Category Archives: 2020 Election

Four Distinct Democratic Campaigns

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Here is a nice new graphic showing the polling data for four of the current Democratic candidates. The graphic is meant to contrast the campaigns with respect to their overall pattern of performance over time.

Each of the four graphs represents polling from April to the present.

Each graph has four lowess smoothed lines representing the data, with all four candidate’s lines on each of the four graphs.

Each candidate gets its own graph, with those four lines, but with that candidate’s polling data shown.

The polling data is normalized so that each point is the proportion of polling points across just these four candidates, so there are no effects of other candidates entering or leaving the race.

All four graphics are on the same scale, but since I don’t want scale or actual polling numbers to be the focus, I did not include them.

What we see here is four distinctly different patterns. Biden is a top candidate with a declining campaign. Warren is an up and coming candidate with an expanding campaign. I used to use the term “flat line” to describe Sanders’ numbers, but I won’t do that any more. Let’s just say he has a nice, healthy, straight line that does not go up or down.

Harris has a campaign that experienced a temporary peak that went away.

Pretty cool graph, if I may say so myself.

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The State of the Democratic Race

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In the race for the Democratic nomination for the office of President, one thing is clear: Pretty much anybody could win.

Well, not really, but this time in previous elections, over several years, it has been uncommon for the leading candidate to stay the leading candidate, and it has been difficult to predict which of the candidates might eventually take the nomination. That prediction will be something one can make on Super Hangover Wednesday, I suspect (the day after Super Tuesday) in this particular year, or maybe a couple of weeks later.

However, that does not mean that an examination of the polling data is without merit or interest. Or, at least, interest.

Here, I look only at the three candidates that have been consistently in the double digit range for months: Biden, Warren, and Sanders. There are three simple and very interesting observations to make.

1) Sanders is to the polls like a nuclear power plant is to the electric grid supply. Baseload steady. People remark now and then that his numbers are up, or down, or whatever. But as the analysis below shows, Sanders’ position in the polls have been uncannily steady for months.

2) Biden has undergone a steady decline, starting with a stronger decline owing to simple stabilizing of numbers (with no real meaning, I think) followed by a long period of slow decline, and ending over the last few weeks with some real drops in the polling. Statistically speaking, using the i-statistic (“I can see this without even calculating any numbers) Biden is still probably in the number one slot, but we are observing a transition, which leads us to…

3) Warren has gone from a highly variable third/fourth place position to a strong second place position, and is moving on first place like a Marine.

In this analysis, numbers from only the three candidates are considered, and recalculated in relation to each other. This removes effects of other candidates moving into the race, out of the race, or around the race in relation to each other.

The usual most statistically reliable and widely understandable way of tracking a sequence of numbers (where you have an x and y axis or similar) is as simple regression analysis, where a single line is constructed that minimizes the total difference between the line and each data point. However, if the data points have some sort of oscillation or cycling, one must instead use entirely different techniques (like Fourier Analysis). In this case, the data have the potential of shifting orientation over time, so for a while the numbers are going up, or going down, or staying flat, then changing, but at a time and in a way you can’t know a priori.

The most accurate way to describe time series data, especially when it is kinda fudgably true that each point is from a different point in time (maybe by averaging all the polls released on a given day) is to make an equation that has one term for each and every point. However, that would be absurd. A lesser and more useful way to describe the data is to use a polynomial equation with just a couple of terms. that allows for the line the equation traces to track changes in direction as long as they aren’t too abrupt.

For this analysis I used a second order polynomial with an extension out in the future of 30 days, just for fun, and with no argument being made by me of the statistical significance of stability of such a line.

What we see here is a remarkably straight line, even though the line is allowed to curve if it wants to, representing Sanders. Look at that line. Flat.

We also see the double drop of Biden, with the second part of that drop much less clear and quite possibly not at all real. And, the two part upward sweep of Warren, with her early move into second/third placesness, and her later move int something challenging first place.

In particular note the small cluster of four red markers for Warren handing out up there with the Biden markers, near the end of the series.

If Warren’s rise to possible first place is real, most of the next half dozen polls, over the next few days, will be up there with these. We’ll see.

Here’s the graph:

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Politics 101: Knowing When To Hold ‘Em, When To Fold ‘Em

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Press your preference, hold back your hate. Don’t damage the duck until you know which duck is yours. We all do better when we all do better, even those you disagree with. There is an endless list of rhetorically clever utterances to make the same point: express your passion inside the Party, but then, get in line and vote blue. (Or red if you are for some strange reason a Republican interested in my advice, which is highly unlikely).

Here is the argument for not hating on candidates that you don’t like, and for NEVER claiming that you will NEVER vote for that one candidate you can’t stand even if they are selected by your party to wear the mantle. If I suggested that you read this as part of some online conversation, then yes, this is me referencing myself. That’s what blog posts are for.

If there is a position of power, even a little power, some of those interested in power may try to move into it. The power-hungry gravitate to the power places.

If there is a way to increase the power of that position, the power-hungry will likely try to do so, and over time, that position will become more and more power-containing.

An illustration of the phenomenon is the US Presidency. Originally conceived as being powerful but not too powerful, the Presidency was given additional power at the time of America’s first war, temporarily, for the purposes of effectively conducting the war. But when that war was over, some of the power stuck and the Presidency was more powerful after he war of 1812 than before it.

Every war after that had a similar effect, up to the point that war-related changes in policy and procedure as a pathway to power became saturated, probably in the mid 20th century. (See Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss for an analysis of this.)

It is possible that a positive feedback loop could emerge, where the more power-hungry vie for being in the increasingly powerful positions, and they are more equipped to increase the power held in that position, and on and on.

Article One, Section 5 of the Constitution states that “Each House [of Congress] may determine the rules of its proceedings.” Over time, these rules can be changed. The process is overseen by a hierarchy of elected individuals with different levels of power, consisting mainly of two categories: Overall leadership (such as the “Speaker” in the House) and committee leadership. How the rules work in detail is ultimately determined by negotiations and decisions among these leaders.

Rarely do leaders of the two chambers, or of committees, take action to reduce power. Rather, they increase the power of the chair, and of the committee.

Over time, the rules, created or amended entirely within, among, and by, the elected participants — not by passing laws or amending the Constitution — conferred more and more power to committee chairs, and the committees they chair.

And, over time, more and more power was absorbed by the partisan leadership in each chamber.

We are now at the point that the party in charge of a chamber (House or Senate) determines who is in charge of each committee or subcommittee, and those committee chairs determine almost 100% of the time what bills are considered, and which of those bills are ever brought to the floor for a vote.

If a particular political party is not in charge of BOTH houses of Congress, it is very unlikely to be able to carry out actual change by introducing and passing bills. If one of the parties is in the minority but only barely, in the Senate, it may have the power to sometimes interfere with the leading party’s efforts, and thus could have a small degree of fleeting relevance. At best. But hardly so.

For this reason, each of the two chambers of Congress (House and Senate) can be divided into two parts. Those in the majority party, including chamber wide leadership and committee leadership, and those not. The former have power, the latter not.

This is why, in a general election, citizens should vote for party and not individuals.

The greatest power we as citizens have is to influence which party is in power in each chamber (and the Executive, the President). We can also try to influence, often to measurable effect, the behavior of individuals in the party-in-charge once they are elected. Influencing those not in charge has little actual effect.

This means that voting to support individuals who happen to agree with our own positions is an ineffective strategy in general elections. Finding a member of Party A who we like and supporting them is a waste of time if Party B is in charge. If we like, more or less, the policies of Party A and dislike Party B’s policies overall, we should work to support any individual who is a member of Party A over any individual who is a member of Party B, in a general election.

People who say to me “I’m not a partisan” or “I’m independent” might as well be saying “I don’t really understand the system, please tread on me.”

The part of our political power manipulation, as voters or volunteers, that influences the finer detail of our preference happens within the party itself. We should be working hard to support individuals who feel like we do about the various issues, or whom for some other reason we would prefer to be eventually elected. But once the party has finished that decision making process, we should then fully support whom the party has chosen. There is no other procedure that is rational or that moves us as individuals towards more power.

It is logical, then, that while we are busy fighting for Mary over Albert for our party’s nomination, because we like Mary better, we should avoid doing material damage to Albert, just in case Albert ends up being the party-wide choice. The reason for this is blindingly obvious yet seems to be often missed, so I’ll state it. Damage we do to Albert now may weaken Albert in the general election, causing him to lose, and thus, causing all of us of (more or less) like mind to lose power in government.

The level of passion in our dislike of the candidates perceived as flawed, the ones that are imperfect, can be astonishingly strong. This passion is reflective of peronsal conceit. One’s own opinions are, in the realm of politics, one’s very self. Those that differ in policy from one’s own can rightfully be seen as different, but they are often also seen as inferior. It is with the utmost sense of self-supremacy that we strongly disdain politicians tho do not think, feel, and act, exactly as we think they should.

People need to learn to not treat others of the same party with that sense of self-supremacy.

It is understandable that there would be a certain degree of disdain, especially for politicians that are far, far away from ourselves in their positions on key issues. There is nothing wrong with rhetorically punching Nazis. But when a member of a certain political party disdains a politician enough to effectively support a candidate from the opposing party who stands against nearly everything we all believe in, that is the ultimate selfishness. It is a nearly unforgivable hubris, to believe that someone who is modestly different from oneself — even critically different in one issue but not likely in most issues — is worthy of sufficient disdain that one must punish one’s friends, family, fellow partisans, and all the future children over that difference.

So, please, don’t do that.

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Franken Anounces Run for Senate

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As outlined here in a post at Get Energy Smart Now, there is a new candidate in town in a major mid western Senate race. Siegel notes:

Today, a Climate Hawk is announcing his candidacy in the crowded Iowa Democratic Party primary for the chance to send Koch-funded, Koch-created, Koch-parroting climate-science denier Jodi Ernst to the pasture.

As his announcement video makes clear, Iowa farm boy Vice Admiral Mike Franken, U.S. Navy (retired), places climate change as core to his priorities, as core to his campaign, as core to his understanding of Iowans’ concerns about today and tomorrow.

This is important because Franken has an excellent chance of doing well in this race and replacing an in place Republican and climate change denier. Michael Franken is a true climate hawk.

He will be seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party.

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Dem Debate IIa: Progressive Movement Moves Ahead

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It is too early to declare a victory for the Progressive movement in the Democratic Party (obviously) but last night’s debate was a strong sign that there is a strong progressive movement, it is coherent and powerful, and it is winning.

Here’s why I say this, based on preliminary observations of last night’s debatge:

1) The two most progressive candidates, Sanders and Warren, started out well ahead in the polls among this randomly selected large sample of Democratic candidates. The lower down in the polls, within this group of candidates, the least progressive the politician. That is partly a function of who happened to be in this selection, but it is still relevant given that we are talking about ten candidates in one sample.

2) These two progressive candidates did very well in the debate using no apologies, no mincing of words, no side stepping, no clever restating of their positions, and they took no hits on the chin though there were many jabs.

3) The most “centrist” of the other candidates focused on opposing the progressives more than on their own positions, they did so at an apparent cost to party unity, which is going to leave a mark (on them, not the party), and there were a few punches on the chin taken by them, easily delivered by Warren or Sanders. There were times when this looked like two giants swatting flies.

4) The other candidates, who are in my view progressive in their ultimate objectives (mostly) but incrementalist in their approach, tried and partly succeeded to make themselves look like they are progressive in spirit but wiser than the actual progressives. Their supporter will stick with them, but I don’t see much prospect of these candidates gaining after last night.

Anthropologists have long observed that others either imitate the dominant culture, or fight them.

I believe that a number of Democrats who were mostly agnostic about the candidates, or waiting to see, saw and may have moved away from the centrists.

Indivisible conducted a flash poll among members after the debate and found these results:

Warren – 52%
Buttigieg – 19%
Sanders – 13%
Klobuchar – 5%
Williamson – 4%
O’Rourke – 3%
Bullock – 2%
Ryan – 1%
Delaney – 0%
Hickenlooper – 0%

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Who will be ahead on Super Wednesday?

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This year’s nomination process for US POTUS is a little different than usual. Super Tuesday happens FIRST instead of later in the race. Well, first, after the first states. The first state is New Hampshire. Except Iowa goes before New Hampshire, but whatever. After that are Nevada and South Carolina.

So, in that pattern we get a middle of the country white state, an eastern white state, an eastern southern state with a large African American population, and a random labor state (Nevada Democrats are union workers in the casinos, and such), first, and thus, an early look at what some semi-representative parts of the nation think of the candidates.

But then, this year, right away, boom, Super Tuesday.

So, CBS has put together a poll on the standing of the candidates in all the Super Tuesday states plus the first states. And, it is rather amazing.

Here is the breakdown:

Tier 1
Biden 25%
Warren 20%
Harris 16%
Sanders 15%

Tier 2
Buttigieg 6%
O’Rourke 4%
Castro 2%

Tier 3
Everybody else, all under 1%

Now, we need to adjust slightly. Note that Texas is in this poll. That is why O’Rourke is in the second Tier, I suspect. And, good for him. If his candidacy could guarantee Texas it would be good. Klobuchar’s Minnesota, also a Super Tuesday state did not help here in this poll. Among the many Minnesota Democrats I hear from, the most widespread comment I get is “Amy’s great. Senator Amy is great,” and that’s about it. We may be keeping her home. I suppose California being in this group may be helping Harris. Note also how well Warren is doing. Mass is a Super Tuesday state but I would think New York Dems would be very big on her.

For this poll, I suspect that Warren is underestimated and O’Rourke is overestimated, but overall, these numbers are roughly as expected. Notice that as noted elsewhere, Sanders is a 16%er and that’s it. Not much more and not much less.

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The Story of the Democratic Candidates: Final Chapter

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Final chapter for now…

I made a very special graphic, have a look:

Following in part on the procedure discussed here, this analysis combines data from several time-overlapping polls to produce a neater and cleaner depiction of each of the top four candidates march towards the presidency … or not.

It turns out that polls come in clusters. There will be several days in a row with a bunch of polls coming out, and then there will be a few days with no polls at all. There are reasons for this I won’t go into now. And, these polls, in the clusters, tend to overlap in time. For this reason, it is easy to take a bunch of polls in such a cluster and average out the results to give a better than average snapshot of a candidate’s status for a given period of time, usually about a week. Then, these withing cluster estimates are somewhat independent from the other clusters because there is no overlap in time, for the most part. The power of each estimate is very high, the trends depicted across the estimates are very likely.

That’s what the graphic above shows for Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Harris. Trends I noted in the previous several blog posts are apparent, but more cleanly depicted.

Here is what this graphic, based on 38 national polls, shows:

1) Biden has had a steady decline, and the rate of that decline may have increased after the first and so far only debate, but he is still number one.

2) Sanders has had consistent, immutable, results the whole time, never changing. It is like there is a certain number of people who support him, and they are not budging, nor are they gaining allies.

3) Warren started to rise in the polls well before the debates. This seems to have corresponded with intensification of her campaign, and her issue oriented displays of knowing things and having plans. Most experienced candidates and campaigners will tell you that is a bad approach. For Elizabeth Warren, it may have moved her into second place.

4) Harris was steady in her just barely 10% status — remarkably flat in fact — until the debate, when she suddenly rose almost meteorically, but not beyond the first cluster.

Is Warren’s rise more stable and issues and candidate based, therefore long lived, while Harris’s rise is a temporary bump from going after Biden in the debates? Is Biden’s downward trend going to continue at its newly accelerated rate or will it flatten out a bit, as hinted in these numbers?

To find out the answers to these and other questions, stay tuned!

But seriously, the next cluster of polls will be available in less than a week from now, most likely. The current pattern requires that the average for Biden be 35% or lower. Warren needs to be a strong second with over 25%. Sanders, while looking very flat, is actually down at his lowest rate in this sequence at present. Sanders should drop below 20%. Harris is likely to stabilize at around 20 or drop back to below 20. Or, she will rise to the mid 20s at the expense of Biden, mostly.

In evaluating these projections, remember how they are calculate. The poll numbers you see will all be lower than those mentioned here because of this. I don’t have full confidence in these projections, but when I say it all out loud, it seems right.

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The Story of Warren and Harris as told by the ever-loving polls

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The Warren and Harris stories are similar to each other, when viewed using the data described here. Both are trending upwards from a respectable just under two digit position, menacing those in second place.

I put the polynomials (third order) on there to investigate consistency in this trend over time. They show that Warren’s upward trend is steady, and Harris’s is more stepwise. It is hard to know if this means one is stronger, or rising faster, or more likely to take a top position, than the other. Not shown here, but looking at only the last month or so, both trend up, and Harris overtakes or equals Warren 20 days out. But, the variance in the data for that shorter time period is high, so I wouldn’t put much in it.

Bottom line: Harris and Warren are moving into position to be contenders in the race for the Democratic Party nomination, currently moving past, or about to move past, second place Sanders, while at the same time Biden is sinking into the same range. For a brief moment, this may be a four way horse race, by the end of July or early August.

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The Story of Booker, Yang, Klobuchar, and Castro, as told by the unforgiving polls

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This could all be because of name recognition, it could all be because of insiders at the DNC deciding in advance who the candidates are going to be, or some such thing. But the variation among these four candidates does not correlate to their own levels of name recognition, and at least one of these candidates is very powerful in the DNC, so I’m thinking none of that is key. These are good people. They are impressive, and they impressed in the debates. These four candidates could provide the nominee, any one of them could rise up out of the very low numbers and become a key contender,the nominee, even the president. But for now, there is really only one thing to say about the polling numbers, using the same data set as described here, for Booker, Yang, Klobuchar, and Castro: Rounding errors.

That strange pattern you see there that looks like layers in a cross section of a pristine tropical rainforest, that’s rounding errors. All the internal structure of these data is from rounding errors. Even the ranking could be so affected by rounding that I don’t think we can say much about these candidates except to wish them well.

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The Story of Beto and Pete, as told by the polls

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Now that we have dispensed with Bernie Sanders’ and Joe Biden’s stories, let’s have a look at two very different cases, those of Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg.

See this post for a description of how the numbers are calculated for the following graphic:

Instead of using a straight line regression I used a third order polynomial to track the polling over time for these two non-linear candidates. Each shows a rise and fall, with the fall ongoing. Don’t pay much attention to the 20 day projection. Maybe one or both of these candidates is oscillating rather than descending. Only time will tell.

There seem to be two main conclusions that can be drawn from these graphs.

1) Buttigieg is more or less on the board with a consistent high one digit showing, but he did not surge after the debates, and he is not really surging anywhere. In contract, O’Rourke has been essentially a non factor. People blame much of the pattern of polling on name recognition. This is true to some extent, but this effect is a) overplayed and b) important in choosing a candidate, not something to be discounted. Given the possible role of name recognition note that an unknown small time mayor is beating the pants off (in this low digit world) the guy who was VERY famous running against Texas Ted Cruz. In the end, O’Rourke does not appeal, Buttigieg has some potential.

2) Neither of these candidates really seems to be going anywhere.

In case you think me unfair or a statistical scoundrel of some kind for using a third order polynomial (and you should think that) for making the trend lines, there’s more.

The following graphic has the third order polynomial extended to fifth order. To illustrate the absurdity of it all, not this: There are some 38 data points here. A 38th order polynomial line would run through all of them. Anyway, using the high order polynomial, both candidates are doing great! But that is just for fun.

More important is the straight line regression line that shows both candidates as flat lining or slightly declining across this entire period, down below 10%. I suspect both of these candidates will be out of the race by the end of this November.

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The Story of Bernie and Joe, as told by the polls

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Here is a graph showing polling for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. See below for some important details.

The numbers used for this graph come from 38 national polls asking for voter preference about a varying number of candidates. There is a large variation across the polls in how many answered something other than a particular candidate (like “none”). These two factors cause useless and distracting variation in the actual percentage value given to a candidate for a given poll. You can imagine that if a certain candidate gets 23% of the “votes” in a given poll, that number could change a lot if non-answers were excluded, or the total number of candidates was different. An imperfect but still improved way to calculate the percent value for a given candidate is, then, to only look at a subset of the candidates across all the polls, and recalculate the percentage of polling for each candidate using only those numbers. That is what this graph shows, for these candidates only:


Why that particular list? Well, I noticed that if you look across all the polls, one minor candidate (minor in terms of percent in the collection of polls) seemed to vary from the middle of the middle tier to the bottom of the middle tier, but was never in the lowest lowest tier, and also, was polled from early on: Klobuchar. So, I took the RCP average at about the time of the debates, and applied the Klobuchar Factor. If you were below Klobuchar, you were out of consideration. Since then, the candidates have moved around a bit, and a present day Klobuchar Factor would produce a different list. But I don’t really care, because I just needed to have a cutoff somewhere.

The regression analysis suggests that about 56% of the variance seen in each canidates’ polls is explained by time (i.e., there is a pretty robust trend where time matters). I’ve extended the regression line out 20 days into the future, which would be the end of July.

So, getting back to the story of these two candidates. I want to consider each candidate separately. The reason they are both in the same graph, and blog post, is because they are the two candidates with the highest number across the entire data set, so the graph makes sense for their scale, and the process is cleaner of we separate out candidates by scale.

The story of Joe Biden is this: He started off high, around 50%, and ended up much weaker, closer to 30% with some of the most recent polls showing 25%. He halved, almost. Or at least, looking at the extended projection, he is in the process of measuring out his polling half-life, as it were. He was probably artificially high partly due to name recognition, and lost ground as other candidates gained. He also started out in a different sort of artificial high, as a well known and widely loved guy where policy had not been vetted, and has lost among Democrats in that way as well. But this is Biden, and this is how he has performed in his earlier presidential campaigns. Biden watchers are not surprised. Biden watchers will not be surprised if he isn’t really a factor in this campaign by the end of the year.

The story of Bernie Sanders is interesting. His numbers show the second lowest amount of variance, scaled by magnitude, of all the candidates. He started of around 20%. He is still around 20%. Bernie is not moving up, Bernie is not moving down. Well, maybe a tiny bit down. What he seems to be doing, really, is slowing down just a bit as Elizabeth Warren is passing him, much like a car going 45mph slows down a bit when a faster car is passing them on the highway. Though that is of course a bad analogy because the intentionality of events is very different.

In short, Biden is gliding to a campaign ending landing, while Sanders is flat-lining. The latter observation is, I think, the most significant. It tells us something, maybe, about Sanders campaign. His base is unmoving. This is expected, I think. I just hope that should Sanders not get the nomination nod, that base sees fit to support the nominee in 2020, all of them, different than what happened in 2016.

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