Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hannity's Innumeracy: 51-45=4

Every morning I check Rasmussen Reports for the latest presidential election polling data, especially the electoral college data. Although their written contributions have a noticeable conservative bias, their polling data is widely regarded as the best available. The daily presidential tracking poll this morning had Obama collecting 51% and McCain 45% from a sample of 3000 likely voters.

So I was a little surprised when Sean Hannity read off a list of polls that showed the presidential race was "narrowing" and cited that Obama was only up by 4% in the Rasmussen tracking poll. How does 51 minus 45 equal 4?

I could give Hannity the benefit of the doubt here and just assume he misspoke. That is a likely explanation, but the mistake reminded me of something I have heard from many pundits interpreting poll data. The margin of error on the Rasmussen poll was plus/minus 2%. What that means is that Obama's number could be as high as 53% or as low as 49% and McCain could be at 43% or 47%. In reality, Obama may be up by a whopping 10% (53-43=10) or a measly 2% (49-47=2).

I suspect Hannity subtracted 45 from 51 and then subtracted 2 to account for the margin of error. Why would he subtract the margin of error? He wants the poll to seem as close as possible to keep conservatives engaged in the election. He would not be the only party guilty of poll spinning; I have also heard the liberal talking heads on MSNBC crowing about the nearly double-digit Obama leads that some polls have indicated, while completely ignoring the margin of error.

A similar, but not identical, mistake spouted forth from many pundits after last week's final presidential debate. One pollster's data gave Obama an 8 point lead over McCain the day of the debate. The following day the same pollster's results showed a 6 point lead for Obama. "The race is narrowing!" - the pundits proclaimed. No...the race fluctuated. The overnight change was within the margin of error so there was no measurable shift in the polls.

If you want to know what the polls are saying about the state of the race, read the actual poll data carefully. Remember that partisan commentators may skew the data in favor of their candidate; even nonpartisan commentators may skew the data to keep the race "narrow" and maintain their viewers' interest in the horserace. Finally, remember that the only poll that really matters is the big one... on election day.

UPDATE: Want to know why there is so much disparity between the various polls? has a great analysis of the tracking polls.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lujan Raises Tons of Money

$380,000 for Lujan against $10,000 for East and $2300 for Miller. Good lord.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Los Alamos Monitor Endorses Miller for CD3

The Los Alamos Monitor endorses Carol Miller for the 3rd Congressional District. She certainly has the most experience, but this endorsement shocks me. She supports the abolition of nuclear weapons! ...and the Los Alamos newspaper is endorsing her?!?

Pop Quiz Extras: 3rd Congressional District

Pop Quiz Extras: 3rd Congressional District

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Three quick questions with answers from each of the candidates.

A Different Take on the CD3 Los Alamos Forum

I found another Los Alamos blog, one with a brief review of the CD-3 forum in Los Alamos.

Here's the relevant quote:

District 3 Debate

Last night, the League of Women voters and the Association of University Women (???) held a debate between the candidates for the District 3 Congressional Representative seat. My impression was the Ben Lujan did his job. He held his ground and sounded like he knew what he was talking about. Carol Miller, the independent was very impressive and nearly stole the show, she clearly is the most experienced candidate, but Lujan seemed to win by a hair by hitting on all the key issues of the day. The Republican, Dan East, seemed very weak on issues and tentative in his answers and even flatlined when questioned about what he felt were key Supreme Court decisions.

A slightly different take from mine, but hopefully by writing these posts, if someone does a blog search about this race they will find a little more information than what the local newspapers provide.

I will say that while East was initially flummoxed by the Supreme Court question (What is the most important SC decision of the last 40 years?), he did return to the question in a subsequent answer and mentioned the recent SC ruling on the DC handgun ban. Miller was most impressive on this question, listing what she thought were the three most important SC decisions of the last 40 years (Roe v. Wade, the 2000 presidential election, and the Money-is-Speech decision).

Damned by Faint Praise? SFNM endorses Lujan

The Santa Fe New Mexican has endorsed Ben Ray Lujan for New Mexico's third congressional district.

Let's consider their logic. First, Congress needs as many Democrats as possible and Ben Ray Lujan is a Democrat, so regardless of his qualifications, we should vote for him. Next, a quote from the endorsement:

"Son of state House Speaker Ben Luján, Ben Ray emerged from political obscurity four years ago to win our region's seat on New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission."

How exactly does the son of the state House Speaker emerge from political obscurity?

Another quote:

"In the House, he'll need plenty of mentoring — but there's never been a shortage of that on Capitol Hill: Veteran representatives and longtime staffers are a wealth of knowledge and lore, lots of which they're only too happy to share. Oh, and did we mention lobbyists? They certainly know the ins and outs, and will be positively salivating at the chance to do favors for the freshman.

Such tuition carries a high price. Luján should spend the post-election transition period asking his dad and other seasoned pals how to hold his ground against pressure groups who'll want the congressman's vote — perhaps against the interests of the folks back home."

Is this a joke? He needs to ask someone how to stand up to special interest groups? That's the person you want me to vote for?

What did we learn from this endorsement? I guess we learned that the Sante Fe New Mexican is a tool of the Democratic Party. That's a shame. Are there any unbiased news sources for Northern New Mexico?

Another NM CD-3 Forum

I did not attend this debate, but I found one news story about it:

Economy, War and Lab

Some very unreliable poll data suggests Lujan will win: Lujan (41%), East (18%) and Miller (14%). Can this change with a month to go? The dearth of news about this campaign really bothers me. Not one of the newspapers in the district can provide debate/forum transcripts?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Debate Links

It has been difficult to find any opinions online about the NM CD-3 candidates' forum. I found the news stories below:

Los Alamos Monitor
Santa Fe New Mexican

I will also include the candidate's webpages:

Dan East (R)
Ben Ray Lujan (D)
Carol Miller (I)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NM 3rd Congressional District - Los Alamos Forum

The Los Alamos branch of the League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum tonight. All three candidates, Ben Ray Lujan(D), Dan East(R) and Carol Miller(I), attended. I was excited to attend; I had never been to a debate/forum for a federal office and I was looking forward to learning about the candidates. Some questions I had going into the debate: Lujan's resume seems thin, could he provide substantive answers to questions about tough issues? Was Dan East a Republican in the mold of Mitch McConnell or Lincoln Chafee? Was Carol Miller a Jesse Ventura centrist, or a spoiler for the left or right? The forum answered these questions and more.

Carol Miller is no centrist; I would call her a pragmatic liberal who very well could be the spoiler in this race, pulling votes from Lujan. She also seemed to be the candidate with the best chances of a successful freshman term in the House. She has Washington experience and a realistic view of what a new congressman can accomplish. When asked about her top three priorities for the next congress, Miller answered that the leaders of Congress set the priorities and that her energies would be best spent improving any NM-related legislation that the leaders propose. True-blue liberals have a clear choice here: an effective representative of their views (Miller) or a congressman that will probably just vote the Democratic party line (Lujan).

Conservatives, although outnumbered in this district, have picked a good representative for their cause. East hit all of the usual conservative notes: promoting lower taxes and deregulation, supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting the 2nd Amendment and passing the Pro-Life litmus test. Fiscal conservatives may cringe a little at the number of spending programs he appeared willing to support: East stated support for more education grants, more spending on infrastructure, full emphatic support of the NM national laboratories (Los Alamos and Sandia) and more spending on border control technology and police. However, I suspect most Republicans will have no problem voting for him.

Democrats should probably worry about the choice of Lujan. Yes, he has the full support of the NM Democratic party machine behind him (and that may be enough this year in this district), but he is facing a significantly better qualified candidate (Miller) that shares most of his views. A lot of his answers tonight seemed like empty rhetoric. He gave several vapid simplistic answers to questions about student loans, the role of public lands, national debt, the war on terror and universal health care. When he wasn't reciting the Democratic Talking Points of 2008, he reverted to blathering platitudes.

As an independent, none of the candidates really connected with me. If I were to strictly vote my pocketbook (as a resident of Los Alamos), there would be no choice: Dan East's emphatic support of the national labs would win me over. But I really don't like his stances on social issues (opposition to gay marriage and abortion). Miller would make a good congresswoman, but she may be too liberal for my tastes. The only reason I can find to vote for Lujan is that I can't decide between East and Miller.