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The weathervane vote

Friday, October 28th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — not a weatherman myself, though I do appreciate Bob Dylan ]
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Is what I suggest here ridiculous, or important but largely overlooked, or well known and in general background awareness? What say you? I just want to air the topic..

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There’s a lot of talk about swing voters, right? A Brookings Institution chapter, What Exactly Is a Swing Voter? Definition and Measurement runs to 31 pages and 27 footnotes explaining the concept, but I think there’s one swing vote they may be missing.

I came to this conclusion after pondering the whole question of margins of error in polls. It’s generally accepted that polls have margins of error, often in the mid-single digits. Margins of error call forth interesting analytics, too — see this graphic and accompanying comment from Pew, 5 key things to know about the margin of error in election polls:

horseracepolls

For example, in the accompanying graphic, a hypothetical Poll A shows the Republican candidate with 48% support. A plus or minus 3 percentage point margin of error would mean that 48% Republican support is within the range of what we would expect if the true level of support in the full population lies somewhere 3 points in either direction – i.e., between 45% and 51%.

Even a relatively small margins of error can be enough to encourage misreading an upcoming election result, but the margin of error I’m thinking of is in the range of 35% of undecideds. Let’s call it the weathervane vote.

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Consider this quote from Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President, 1960:

The weather was clear all across Massachusetts and New England, perfect for voting as far as the crest of the Alleghenies. But from Michigan through Illinois and the Northern Plains states it was cloudy: rain in Detroit and Chicago, light snow falling in some states on the approaches of the Rockies. The South was enjoying magnificently balmy weather which ran north as far as the Ohio River; so, too, was the entire Pacific Coast. The weather and the year’s efforts were to call out the greatest free vote in the history of this or any other country.

That’s also the epigraph to another piece of learned disquisition — and yes, I love (envy, mock) academics — The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections. That’s from The Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, No. 3, August 2007, pp. 649–663.

Parasols or umbrellas?

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But my figure of 35%?

First, let me admit i’m not exactly clear on the distinctions or overlaps between swing voters and undecideds, so I may be adding my own margin of error by conflating the two — but my 35% comes from a 2012 piece titled Bad Weather on Election Day? Many Won’t Vote. I think my favorite bullet point therein was this:

  • In bad weather, Mitt Romney supporters are more likely to vote.
  • Their lead paragraph gives me my 35% figure:

    Among those who plan to vote this year, 35 percent of undecided voters say that inclement weather conditions would have a “moderate to significant” impact on whether they make it to the polls on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

    Don’t ask the the margin of error on that particular poll, though, the good folks at Weather.com failed to say.

    **

    My favorite weathervane to date:

    garden-installation-rabbit-weathervane-drawing-p

    Bottom line: If 35% of the swing vote hinges on which way the wind blows, I’m prone to thinking the weather may well have the deciding vote in this here election.

    Hat-tip for pointing me to the 35% piece: rockin’ andee baker.

    Introducing the Person / Position Paradox

    Saturday, October 6th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — ye olde war of science vs religion embodied in Rep. Paul Broun, with sundry comparisons to human rights, UN, dominionism, JFK, creeping shariah etc ]
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    Lest we forget, Muammar Gaddafi‘s Libya, in the person of Ms. Najat Al-Hajjaji (above, left), was elected to preside over the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2003:

    The Commission on Human Rights — meeting this morning under a new procedure two months in advance of its annual six-week session — elected Najat Al-Hajjaji of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as Chairperson for 2003, along with three Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur.

    And as recently as May 2010, still under Col. Gaddafi’s rule, Libya was elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council, and only suspended in February 2011.

    Might we call this an instance of a Person / Position Paradox?

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    You know I like what I term “forms” as analytic tools — this would be another one to keep an eye out for, a particularly intriguing sub-type of the self-referential paradoxes I discussed in an earlier post.

    It isn’t, of course, an analytical breakthrough for me to recognize the paradox inherent in a brutal dictatorship gaining the chair of the international Human Rights Commission at this late date: the United States protested Libya’s nomination at the time, which is why there had to be a secret ballot in the first place.

    Let’s look at some of the accompanying language. Here’s Ms. Al-Hajjaji herself:

    In an address following the ballot, Ms. Al-Hajjaji said among other things that the Commission must send a message that it would deal with human rights in all countries, and not just some of them; that it would take into account in its activities the world’s many different religious, cultural and historical backgrounds; and that among its tasks was to affirm the universality, indivisibility, and complementarity of human rights

    Who could complain about that? And here’s the UN High Commissioner, praising the system that got her elected for its wisdom:

    High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, also speaking briefly, reviewed his recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Angola, lauded the Commission’s new procedure for early election of a Bureau, and said it was important for the Commission to demonstrate that it could manage with wisdom, speed and restraint its procedural business so as to create the best possible spirit and conditions for addressing and resolving the many substantive issues on its agenda.

    The lesson I learn here?

    Paradoxes of this kind lead to a divergence of words from truths — in line with de la Rochefoucauld‘s maxim:

    Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.

    **

    Now comes the potentially contentious part.

    Rep. Paul Broun MD (R-GA) (top, right), member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and chairman of the US House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, told the Liberty Baptist Church of Hartwell, Georgia’s Sportsman’s Banquet last month:

    God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.

    As a student of religions, I don’t find that statement particularly surprising: while the original 1611 edition of the King James Version of the Bible doesn’t include Archbishop Ussher‘s dating of the creation to 4004 BC, many versions of the KJV since 1701 have done so, the wildly popular “dispensationalist” Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909, does so… and Broun is being somewhat generous in allowing for the passage of 9,000 years since creation, where others might see the earth as entering the seventh (Sabbath) day (or millennium) about now…

    As a religious belief, then, this is one of many attempts to fit chronology to scripture. I recall from my days studying the religious impact of millennial rollover (“Y2K”) concerns that one Rabbi Pinchas Winston claimed the year 2,000 (5760 in the Jewish calendar) would be a year of purification:

    The secret regarding this is that, at the end of the year 5760 from creation, the verse, ‘I [God] will remove the impure spirit from the land’ (Zechariah 13.2) will be fulfilled.

    For my source and further millennial date issues in Islam, Hinduism etc, see my chapter, Y2KO to Y2OK in Cathy Gutierrez and Hillel Schwartz, eds., The End that Does: Art, Science and Millennial Accomplishment, Equinox, 2006.

    Politics, though — and the politics of science and science funding at that? Here’s more of Rep. Broun’s talk, explaining how Broun’s theology affects his politics:

    And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.

    **

    I’m afraid this reminds me all too clearly of RJ Rushdoony‘s Institutes of Biblical Law, which opens with the following words:

    When Wyclif wrote of his English Bible that “This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” his statement attracted no attention insofar as his emphasis on the centrality of Biblical law was concerned. That law should be God’s law was held by all…

    Those are the opening words of Rushdoony’s Introduction to his magnum opus. And I know, I know, I’m cherry-picking from its 850-page first volume, but on p. 251 he writes:

    The law here is humane and also unsentimental. It recognizes that some people are by nature slaves and will always be so. It both requires that they be dealt with in a godly manner and also that the slave recognize his position and accept it with grace.

    Is this all just another version of “creeping” theocracy?

    Compare John Hubbard, Arkansas State Rep, whose book Letters to the Editor: Confessions of a Frustrated Conservative (not on Amazon) apparently includes this choice morsel:

    … the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise …

    **

    Some possible parallels that may be worth pondering, coming at similar issues from a diversity of angles — hopefully with enough different implications to generate some questioning of easy assumptions:

    Can a Catholic be POTUS (JFK, eg) without serving the every whim of a foreign Head of State? Can a Mormon be POTUS without serving the wishes of a living prophet, seer and revelator? Can a person who aspires to the highest post in a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” be relied upon if he says things like this?

    There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. … And so my job is not to worry about those people — I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

    And what if he then admits he was in error?

    In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong.

    Is that hypocrisy (see above) — or humility? And come to that: in politics, is honesty a vice?

    **

    But I’m sliding from religion into politics here, unless you take the Gettysburg Address as one of the central documents — akin to a scripture — of American civil religion. Or remember it was the Bible translator John Wyclif who said those words about government of, by, and for the people first…

    Religion, not politics, is my concern and my “beat” — but right now, the “Warfare of Science With Theology” (to quote the apt title of Andrew Dickson White’s celebrated 1895 book) is once again in full swing, so the question of whether Rep. Broun’s positions as a a member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and chairman of the US House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, given his views on voting according to his reading of the Bible, is also an instance of the Person / Position Paradox?

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    It seems to me that questions such as these are of vital to many of us. The question is: are they vital to our democratic principles — or to our salvation?

    The Wizard goes to the Mountain(Runner)

    Sunday, July 27th, 2008

    Shane Deichman leaves his usual perch at Wizards of Oz for a special guest post at Matt Armstrong’s excellent public diplomacy and IO blog MountainRunner:

    Openness & Government: a guest post by Shane Deichman

    ….In the early 1960s, President Kennedy charged his Science Advisory Committee (chaired by Dr. Jerome Wiesner, Special Assistant to the President on Science and Technology) to charter a panel to review federal information management policies and practices. The “Panel on Science Information” was chaired by Dr. Alvin M. Weinberg, Director of Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL). ORNL is the site of the world’s first operational nuclear reactor (the Graphite Reactor, where the “pile” from the University of Chicago was moved during World War II to validate the “breeder reactor” concept) and a key national laboratory.

    ….NASA and the Atomic Energy Commission were acknowledged by Dr. Weinberg as excelling in this area, interpreting their responsibilities quite broadly, and being proactive in providing full-fledged information services (not just a “document repository”) for enabling access to information. The AEC’s culture of openly sharing information is still evident today in the Department of Energy’s “Office of Scientific and Technical Information” (OSTI) in Oak Ridge – the nation’s central repository of scientific information stored in easily searchable databases (including Science.gov, ScienceAccelerator.gov and WorldWideScience.org). [BTW: OSTI is located on the first street in the nation named after a website, “Science.Gov Way”, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.]

    At the other extreme, the Department of Defense was singled out in the Weinberg Report for having an information agency (Armed Services Technical Information Agency [ASTIA], predecessor of today’s Defense Technical Information Center [DTIC]) that only handled internal reports and internal information retrieval requests.

    Read the rest here.

    Special note: Matt Armstrong writes:

    In the spirit of engaging and informing the American public of what the government does and why, Shane Deichman of Wizard of Oz and deep thinker on S&T sent along this post on Openness & Government. He is also the blogger increasingly pictured drinking with fellow bloggers.

    So true, so true. 🙂

    Thursday, April 5th, 2007

    RX’S “FREEDOM 101” MASHUP

    It’s excellent! All praise to Rx!

    Hat Tip to Dan of tdaxp for finding this gem!


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