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Posts published in “Day: August 13, 2016”

(Less than) 3 months to go


One of the online places political junkies get their fix – it’s really hard to stay away for long – is the web site and especially its election forecast section.

There are other polling analysis sites around the web, but 538, led by the remarkable statistician Nate Silver, is the most sophisticated. Most prominently it has a section showing, based on current information, how the candidates for president are doing. It updates the information whenever a new data point becomes available, which may be several times in a day, or even several times in an hour. Every time I check back in, it seems to have changed. And there’s more: The site offers three rounds of current estimates, the “now cast,” which estimates who probably would win and by how much if the election were held now; the “poll only,” which analyzes polls and nothing else; and the “polls-plus,” which adds in economic, historic and other factors.

As I write this, 538 estimates Democrat Hillary Clinton has an 86.3% chance of beating Republican Donald Trump, according to “polls only.” The number will change, up or down, by the time you read this.

538 also breaks down the probability estimates by state. As I write this, the odds Trump will win Idaho have been calculated – polls-only – at 96.3%. It is the third highest probability of a Trump win in the country, behind only West Virginia and (in first place) Oklahoma (at 98.7%). The polls-plus probability of a Trump win in in Idaho in November hit 99.1%, which is almost as close to a certainty as 538 gets, while the now-cast (if the election were held today) is at 98.2%. The now-cast estimates that in Idaho, Trump would get 54.6% of the vote, Clinton 35.7% and Libertarian Gary Johnson 7.8%.

You can see a consistent pattern here.

Some states, especially many of the battlegrounds, are polled frequently, but Idaho isn’t, which creates an obstacle for analysts like 538. They’re relying in large part on three polls from Dan Jones & Associates.

Polling analysts put a lot of attention into not so much the snapshots that individual polls can generate, but the trend lines – are numbers rising or falling over time – and comparisons between pollsters, when those are available. In Idaho, those numbers have been mostly stable all year.

Idaho’s neighboring states have been a little more variable, swinging around significantly during July (the month of conventions) in blue Washington and Oregon, red Utah and Montana (though not red Wyoming, which stayed stable) and purple Nevada. In the first couple of weeks of August, however, all have begun to settle into familiar patterns.

The most interesting of the neighbors – in the possibility it might break from familiar patterns – is Utah. Utah actually has been polled with some regularity this year, and by several pollsters. Trump is given an 80% probability (polls only) of winning it, but that’s far less than Idaho or Wyoming. At 80% probability, you have an operating assumption that Trump will take the state, but the chance of an upset is not completely off the charts. Put another way, the chance Trump may lose Utah is greater than the chance that he wins the November election. If he did lose Utah, might that affect the Idaho percentages in reflection of how the large LDS vote might turn?

Utah is one of several western states of interest, in having polling numbers that force both parties to keep a wary eye on them. Nevada and Arizona are near-battlegrounds, Colorado is in the gray area for battleground status, and party activists might be wise to keep an eye on Montana, where Trump has a probability of winning now sitting at 76%, which is less than secure.

For the time being, though, after all the post-convention talk about changes in the races, Idaho still looks pretty well locked down.

Trump 88: The elusive statements


In political (and diplomatic) circles there's a certain amount of slipperiness, lubrication, that goes with the territory. Officials in and representatives of a democracy need a certain amount of space to negotiate and compromise and meld alliances. That doesn't explain all the dissembling that goes on, and doesn't excuse all of it either, but it does point to the reality that "telling it like it is" in politics is at best a near matter, not an absolute. Forget about honest George Washington and the cherry tree; George was a spymaster during the revolution, a pretty good one too, and he understood the realities of dealing in a human society.

But there's such a thing as the occasional necessary lie, and the lying that becomes so constant that memory starts to fail. The toughest thing about lying is keeping the lies straight, remembering what the story is supposed to be. It's a tough task under the best of circumstances. When the lies pile up (check out the story of an undercover cop sometime, for example), the difficulties can become overwhelming.

That's a problem Donald Trump has encountered, and his fabrications - which often as not have to do with not just facts but ideas, positions, stances - have come so fast that the conflicts crop up at startling speed. Watch a Trump speech from anywhere in early spring 2016 on, and you'll probably be able to find easily enough a flat contradiction, if not of fact then of idea. He's rapidly losing track of his own ideas, what he's said here and there, even just minutes ago.

Here's an example.

On July 23, at 3:42 am, Trump tweeted that "Pocahontas [Senator Elizabeth Warren] wanted VP slot so badly but wasn't chosen because she has done nothing in the Senate. Also, Crooked Hillary hates her!"

Exactly 13 minutes later, Trump tweeted about the Wikileaks email release at the Democratic National Committee and the internal criticisms there of Bernie Sanders which, Trump said disapprovingly, "mock his heritage."

So he tut-tuts about the heritage mocking of Bernie Sanders exactly 13 minutes after mocking Elizabeth Warren over her heritage.

Presidents need to keep track of what they're saying. Their words are parsed everywhere, and the kind of daily slips Trump delivers would not go unnoticed. - rs