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Wednesday, September 2, 2020


Now that we have refreshed our spirits with a musical interlude, let us return to the matter at hand: the election. Many commentators have noted that Democrats are prone to handwringing and I am certainly no exception. I obsessively check the polls as they are reported each day, anguishing over changes that are so far inside the margin of error that they have no significance whatsoever. Isolated as I am here in my safe retirement community, there is precious little I can actually do save to donate money to candidates or organizations, so, faute de mieux, I worry. Herewith a brief discussion of several of the more common sources of concern.

First is the shy Tory. This, as I am sure you know, is the theory that Trump supporters are embarrassed to tell a pollster of their intention to vote for so execrable a candidate, thereby systematically under representing the extent of his strength. There have in fact been several elections in the past in which a phenomenon of this sort was recorded, but there is no evidence that this is going to be one of them. Some polls are telephone polls in which a voter must tell an actual person at the other end of the line of his or her intention to vote for Trump. Others are online polls in which this source of embarrassment is not present. I do not believe there is any evidence of a systematic difference in the results of polls taken in these two different ways. So let us put that aside. It is upsetting enough that scores of millions of not noticeably mentally deficient Americans are enthusiastically planning to vote for Trump. That is bad enough without worrying about shy Tories.

A second source of anxiety is the so-called Red Mirage. This is a slightly more complicated anxiety and needs a little explanation. If a significant majority of Americans vote for Biden but in very large numbers choose to vote by mail, on election night the initial results reported may show Trump leading in states with as many as 400 electoral votes. Although as the absentee ballots are counted Biden’s lead will manifest itself and he will clearly be the winner, there is a fear that Trump will declare victory on election night and then sow such confusion about the results that he will be able in some unspecified way to completely screw up the election and call its results into question, after which he will refuse to leave the White House and we will have a dictatorial crisis on our hands. I tend to think this anxiety is overstated but I understand it and there is one obvious way of avoiding it, namely voting early by mail. As I have reported, at least in North Carolina and perhaps in many other states as well, absentee ballots are opened and recorded as they arrive and then added to the election day votes on November 3. It is really only the absentee ballots mailed a few days before election day or even on election eve that cause the problem. So get out to vote just as soon as you can. I will predict (here I go again) that we are going to see a flood of early voting both in person and by mail. My sense is that Trump opponents are so eager to vote against him that they will crawl over broken glass to do so. Not so much to vote for Biden, but that is all right. A vote is a vote.

A more serious source of anxiety, and one that has afflicted me in recent days, is that continued demonstrations and unrest and occasional violence will spook those much discussed white suburban women whose shift toward the Democrats is a significant part of what now shows up in the polls as Biden’s lead. I worry a lot about that but I must say that so far the polls are not showing any evidence of such spooking. In response to the events in Kenosha and elsewhere, Biden has already started moving to the right on the issue, as surely we all expected. As someone whose only personal experience with electoral politics was running third in a three-person race for two open seats on the Northampton Massachusetts school committee, I don’t think my intuitions in this matter are particularly reliable, so we shall just have to see.

On the upside, Biden is taking in money hand over fist and much of it is coming from small donations so that is some concrete evidence of enthusiasm on the ground.

Sigh. It is more fun talking about music.


Anonymous said...

Another reason to doubt there is Shy Tory effect is an inference from the 2016 election: the states in which Trump did better than the polls predicted were red and purple, while in the bluer states, where one would expect more shyness, the polls were more accurate.

Anonymous said...

A former DHS official who has begun speaking out says in regard to the summer's protests, "If you look at the people that have been arrested for that, by and large, I mean, it's the boogaloo movement or it's an association with QAnon. It's the right side of the spectrum. It is not antifa.... The threat of domestic terrorism is not from antifa. It is from these right-wing movements."

Of course, I'd like to see the numbers, but I hope that this message gets out and taken seriously.

marcel proust said...

Apropos mailing in mail-in ballots early, not all states permit election officials to open and count them before the election. My understanding is that this is an issue of dispute at the moment between the democratic governor and republican-majority legislature in PA.

From here:

County commissioners in Pennsylvania, which doesn’t allow processing of absentee ballots until Election Day, are pushing the legislature to set a 21-day “pre-canvass period” during which they could verify bar code and voter information on envelopes and remove and flatten the ballots.
Thirty-four states allow election officials to begin “processing” absentee ballots prior to Election Day, according to NCSL. While that means different things in different states, it generally includes opening the outer envelopes, verifying signatures and scanning bar codes. Some states allow removal of the ballots from the inner envelopes and preparation for counting (smoothing ballots and arranging them face up for feeding into counting machines).

On the opposite end, Massachusetts, Maryland and Mississippi don’t allow the processing to begin until the polls close.

More details at the link.

Michael said...

If you'd rather talk about Marx, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this review of a recent(ish) biography of the man:

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Michael, I tried to read it and I must confess my eyes glazed over. Sorry.

Michael said...

That's okay. Other things can occupy your time!

Michael Llenos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Llenos said...
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Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

As Anonymous Correctly points out there was no “shy Trump respondent” in 2016. It’s generally referred to as the ‘Brady effect’. The mayor of L.A., a Black man, ran for Gov. and while ahead in the polls nonetheless lost. No research I am aware of has ever found this type of effect.

fadingpinko said...

I am new to your site but much taken with what I have read . A preface here : although foreign ( expat Brit living in Canada ) - I am guessing it makes for resentment from US citizens when expressing views on US politics ( a side hobby of mine ) . If so , sorry .

If you have not already done so It would be interesting to hear what you have to say about criticism ( Jimmy Dore being the most persistent and eloquent on the subject ) of The Democrats as summarized like this :-

Biden is utterly awful . A corporatist whore , bought by ' Big Health ' ( against universal health care ) , the credit card industry and on and on through every right wing interest group .
As a longstanding mediocre political hack he has no more appeal than did Hilary .
That he repudiates the popular policies of ( turncoat ) Bernie and cannot expect to attract the biggest voter block - apparently 100 million strong - people who do not vote . Instead , tries to woo at-the-margin Trump voters .

The lesser of two evils he is purported to represent is , in terms of outcome ( for example who will we bomb next ) , a difference of little objective importance .