of burden of proof and expense, and the civil libertarian moral case for not killing people who might be innocent or may be otherwise "redeemable", and that there does not appear to be an effect of deterrence for the sort of crimes that we use it for, and the case that we are often using it for racist reasons, all weigh heavily against this being still a good and necessary idea in a modern state.

Issues with odd divides or near uniformity that may annoy partisan elites:

Cuba - There's a partisan split here but it's an odd one for the way Republican elites have been talking about it. Democrats almost universally support this change (95-5), while Republicans come out as almost a 50-50 split. I'm not sure there's much of a cohort available to them to pander toward (neoconservatives?) that it would actually be beneficial to reverse course on this policy trend toward normalizing relations with Cuba. It probably seems pretty clear to almost everyone what we were doing wasn't working.

Global Warming - big partisan split here too, but there's a cohort of Republicans that still favor doing things (about a third). Democrats are almost universally in support of doing something, but almost none of them favor taxing carbon emissions. Which is really disheartening. I think it's probably one of the simplest methods of attacking the problem.

TPP - Both parties voters were about 60-40 against. I have mixed impressions of this because of intellectual property rights law intersecting with the treaty in a way I find undesirable (strengthening and expanding the protections rather than reducing them to be more sensible).

NSA metadata collection - both parties seem to have about a 60-40 opposition to these programs. Further reform to squash them may be possible.

Issues with large partisan divides (things that we should expect to come up in the elections)

Syrian Refugees (accept or not) - For the record I answered this with "we should accept many more than 10k". I'm about as pro-refugee and asylum as someone gets, particularly given all the restrictions and system of checks involved in accepting such people as we already have making it difficult to accept and integrate as many people as we should.

This comes out as a near 50-50 split. But on partisan grounds both parties ended up closer to 80-20 or 20-80 splits. It's likely to be a sore point over which partisans will argue, but no middle ground can occur.

There isn't a cohort that broadly supports overthrowing Assad or preventing Russian support of Assad through their airstrikes. This seems to be a big disconnect between the public, particularly the conservative public, and most of their candidates (Voldemort seems to have tapped into this best, though it isn't a focal point of his blustery word salad presented as a campaign).

Iran - There's a big partisan split over attacking Iran though. Republicans favor airstrikes on nuclear facilities by an 80-20 margin. The polling there is older, but I doubt it has shifted very much since. (For the record, I wouldn't favor airstrikes even if I thought they were building a bomb. Which I do not think is or has been the case for some years now anyway).

College loans/college debt. There's a big partisan split over how to fund these. Sanders plan of a Wall St tax or raising taxes on rich people to fund colleges is very popular among Democrats and liberals. But nobody else likes it.

Immigration: Democrats on virtually any immigration question favored much broader admittance and acceptance. Republicans did not. There was a huge split over whether local law enforcement should detain people based on minor crimes (like traffic violations or other misdemeanors). This is likely because this is believed to be used (and has been shown to be used) for racial profiling purposes rather than immigration enforcement. There was another 80-20 split over birthright citizenship and over the restriction of Muslim immigrants. There was also a gap between Democrats (50-50) and Republicans (96-4) over "border security".

There was no real divide over "immigrants should be required to learn English". Which in practice makes sense, but in terms of the legal system does not.

Unions were regarded negatively by Republicans (70-30) and positively by Democrats (80-20). Which probably explains min wage discussions. Speaking of which, minimum wage increases were along a similar split (80-20 each).

Obamacare: huge partisan divide here. Democrats favored 85-15, Republicans 95-5 against. This essentially forecloses the ability to do either a) reforms to the existing system that make it work better or b) any substantive discussion of further liberal policy choices. It also limits the prospect of conservative policies being put forward instead as the existing system is essentially one put in place by moderate conservatives (Mitt Romney for instance).

Abortion: Remains a pretty strong partisan split. Republicans are "only" coming in at 70-30 "pro-life". Democrats at 90-10 pro-choice. Planned Parenthood funding achieves similar results as a proxy fight in this issue.

Gay marriage: Republicans come in 70-30 against still (Democrats are nearly universally in support).

26 February 2016

NCAA week 2 rankings

Lots of shaking up occurred. Which is to be expected with the field being separated poorly. But it's basically the same group of teams in a different order or shape.

1) Villanova 14-4
1) Michigan State 12-5
3) Kansas 15-4

4) Oklahoma 15-5
5) North Carolina 14-5
6) Louisville (ineligible) 9-67) Virginia 13-6

8) Kentucky 14-6-1
9) West Virginia 11-7
10) Duke 12-7
11) Xavier 12-3

12) Arizona 11-6
13) Iowa 9-6-1
14) Wichita St 5-6-1
15) Indiana 10-4-2
15) Purdue 10-6-1
15) Miami 14-4-1

18) Iowa St 11-9
19) Maryland 12-4-1
20) Texas AM 14-7
21) SMU (ineligible) 8-4
22) Vanderbilt 7-11
23) Oregon 12-5-1
24) Notre Dame 8-8

25) Connecticut 9-8

20 February 2016

Random thought for the day

There seems to be a high correlation between the people complaining about "social justice", "political correctness", "feminism", people being accused of being "racist", and said people being or at least acting like assholes, particularly online. By making very sloppy and indecorous arguments, attracting a lot of attention for doing so (often negative attention), and then retreating behind friendly lines and watching the fire burn afterward. Usually quite unapologetically as though they did not realize there would be any problem.

Some or all of those causes have legitimate problems in their public presentation, factual points of agreement or disagreement, and acceptance of critiques along those lines. Some or even many of the people involved in those causes can be sometimes quite unpleasant to talk to. Indeed this is a common complaint leveled at: environmentalists, feminists, atheists, libertarians, conservatives, marxists, etc. That the people involved are often coming off as somewhat intolerant of dissenting views and other crimes against the use of public forums to try to win arguments. But most of the people pointing this out cannot help but to appear to be enormously smug bastards about it as though they are winning something other than this legitimate complaint. And they often seem to pick the more inflammatory or offensive method of expression to do so when something more mundane or polite would suffice. They thus appear to be winning mostly troll-ish opinion and flame wars.

Ordinarily such things don't matter in real life that some number of people might secretly be enormous assholes who are offended that they cannot say regressive things about other people any more. Except we have a Presidential candidate whose entire campaign seems based around taking this manner of argument and rhetoric to its logical conclusion and who seems to be fairing reasonably well in spite of this ordinarily disqualifying limitation. In general, I favor extremely wide uses of freedom of speech, relative even to the extremely wide uses that most Americans think they favor. That is that I do not favor using state power to silence people on almost any basis relating to "offensive speech", and I don't really care very much if we try to use soft power via things like boycotts to silence people we disagree with privately or in this context who we believe are "offensive". I think this is ineffective too most of the time. Idiots and assholes and misogynists and racists and other varieties of poor quality arguments should become self-identifying and self-recommending in that light by allowing them to speak and learning how poorly they have thought of their chosen subjects of speech. But the modern status symbol appears to be assholes "who will tell it like it is" for some number of people. Which is more concerning that there are apparently a sufficient number of idiots and assholes and misogynists and racists.

18 February 2016

NCAA Rankings

General thoughts on NCAA season so far: 
No clear favorite has emerged. Villanova appears to be slightly better but not by much, not only over the top 4 but also the next tier down. 

Two teams that are ineligible for post season play are in the top 25, which opens up slots for weaker teams.

Many more teams appear to be in a middling state that hasn't separated from the pack, which will make the bubble teams very soft at selection time. Few of those teams have good records against good teams, see Vanderbilt, Creighton, and Kansas St (teams with tough schedules and poor records) versus Providence, South Carolina, and Colorado (better records and similarly tough schedules, but more "bad" losses).

Almost none of those bubble or middling teams are in minor or mid-major conferences. Valparaiso, Monmouth, and UALR appear to be possible "surprise" teams for later, and maybe the only teams possible to "take" a spot should they not win their conference's automatic bid. Most of the bubble is from the ACC, SEC, and Pac-12 teams that are closer to average, and not minor conferences. There are somewhat more of these minor conference teams that are in the 69-85 range than usual right now, but not many in the top 60.

As always, records are versus top 100 teams only (teams generally likely to be in the NCAA tournament). Gaudy records against more mediocre teams will not impress me. 

1) Villanova 13-3
2) Michigan St 10-5
3) Virginia 13-5
4) Kansas 13-4

5) Louisville (ineligible) 7-6
6) West Virginia 11-6
7) Oklahoma 13-5
8) North Carolina 12-5

9) Duke 12-6
10) Arizona 11-5
10) Kentucky 12-5-1
12) Iowa 9-5-1

13) Miami  13-3-1
14) Xavier 10-3
14) Purdue 10-5-1
16) Maryland 11-4
16) Indiana 9-4-2

18) Iowa St 11-8
19) Wichita St 5-6-1
20) SMU (ineligible) 8-3
21) Texas AM 12-7
22) Oregon 11-5-1

23) Gonzaga 3-6
24) Notre Dame 8-7
25) Vanderbilt 5-11

Ranked Teams not in 25
40) Dayton 7-3-1
51) Providence 9-5-3
28) Texas 11-8-1
36) Baylor 9-7
54) South Carolina 10-4-1

13 February 2016

An update to an older problem

A problem I identified among, mostly liberals I guess, I believe has a more firmly identified cause than it did some years ago when I first wrote about it. 

The problem was voter turnout and associated beliefs about "uninformed" voters screwing things up. I categorize most of these as "misinformed" voters, because most of these are voters who believe they possess a good deal of information about complicated subjects and tend to score well on tests of basic political knowledge. Uninformed voters, people possessing very limited levels of political knowledge, tend not to vote. Because they are not interested in politics usually. This is a problem for the theory that voter turnout produces a skewed outcome of some sort, in that the biases of "informed" voters already exist and are generally reflected in the vote.

A clearer statement of this appears to work more as follows: "uninformed voters" are "Republican voters", and that supposedly there is a legion of "informed voters" who don't vote (which is generally not the case), who would vote for Democrats. I'm dubious of this assumption being correct either. The available research on voting participation in the US in particular suggests that the vast majority of people who vote, particularly in primary elections as now, but also in general elections are reliably more partisan than people who do not vote. This is less about information, though partisanship can skew information considerably, and more about political parties having stronger incentives to turn out their voter bases than to try to convince moderate voters to vote for them, voters who are also reliably less informed and thereby somewhat difficult to appeal to, or to get weak partisan voters of your opponents to defect to your side or at least not show up at all, voters who will require somewhat more convincing still. In other words, it's becoming a race to appeal to strong partisans to argue among themselves about what dastardly plan they won't be able to accomplish because those evil people over there are preventing it and dammit we need more of us, and then point fingers at how terrible those people are on the other side. Or even politicians who aren't "pure" enough (as with the Sanders-Clinton infighting that occurs online).

The effect of this however on voter turnout isn't "more people will vote Democrat if only they would show up", because there's less evidence for that prognosis, particularly as the political parties become more extreme. It seems to be instead fewer people give a damn in the first place because they feel disconnected from the more partisan and more extreme voter bases of political parties. General elections like the Presidential election cycle will probably still turnout "moderate" or even "establishment" voters who are less partisan than ordinary voters. Most other forms of elections may become increasingly extreme and polarized, and eventually have fewer voters (not yet, more work would be required to be more partisan than now). This theory seems to explain some of the chaos that has emerged so far as a narrative among the political primaries being so divorced from "establishment" demands, in that the partisan activists are very displeased with the performance of their chosen political parties and believe they would do better if they were only more extreme and purer than they currently are. In some way. There is little or no historical evidence for this theory of course. In fact extreme partisans in large turnout elections have a very strong pull historically toward "this will cost us the election" or "this could splinter and fracture our political party" or "some third party or independent candidate will get a bunch of votes". None of which seems likely to be optimal to the extremists but still they persist in their motions.

As a minor member of a disloyal tribe of partisan voters (small l libertarians, or left-leaning ones), this is all quite amusing watching the major political parties trying to eat themselves alive by arguing their way into factionalism and extremism. And I gladly cheer their efforts on if it means more factions emerge eventually and perhaps more choice becomes available to capture factions of voters unmoved by those on these current extremes (as I am not). But how this impacts voter turnout in some positive manner seems far from clearly advantageous for either side. For the following reason: right now the public still seems on balance to be roughly split in so far as that it tends toward more socially liberal policies (they want less interaction between values and laws), but also tends toward more economic conservatism (they want government to do at least somewhat less than it presently does in the economy overall, if not specifically). At present neither political party represents this demand sufficiently at a national level (one could argue Democrats during the period from 1930 to 1970 mostly had control this state of affairs as it was a more socially conservative party then nationally, and perhaps Republicans in the 1980s and 90s as the national mood was more socially conservative). This dynamic will also shift back and forth on both counts, or at least it traditionally has. Neither party likely possesses some sort of natural monopoly on voters that can persist for long periods of time. This suggests that polarized elections of lower turnout will eventually produce unstable swings between parties as little of note may get done, or that what gets done is immediately demanded to be undone. Non-polarized elections with higher voter turnout will tend to produce more stable swings as some number of people in the middle will be able to sway elections if they feel one party or the other has too much or too little influence.

There can be an argument that voter suppression efforts to depress turnout have a general partisan bias. But even this is not guaranteed. Evidence suggests that the attempts to use voter ID laws in Pennsylvania for instance may have harmed Republican vote turnout more than Democratic vote turnout in the state (or, more likely that it had little partisan effect versus the fact that it was not expected to be a competitive state). It is also not abundantly clear that all such laws have the effect of swinging partisan districts between parties, or dramatically reducing partisan turnout for an opponent in a general election. Voter restrictions based upon felony convictions are a possibility to be of a partisan effect. Voter restrictions that end up with a disproportionate racial bias also. The evidence also suggests that the strictest voter restrictions of these types (for example voter ID laws) end up with perhaps a 2% reduction in voter turnout. This results in perhaps an additional 1% of Democratic voters by margin on average, which is unlikely to impact most races (it will impact some surely, but will also push some number in the other direction). Partisanship effects for something like primary elections have had far more dramatic impacts upon voter turnout however, as voter turnout is considerably lower than a 2% reduction.

To be sure, I tend to oppose most restrictions on voting. For example, I am in favor of allowing ex-convicts to vote in any state that currently restricts it (Maryland just changed its laws on this point, overriding a Governor's veto). I tend to think strict voter ID laws are generally not very useful. Very few people will attempt to vote fraudulently without them. Much less than this 1% of partisan voter suppression being achieved with them. Which suggests these laws are unjustified or unnecessary for electoral fairness. Nevertheless the idea that such laws have significant impact on turnout and the results of elections (particularly Congressional elections) seems spurious versus other causes, partisanship for example, or favorable redistricting efforts in partisan directions, or incumbency biases, and so on down the line. Few elections turn upon a 1-2% turnout gap. The average margin in House races tends to be over 30%. Senate races are about 20%. Approximately 30 House seats and 3-5 Senate seats will be under even 5% each cycle. Maybe 60 House sears and 8 Senate races are decided by fewer than 10 points. This is not significantly different in off year cycles like the midterms. This should not be encouraging that low voter turnout is the problem for some vast quantity of annoying Republicans getting elected if one is a liberal Democrat.