Politics: May 2004 Archives

The truth about Al Gore


Following the former veep's recent speech, Frank J. presented an assortment of "Fun Facts about Al Gore." Here's a selection:

* His programming was specifically for him to be a politician. Now that he no longer is one, he's gone rogue.

* If you turn on a microwave while Al Gore is near, he'll suddenly start singing showtunes.

* Al Gore spent most of his vice presidency trying to keep Clinton away from his daughters.

* The only way to destroy Al Gore is to get him to chase you under a hydraulic press. It's best to keep in memory all the nearest hydraulic presses before hand.

Go read it all. And here's Frank J.'s guide to his best stuff.

New media gets respect


The King of Fools has been granted press credentials for the Texas Republican Convention. Congrats to the King and we'll look forward to experiencing another state's convention vicariously.

Here's his account of the senatorial district convention he attended back at the end of March.

I note that he is raising some money from his readers to offset the costs of traveling to the State Convention, in anticipation of the live-blogging he plans to do from the convention and he's gotten a good response so far. You suppose someone headed to the National Convention might ought to try that?

Remembering the Great War


Instapundit links to a length and fascinating story by Jack Neely in the Knoxville Metro Pulse about Knoxville and its people in the Great War and the war's aftermath. A few excerpts:

Americans first regarded it as one of those stubborn, creaky old European conflicts that flared up in the Old World every now and then like the shingles, in which old men with peculiar hats and baroque motives would order slavish troops onto the field to whale away at each other for the old routine of glory and slaughter....

Knoxville's reaction to the war:

Patriotic optimism was overt; negative newspaper stories about the war effort were rare. But in some cases the war’s effects were disheartening. For more than half a century, Knoxville had been proud of its German population. Over the years, several German-born men were elected to City Council. A downtown Lutheran church conducted services in German. In the 1890s, the city had elected a German mayor, Peter Kern, of Heidelberg. The German society, Turn Verein, hosted popular dances and festivals.

But now the Germans were no longer the Germans; in newspaper headlines and in common conversation, they were the Huns. During the war, some East Tennesseans of German heritage changed their names to make them sound English. Knoxville’s German community has rarely gotten together to publicly celebrate itself since. ...

On Armistice Day:

It was a wild day. Most businesses were closed, and even the stoic farmers on Market Square shut down early. Max Finkelstein put up a sign on the front door of his clothing store: “Closed For Joy.” The newspapers published Extras, hawked in the crowded streets, where horns, gunfire, cowbells, and firecrackers made things noisier than some battles, and multiple effigies of Kaiser Bill and Crown Prince What’s-His-Name sustained all manner of insults. Reporters found it remarkable that even middle-aged women were openly cussing, shouting “Damn the Kaiser!” right on streetcorners. All over town, Wilhelm was wishfully dragged, burned, beheaded. Some 10,000 gathered at Wait Field to burn phony kaisers. The only live European known to be in Knoxville that day was one unaccountably errant French officer wearing the blue uniform of the 171st French Regiment. Local women mobbed him with kisses, as if he were liberating Knoxville itself.

Go read the whole thing. There's an interesting bit about the origins of Memorial Day which was started in Knoxville by a Union widow. Then there's this 1919 event, which puts Tulsa's own troubles two years later into perspective:

Knoxville’s postwar months also brought unexpected anti-black sentiment. For half a century, Knoxville had regarded itself a model city with regard to race relations.

The summer of 1919 would become known as Red Summer due to a rash of race riots, some of them provoked by the image of black veterans returning from war. Though the military was strictly segregated, and returning black troops were not feted nearly as extravagantly as returning whites, some were offended to see them wearing the same uniforms as whites, and to see them being hailed as heroes. Also, the Red Scare manifested itself in the South chiefly through rumors that the Bolsheviks were stirring up blacks into revolution.

Knoxville’s own crisis came late that summer, when a frustrated lynch mob and a confused detachment of guardsmen laid siege to a largely black downtown neighborhood. Several were killed, some of them by machine-gun fire with a new weapon developed for combat in Europe. The military enforcement of a post-riot curfew was disproportionately harsh on the black community.

Black historians cite World War I as the end of the years of prosperity and trust between blacks and whites in Knoxville. There followed a black exodus. The city had once been almost one-third black, but the minority percentage of the city’s population slipped below 20 percent.

Thanks again to Instapundit for the link.

A lot of chat the last few days about Sen. Jim Inhofe's outrage over the outrage [sic] over abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. (For comments on National Review's "The Corner" start here, then scroll up for more.)

All this has reminded me how annoying it is to hear politicians claim, in reaction to some event, to have emotions that they obviously don't possess. Genuine emotion is accompanied by physiological phenomena -- your pulse races, your blood pressure goes up, you get goosebumps. But many politicians seem to have the same level of personal experience with emotion as Data from Star Trek. And just like Data, these pols seem to be programmed to mimic emotions as a way to set the humans at ease. Data's programming seems to be superior to that of these elected officials, who appear to be running beta versions of Genuine People Personalities.

So, Senator, are you really feeling the emotions you find it politically expedient to profess?

"appalled" -- Did all the color go out of your face?

"horrified" -- Did the hair stand up on the back of your neck?

"shocked" -- You sure seem talkative and coherent for someone in shock. Shouldn't you have mouth agape, drooling?

"angered" -- Face flushed? Vein in temple throbbing? Jaw clenched? No? Then you're not really, are you?

"saddened" -- I took a good look at your face, and it was impossible to trace the tracks of any tears. You haven't even had a good sniffle about it.

"disgusted" -- Show me the airsick bag.

The honest, all-purpose statement would be something like this:

Jaded cynic that I am, I am generally pretty numb, particularly when it comes to human suffering, but I confess to be inwardly gleeful at the discovery of the "silver bullet" that will bring down the Bush presidency. But so as not to offend against the quaint folkways of the American people, I will pull a frowny face and talk about how it makes me sad and angry.

Black Box Voting


There's a website devoted to concerns about electronic voting. BlackBoxVoting.com tracks news stories about the all-electronic voting systems that have been introduced in recent years. It's ironic that these systems, introduced in response to problems with paper ballots in the 2000 elections, may be even more susceptible to fraud and tampering. The website includes a free PDF version of a book on the subject. The introduction provides this definition of black box voting:

Black Box Voting: Any voting system in which the mechanism for recording and/or tabulating the vote are hidden from the voter, and/or the mechanism lacks a tangible record of the vote cast.

Oklahoma's voting problems have to do with who is allowed to cast a ballot, like the recent Tulsa City Council primaries in which hundreds of voters were given a primary ballot for the wrong party. Oklahoma's vote counting mechanism itself is very solid, particularly since there are physical ballots, which the voter personally marks and examines. If touchscreen voting is used it should produce some sort of marked paper, which the voter can examine and verify that it reflects his intent. This paper would be deposited in the ballot box and would be available for use in a recount.

A number of experts have called for states to require that voting machine vendors release the source code for the programs that control the machine, so that flaws, backdoors, and other vulnerabilities could be uncovered and corrected.

Odd polling trends: UK


Website PoliticalBetting.com reports on an interesting little adjustment made by polling agency Populus, which signals a major shift in public attitudes toward the parties. The latest Populus poll of the British electorate puts the Conservatives ahead of Labour by 4% -- 36 to 32, Labour's lowest percentage in years, with 22% going to the Liberal Democrats, a party that runs to the left of Tony Blair's New Labour.

The raw numbers gave the Conservatives a 6-point advantage over Labour, but Populus adjusted Labour's numbers up by 2 points. Here's why:

Early last year, after a short period of neutrality, the spiral of silence reversed itself. Polls began to find that the proportion of former Labour voters saying that they didn’t know how they would vote next time began to climb, while the proportion of Labour supporters saying that they were sure to vote began to fall. Pollsters have been adjusting Labour’s poll support upwards to take account of this growing number because all empirical data tell us there is about a 60 per cent probability that, however reluctantly, if they vote at all they will end up voting Labour again. Without this adjustment the Conservative lead in today’s poll would have been 2 per cent higher. SO in place of Shy Tories we now have Bashful Blairites, people unwilling to admit to pollsters or their friends that they still support the Prime Minister. Once so fashionable, new Labour has now gone out of fashion. This is very difficult to reverse.

My guess is that this is due to Blair's support of the US position in the war on terror, which has been attacked fervently by the arbiters of popular culture. Backing Tony isn't cool any more. A few years ago, in the latter days of John Major's reign, voters supporting Conservative policies were embarassed into silence by sex and financial scandals involving Conservative MPs.

A question: Is the "spiral of silence" a factor in American politics? How would you adjust a poll result to account for it? I'm guessing that it varies state to state, but generally the effect would reduce stated preferences for Republicans.

All pollsters make adjustments, in part because people aren't always honest with pollsters, for various reasons, in part because a variety of factors (time of day, weather, age of respondent) can skew a voter's willingness to respond. The website for Populus has a frank and fascinating discussion of how they arrive at their adjustment factors.

3. The logical way to try to make sure a poll sample is politically representative is to ask those polled how they voted at the last election and compare what they say with the actual result – a known fact about the political views of the country as a whole that serves as a benchmark, so that if the voters who have been surveyed for the poll prove to be politically unrepresentative, the whole sample can be made representative by weighting it to the election result. For the first few months, Populus polls for The Times were, therefore weighted to the actual result of the last election.

4. But the detailed data of Populus polls bore out research at previous general elections, and surveys re-polling the same people during the course of a Parliament, all of which have shown that when asked after a general election how they voted, a lot of voters – possibly as many as one in five – don’t recall correctly: they may lie, or want to be seen to have backed the winner, or are correcting their past vote to match their future intention, or they may simply forget.

The likeliest date for the next British election is believed to be 05/05/05. Another interesting fact, cited in the PoliticalBetting.com report, is that the Tories will need a 7% popular vote edge over Labour in order to win more seats than Labour. It has mostly to do with the presence of a third major party, which tends to split opposition votes. This is another reversal from the '80s and '90s, when the same phenomenon worked in the Conservatives' favor.

Odd polling trends: USA


Over on WSJ's "Best of the Web Today", James Taranto asks why Kerry isn't gaining ground on Bush despite "right track/wrong track" and approval numbers that would normally mean trouble for an incumbent.

Yesterday he found answers in some other poll numbers -- very low "strong support" numbers for Kerry among his own supporters (38% vs. 68% for Bush), and an indication that the Democrats are overplaying their hand (60% of voters think Rumsfeld should stay on the job). And there's a great Kerry quote that illustrates the personality problem he has with voters.

Today Taranto presents some readers' explanations for the phenomenon. Here's a sample from Ray Newton:

I think that you are missing one important point on the polls. If a pollster asked me if I approve of the job Bush is doing I would have to say no. Too apologetic, not strong enough.

Do I approve of his handling of Iraq? Again no. Need to get tougher.

Do I approve of his handling of the economy? Again no. Too much spending. Too much appeasing the Dems. Tax cuts must be permanent.

For all of these reasons Kerry is a much worse choice. That is why polling can be very confusing. When you disagree, they never ask if you tend more towards the right or the left.

Taranto breaks the last six elections involving an incumbent into two categories -- in 1972, 1984, and 1996, where the incumbent was a polarizing figure with strong opposition from the other party but solid support in his own party; in 1976, 1980, and 1992, where the incumbent was not as polarizing a figure, but had unenthusiastic support from his own party, and was challenged for the nomination. Incumbents in the first category won landslide victories, incumbents in the second category all lost. Taranto puts W. in the first category and says that this election comes down to Bush vs. anti-Bush, and if you're not already a Bush-hater, it's unlikely that anything is going to happen in the next six months to make you one.

Rich Lowry had a great piece a few days back on National Review Online about how congressional gerrymandering is eroding democracy by making more and more congressional races uncompetitive.

With the help of district lines sometimes so tortured that they look like works of abstract expressionism, incumbents have increased their reelection rate from 92 percent to 98 percent. That is a marginal-seeming but significant change. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato has a feature on his website tracking close congressional races. In 2002, it followed the "Nifty 50," the 50 most competitive races. This year it features the "Dirty 30." "And we had to stretch to get to 30," says Sabato.

Eighty-one incumbents ran unopposed in 2002, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy. In 350 of the 435 congressional races, the winner won by more than 20 percent. The center projects an even less competitive congressional cycle this year. This means representatives increasingly operate without the factor that tends to force them to be representative — the fear of defeat.

Lowry goes on to cite other advantages of incumbency, and the difficulty of finding challengers to go after incumbents with such strong built-in advantages. He also recalls the way Democrat majorities in most state legislatures used their power in the '80s and '90s to try to ensure that majority of support for Republican policies didn't translate into a majority in the House of Representatives. That may explain why Republicans were able to reclaim the Senate in 1980, long before they conquered the House -- you can't gerrymander state lines. The Republicans' 1994 victory was not only the result of Clinton's unpopularity, but interpretations of the Voting Rights Act that resulted in drawing snake-like "majority-minority" districts, putting blacks, the most reliably Democrat demographic, in concentrated districts, pulling them out of districts where they had combined with white Democrats to keep southern seats in the Democrat column.

Lowry's conclusion:

States should adopt objective criteria for the drawing of districts, including contiguity and compactness that will limit somewhat the ability of the parties to play games. Bipartisan commissions should be given a significant role in drawing district lines. In Washington state, such a commission has created generally competitive districts so even a speaker of the House (Tom Foley) has lost a race there in recent memory.

The goal should be to make it possible for most people to vote in a congressional election that matters. What a concept.

As we've seen in Oklahoma, the problem extends to the drawing of legislative boundaries. We have absurd gerrymanders like Senate District 18, which runs from Grand Lake to 21st & Sheridan in Tulsa, evidently drawn that way to help Kevin Easley build support for the GRDA job and to ensure that his mama would have a good shot at succeeding him in the State Senate. Another goofy district is House 41, which is 80 miles long and six miles wide, stretching from Enid to Oklahoma City.

It's important for legislatures to take up this issue now, long before it's time to redraw the lines in 2011.

Iowa's approach is worth a close look. They have detailed information on their redistricting website.

Their legislative service bureau uses computers to develop a plan, on which the legislature can only vote up or down. The Iowa redistricting process has certain features to avoid gerrymandering:

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from May 2004.

Politics: April 2004 is the previous archive.

Politics: June 2004 is the next archive.

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