On Polls, Cell Phones, And Storms

Tuesday, 30 October 2012, 11:31 | Category : Politics
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One week before the election, and the race looks tighter than ever. Polls are all clustered right around a dead heat, with some showing Obama ahead by a point or two, some showing Romney ahead by a point or two, and some deadlocked. But are the polls reliable? This post at The Moderate Voice got me thinking about polls generally. Assuming most still rely upon telephone surveys, how do they factor in those who have abandoned landlines for cell phones? How do they factor in people who look at their caller ID and, seeing “Unknown Caller” or “Out Of Area”, assume it’s a poll calling and don’t answer? Are those people evenly split? We’ve been hearing for months about how the Republicans are more enthused about this election. Is it possible that makes it more likely that they’ll answer that call? You could then speculate that those people would cause Romney’s support to be overstated – but does that same enthusiasm make it more likely that they’ll show up to vote? The Pew Center has studied this, and has found, not surprisingly, that response rates have fallen dramatically, as shown in the graphic below:

5-15-12 #1

They note that most surveys include cell phones now, but how do they incorporate those? Do cell phone-only owners answer these calls at the same rate? And I have to wonder if, as the election draws near, response rates have fallen even further due to voter weariness, especially in the swing states.

Now, looming above and around all the polls, is this enormous storm affecting most of the northeastern US. That’s many, many households that won’t be reachable by any method in the last crucial week. With this representing large areas of Obama’s strength, will we see a spike in Romney’s number in the last polls? If we do, will that artificially add to the sense of momentum that Romney’s campaign has been claiming (with justification, to be fair). The storm could affect the election in several ways, directly and indirectly. And with Obama’s support seeming to soften, if not actually crumbling a bit at the edges, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time for him. He does get to act Presidential, being in charge during a crisis, but whether that offsets potential downsides of storm effects on actual voting will be an object of study for future analysts, I’m sure.

While I Was Out

Sunday, 28 October 2012, 11:25 | Category : BlogStuff, Life
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During my prolonged mostly-absence from blogging, I lost track of most of the people I used to follow and correspond with. In the past few weeks, I’ve begun to try and track some of these people down, to see if they’re still blogging. Not surprisingly, not many are still “out there”. One person I had tried to find was Jack Grant. His blog, Random Fate, was a little different. It wasn’t exactly political, although he had strong views on many things, but you couldn’t easily label him. He was interesting, and we shared blog posts and comments and emails on a variety of subjects. He was living in France at the time, but returned to the US either right before or right after his father died, unexpectedly as I recall, and an event that shook him badly. I lost track of Jack when I retreated from the blogging world. So when I decided to begin again, I started searching for Jack. And unfortunately, my search led me to this post on The Moderate Voice – Jack had died suddenly in June of 2011, at the age of 46. I never met Jack in person, and didn’t know much about him outside of his blog posts and some emails back and forth, but he was a thoughtful guy burdened by the crap he saw going on around him, especially in the political realm. His blog description said it best:

Trying to hold the center in not so quiet desperation while the left and the right do their damnest to tear everything apart.

And just because I want to preserve just a little of who Jack was, and because archive.org’s Wayback Machine makes it possible, I’ll link to this small sample of his blog:

Random Fate

RIP, Jack. I wish I could have known you better, and longer.

Looking For Blogs

Friday, 26 October 2012, 22:02 | Category : BlogStuff
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I seem to be spending more time here and less on Facebook. I would say I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but that’s not correct. It’s more of a like/hate relationship. I post there, but sometimes it leaves me feeling cheap and a bit sleazy. So I’ve been finding myself back here more and more. But I recognize that anything I write here will pretty much be seen only by me, because personal blogging has mostly gone the way of Usenet and mailing lists, victims of the Facebook/Twitterization of the internet. Maybe blogging will come back one day, when enough of us have gotten tired of the shallowness.

In the meantime, if any bloggers drop by, and you aren’t on my blogroll, please feel free to drop me a note, or a comment, so I know you’re around.

The Dog Stars

Friday, 26 October 2012, 21:00 | Category : Books
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I saw The Dog Stars in a local bookstore recently – I have to admit the cover is what drew me, it reminded me of the star maps in a stargazing book I had as a kid – and asked one of the ladies behind the counter what she knew about it. She recommended it highly, so I checked it out of my local library (don’t feel bad for the bookstore, I was there buying another book). I’m now maybe 50 pages into it. I’m finding it both hard to put down, and a little difficult to read. Not because of the plot, but because of Heller’s writing style. I haven’t read anything else by Peter Heller, so I don’t know if all his books are like this, but his style in this book tends to be choppy, some of the sentences incomplete, some run together. But the story is really intriguing, so I just keep on reading. I guess that’s the mark of a good book, that you read it in spite of itself. But as I said, I’m only about 50 pages in, so I suppose it could go either way – I could get tired of the style and stop reading, or I could get used to the style and keep on. I suspect it will be the latter, because it’s really a good story.

Whiny Babies

Thursday, 25 October 2012, 14:48 | Category : Politics
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When I read this piece on Truthdig by Alexander Reed Kelly, which referred to an article in the November Harper’s Magazine by economist Jeff Madrick saying that entitlements aren’t the problem causing our deficits, too-low tax rates are the problem, it reminded me of something I wrote a couple of years ago:

Yesterday President Obama and the Republicans worked out a deal on extending the Bush tax cuts from 2001. They also threw in a “temporary” reduction in the payroll tax we pay for social security, dropping it by two percentage points. So now we’ll pay even less in taxes, without giving up anything. We’ve come to believe we shouldn’t have to. It’s really a pretty sweet deal – we just keep shoving this massive debt off on you. You’ll be paying on this long after we’re dead, buried, and cursed by you a dozen times over. There’s a fair chance that the United States you’ll know will be crippled by this debt, but hey, we don’t like paying taxes, and we punish anyone who says we should. Oh sure, some of our politicians talked about cutting the deficit in our time, but that was just posturing to get elected. So we’ll keep spending, and cutting taxes because we come up with these nice theories that say cutting taxes will somehow increase the amount of money the government takes in, and we keep on spending like we have even more money coming in. It’s really been a bizarre thirty years, if you stop and think about it, as we’ve piled up deficit after deficit. There was this president named Bill Clinton who actually did do something about the deficit – he even left office with a budget surplus – but the next president, George Bush, took care of that in short order. Tax cuts, you know. Have to cut taxes, give money back to the people. It sounds noble, except that – you guessed it – he kept spending like there weren’t any tax cuts. So, the debt got higher and higher. Anyway, I digress. We, as I said, have another deal on the way, cutting taxes more, sending you more debt, all nicely wrapped up with a pretty bow. Yeah, I know, you’d have preferred to have been able to spend your tax money on repairing roads and bridges, and building new schools, and keeping the military in tip-top shape. Heck, you might have even wished you could have had some tax cuts for yourself. That last will be hard for you to do, I suspect. Just the interest on what we’ve piled up will probably strain what you can afford in taxes. But, you know, tough. We like all this stuff we have. We just don’t like paying for it. That’s what you’re for. And, like I said, we’ll be dead. We won’t care, any more than we do now.

Sincerely,

We The People

In the two years since I wrote that, the deficit has stayed absurdly high, social security has gotten less secure (due to the reduced revenue from the 2% payroll tax cut), and President Obama’s willingness to attempt to compromise with the Republicans has gotten him exactly zero credit with the populace. The payroll tax cut is the one thing Obama has done that really disappointed me. And the problem with a “temporary” tax cut is that there’s no such thing in our political environment. The Republicans will always paint the end of a tax cut as a tax increase. It’s as if you let employees leave early one day, then the next when they have to stay until the regular leaving time, they start screaming about lengthening the workday. Paul Ryan’s plan is for a 10% base tax rate, but the problem is no American wants to live with a 10% tax rate budget. We want to pay taxes like it’s 10% and get government services like it’s 20%. We have the lowest taxes in several generations, and all we do is whine about high taxes. You want low taxes and small government, move to Somalia.