Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Results for Prognostications #8 and #9:
The Michigan and Arizona primaries

While Mitt R-Money won both races last night, Nate Silver and I split in terms of closeness of prognostication.  I lost in Michigan by over-rating Ron Paul by a bunch, while Nate lost Arizona by predicting the None of the Above vote would be non-existent.  Here are the numbers.

Romney 41.1%(Both of us low, Silver gains by 1.0%)
  Santorum 37.9%(I'm low by 0.4%, Silver is 0.2% high. Silver picks up 0.2%) 
Paul 11.6%(Both of us too high. Silver picks up a whopping 1.8%)
Gingrich 6.5%(Again, both of us high. I beat Silver by 0.4%)
None of the above 2.9%(Both of us low. I'm 0.2% closer)
Final prognostication score: Silver 91.6%, Hubbard 89.2%
Romney 47.3%(Both of us low, Silver gains by 0.4%)
  Santorum 26.6%(Both of us high. Silver picks up 0.2%)
Gingrich 16.2%(Again, both of us high. I beat Silver by 0.7%)  
Paul 8.4%(Both of us too high. I gain 0.2%)
None of the above 1.5%(Both of us low. I'm 1.1% closer)
Final prognostication score: Silver 89.0%, Hubbard 90.4%
If I made a mistake, it was discounting the polls with a lot of undecided in Michigan too much, which made my Ron Paul prediction there stand out like a sore thumb.  After seven match-ups, I'm ahead of Nate Silver 4-3.
So next week is Super Tuesday, with primaries in seven states (Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia) and caucuses in four (Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, Wyoming).  There is also a caucus in Washington state on Saturday.  I am going to make an arbitrary cut-off point of at least three polls in a state reporting after Friday and not all three polls by the same company for me to put up a prediction.  I don't know Silver's threshold for enough data. I expect some of the caucus states are not going to have many polling companies interested in hunting down those tiny numbers of caucus goers, but there's a good chance Silver and I will be going head to head in at least six contests next week.  The only change to my model will be to up the standard None of the Above vote to 1.5%.

Mmmm... fresh data!  So very fresh. Mmmmmm.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Prognostications #8 and #9:
The primaries in Michigan and Arizona

After three weeks of waiting, the crystal ball is back.  The voters in Michigan and Arizona go to the polls and there have been plenty of polls to give us an idea of an idea of how things are going, so I'm making a prediction of the final numbers and so is Nate Silver of and The New York Times. There has been more data published about Michigan than Arizona, including two polls in the last twelve hours, but both have been well covered, so here are the numbers, with my prediction first and Silver's in parentheses.

Romney 38.0% (39.0%)
Santorum 37.5% (38.1%)
Paul 14.0% (12.2%)
Gingrich 9.5% (9.9%)
None of the Above 1.0% (0.8%)

Romney 43.0% (43.4%)
Santorum 27.5% (27.3%)
Paul 10.0% (10.2%)
Gingrich 18.5% (19.2%)
None of the Above 1.0% (-0.1%)

We have no disagreements about the order. Both of our models say Michigan will be very close and Arizona will not. 
In Michigan, our big difference is about Ron Paul.  There were some polls that had Paul comfortably in third place and others that said he and Gingrich were neck and neck.  Most of the latter had much larger Undecided votes than made sense this late in the game, so I did not favor those polls, regardless of freshness.

In Arizona, the big disagreement is about None of the Above.  If it's anywhere near 1%, this will give my model a big advantage. If it is under 0.5%, Silver will be in better shape.
In the real world, this is really about delegates, though there is also value in getting good press by winning or making a good showing. Michigan's race is multiple contests, two delegates per each congressional district and two more for the overall winner in the state. Silver has some polling information that one district might be won by Dr. Ron Paul - the candidate the Daleks hate most - while the rest are battles between the front runners. Arizona is winner take all and R-Money's lead looks insurmountable there. Expect the news coverage to focus on the closeness of Michigan and ignore that Mitt's lead in delegates will increase.

I'll have a new post tomorrow giving the results. So far in the five races where each of us has predicted an outcome, I'm ahead 3-2.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A little more information about polls than you probably wanted.

When looking at two polls, there are some mathematically solid methods that help you distinguish the more reliable one.

Who did they ask?  The most reliable polls ask likely voters.  The next most reliable ask registered voters. The least reliable ask adults. (I guess the very least reliable ask unregistered teenage zombies, but I've seen very few polls who will admit that is their sample set.)

When did they ask?  If everything else is equal between two polls, the most recent gives the best information.

Almost all polls at the state level ask likely voters, and as for freshness of a poll, in this crazy season a poll one week old is next to no good at all.

The next most important question that has a true mathematical foundation is How many people did they survey?  A larger survey gives you a smaller margin of error.

But for me, when I decide on what polls to pay attention to for my prognostications, I pay attention to something else instead of sample size.  When the election is truly close at hand, I ask How large is the Undecided vote?  Technically, it shouldn't matter but experience has shown me that polls with large None of the Above content a day or two before the election are probably not doing a very good job. In the Michigan polling, a local company named Mitchell Research steadily shows more undecided voters than anyone else, so I have discounted their results regardless of sample size.
Enter We Ask America, a polling company that is nationwide but relatively new.  I don't remember them when I was gathering polling data in the 2008 election and their online archives only go back to 2010.  Regardless, they are busy little bees and almost produce as many polls as the two big dogs on the block nowadays, PPP and Rasmussen.

The thing is, We Ask America always has awful amounts of Undecided, even close to election day. For example, their last poll before the South Carolina contest had 15% undecided at a time when other polls were showing 4% or 5%.

And so we have the two contests tomorrow in Michigan and Arizona.  A week ago, We Ask America found 13% undecided in Arizona and 20% in Michigan, suspiciously high numbers compared to most other companies.  But miracle of miracles, it all turned around this weekend.  In both states, the number of undecided in their polls was -1%.  In other words, because of rounding error, the sum of the four candidates was 101%.

For both of these polls to be so unnaturally tidy is just as suspect as ones where they have twice as much undecided as everyone else.  These kinds of miracles do not come from improved polling techniques.  They come from upper management saying, "Bring down the undecided numbers or it's your ass!"

I'd like to see We Ask America change their name to the more accurate We Make Shit Up.

p.s.  I'll have my predictions and Nate Silver's up by tomorrow morning.  PPP is promising one more poll released and I love to get the freshest data possible.

Friday, February 24, 2012

This is how it always starts...

Gallup National Tracking numbers Feb. 1 through Feb. 23
The early weeks of February were great for Sick Rantorum as he climbed from third to first in national tracking numbers as well as winning caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota. But as has been the case in for several months now, getting to 35% support and staying there just isn't in the cards.  Gingrich started December above 35% but plummeted, only to make a comeback in January that saw him over 30% but under 35%.  R-Money was the only candidate to break the magical 35% barrier in January, and both he and Rantorum have been above that level in February, but neither could maintain it for more than a few days.
National numbers are little more than background noise in terms of delegates.  Sadly for Senator Rick, his numbers are also slipping in Arizona and Michigan, the two states holding primaries this Tuesday.  R-Money has had the lead in every Arizona poll so far, but Rantorum looked to be gaining until this last debate.  We will see if the trend continues in the polls over the weekend.  If it does, expect Nate Silver and me to project Mitt as the victor in both.  In a normal election year I'd be a lot more confident of the general trend on a Friday before a Tuesday polling date, but this primary season is still as insanely volatile as this February has been insanely warm here in Northern California.

Eventually, Newt or Senator Rick will throw in the towel.  In a two and a half person race, someone will have to climb over the 40% support level.  My guess is the Last NonRomney Standing will take the lead and then be pulled back earthward both by his weaknesses and by attacks from R-Money and the super PACs that back him.

As for the talk about a brokered convention, right now that is just silliness, like trying to predict the Oscars that will be handed out a year from now.  The fundamentals of this race still favor R-Money to get the nomination and face an uphill battle to unseat Obama.  In some ways I'd like to see the Tea Party get who they want for a candidate and have that candidate drubbed soundly. If Mitt loses in November, I expect the crazier voices in the Republican echo chamber will just get louder and more strident. In any case, it's not going to be pretty.

I'll be back with my predictions for Tuesday races on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One week out from the next crucibles

Gallup national tracking polls for Feb. 1 through Feb. 20
Next Tuesday, the Republican voters in Arizona and Michigan will go to the polls and we will get a snapshot that actually counts of the state of the electorate in those two widely separated states.  About a week ago, Sick Rantorum appeared to be cruising in Michigan, while R-Money was maintaining a large lead in Arizona.  Now the polls are saying the races are closer than they were last week, each of the second place guys closing the gap.  There are even polls that have R-Money ahead in the state of his birth where his very moderate daddy was governor, but those are off-brand polls with crazy amounts of None Of The Above compared to other more reputable companies polling at the same time.

I did a quick count in my Excel file to see just how many polling companies there are.  Since early December, I have kept track of literally hundreds of polls conducted by dozens of companies.  While some local news organizations do good work in their state - I like the Des Moines Register polls in Iowa, for example - the two companies that put out the most product nationwide are Rasmussen and Public Policy Polling (PPP) and generally, those are the names I trust the most, but not always. Nate Silver looks for patterns in the companies; I don't.  My system gives the most weight to polls that are taken close to election day. If two polls are taken on the same day or overlapping time periods, I consider the poll with less undecided to be more reliable.  Silver has his current predictions available on the New York Times website for next week's contests; I don't.  I am certain there will be plenty more polls and none of the current data will be part of my final numbers for prediction next Tuesday.

Things will get crazy on the first Tuesday of March, AKA Super Tuesday. There are 11 contests that night, the biggest of which are Georgia and Ohio. Polls from both those states are still all over the place, including a recent poll that says Gingrich, R-Money and Rantorum are neck and neck and neck in Georgia. If he doesn't win that one in the state he used to represent, that might be the final embarrassment for The Man With No Shame. (Sorry, that isn't a specific enough nickname in this contest. I mean Gingrich.)
Again, let me say that polls taken two weeks before the fact are not to be taken seriously in this race. The obvious comparison would be to say this race is as changeable as the weather, but even that isn't changeable enough. It's like a little kid with ADHD playing with a seven button blender. Sometimes it's set at mix, sometimes at puree. There's no telling how things will change, either the direction or the speed.
Still, it's more fun than keeping track of the Kardashian reproduction glands.  That was a hobby that did not fit my interests or talents well.


The official Lotsa 'Splainin' titles for the GOP front runners

 Regular readers will already know that I call Mitt Romney R-Money, a simple transposition of his last name with the hyphen thrown in to make him look more like a gangsta rapper.

Because like gangsta rappers, nothing is more important to R-Money than the Benjamins and morality is not allowed to get in the way.

I have been reluctant to use Senator Rick's last name, but a commenter on Talking Points Memo just did a simple spoonerism and called him Sick Rantorum.

Sick Rantorum is now his official name on this blog.  I would tell you who I saw first write this on the other website, but I told him I was going to steal it and not give him credit, and I am true to my word.

So now it's a two-man race.

R-Money: Core beliefs are for poor people
Sick Rantorum: Officially crazier that the Catholic Church

(Things can change, but the polls for the next races and the most recent results say Newt Gingrich is a dead man walking.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Still making the geometric decorations...

 I've just been lazy about putting them up on the other blog.  

The most recent pieces have been pyramids made made of Sculpey, then hand painted with acrylic.  These are on a four inch base.  The next thing I want to try is a bigger one on a six inch base.

I'll let you know when it's done, or more precisely, I'll let you know when it's done to my satisfaction.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Christian nation.
Where most of the Christians hate each other.

Until all the rest of the no-hope candidates dropped out, Senator Rick Santorum was a third-tier candidate. When they had a larger selection to choose from, Republican voters preferred nearly anybody: Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry all had their rises and falls before Senator Rick did.  The only candidate who was below Senator Rick in the polls consistently in December was Jon Huntsman.

The reasons are these.  Not a lot of people knew the name and many of the people who did know the name knew he was a very creepy religious nut.

The very creepy part of his persona cannot be kept quiet for long.  Yesterday in Ohio, speaking to a group of Tea Partiers, he was quoted by Reuters as saying Obama's agenda is "not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology."
When asked about the statement at a news conference later, Senator Rick said, "If the president says he's a Christian, he's a Christian."

And this is exactly what's wrong with the idea that America is a Christian nation.  Most of the people who founded the country did proclaim a love for Jesus Christ, but they also hated and distrusted the people in the church across the street, people who "said they were Christians", but believed some strange and not really Biblical theology.

In the 21st Century, the schisms among the sects really haven't gone away. The remaining Republican presidential candidates are comprised of one Baptist, one Mormon and two Catholics. One of the Catholics (Gingrich) has a lifelong problem with keeping faith, now on his third wife and his third religion. R-Money is really not making a fuss about his Mormonism, though that is where a huge amount of his charitable contributions go.  (It would be interesting to see his tax returns from the year Proposition 8 was on the ballot in California.) Senator Rick, on the other hand, is a seriously doctrinaire Catholic, not only against abortion, but also quality of life options at the end of life, contraception, vasectomies and hysterectomies. And if you happen to take a different view, you are obviously biased against Catholics.

I'm a non-believer by nature. This means I'm not an atheist, because an atheist believes there is no God. I don't know what's out there and don't even have a good idea where to look for evidence one way or the other.  Freedom of religion protects me as well. There is no point to freedom of religion without freedom from religion. The idea of separation of church and state is that none of the flavors of Christianity could force their beliefs on others, the people who went to that false un-Christian church across the street that had a cross on the roof just for show.

In a sensible presidential campaign, Senator Rick's latest upward trend would just be a blip, because his new followers aren't sending him much cash just yet. R-Money, Gingrich and even the no-hope Dr. Ron Paul have much larger war chests than he does. But this campaign has shown very little sense. If the Tea Party really is the tail wagging the Republican dog, he may yet emerge as the True NotRomney, and then the race will become even more unpredictable. But President Rick Santorum would be a disaster for this country and a disaster for the free world because in his heart, he is a Catholic first and an American second.  That won't do.

Here endeth the lesson.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dory Previn 1925-2012

Singer-songwriter Dory Previn has died at the age of 86.  She co-wrote some Oscar nominated songs with her then husband André and started a solo career in her late forties after her marriage broke up, destroyed by Mia Farrow, who had a habit of intruding on relationships between men much older than herself and their age appropriate sweethearts. The song Beware of Young Girls is clearly written about Farrow. 
Reading some of the comments on the YouTube page of this song, some people think Farrow's later romantic troubles are karma. I would say it was more cause and effect.  When you seek relationships with men who show no loyalty, you shouldn't be surprised to be on the receiving end of that disloyalty later in the game when you are the faithful wife and some younger woman becomes available.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A story more complex than the media likes it.

 It's been about a week since any vote was cast in the Republican presidential primaries, and even those votes are now in doubt.  The official count was that R-Money beat Paul in Maine, but the results may change.  Like in the Iowa caucus, Mitt yet may be able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
We are still a week and a half until another meaningful vote with primaries in Michigan and Arizona.  There has been a crazy amount of polling in Michigan and all the data says about the same thing.  Senator Rick, he of the last name that shall not be mentioned, has a big lead in Michigan, which is something of an embarrassment for R-Money, who was born there and whose father was governor about a half century ago. R-Money made a TV ad showing off his Michigan roots and as usual, he sucks at the whole positive message thing.  The car he was driving is a Chrysler made in Canada, and a picture of his dad and young R-Money visiting the Detroit Auto Show was actually a picture of them at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

So Senator Rick is now the front runner.  All the media says so.

Not so fast.

Two polls taken in the past few days in Arizona tell us R-Money still has a lead of about 8% there, trimmed significantly from the beginning of the month when Newt was the presumed NotRomney. The big difference between the two contests is Michigan splits its 30 delegates proportionally and Arizona has 29 delegates, winner take all. In Michigan, a candidate has to pass the 15% threshold, which should be easy for the front runners and a challenge for Gingrich and Paul.

I'm not exactly sure what to make of all this data pointing in different directions.  Maybe each of the candidates other than Dr. Paul (Vote Ron Paul! Give up hope! You'll be fine with gold and dope!) is a regional candidate, Gingrich in the south, Senator Rick in the Midwest, R-Money in the eastern seaboard and the Mormon west.  One thing that is clear is Senator Rick is at a massive money disadvantage. His recent successes have not changed the fact he was a third-tier candidate for over six months, getting the kind of donations you expect from a no-hoper without a rabid base.  The next time the campaign budget numbers are updated, maybe he'll be doing better, but when the guy you are trying to beat has 30 times as much money in the bank as you do, the question is can he close the gap enough to make a difference.

There isn't enough data to make things clear right now.  I don't expect things will be clearer after the primaries on the 28th or even the Super Tuesday contests a week later. Part of the media's favorite message right now does ring true.  R-Money hasn't sealed the deal yet, and it's hard to say if all his cash can make him a more attractive candidate when all is said and done.

In the words of Shane McGowan...

There's an ice-cold beer for Father McGreer
And a short one for Father Loyola
Father John's got the clap again
So he's drinking Coca-Cola.

Rain Street, The Pogues

These worthies, of course, are the witnesses asked to speak about birth control by a Republican house committee chaired by Darrel Issa. I believe they want their country back.  They did not specify what year would work best, but I'm guessing any time in the 19th Century would suit them just fine.


Monday, February 13, 2012

The second dawn for Senator Rick

The Gallup tracking poll for early February, 2/1 to 2/12
For this post and all posts and tweets after this I am going to call Rick Santorum Senator Rick. We no longer have to worry about confusion with Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, so Senator Rick (or just Rick) is his official name here. Anyone who has Google knows why I am squeamish about his last name.
Newt Gingrich did great in South Carolina, but it's been downhill ever since, getting a truly pathetic 6% in the Maine caucuses and barely crossing the 10% threshold in Colorado and Minnesota. Last week Senator Rick was anointed the True NotRomney, the candidate from the right who can stand in contrast to Romney's pragmatism, which in his case smells an awful lot like wishy-washiness. 

No one can call Senator Rick wishy-washy or pragmatic. He holds the hard line position on every hot button right wing issue I can think of.  Most notably, he spent much of his Senate career railing against abortion and gays. He shows no sign of moderating his views EVER, so if he gets the nomination, this truly will be The Tea Party vs. Obama.

Right now, national polls show Rick trailing Obama by about the same numbers that R-Money is trailing Obama, which punches a big hole in Mitt's electability argument. The thing we haven't seen yet is how Senator Rick will survive the full-on Super PAC assault. I expect he will pass R-Money this week, but I have no idea what the situation will look like on February 28, the date for the next two big primaries in Arizona and Michigan. It's kind of silly predicting anything more than a few days ahead. The Republican field is still more changeable than the weather. But if there are some trends that look obvious now, it's the end for Gingrich and Paul's best days are behind him. Paul believes in his crusade more than Newt believes in his, so Paul could hang on to the bitter end.  
I'm going to agree with Senator Rick and say it's a two-man race now.  In most American political races, especially intra-party, it makes sense to give the nod to the guy with the most money. That would mean R-Money will be the nominee, but not before this race rips the party apart.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

You've gotta love spin!
Sorry, I take that back. Actually, you don't.

 There were two political contests yesterday that got press coverage and Mitt R-Money (sorry, Romney) won them both. One was the Maine caucuses, which he has won before in 2008 and the other was the CPAC straw poll, which he won in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Reading the press coverage, you would think he lost.  His margin was bigger four years ago, the turnout to both was miniscule, blah blah blah...

Quite simply, the press has a narrative and doesn't like to give it up.  The earlier narrative for R-Money (sorry, I keep doing that) was that he was inevitable, but after a loss to Gingrich in South Carolina there were questions.  He won Florida and Nevada and then he was inevitable again, but a bad Tuesday for him and a great Tuesday for Santorum this week and suddenly it's Beat Up Mitt Time again.
Want to know who deserves to get beat up?  Newt Gingrich deserves to get beat up, at least figuratively by the press.  After a win in South Carolina which most people rack up to his insulting of debate moderator Juan Williams, Gingrich has gone downhill in a big way.  Here's the ugly tally.

Florida: gets 31.9%, finishes second by 14.5% in a state that neighbors his former home state of Georgia. Newt wasn't born in Georgia and no longer lives there, but he was elected to the House from Georgia's 6th District. He's a Washington insider now and has been for decades.

Nevada: Gets 21.1%, loses to R-Money by 28.9% (You know what? I'm going to stop saying I'm sorry.  That's the way I spell Mitt's last name now.) Barely beats Ron Paul for second place.

Colorado: 12.8% of the vote, a distant third. Can only beat Ron Paul.

Minnesota: 10.8% of the vote.  Finishes fourth. Not even in the conversation. Ron Paul gets more than double his votes and Santorum gets four times as many votes.

Maine: 6%, 12 points behind Santorum. Not even in the discussion with R-Money and Paul.

The technical mathematical term we use for a sequence of numbers like these is a plummet.

I'll be fair, because it's my nature.  This is a strange race and Gingrich may yet pull out of this tailspin.  I have a hard time believing the Republicans will decide in the end that Santorum truly is the NotRomney, but I now believe that eventually, they will have to admit R-Money is their candidate, like it or not. (I also think a lot of Republicans may decide on "not like it" and clamor for a third party candidate, which hands a second term to Obama on a silver platter.) But the narrative for Newt Gingrich now should be Old And In The Way. Maybe he'll find some way to get his mojo back in a debate, but between now and February 28, the next primary date that matters, Newton Leroy Gincrich is sitting on a big pile of negative momentum. Just like Perry and Bachmann and Huntsman before him, he's going to have to decide soon that it's time to go.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Two contests, no prognostications.

 The results of the Maine caucuses are being reported tonight, but neither Nate Silver or I will be making any predictions because there were ZERO polls taken.  Since Maine is so close to Massachusetts, both Santorum and Gingrich put in zero effort, but Ron Paul has been wooing Maine voters like crazy.  There are people predicting an upset, but there is no real data, so these are just wild guesses. There are 24 delegates up for grabs, twice as many as New Hampshire this year because of penalties handed out to the Granite State.  But no one polled the good people of Maine, so we'll just have to wait until this evening to find out what happened.

The other numbers that will be released today are the results of the CPAC Straw Poll. There is no point in a polling company trying to poll such a small and meaningless gathering, but winning here at least gives a campaign a little boost in the 24 hour news cycle.  The organizers are miffed that Ron Paul won the straw poll in both 2011 and 2010, so they changed the way the contest is run to make it easier for all attendees to have their voice heard.  While the victories of Paul in the last two years are something of an embarrassment for the organization, Almost no one brings us that before Paul's winning streak the winner of the straw poll in 2007, 2008 and 2009 was... Mitt Romney.
This gives you some idea why the press covers CPAC. It's easy to get to (held in D.C.) and it's always good for a laugh. It had a "reputation" as the herald of Ronald Reagan back in the day, but like the rest of the conservative movement, the successes they can point to since then are few and far between, especially now that George W. Bush has been erased from history, even by his own team. The Bush whitewash is so effective, the ghost of Joseph Stalin let loose a low whistle and said with admiration, "Damn. You guys aren't playing around, are you?"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Results from Prognostications #6 and #7:
The non-binding caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota

There was only one company who tried to poll in Colorado and Minnesota prior to yesterday's caucuses, and given that lack of data Nate Silver declined to make a prediction.  While I consider myself a better mathematician than Silver is, I am not so foolish as to think there is nothing I can learn from him.  My prediction accuracy was stunningly bad, worse by far than anything I had done before.  There are several factors at play, but having so little data is certainly a major factor.  Without more fresh polling data, I will not make a prediction in future contests.
Let us first see the gory results. My updated predictions are better than my earlier stuff with less data, but none of them are even close to good. The actual numbers are first, my guess is second, the difference between them is in parentheses.

Colorado caucuses
Santorum 40.2% 28% (off by 12.2%)
Romney 34.9% 36% (off by 1.1%)
Gingrich 12.8% 22.5% (off by 9.7%)
Paul 11.7% 13.5% (off 1.8%)
75.2% accurate, a C on the standard grading scale

Minnesota caucuses
Santorum 45.0% 34% (off by 11%)
Romney 16.9% 23.5% (off by 6.6%)
Gingrich 10.8% 22%(off by 11.2%)
Paul 27.1% 20.5%(off by 6.6%)
64.6% accurate, a D on the standard grading scale

As Charles Barkley might say, I was turrrribull last night.  Let me list some of the reasons I sucked so bad.
  1.  Not enough data.  I brought this up already.
  2. Caucuses! We hates 'em!  There are so few voters at caucuses, they are hard to find by the methods pollsters use and all other things being equal, polls do a better job of estimating the votes in a primary, where the percentage of people casting votes is dramatically greater.
  3. The elusive Santorum caucus voter.  In the caucuses in Iowa, where there was a ree-donkulous amount of fresh data, no poll told us Santorum was a front runner. Even the polls that put him in second put him a distant second. When all the votes were counted, he beat Romney in a photo finish. In two caucuses last night, again Santorum over-achieved spectacularly over the polls' guesses.  Maybe people who vote for Santorum don't answer phones.  They must be at prayer meetings or something.
And so we have a caucus in Maine that ends this weekend, but so far nobody has any poll data. I won't make a prediction without three different companies giving their best guesses by this Friday.  if that doesn't come to pass, the next contests that count are February 28 in Arizona and Michigan.  I'm certain there will be boatloads of polls in those two states, so my next prognostication against Nate Silver will probably have to wait until then. I can boldly predict that I have no clue right now what will happen then.  Former British P.M. Harold Wilson said a week is a long time in politics, and he was not subjected to the 24 hour cable news cycle.  Three weeks might as well be an eternity now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prognostications #6 and #7:
The caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota - UPDATED WITH NEW DATA

February is slim pickings for primaries and caucuses that actually count.  Today, there are contests in Colorado and Minnesota, both caucus style, but no delegates go directly to the nomination.  Instead, a candidate who does well gets delegate to the state convention and the state convention makes decisions in the old-fashioned smoke-filled rooms. This differs from a place like Missouri, where the primary is strictly a beauty contest, not unlike the Iowa Straw Poll held in the fall, the one Michele Bachmann won.

My predictions are using three days of polling in both Colorado and Minnesota conducted by PPP. I give the more recent polling more weight than the older polling.  I remove the "None of the Above" votes from the sample and distribute the votes so that the sum of all the candidates is 100%.  In Nevada, I assumed the None Of The Above would be 0.5% and it was actually 0.3% of caucus goers opted not to vote. Since I don't know the in and outs of the caucus rules in these states, I'm going to assume it's difficult to vote for anyone but the four remaining guys.

Here are my numbers.  Nate Silver hasn't posted a prediction about either. Most of his tweets since the Super Bowl have been sports related.  No matter.  If he puts up predictions today, I'll update this post. If not, this was me keeping in practice.

Colorado caucuses
Romney 36% (was 41.5%)
Santorum 28% (was 27%)
Gingrich 22.5% (was 19%)
Paul 13.5% (was 12.5%)
(New data says Romney is being dragged closer to the pack, but still leads comfortably.)

Minnesota caucuses
Santorum 34% (was 30%)
Romney 23.5% (was 28%)
Gingrich 22%(was 22.5%)
Paul 20.5%(was 19.5%)
(Santorum steals from Romney and Paul steals from Gingrich, more or less.)

If the polling data is even close, this should be a big news cycle win for Santorum.  The race for second place in Minnesota could produce yet another narrative.
When the final results are posted, I'll come back with a recap of how I did.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The results for Prognostication #5:
The Nevada Caucuses

The Republicans finally finished tallying the results of the caucus they had on Saturday.  They tweeted the final results at 2:00 am Monday morning, about 27 hours after the last precinct closed up. (Most precincts had everything done by 7:00 pm Saturday, but some in Las Vegas finished at 11:00.)

27 hours to count about 33,000 votes.  This does not scream "competence" or "honest elections". Just to make matters worse, only about 1.3% of Nevadans were involved in this democratic process. By comparison, Sharron Angle, the ridiculous Tea Party candidate for Senate in 2010, got over 70,000 votes in the Republican primary.

As a person who has worked at a polling station and usually votes by absentee ballot, I can say without fear of contradiction that caucuses suck.

In any case, the final numbers are in and there are no big surprises. Mitt Romney won handily, Newt Gingrich was a distant second, Dr. Ron Paul (the only candidate who can save us from the Daleks) finished third and Rick Santorum was a distant fourth. The only drama was what the margins would be. Here are the final results.

Romney 50.0%(Both of us high, but I beat Silver by 0.8%)
  Gingrich 21.1%(Again, both of us high. Silver beats me by 0.4%)
Paul 18.7%(Both of us too low. Silver picks up 1.5%)
Santorum 9.9%(Both of us too low. I pick up 1.4%)
No vote 0.3%(Silver said 0%, I said 0.5%, I'm 0.1% closer)
Once again, my simpler method wins the prediction contest, 88.8% to 88.4%. This brings my record to 3-2.
There are two non-binding state caucuses held tomorrow in Colorado and Minnesota. Right now, the only fresh data is from PPP in both cases, so unless another company releases a poll between now and tomorrow morning, both Silver and I will be dealing with a single set of data in each case. If you follow this link, you'll see that Rick Santorum appears to be Romney's main challenger in both cases.  I'll publish my predictions and Silver's Tuesday morning and give the results on Wednesday, assuming people in Colorado and Minnesota are more competent at running elections than people in Nevada.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The difference between The New York Times and The Huffington Post

Ben Gazzara has died at the age of 81.  Long career, lots of movies and TV shows. His big early break is in Anatomy of a Murder with Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick.  Baby boomers might remember his TV show Run For Your Life.

The teaser sentence from the New York Times obituary says he was Brick in the original Broadway cast of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This I did not know. They also mention his roles in the influential movies of John Cassavetes in the 1970s, which film buffs will know are a very important part of his career.

The Huffington Post has his picture on the front page with the headline "Big Lebowski actor dies".  Gazzara was in The Big Lebowski, but it was a tiny role. I swear, if the HuffPo had been around when Laurence Olivier died, the headline would have read "Polaroid spokesman passes away".

I shouldn't let stuff like this get under my skin, but it feels like we are handing the keys to our culture over to young people who can't find their well toned butts with both hands and a flashlight.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Prognostication #5:
The Nevada Caucuses

Tomorrow, the Republicans of Nevada will have their caucuses. Compared to earlier contests, the amount of polling is woefully small. There are some other primaries and caucuses on Saturday and Tuesday, but this is the only one will any fresh polling data at all, so this is the only one where my system will make a prediction so far.

Nate Silver is happy to use data I do not use in most cases, polls I consider too old to be useful.  He tries to predict into the future using this stale data, a method I do not use or endorse.  But this time, we are using the exact same data, one poll from the Las Vegas Journal-Review taken in the last few days of January and another from PPP taken yesterday and the day before.  In some ways, this is the cleanest test of our different methodologies.  May the best algorithm win.

Here are the two prediction set. As always, my numbers come first and Silver's are second in parentheses.

Romney 50.5%(51.3%)
Gingrich 26.0%(25.6%)
Paul 13.5%(15.0%)
Santorum 9.5%(8.1%)
Other 0.5% (0%) 
I made my prediction without seeing Silver's. I expect he barely knows I exist.  This time, Silver is bullish on Romney and Paul, while my system expects better results from Gingrich, Santorum and Other. I decided to give Other half a percent instead of none because even in the Iowa caucuses with several more choices, the number of people expressing a preference not in the main group was closer to half a percent than to zero.
Because Nevada is farther west than any other contest so far, the polls will close later and the results may not be complete until Sunday morning.  In any case, when 100% of precincts report, I will publish the results and pick over the bones.

For me, this is a lot more fun than reading the tabloids and trying to figure out if some female celebrity really is pregnant or not.  It's a hobby that better suits my talents.

An interesting number from a meaningless race.

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic company and they work cheap, relying on robo-polls.  For all that, their track record for accuracy is good.  Late last month, they published a poll about next Tuesday's Missouri primary, a "beauty contest" that produces no delegates. Newt Gingrich's name does not appear on the ballot, so he wasn't a choice in the poll PPP conducted. In that sampling, Santorum beat Romney 45% to 34%. Ron Paul was at 13%, about what he gets in most polls in a four way race.

Eventually, Santorum or Gingrich will drop out, and right now it's much more likely to be Santorum, given the beatings he took in both South Carolina and Florida. When it gets down to Romney, NotRomney and Dr. Paul (the only one who can save us from the Daleks), Romney will be in second place for a while.  In the long run, I still think Romney wins the nomination just because Republicans will finally be resigned to the fact that Santorum or Gingrich will be crushed by Obama.
Back to PPP for a second.  They published their results for the Nevada caucuses this morning, so unless there is another poll no one has mentioned yet, I have my numbers ready for the Nevada race, which is held tomorrow. Nate Silver hasn't factored PPP in yet, so I'll wait until he does and publish our predictions together. We both have the same data and there is so little to use, I doubt we will disagree by much. 
Maine has a caucus as well, but no polls have been produced so I have no way to predict anything and I'm going to take a pass.
Playing around with numbers!  So much fun for a nerd like Matty Boy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A look back at another strange month in politics.

Gallup tracking poll for January 2012
(click for larger version)
Nearly everyone agrees that national polls have little meaning, but Gallup - bless their very traditional hearts - does tracking polls every damn day, which give us the chance to see a cool jagged line graph like the one above.  The red and orange squiggles that have now flat-lined are Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman, respectively.  Perry had a big bump when he got in, but when he showed himself time and again not to be George W. Bush's intellectual equal - and possibly not even Sarah Palin's peer - the bloom was off the rose and he limped back to Texas.  Huntsman didn't even have a time in the sun.  Besides not having much name recognition, Huntsman is way too moderate for today's GOP.  The fact he took a job in the Obama administration is tantamount in Republicans' eyes today to selling nuclear secrets to Iran.

The big stories of the month were the alleged inevitability of Mitt Romney after New Hampshire, the voters giving Gingrich a second surge to take South Carolina and Romney's return to front runner status after a big win in Florida.  While the numbers are interesting, it's the characters that make this reality show such a riveting train wreck.  Even Republicans are astonished at tone deaf Mitt's latest number one smash on The Gaffe Parade "I'm not concerned about the very poor." When your best candidate is so damn clueless, no wonder None Of The Above is almost never lower than third place and refuses to dip below 15%. Some network should let None Of The Above show up at a debate, just an empty podium with a slideshow of Republicans who either declared they wouldn't run or dropped out before we got to this Not So Fab Four.

I'll put up a similar graph at the end of each month until someone sews up enough delegates to win the nomination.  That means at least through February and I wouldn't be surprised if there is still some action in March and possibly beyond. November is a very long way, but I have a hard time seeing one of these guys actually beating Obama. Obama is going to have to beat himself, and so far in his career, that isn't his style.

Results for prognostication #4:
The Florida primary

It was a good night to do things simply. My methods predicted the final numbers more accurately than did Nate Silver's.  There were no surprises, as the basic order of Romney winning big over Gingrich, with Santorum and Paul trailing was what all polls said in the last few days.  The nearest thing to drama arose from polls that said the race between Santorum and Paul be close. It wasn't.  Both Silver and I overstated what Ron Paul would get, which brought our overall grade down. If this was a strict grading policy, we'd both get A-, since I was 91.0% accurate he was at 90.0%.  
Here are the results, candidate by candidate.

  Romney 46.4%(Both of us low, but I beat Silver by 0.5%)
  Gingrich 31.9%(Again, both low. I beat Silver by 1.7%)
Santorum 13.4%(I gain 0.1%, he was high and I was low)
Paul 7.0%(I lose 0.3% to Silver, both of us too high)
Other 1.3%(I lose 1.0% to Silver, he was high and I was low)
This battle was close due to the Other prediction.  My numbers just happened to dole out all the votes to the four candidates, while Silver's method said Other would get 1.6% of the vote. Reality was 1.3% for the stragglers, so Silver was 1.0% closer.

In the prediction contest, Silver and I are tied 2-2. I eked a win in Iowa and won last night. Silver's numbers were much better in South Carolina and he won in New Hampshire because I got silly and caught Buddy Roemer fever based on a single poll.

There are four caucuses in the next week, Nevada and Maine this Saturday, Minnesota and Colorado next Tuesday. As of right now, fresh data is scarce in all these places, but I expect that to change in the next few days. I reserve the right to make no prediction without at least one poll that is taken within a week of the actual vote. Barring that, I will be ready to toe the line twice early Saturday morning and the same on Tuesday.  After that, February has only two primaries, Arizona and Michigan, both on February 28, so the crystal ball will have a few weeks off.

While I'm interested in politics, this is really an excuse to fiddle with numbers, and longtime readers will know how much I enjoy that.  So gimme some data and let's get back in the ring!