Tag Archives: elections

The Colossal Polling Errors of 1948 and 2016

1948: Dewey Defeats Truman. 2016: Clinton Will Defeat Trump. Both headlines ate crow.

Pollsters incorporate multiple factors when painting a picture of public opinion. (Try not spit in my face when you say that to me in person.) They consider race, gender, geographic location, religious affiliation, community setting, etc. They also need to consider which voters are more likely to show up. The most common method is by phone. Pollsters will hire people to call a bunch of numbers hoping that people will answer. At least a few hundred will. A lot of people don’t answer. I’ve been called by polling agencies a few times. I’ve answered and responded to questions twice.

What is the point of all this? Some of it is intended to feel the pulse of the nation — to see what Americans really want. Of course, a lot of it is to fuel the horse race that is an election. The media cites polls left and right. Some of it ends up influencing people’s votes. People are biased toward winners. FiveThirtyEight rose to prominence as being a polling agency. In 2008, they said Indiana and North Carolina would go for McCain, if I remember correctly. They went for Obama instead. In 2012, their presidential forecast was spot on. A lot of this is that they adjusted their model. They realized that the polls didn’t tell the whole story. There are other factors like the economy and the fact that pollsters can’t reach certain people by phone. They’ve had difficulty reaching Latino voters and people who may not have a phone at all.

In 2016, the polls could not have been much more wrong. FiveThirtyEight had a projection of about a 71.4% chance of Hillary Clinton winning, one of the more conservative estimates. People were betting money on PredictIt.com that Hillary would win, giving her better odds. The LA Times had one of the more accurate predictions. To have the final outcome be off by 3% or even 4% is not uncommon. That’s the margin of error for a lot of these polls. The polls showed Hillary Clinton leading by 4%. She is currently winning the popular vote by only 2%. However, even that lead doesn’t win the presidency. The “how do I explain this to a five-year-old child” system of the Electoral College chooses the victor. FiveThirtyEight was predicting a comfortable win in the electoral vote, maybe even a landslide. They predicted that Clinton would win all the Obama 2008 states except for Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio – 322 electoral votes in total.

Not only were the polls wrong in some of these states, they also had no idea that Donald Trump would steal states from the Democrats. Results in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania showed that Hillary Clinton didn’t just have an Iowa and Ohio problem, she had a Rust Belt problem. The last time a presidential candidate only won two states in the Midwest and won the presidency was 1884. How could the polls be so wrong in states that hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since the 1980s? One theory is the “shy Trump” voter avoided expressing support for Trump for fear of judgment by the pollster, but this is crap because this wasn’t a factor in the primaries. What is more likely is that Trump supporters were less likely to answer the phone. Knowing Trump’s impatience, you can see why his supporters would be reluctant to talk to some stranger on the phone for 10-15 minutes. Another issue is that pollsters vastly underestimated the number of working-class whites turning out to vote. Trump ended up winning with 306 electoral votes.

Let’s compare that to 1948. All the polls were saying that the suave Governor Thomas Dewey of New York would defeat the fiery incumbent president Harry Truman. Truman’s own staff members left for other jobs because they didn’t even think he could win. Gallup had Dewey winning the popular vote by 5%. He ended up losing it by 4.5%. In terms of the popular vote, that is clearly a greater upset than the 2016 election. I don’t have much to compare the electoral vote results of 1948 and 2016 as state polling for 1948 is hard to find.

A similarity between both elections is that a swing of 1.25% in three states were all that were needed to change the results. In 1948, those states were Ohio, Illinois, and California.  In 2016, those states were Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (alternate being Florida). Both elections would result in one party controlling the presidency and Congress. Additionally, polls in both elections showed a tightening race. In 1948, Dewey lost a double-digit lead, but experts still wouldn’t hedge their bets on Dewey. In 2016, FiveThirtyEight showed Hillary dropping from a 7% advantage to a 3.6% advantage.

FiveThirtyEight appeared to hedge its bets more than other predictions did and much more than most firms did in 1948. That still doesn’t excuse the fact that the polls did not capture the whole picture of what was going on the Rust Belt. The site even argued that 2016 probably wouldn’t be a repeat of 1948, and that Trump shouldn’t “bank on a massive polling error.” Earlier this year, polls showed Hillary Clinton winning Michigan’s primary over Bernie Sanders. Bernie ended up taking the state. So, a polling error in the Michigan is not without precedent. It’s almost as if we were supposed to see this coming, but we didn’t. Life goes on. We live and learn.

(Seriously, 2016 though. If I could go back in time, I would put money on DiCaprio, the Cavs, the Cubs, and Trump. How else could I become a millionaire?)


On Trump Winning

First of all, I would like to congratulate Mr. Trump on his victory. It was a tough, brutal campaign, and I am glad that process has come to an end. I am faithful in the legitimacy of the votes, and I am thankful that we will be having a peaceful transition of power.

For months on end, we have viewed Hillary Clinton and/or Donald Trump as a tough pill to swallow. I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and tepidly supported Hillary Clinton in the general election. I was still absolutely shocked to see that Trump was winning in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

However, this was a huge wake-up call to the Democratic Party. I will admit that my party deserved to lose because we did not do right by the people of these states. We have spent so much time trying to win the votes of wealthy, educated suburbanites that we have taken the working-class citizens of our great country for granted. We have abandoned our progressive roots by supporting unbalanced trade deals and cozying up to big corporations.

My hope is that Trump will adopt a positive and cooperative tone. I hope he will resolve the issues caused by ObamaCare (about which people on both sides of the aisle have complained). I hope he will reform federal education law regarding Common Core and allow schools to do what they do best.

I hope he bridges the deep divides in our country. I have never defriended anyone for being a Trump supporter. If you are a good person who cares about others, that is good enough for me. I hope he cracks down on sexual assault to show that he is serious about his self-professed respect for women. He could also do much of what his daughter Ivanka said he would do at the RNC this summer.

All I have left to say is good luck, Mr. Trump. You are our president-elect now. The world is watching.

Our Real Problem? The Moderate Always Loses


In 2010, one midterm election was enough to unseat half of the so called “Blue Dog Democrats” (more moderate/conservative Democrats) from Congress. This statistic is pretty amazing for a few reasons. One, as an advantage of incumbency, members of Congress have extremely high reelection rates. They are reelected roughly 90% of the time. Second, this happened when there wasn’t even a presidential election occurring. People generally don’t give a damn about these elections, voter participation is lower than it is during presidential election years, and one would think this would boost the incumbency advantage for members of Congress.

But 2010 saw blue dog after blue dog fall.

In 2012, the Republican Party flirted with more extreme conservative candidates before nominating Mitt Romney, who struck many as a much more vanilla, centrist choice. Romney was initially perceived as a wise pick, as it was thought he had the greatest chance of appealing to voters who identified as anything other than “very conservative.” Romney ended up losing his bid to Barack Obama, and in truth, the contest wasn’t that close.

This was reminiscent of 2004 when the Democrats did the exact same thing with John Kerry, who mounted an unsuccessful bid to defeat George Bush. “Boring,” “lackluster,” “flip-flopping,” “calculating,” centrist Kerry lost both the popular vote and the electoral vote to a vulnerable incumbent president.

So, who does win elections? Extremists, populists, hard party-liners, and those who appeal to the party’s base. People like Donald Trump. Why? They’re exciting. They bring out their supporters on election day.

For moderates, like Kerry and Clinton, this is much harder to do. Soaring ideals are simply more inspiring than calculating pragmatism.

While more people might align more closely with a moderate and not care for the more extreme candidate, these people need an additional reason to come out to the polls. Their emotions and passions are not stirred by vanilla establishment candidates.

Meanwhile the extreme, populist/demagogic, or hyper-partisan candidate enjoys the advantage of soaking up most of the media attention. We have to concede they’re exciting, and we’re hanging on every word.

So what does this mean? – It’s bad, bad news.

The level of partisanship in Washington is only going to get worse. To illustrate this, take this year’s senatorial elections. The Democrats managed to unseat two Republican senators. Maggie Hassan just barely eeked out a win over Kelly Ayotte, a somewhat moderate Republican from New Hampshire. The only blowout against an incumbent Republican was Tammy Duckworth’s victory over Illinois senator Mark Kirk, the most liberal Republican in the entire Senate.

The moderate always loses in the USA. Senator Kirk had a strong record on LGBT rights, reviled Donald Trump, and voted with the Democrats on numerous issues.

With Kirk gone, are any remaining Republicans going to compromise and work with the Democrats? It seems very unlikely. The Democrats have eliminated their only friend from across the aisle. Expect countless strict party-line votes once the new Congress begins.

While Kirk was defeated, a senator in Wisconsin managed to defy the expectations of forecasters and hold on to his seat in Congress. This man is Ron Johnson, who defeated progressive darling Russ Feingold in the purply/blue state of Wisconsin after suggesting that impeachment motions should be brought immediately if Clinton were to win the presidency.

The extremist wins, the moderate loses, and the country suffers.

Why a Third Party Vote is Not a Wasted Vote


The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world. This “nation of immigrants” has people of all different religions, ethnicities, cultures and ideologies co-existing in the melting pot we call home. And yet, with all this variety, the United States is still one of the few developed countries in the world with only two major political parties to represent such a broad array of people.

With significantly more differing viewpoints and ideologies than there are parties, people have been told for decades not to pick the candidate who represents their views the best, but to vote against the candidate that represents their views the least. If you’re a far left liberal who only agrees with half the platform of the moderate Democrat who’s running for office, you’re told to suck it up and vote for him/her anyway because at least it’s not as bad as the Republican option. If you’re a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government but is appalled by socially conservative views of the religious right, it doesn’t matter. You have to vote for the Republican anyway because the Democrat is even worse. In a system where two parties have to try and represent vastly more ideological viewpoints, a large number of people are forced to compromise on their values to support the candidate they dislike least.

Never has this been more apparent than in this election cycle. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have two of the highest disapproval ratings for presidential nominees in American history and, because of this, they have spent more time arguing against their opponents than arguing for themselves. This is why the major theme of the Republican National Convention was not “Donald Trump will fix this country” although that message was half-heartedly touched on. The major themes were “Crooked Hillary” and “Lock her up.”  The Trump campaign correctly realized that the best way to win the presidency was not to convince the American people that their candidate was the best man for the job but to convince them that Democratic nominee was even less fit to be president.

This strategy is a depressing reflection of how far our political system has fallen, but it’s also a strategy that has a good chance of working. All you need to do is read the comments section of any political story that mentions third party candidates and you’ll find a litany of comments arguing that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote and that the country needs to do whatever it can to keep Trump/Hillary out of office.

We can’t have a political system where people are discouraged from voting their conscious out of fear. We can’t have a democracy where we tell large groups of people to suck it up and vote for a candidate that they don’t believe in because the single alternative offered is terrifying. We need to have a system where there is a large enough number of viable candidates that Americans can go to the polls and cast their vote for a candidate they believe in. And the options are out there. For those far left progressives who feel that Hillary is too moderate of a candidate, Jill Stein’s Green Party is a competent alternative. And for fiscal conservatives who are more socially progressive than mainstream Republicans, look no further than Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party for a candidate who more closely represents your views.

Whatever you, as an individual, happen to believe in, the goal of a democracy should be to make sure that you have representation in government. And to do that, there needs to be an adequate number of parties to represent the vast number of ideologies and beliefs that the people of this country have. No more can we endure what we’ve seen over and over again in this election, where members of the two political parties try to scare people who don’t believe in their platforms into supporting them by demonizing their opponents. We can’t call this a strong, representative democracy if large numbers of voters are going to their polls with the mindset that they need to vote against a certain candidate rather than for one. We need to change the mindset in this country that settling and compromising on our values out of fear is acceptable. We need to stop trying to convince the far left that they are betraying Democratic principles by refusing to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton. We need to tell Republican voters that it’s okay to be appalled by the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and want to look for another option. First and foremost, we need to make sure that every American can go to the polls in November and vote their conscience; that they can vote for a person who they think represents them. We need to make sure that no one is bringing fear to the ballot box.

Because if we, as a nation, send the statement that it doesn’t matter who the major parties pick as their standard bearer, then it’ll just get worse. If we tell the Democrats and Republicans that all they have to do is terrify us and we’ll vote for whomever they want us to, the American people lose their power to ensure that competent candidates lead their parties into November. 2016 brings us a unique opportunity to show the two major parties that our loyalty is dependent on nominees that reflect the values of the parties they’re supposed to represent. If we don’t now, when will we?

For all those undecided voters trying to figure out for whom to cast your ballot this fall, don’t let anyone tell you that a vote for a fringe candidate is a wasted vote. To summarize Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, the only wasted vote is a vote for a candidate you don’t believe in. Vote your conscience this November; vote for the candidate you think will be the best for America and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe one of the fringe candidates will be competitive. Maybe they won’t. But at the very least, the major parties will know that our support has to be earned. And that’s a victory in and of itself.

Electoral Reform Suggestions

Streamlining Vote Counting
*People sign into a polling place.
*You bubble in a paper ballot.
*You scan the paper ballot with a voting machine.
*The voting machine prints you a Voting Verification Number (VVN) receipt. The VVN matches the number that was on your paper ballot.
*Absentee ballots would also have a VVN. This would come with a CR code (linking to the online Excel spreadsheet) and could be turn off along a fold from the rest of the ballot.
*The voting machine sends your voting data to an online Excel spreadsheet.
*This spreadsheet is visible to the public when polls close.
*Voters can verify the Excel data by searching their VVN online and seeing if there are any discrepancies.
*News agencies can get electoral data instantaneously.
*People can correct discrepancies by texting or calling the County Board of Elections with their VVN. They may also make an in-person complaint.
*The Board of Elections can then review the paper ballots corresponding to the VVNs, especially if the number of complaints exceeds the margin between the winner and other candidates.

Voter ID
*Sure, there is some voter fraud, but it’s minimal and it’s not the reason that mostly Republican state legislatures are pushing voter ID laws. Pennsylvania did it because its Republican state legislature wanted to swing the vote in favor of Romney in 2012. That has since been struck down because people who cannot get voter IDs are often minorities or they are economically disadvantaged. These people generally vote for Democratic candidates.
*In 2015, Alabama closed numerous DMV offices in mostly majority-black counties to favor Republican candidates. That has since been turned around. It’s very clear they don’t want these African-American voters to verify their identity at the polls. Just because the Civil Rights Act was passed in the 1960s doesn’t mean there aren’t still problems.

Voter Registration
*Voting registration should be automatic and should pull data from the DMV once a citizen becomes 18.
*People would be registered as independent. They can change their party affiliation by filling out a form either online or on paper. They can register for a party or they can remain an independent but be given the option to vote in one party’s primary elections.
*People should not have to renew their voting registration. Voting is a right, not a Netflix subscription. We need to do everything we can to prevent people’s right to vote whether it’s in a primary or in a general election.

Long Voting Lines
*Election data by precinct is now available so that Boards of Election can find the precincts that vote a certain way and force the residents thereof to go to one polling place. This can manipulate the results because voters who might have strongly supported Candidate A might be discouraged by the long lines or have to be turned away because they were 300th in line and the polls already closed. Meanwhile, Candidate B could have won even when popular support was with Candidate A.

*Why we don’t have independent redistricting commissions in this day and age is beyond me. Then again, the people who have the power to improve their reelection chances will do anything they can not to lose that power. Anywhere citizens can start an initiative to have independent redistricting

Tuesday Talks: Electoral Reform

Tuesday Talks will be an ongoing series of discussions among the contributors to Greater Scheme. We will discuss of variety of issues, mainly political, but we will discuss other topics as we see fit.

JOHN: All right, let’s talk about electoral reform. There are a number of factors that determine how the current electoral system in the United States operates, and Patrick and I will discuss those factors and address potential solutions with the hope of promoting and protecting democratic values. Patrick, would you like to start with some issues you’re seeing with the current system?

PATRICK: Absolutely! Thank you for discussing this vitally important topic with me. I think one of the biggest problems with our current electoral system is that it is a pretty firmly entrenched two-party system. It results in similar candidates, lack of meaningful choice, and allows parties to put forward increasingly unpopular candidates – this has culminated this year in the major parties presenting the two most disfavored candidates in any contemporary American presidential election.

Outdated voting machines and a complicated registration process are also cause for concern.

JOHN: What I find interesting about this argument is that the two-party system is nothing new. The current two-party system dates back to the 1850s when the Republican Party was formed. And we’ve had some solid presidents and statesmen come our way since then. Abraham Lincoln was part of that system as was Teddy Roosevelt and FDR. I think the problem with the current two-party system is its relationship with campaign finance. The Koch Brothers, of course, don’t fund Libertarian candidates because they don’t win. They spend most of their campaign funds on Republican candidates. As a result, the Republicans get most of the money. The Democrats have their fair share of corporations and special interests that fund them. Don’t get me wrong.

People’s discontent toward government has grown because the politics is getting more polarized. That wouldn’t have happened if Newt Gingrich didn’t have 24-7 news as his soapbox so that he could speak out against Bill Clinton and his policies. Polarization wouldn’t have happened if Fox News didn’t become the conservative network, if MSNBC didn’t become the liberal network, if CNN didn’t become the establishment Democrat network. People get to customize their news, and the news customizes itself to boost its ratings. That’s a very tricky problem that doesn’t have a clear governmental solution. Requiring certain news to be more neutral or punishing news corporations for not being truthful is very dangerous if we want to preserve the First Amendment. How does one define neutrality? How does one define truth? The truth is that it is somewhere in between, and we need to change as a culture, think critically, and move toward a society that is open to cognitive dissonance.

And sure there is bipartisan corruption, but I think instead of the parties being opponents, they have become even more like enemies. And it’s trickled down to regular people.

PATRICK: I agree! It is very interesting how two parties that in the grand scheme of things aren’t that different ideologically, have become almost childish in their relations with the other party, often refusing to compromise and saying pretty awful things about members on the other side.

Americans have been quick to follow the example they set, and we seem to enjoy demonizing our neighbors who belong to the other party.

JOHN: I think a big thing we’ve seen is that lately the Republicans have been the ones that are better at sticking to their guns than Democrats. The Democrats will generally support something in name only, but often won’t get to do much about it. And of course, who will support a party who tries to emulate the center-right in the name of ending gridlock when that gridlock never actually ends?! The Republican Party currently thrives on gridlock because ideologically it supports their ends. The government can’t grow if new laws aren’t passed. And it’s very hard politically to repeal laws once they have come into effect. So, they stick to gridlock because they are trying to prove that government doesn’t work and that we should have less of it. It’s a fairly brilliant strategy because, along with gerrymandering, the Republicans continue to control both houses of Congress. It’s an awful strategy because disapproval of Congress is even worse than that of cockroaches, and people have begun disliking the two parties even more.

And yet, approval of individual candidates is stronger. People like their House Rep or Senator because they bring funds into their home states. It’s sort of like rooting for the Bears if you’re from Chicago but disapproving of the NFL for all the concussions. The Bears are part of a system of constant concussions that the NFL won’t acknowledge. Politically, the system is more corrupt, because individual politicians try to do the right thing, but the system is stacked against them (money, egos, etc.)

PATRICK: I think new restrictions of pork barrel spending are going to gradually reduce the popularity of individual lawmakers and Congress over all while making gridlock even worse, but your Chicago Bears analogy is apt. Some people will support whoever represents their hometown. Without pork we’ll see less quid pro quo compromise. And I think we are already starting to see that.

JOHN: That’s an excellent point. I believe Lincoln was the one who realized that pork was necessary to get anything done. And it’s easier to advocate for more spending in your state if you’re a longtime incumbent.

And there’s an argument that we need term limits, but then there’s the issue of having constantly inexperienced people coming into the system and then leaving without making much of an impact. I think a big issue with these Congressional terms is that they are too short. Two years is not enough time to get anything done in the House of Representatives. You cajole people into giving you campaign funds to get elected, and then a year later you’re already campaigning again. There’s no time to actually do your job. I realize that the Founders wanted that turnover for the sake of common people having a say more often, but it doesn’t take into account the rising costs of campaigns. If we wanted to fix that, four-year or even six-year terms would be better. We want our leaders to focus long term, not on the current election cycle.

PATRICK: I think you’re on to something. If you listen to former congressmen talk about the fundraising aspect of their job they all absolutely detested how much time they spent doing it. A lot of them came in wanting to make a difference, only to find themselves spending huge chunks of time on the phone asking for money from people they really didn’t know.

JOHN: But I wanted to jump back to that polarization conversation. The polarization and gridlock in Congress makes people leave their respective political parties and become independents. Often, the people left behind are even less sane, the groupthink gets groupier, and the gridlock gets worse. And now you have all these independents who don’t have a say in who gets to be the Democratic or Republican nominee. If independents actually got to vote in these primaries, I think Bernie Sanders would have squeaked by and John Kasich might have actually had a fighting chance.

PATRICK: Maybe. The primaries aren’t very democratic. They put independent-minded populists like Bernie Sanders at a disadvantage. Trump falls in that category too. In Louisiana, he got more votes than Ted Cruz, but fewer delegates!! The deck was stacked against him, but amazingly he still won.

JOHN: I think a big thing with that GOP primary was that all these billionaires could buy their own presidential candidates. The dumbest thing for the GOP to do was allow 17 candidates to run. At least in hindsight. They had no idea Trump could actually come into the scene and win. If they had known what was going to happen, the GOP could’ve sat down with potential candidates and try to talk them out of running for president by offering them support for a different position instead. I don’t know if their efforts in that case would have been fruitful, but having that many candidates fractured the voice of whatever sanity was left in the party.

And sure, Trump had the cards stacked against him in a way. The GOP traditionally picks the tried-and-true establishment candidate. But all Trump had to do was win the plurality of the votes in many states and take all of those states’ delegates! 60% of the voters in a state could have voted against him and yet he is 100% the Republican nominee today.

PATRICK: That’s a good point. The “moderate” Republican vote was pulled every which-way during the primary.

JOHN: Maybe preferential voting could have helped, but that might just encourage more people to run. I’m a special ed teacher, and I don’t think people need that risk of candidate ADHD in their lives.

PATRICK: I hear that argument invoked sometimes when I bring up how terrible the two-party system is, which plagues not only the presidency, but Congress as well. Perhaps its effect on Congress is even more damaging. Congress is not representative of the electorate.

JOHN: Of course it’s not. Only a third of registered voters even bother to show up for midterm elections.

PATRICK: When they do, they are often presented with just 1-2 choices for a given office. And those choices are often not a great match for the voter.

JOHN: I know some countries mandate voting with the penalty of a fine so that the leaders are representative of the electorate. I believe Australia is one of these countries. I’m concerned that many politically inactive would just vote randomly and not take the process seriously. What do you think?

PATRICK: I agree. I don’t think voting should ever be mandatory. Not only do you risk random voting but I think not voting makes a statement too. I support a really right not to vote, ha ha ha. I do favor a parliamentary/proportional representation system for our Congress. But participation in that process shouldn’t be compulsory.

Image 1.

JOHN: If we really want to increase turnout, I think it would be smarter to stop making voting access worse. Often, polling places are put in an area that poor people can’t access because they can’t drive to the location. We also really need to hammer home the fact that people can send an absentee ballot. But the sad thing is that a lot of people don’t vote because they don’t think the candidates are any different or because their vote doesn’t count. Well, maybe if we got these people together (which is often the majority of voters!) and we said to them, “Take a look around you. These people stayed home just like you because they thought their vote wouldn’t count. If all of you voted, your vote would count. Big time.” (Image 1).

PATRICK: A proportional representation system would increase the differences in the views and backgrounds of candidates. I think it would do a lot to stifle the view that all politicians are the same. A belief that a vote doesn’t matter isn’t helped by undemocratic primaries. A lot of people feel that way because of the Electoral College too. But I see the utility in the electoral college (making sure a candidate is popular across a wide geographic range).

JOHN: I mean, the number of swing states seems to have gotten smaller historically. So, in theory, it would be easier for presidential candidates to only have to campaign in those states. But then they pander to those states only, and campaigns still get more expensive.

I know voting equipment was an issue for you. What are some issues you’re seeing there, and what should we do to address them?

PATRICK: For starters, some polling locations are still equipped with machines from the 1970s. At least some of these machines will lose its record of all the votes cast if its battery depletes. This is unacceptable. If there is one thing most people would agree is worth investing in, it would probably be safeguarding our democracy by ensuring our votes are counted.

And it’s not just equipment! Purging someone from the rolls because they haven’t voted in X years is ridiculous. A lot of New Yorkers ended up unable to vote in this primary after discovering on election day they had been purged in this way.

JOHN: It’s important to keep our equipment updated. Nothing lasts forever. I’m not sure I’ve heard of the equipment being as old as the 1970s. I don’t think they had touchscreen machines and Scantron machines back then. I have heard of equipment that hasn’t been updated in 10 years, which makes sense, because there was a huge exodus from punch cards toward electronic equipment. And then we just stopped bothering to keep them up.

I made sure to check online to see if my dad or I had been removed from the polls. We weren’t, but it’s important that people know these online resources exist!
PATRICK: I think I saw machines from the 1970s on an episode of the Daily Show this year. I’ll look up the video later tonight, I think it’s on youtube!
JOHN: I think John Oliver brought that up as well. Maybe, maybe not.
PATRICK: A lot of people are totally unaware of online resources to expedite voting. And even I’m not sure how absentee ballots work. I’ve changed my address with the election board each time I’ve moved, even if the move was just for school.
JOHN: I’ve used absentee ballots on numerous occasions. I’ve kept my address the same as that of my parents even though I don’t live with them for work reasons. It’s because I enjoy voting in the village elections in Skaneateles. I’ll probably change it to Binghamton in a few years though. But absentee ballots are fairly straightforward. I just went online, looked at the due dates for when everything had to be sent and received, filled out the form, and sent it to the Onondaga County Board of Elections.
PATRICK: Painted Post elections aren’t very exciting. Our mayoral elections are often uncontested. My father ran in 2006, and was the first Democrat to seek that office since the 1940s. Most things are pre-destined here.
JOHN: Oh, before we forget… There is a huge, huge issue that we need to talk about… And that is voter ID laws.

PATRICK: Ah, yes. There is no real need for them. But they are great at keeping poor people of color away from the polls. “Voter fraud” the reason given for their existence by their proponents, almost never happens. Almost no cases of double voting whatsoever.

JOHN: It’s very obvious that they are discriminatory. I think it was a majority leader from Pennsylvania’s state legislature that said that they were solidifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for the GOP presidential candidate. Awful. In reality, that would have only swung it 1% in favor of Romney in 2012, but that is still WAY bigger than the 0.0001% or whatever votes that are fraudulent.
JOHN: And I’m reading about Alabama which is closing down DMV offices in mostly counties that are majority black and that voted for Obama. If you really want to crack down on fraud, that’s one thing, but it’s very obvious that you are manipulating whatever Democratic votes are left in Alabama instead of actually cracking down on voting fraud.
PATRICK: That’s sickening.
JOHN: Fact check — Those DMV closures in Alabama happened in 2015, and the state reopened them. But it’s still horrendous.
PATRICK: Agreed.
JOHN: Clear violation of the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
PATRICK: Gerrymandering though is often racial. Racial barriers are everywhere.
JOHN: North Carolina has realized that. They’ve gerrymandered a district such that it has a significantly African-American electorate and as a result an African-American representative. But then the rest of the state’s representatives are disproportionately Republican even as the state has gotten more purple. That’s because the Republican state legislature realized that they could pack a ton of Democratic voters into that district and not have to worry much about them elsewhere.
Anyway, I think we should wrap up this discussion. I’m getting sleepy! Any final thoughts?
PATRICK: The two-party system is awful, especially for our picking our representatives in the legislative branch. We need to make voting easier, but not compulsory. The decline of pork barrel spending means an increase in gridlock in Congress. Finally, voter ID laws are terrible, and their proponents have a pretty obvious ulterior motive.
JOHN: And there you have it! Our first Tuesday Talk has come to a close. We’ll see you next week, folks!
PATRICK: Thanks for having me!
JOHN: Always a pleasure.

The Nightmare of Hillary Clinton


Hillary Clinton is a nightmare for American leftists.

How many Sanders supporters and peaceniks happily hopped, skipped, and jumped over to the Clinton campaign when it become apparent Bernie Sanders was not going to win the Democratic nomination? Surely not as many as had serious reservations, flat-out refused to support Clinton, or only made the switch because of the grotesque spectre of a Trump presidency.

This is partly because Clinton doesn’t have nor does she deserve the same reputation for honesty and political integrity that Sanders does. Clinton’s statement that she “never received nor sent any material that was marked classified” on her private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State was not true and her recounting of landing under sniper fire in Bosnia was either a sign of a very faulty memory or a straight-up fib.

Mostly, however, it’s because Clinton has embraced policy positions that most progressives in 2016 do not support. Clinton has rejected the idea of pursuing single-payer healthcare, instead she wants to work to improve the ObamaCare system. Clinton has refused to encourage a ban on fracking or an end to the Drug War. Wall Street banks like Citi Group and Goldman Sachs liter her list of top contributors over her political career. Her foreign policy views have been labeled “hawkish” and include a threat to go to war with Iran if it breaches the nuclear agreement and a promise to immediately attempt to remove the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from power.

Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate will do little to herd in fleeing progressives. Kaine is a boring centrist, with a lackluster record on reproductive rights and staunchly pro-Israel foreign policy views. To his credit, Kaine is surprisingly progressive on gun control for a Virginia senator, and that is perhaps the one issue where this ticket presents any hope for progressive change.

The progressive vote is going to be divided in many ways this November, but most progressive voters will fall into one of four categories: voting for Clinton, writing-in Bernie Sanders, voting for Jill Stein, or staying home because they are disillusioned with the two major party candidates.

Jill Stein, who barely cracked 0.3% of the vote last election, is poised to have a much, much bigger year. In her, progressives see an opportunity to vote for an agenda they agree with that doesn’t exist with Hillary, and they don’t have to forgo voting for a female candidate for President of the United States.

Of course, this presents the same old bitter debate over third party candidates. Many, like George Takei, are encouraging former Sanders supporters and progressives to “vote blue no matter who,” deeply concerned about what a Trump presidency would mean for the United States. These are the voices that especially in this election view a vote for Jill Stein or another third party candidate as a wasted vote, or worse yet “a vote for Trump.”


The Democratic Party has produced one of the most disfavored nominees in the party’s history. If all of America’s progressives fall in line to support Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party has no incentive to cease running hawkish centrists with honesty problems, corporate backing, and mediocre records on the environment and fighting poverty. Unless the Democratic Party begins losing a little support on the left, they will feel free to continue this drift to the right. Already they have come up with a ticket other countries would likely view as more conservative. American progressives deserve a better choice, one that aligns with their views and values. That is why I offer a battlecry intended to counter “Vote Blue No Matter Who”, with all due respect to the magnificent George Takei, and that is “Have A Spine, Vote for Stein.”

Clintrump and You

Let’s face it. We’re looking at the worst presidential election match-up in history — cold, calculated, corrupt Hillary Clinton vs. brash, bombastic, bumbling Donald Trump. I admit it. I’ve thought about voting for a third-party candidate. Jill Stein shares most of my views, but she has some downright implausible ideas. She won’t win. Gary Johnson shares my views on social issues and even some economic issues. He’s positive and seemingly reasonable, but libertarianism is simply too inflexible to respond to changes in our world. My guy was Bernie Sanders but he simply won’t be the nominee. And maybe he would be too soft and get steamrolled by Republicans just like Obama had happen to him.

Now a lot of people are saying the lack of indictment for Hillary Clinton regarding the emails is politically motivated. FBI Director James Comey was a registered Republican but he later said he is no longer so. Perhaps Comey realizes there’s something more important in the greater scheme of things. Perhaps Comey has been so turned off by the idea of Donald Trump becoming president that he left the Republican Party. And maybe that is why he is letting Hillary off the hook. I’m sure Mr. Comey is aware that she is vulnerable to anything that would damage her reputation and such damage would give an edge to Trump.

What I find so perplexing is why so much time is wasted conducting witch-hunts on minor blunders and even victimless crimes. Sure, that is politically motivated. Republicans want to see Hillary fall apart. The death of four Americans at the embassy in Benghazi, Libya, sure doesn’t make Hillary look good. And I haven’t read the emails that the State Department and WikiLeaks released. And sure she shouldn’t have used a private email servers to send and receive classified information. Nevertheless, did storing her emails on a private server threaten national security or aid terrorist efforts? Has anyone died or suffered physically as a result of her using a private server as opposed to that of the State Department? I don’t know. This angle of the story doesn’t seem to reach many people when it should. There seems to be this obsession with the letter of the law when it comes to Hillary.

What I find more troubling about Mrs. Clinton is that she supported the overthrow of dictatorial regimes in Iraq and Libya. Trump recently said that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, despite being a “very bad guy,” was good at killing terrorists. Well, he killed a lot of people because there was no due process and he wanted firm control. Because he was Sunni, the minority Sunnis felt they were important too. With Hussein out of the picture and the majority Shi’ites in control, many Sunnis couldn’t join the military because of their connections to Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. What else were these disaffected Sunnis going to do other than join ISIS? You see, dictators are very bad, inhumane people. However, their rule by predictable terror squashes unpredictable acts of terror.

Libya is similar. Gaddafi was a pretty terrible guy. He wasn’t the kind of guy to take home to mom and dad. Trump even said the U.S. should topple Gaddafi and that it would be very easy. Then, Trump flip-flopped on this issue because he realized this overthrow destabilized Libya. Gaddafi’s demise resulted in a power vacuum, allowing ISIS to establish a colony on the central northern shores of Libya. “Accidentally strengthened terrorist organization” does not look good on a political resumé.

When voting, Americans should know that Clinton and Trump have both made horrible decisions regarding foreign policy. However, a President Trump’s careless, impulsive, and insensitive approach to diplomacy and military interventions would present a greater threat to American national security. He too thought toppling Gaddafi would be a good idea. It hasn’t been good in Libya since. He even said ISIS should be allowed to topple Assad’s regime in Syria. Seriously?! Assad (and the American-backed Kurds) are the only reasons ISIS hasn’t taken over the entire freaking country!

If ISIS were to take over all of Syria, that would strengthen their claim to country status and legitimize them as the new caliphate for Muslims. We can’t do that now when they are losing territory day by day. The Iraqi army is making ISIS fighters retreat like never before. And yet, we’re seeing ISIS commit more terrorist acts as they lose more and more territory. They can only win right now with the element of surprise and hiding in plain sight. We need a strategy that protects us from terrorism. We need to realize that military intervention is not the only option, that Sunnis and Shias are never going to get along in Iraq, that we need a nuanced and conscientious approach that protects the lives of Americans wherever they may be. That includes diplomacy, more responsible nation creation (e.g., a three-state solution dividing Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds), and not toppling dictators just because we can.

This Democratic Primary Wasn’t Very Democratic


I’ve become very disillusioned with the Democratic presidential primary process after reading, researching, and participating in it during this primary cycle.

The first issue, which caught the attention of quite a few people, was the debate schedule initially presented by the DNC. They significantly reduced the number of debates to be held, all the way down to a mere six debates. The Republicans also reduced their number but still planned to have twice as many debates as the Democrats.

It was widely believed the reason for this limited debate schedule was that it would help the one candidate the Democratic establishment wanted to see prevail: Hillary Clinton.

Hillary’s initial competition consisted of four (remotely serious) candidates:

  • Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee, governors with little name recognition and very few diehard supporters.
  • Jim Webb, a military man and one-term Senator with some views far too conservative to earn the Democratic Party’s blessing.
  • Bernie Sanders, who made the decision to run as a Democrat after years of successfully winning against them as an Independent.

None of these four opposing candidates were going to receive much love from the Democratic Party. The party had every reason to favor Mrs. Clinton, and the best way to give institutional support to Clinton, already the betting-man’s favorite to win the nomination, was to see that absolutely nothing interesting happened during the primary cycle. A quick and quiet primary season would be beneficial to the Clinton campaign, and fewer debates would mean fewer opportunities for a Clinton slip up that might knock her out of her frontrunner status.

Not too long after this, there was another startling development, but this one did not get nearly the same level of attention. Lawrence Lessig, after declaring his candidacy and raising sufficient funds, reached out to the DNC in the hopes of appearing in a televised debate. The DNC refused to recognize Lessig’s candidacy. It then set a requirement that to appear at the first debate, a candidate must receive at least 1% support among likely voters in three or more national polls. Lessig wound up excluded from most polls because of the DNC’s withholding of recognition for the candidacy.

After being excluded from the first debate, Lessig set his sights on appearing at the second and appeared primed to do so. Lessig registered at 1% in two national polls and only had one more to go.

Then, the DNC changed the rules.

They added a stipulation that any polls conducted within six weeks of the debate would not count.

That was the end of Lawrence Lessig’s campaign to be the Democratic nominee.

I live (and vote) in New York, and while my voting experience in this year’s primary went smoothly, I can’t say the same for many of my friends in the state. My cousin, an 18-year-old first-time voter, received a piece of mail acknowledging her registration as a Democrat and informing her of polling location for the presidential primary. When she showed up, she wasn’t on the poll workers’ list and was turned away. I instructed her to demand an affidavit ballot which she did. I do not know if it will ever be counted. I instructed her to refuse to accept provisional ballots, as these simply do not count (Democratic Party Election officials acknowledge this). Anyone who submitted a provisional ballot this year appears to have simply wasted their time. Perhaps the same is true for the countless voters like my cousin forced to submit affidavit ballots. A friend told me she knew seven different people who were all forced to submit affidavit ballots for one reason or another.

Voting irregularities in Arizona and Brooklyn (which happens to be where Bernie Sanders grew up) are also cause for concern.

An examination of the kinds of things reducing voter access this primary cycle demonstrates an interesting pattern.

Some registered Democrats were taken off voter rolls because they had not voted in seven or more years. Voting rules stipulated that wearing pro-candidate clothes or accessories to the polls was illegal electioneering and anyone doing that should not be allowed to vote. Taking pictures of one’s ballot was deemed grounds to invalidate the ballot.

Voters falling into all three of these categories are in my view more likely to be Sanders supporters (Millennials excited about their first vote, wearing “Feel the Bern!” tees and snapping pictures of their first-ever vote, and older people so disillusioned with politics they haven’t felt inspired to vote since this fiery outsider showed up).

Finally, lets look at Wyoming. A state where Bernie Sanders won the popular vote by more than 10%, but received fewer delegates than Clinton. Granted, Bernie Sanders did agree to the rules which produced this result when he was recognized by the DNC and ran as a Democrat, but this result is wholly undemocratic.

If we vote for a candidate and give him or her a 10 point win in our state, but our candidate is awarded less delegates and comes out in a worse position to win the election after this result, how much should we really believe our votes are worth?



The Rise of Angry Mob Politics


This has certainly been a whirlwind of a presidential campaign season. Since the 1950s, the heir apparent for the Republican Party has always won the nomination. Either they have been vice president, on the presidential ticket, a runner-up for the nomination, or they were a president’s son. Meanwhile, since 1960, the Democratic Party has generally elected fresh faces, all but one of whom were in their early 50s or late 40s upon their inauguration.

This year is far different. Anti-establishment fervor in the Republican Party is so strong that the heir apparent (Jeb Bush, a president’s son no less) apparently was not the heir. How it is that Donald Trump, a college-educated man worth billions of dollars, is earning the support of people who make far less than he does? How is it that a Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist, is winning the hearts of young people and Redditors everywhere?

To answer these questions, I must first explain how anti-establishment sentiment arose in the first place. The selection of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominee in 2008 partly fueled the rise of angry mob politics. Sarah Palin empowered a largely uneducated populace to express views that even under President Bush’s first term would have been considered way out of the mainstream. As part of Sarah Palin’s Tea Party movement, growing animosity toward entitlement programs, political correctness, and liberal arts education emerged.

Palin in effect galvanized angry white males, working-class or middle-class white Americans who fueled the Republican Revolution in the mid-1990s. Many of these Americans had every reason to be angry. “It took Nixon to go to China” and outsource American jobs there, resulting in the demise of American industrial cities starting in the late 1970s. President Clinton’s NAFTA deal sent a number of low-skilled jobs to Mexico. Of course, I would be angry if my job were sent to Mexico, and I didn’t have the academic skills to work in the professional sector. I would want someone to get my job back instead of forcing myself into a profession. Scapegoating Mexicans or the Chinese for my plight would be perfectly natural. I would feel insecure and would need reassurance from a fellow angry white American to feel “great again.”

Anyway, Palin never did take the opportunity to run for president. She could have gotten a lot of votes in the 2012 Republican primaries, although she would have split the evangelical vote and Mitt Romney would probably have won anyway. Instead, a billionaire who “talks like the people” but doesn’t “walk like the people” has capitalized on the movement that Palin started. Independently wealthy real-estate magnate Donald Trump did everything right in his campaign announcement. He knew exactly how to play his audience of disaffected working-class Americans — using fear and anger. Fear over Muslims destroying their way of life; anger over losing jobs to Mexico and China. Immediately, Trump’s populist trade policy won over the working class, his anti-Muslim rhetoric won over Southern Christian conservatives, and his militaristic attitude kept neocons excited. Trump’s self-funded campaign meant that he could not be bought by special interests.

While Trump claims he has the support of the silent majority, it’s clear they are actually a vocal minority. Trump’s favorable rating is only 24%, meaning that the majority of Americans disapprove of him. It’s no surprise that Bernie Sanders has a greater lead over Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton does in general election polls. Unlike Hillary, Sanders and Trump strongly oppose TPP. The positions of the two men on free trade are slightly different — Sanders wants fair trade whereas Trump supports free trade unless China and Mexico are “beating us too badly.” Additionally, unlike Trump and Hillary, Sanders actually has a positive favorable rating as people perceive him as honest and trustworthy. Hillary is also losing white male voters to Sanders.

Sanders’ crossover appeal is immense. He is actually outperforming Hillary with independent voters despite not being in the ideological center. The reality is that the American people are slowly but surely recognizing that the current American political system is an oligarchy and no longer a republic. 78% of Americans want the Supreme Court to overturn the Citizens United ruling. As a result, the next president must appoint justices who can be expected to do just that. The Judiciary is the only branch of government that has any power to make real change in this day and age. A Republican-controlled won’t allow a Democratic president to get anything important done.

Even if Sanders only accomplishes the feat of nominating Supreme Court justices who eventually overturn the Citizens United case, he will have been a very consequential president under the current system. The effect of limiting the power of the wealthiest Americans to shape public policy would allow politicians to follow the voice of their constituents as opposed to the donors who put them in office.

When the interests of the people are ignored and when unemployment becomes too high, societies will face instability and civil unrest. The short-lived Arab Spring was a response to governments that ignored the interests of the people. Look at Iraq. During the Saddam Hussein regime, Sunni Muslims held high positions in the military and a great deal of power in general. Under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even highly educated Sunnis were barred from military service because they were members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party. This was the only source of employment for many Iraqis. When opportunity faded away for the Sunnis, their natural inclination was to turn to the ISIS. At least under ISIS, they had power and ISIS certainly had a record of getting things done, right or wrong. ISIS blames the Western world, and even other Muslims, for much of its problems.

While not as extreme as the rise of ISIS, the rise of the angry white mob in the United States is a response to very similar problems: the feeling of losing power to people with a different ethnicity, nationality, or religion. A government must do what it has to do and resolve growing tensions within its borders. Otherwise, the angry mob in America could grow into something much nastier. Unemployed people have more time to protest when they don’t have to go to work anymore. We can’t resolve internal tensions when there are so many barriers to economic opportunity or political freedom.