American politics #
I am very interested in American politics, their political and electoral systems and American political history.
2020 Presidential election #
100 days out #
I’m very interested in using predictive modelling to forecast elections and elections don’t get any bigger than the US presidential election. And of course the 2020 election is a once-in-a-lifetime election, the choice between four more years of Donald Trump, about whom enough has been written that I don’t need to dignify him with another word, or whichever sentient human being has been chosen as his alternative, which turned out to be Joe Biden.
Most people without a passing understanding of Bayesian statistics and the nature of uncertainty, and the fact that it can be quantified, brush off the notion of forecasting the upcoming election, usually saying things like “you can’t trust polls anymore after Trump and Brexit” (polling averages in both of those events were well within the margin of error), or making blanket statements like “I think he’ll be re-elected” without offering any sort of evidence to back it up (the more self-centered will remind you they predicted a Trump victory in 2016).
Broadly speaking there are two camps of people forecasting US elections: those who rely on “fundamentals” models, like Allan Lichtman, which use broad indicators like GDP, the existence of civil unrest, and incumbency to predict whether or not there will be a change of party holding the presidency; and those who rely on poll-based regression models, like Nate Silver from FiveThirtyEight.
There’s value in both approaches but the powerful thing about sophisticated models like Silver’s is that they are able to express the amount of uncertainty in the race. This is especially important this year, where the election will take place during an unprecedented pandemic. I personally think this makes “fundamentals” models much less useful this year, as instead of using “is GDP healthy?” as the predictor they should be really using “is GDP healthy for a pandemic”, which of course has very few historical data points.
Of course, uncertainty is an unnatural, scary and unintuitive thing and it’s a lot easier for people to say “but FiveThirtyEight said Hillary was going to win in 2016, they were wrong” rather than “FiveThirtyEight forecasted a 65% chance of Clinton winning and a 35% chance of Trump winning”. Part of this is human nature: it’s a binary contest with a single outcome and post facto that 65% looks a lot bigger than that 35% so it’s tempting to go for the first interpretation. But I hope that this year people appreciate what is at stake: the integrity and function of the most important democracy in the world, and take a little more care in interpreting uncertainty when they see it in forecasts.
2016 Presidential election #
The day after #
I have three things to say about the US election, which I’ve been following religiously for over a year, and which today ended in an extremely disappointing and worrying climax.
- “Trump as the standard bearer of a new populist revolution”. I’m hearing this narrative a lot from Trump apologists and expect to hear it more and more in the coming days as spineless Republicans backtrack from the distance they took from Trump during the campaign. It’s undeniable that Trump tapped into some raw, painful dissatisfaction in the American electorate. People are pissed off with their system of government, feel disenfranchised, and want change. I also think it’s disgraceful how Donald Trump manipulated these people with a campaign driven by divisive demagoguery, racist hatemongering and outrageous lies.
- “The DNC is to blame for rigging their primary against Bernie Sanders.” So the Democratic establishment put forward a flawed candidate. With so much at stake the refusal to support a clear “lesser of two evils” forged completely the wrong dialogue on the far left. No doubt the process is broken, no doubt Clinton has significant flaws and in an ideal world would not be my choice of candidate. But people need to choose their battles and fight them in the right framework at the right time.
- “Trump may be X, but his position on Y makes sense.” I envy people whose power of objective thought is so clear and unbiased they are able to see through the noise of Trump’s sociopathic bashing of minorities and women because he is pushing for more acceptable trade deals, or because they are concerned about rising healthcare costs. As I see it so many red lines were crossed in this campaign (and were lamentably forgotten in the final weeks because of a highly disciplined policy of silence and teleprompted rallies) that this dangerous and bigoted man lost the right to have his voice on other issues heard.
Two weeks out #
An unbelievable US election season. So much going on every single day that it’s easy to start to think that what is going on at the moment is just a usual campaign. This is a completely unprecedented moment in the 240-year history of the United States, with stories every day that would dominate any other campaign in history. The Republican nominee is spreading baseless scaremongering garbage about voter fraud. The sitting president’s wife has made a speech condemning him for his despicable comments, to put it as the debate moderator did, bragging about sexually assaulting women. It’s a situation bad enough that the evidence of corruption and financial interests at play on the Clinton campaign is completely overshadowed: probably justly to be honest, considering how much is at stake here. I’m very nervous about the outcome, not just as a mathematician with faith in the polling data and the thousands of intelligent and hard-working minds who have analysed this election and concluded that Donald Trump will not be president, but also as an enlightened and educated human being who wants the world to move forward not backward. The video below, from only eight years ago, is an stark reminder of how far into the gutter Donald Trump has pulled the once great political discourse in America.
Links and articles #
2020 Presidential election #
- Nate Silver on Beto O’Rourke’s 2020 chances.
- On Pete Buttigieg’s chances in the Iowa caucus in January.
- This interesting piece on Bernie Sanders' ability to build a coalition beyond his usual base of supporters.
Biden administration #
- Jonathan Freedland on how Biden is governing as a transformational progressive despite having campaigned as a moderate.