Vote for a Future, Not the Odds of a Horserace

I am amazed by the number of pundits that seem to believe only Clinton supporters can add numbers. Today’s New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, illustrates this in his piece entitled ‘Feel The Math’. Since his ideas repeat a very common argument, it is important to call out the problems with Krugman’s math lessons.

First, even though Krugman criticizes the horserace mentality of the media, his argument is stuck in that horserace mentality. He is such a fish in water than he doesn’t get it. His argument is that Clinton is the odds on favorite, with Sanders facing impossible odds, so get with the program, give up on Sanders, and support Clinton. He makes the odds of the race the principle reason for supporting the Clinton campaign.

The flip side of this first point, is that Krugman and others fail to understand the degree that so many of those who support Senator Sanders, as I do, believe that he has big ideas that merit support. We are registering our support for him and his ideas. Bernie’s tag line of ‘A Future We Can Believe In’ resonates with his supporters. Sanders has run a campaign on policy, and his vision of the directions we need to move on such issues as campaign finance reform, ridiculous inequities in income distribution, treating a college more like we have been treating a high school education for decades, and more. Support for Sanders is a vote in favor of his vision, his big ideas, tied into a coherent framework, versus small ideas only linked by pragmatic incrementalism.

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Secondly, Krugman and others must know that calling an election before it is over has a major impact on late voting. Television networks cannot call an election until the polls close, but this is essentially what is happening in calling an election during a rolling set of primaries. It is one thing for a candidate to decide to postpone or stop their campaign, but for the media to get behind the Democratic Party establishment and the Clinton campaign to convince Bernie Sanders to stop his campaign, or for his supporters to abandon him, is a huge mistake. In the longterm, it will rebound on trust in the media and the party, but in the short-term, it will undermine the votes for that candidate downstream. What is truly remarkable is the degree that much of Senator Sanders’ support that held up to this onslaught by the supporters of the other side, who think they are the only one’s who can do arithmetic.

Finally, it might be worth noting that Bernie Sanders is not Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton is no Barack Obama. 2016 is not 2008. The math argument always makes these analogies, saying we’ve been here before. This is a repetition of 2008. Not true. These are very different candidates, different bases of support, with very different baggage, and in a very different context. Not surprisingly, the mathematicians are poor historians.

If Hillary’s election is so inevitable – if she has the math race locked up, then what is the panic? Why the urgency in trying to sway late voters to support Hillary by making an argument based on math rather than policy and platforms. Let the primary voters in California vote on the basis of the candidates ideas, not on the odds of the horserace.

Polls Right; Pundits Wrong: The Story of the Sander’s Upset Win in Michigan

The day after Bernie Sanders won an amazing come-from-behind victory in the Michigan primary, what was the story on NPR? Not the political dynamics of this late surge in support for Bernie. No. It was all about why the polls did not get this right!

To me, this is equivalent to punters blaming the bookies for not calling a horse race correctly. Anyone involved the slightest in polling can imagine a wide array of reasons why polls might be off. But poll after poll had Clinton ten to twenty-two percentage points ahead of Sanders. Could they have been correct, and there was a true surge in support for the Sanders’ candidacy? Could the last debate have made a difference? Probably. However, instead of looking closely at the likely shift in voting intentions, the pundits wanted poor polling to be the story. The polls made them – the pundits – look bad, as they debated all evening thinking they knew the outcome of the contest. They did not.

A related observation was the degree that CNN kept failing to call the election, despite the margin for Sanders remaining very steady, around two percent. This was all the way up to nearly 90 percent or more of the actual vote. Why? They kept muttering that the Clinton polls have her winning but possibly by only a small percentage. So not only were the ‘journalists’ believing the polls over the actual vote tallies, but they were hanging on the predictions of one of the candidates’ handlers. We all know that polls can influence the voters, but now we see polls dangerously influencing the reporters.

The Bernie Sanders’ campaign pulled off a major upset in Michigan. It defied all the predictions of pollsters and pundits. His rise in voter support should be the story, and what it might mean for the coming primaries, and not hand-wringing over the accuracy of the pollsters.

Michigan Results for Sanders
Michigan Results for Sanders

Opportunities for CNN and Candidates in the First Democratic Party Debate

Five candidates are preparing for the CNN debate to be held in Las Vegas on 13 October 2015: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but also Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee. There are two likely outcomes.

The first is an opportunity to actually debate the issues. The previous Fox and CNN debates failed to engage the candidates in a genuine debate of the issues, perhaps as a consequence of the sheer number of candidates on stage. On Tuesday, with five candidates, there will be no excuse for not asking the candidates to debate key issues, yet that remains to be seen. [Tracy Westen and I have been writing about this shortcoming of the GOP debates.]

Secondly, I expect that this is a key opportunity for the lesser known candidates to gain greater visibility. Martin O’Malley, for example, could gain support for his candidacy by virtue of just being heard. Even though there are fewer candidates in the Democratic Party Primary, it is amazing how focused the media have been on the two frontrunners, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Even Joe Biden, yet to decide on his candidacy, has received tremendous coverage. The other three candidates have received very little indeed. For example, the Sunday NYT (11 October 2015) prepares readers for the coming debate by discussing the debating skills of Bernie and Hillary, but not one column inch on O’Malley, Webb, or Chafee. This is one more illustration of the limitations of the mass media in elections. More use needs to be made of the Internet, Web and social media to cover a wider range of issues and candidates.

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It might well be that the three lesser knowns will have the most to win in this CNN debate, as this stage will give them the best opportunity to-date to make their case as credible alternatives to the two front-runners. My prediction is that Martin O’Malley will be the biggest winner of Tuesday’s CNN debate, but the most important outcome should be the airing of candidate positions on key issues. This is the responsibility of the moderators at CNN.