Friday, December 28, 2012

Michael Barone discovers percentages, treats them like a child treats Play-Doh

Michael Barone has some thoughts about the 2012 election, now that it's been a whole seven weeks.  Specifically, he thinks that it's interesting how the 2004 and 2012 elections were similar, and thinks that if he shows us some math, we might be interested in that too.  Unfortunately, he seems to think that mathematical operations are just things you can arbitrarily perform on numbers to make them more interesting so that you can have something to write about in your online column.

In combing through the results of the 2012 election — apparently finally complete, nearly two months after the fact — I continue to find many similarities between 2012 and 2004, and one enormous difference. 

Does "combing through" mean "reading some article someone else wrote and using those ideas for your own"?  Because this sounds familiar.
Wowie zowie!  Two elections in the same country separated by eight years were kinda the same but also kinda different in some ways also! 

Both of the elections involved incumbent presidents with approval ratings hovering around or just under 50 percent facing challengers who were rich men from Massachusetts (though one made his money and the other married it).

Logically, these elections were basically the same then!
Whoa!  In a country where people divide themselves roughly evenly into liberal and conservative factions, a president from either side is liked by about half the people!  This math shit is off the hook, you guys.  Also, really loving the random dig at Kerry there.  Excellent stuff.

In both cases, the challenger and his campaign seemed confident he was going to win — and had reasonable grounds to believe so.


In both elections, the incumbent started running a barrage of negative ads defining the challenger in the spring. And in both elections, the incumbent had at least one spotty debate performance.

I don't think there are any elections involving incumbents where these aren't true statements. 

In both elections, each candidate concentrated on a more or less fixed list of target states, and in both elections the challenger depended heavily on outside groups’ spending that failed to achieve optimal results.

"In both elections, candidates focused their efforts in areas where they might matter.  The loser and his friends also spent lots of money, which indicates that they did not expect to lose and thought the money might make a difference.  I am a real writer and these are real insights, I swear."

The popular-vote margins were similar — 51 to 48 percent for George W. Bush in 2004, 51 to 47 percent for Barack Obama in 2012.

These numbers are scintillat--zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Wow!  I care so much that I fell asleep there for a second.  Is this column actually just a list of numbers that you thought were weird?  You guys, in the past several elections, the winning party received an odd number of votes.*  Maximum weirdness!

The one enormous difference was turnout. Turnout between the 2000 and 2004 elections rose from 105 million to 122 million — plus 16 percent. Turnout between the 2008 and 2012 elections fell from 131 million to 128 million — minus 2 percent.

You make kitty bored as fuck.
For what it's worth, the only reason these numbers look interesting is that turnout in 2000 was low because it was 2000 and people were all rocking out about the fact that Y2K never happened.**  When I say "interesting", I of course mean "any word other than interesting, preferably one which means the opposite of interesting".

Turnout is a measure of organization but also of spontaneous enthusiasm. In 2004, John Kerry got 16 percent more popular votes than Al Gore had four years before. But he lost, because George W. Bush got 23 percent more popular votes than he had four years before.

I'm spontaneously enthusiastic!  Not about this article, of course.
This paragraph is a basic explanation of how the way to win is to get more more votes than the other person if they get more votes than the person who tried before and oh my god i am bored someone pls send help.

Kerry voters were motivated more by negative feelings about Bush than by positive feelings for their candidate. They disagreed with Bush’s major policies and disliked him personally. The Texas twang, the swagger, the garbled sentence structure — it was like hearing someone scratch his fingers on a blackboard.

Turn my swag on
Bush voters were more positively motivated. Political reporters had a hard time picking this up. His job-approval rating was weak, but Bush voters tended to have a lot of warmth for him. He had carried us through 9/11, he had confronted our enemies directly, he had pushed through with bipartisan support popular domestic measures such as his education bill and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit.


His criticism of his opponents was measured and never personal, and he blamed none of his difficulties on his predecessor (who had blamed none of his on his).

Maybe that's because Bush's predecessor left him a balanced budget and relatively few long-term problems, whereas Obama entered office with several foreign conflicts and do you say...not-balanced budget?  Weighted budget?  Whatever.  Also, I feel compelled to note that it was very easy for Bush to avoid personal attacks because Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and a legion of Swift boaters took care of those for him. 

The 2012 election was different. Barack Obama got 6 percent fewer popular votes than he had gotten in 2008. And Mitt Romney got only 1 percent more popular votes than John McCain had four years before.

"See, what I did there was I took the numbers and I...mathed them.  After the mathing, there was some really interesting stuff, with the numbers and the maths and all that.  Percent!
In retrospect, it looks like both campaigns fell short of their turnout goals. Yet examination of election returns and exit polls indicates that the Obama campaign turned out voters where it really needed them. That enabled him to carry Florida by one point, Ohio by three points, Virginia by four points, and Colorado and Pennsylvania by five points. Without those states, he would have gotten only 243 electoral votes and would now be planning his presidential library.

I never thought of that!  If several million people had voted differently someone different might have won.  Inception!
For what it's worth (I wouldn't know how much it's worth, since I'm not as good at math as Mr. Barone here), 5 points in Pennsylvania was about 310,000 votes.  This whole paragraph is a giant exercise in "just imagine if everything was totally different!"

But the conservative bloggers who argued that the Obama campaign’s early-voting numbers were below target may have been right. If Mitt Romney had gotten 16 percent more popular votes than his predecessor, as John Kerry did, he would have led Obama by 4 million votes and won the popular vote 51 to 48 percent. Romney, like Kerry, depended on voters’ distaste for the incumbent; he could not hope to inspire the devotion Bush enjoyed in 2004 and that Obama had from a diminished number in 2012.

But to continue this counterfactual scenario, if Obama had won 23 percent more popular votes this year than in 2008, he would have beaten Romney by 85 million to 69 million votes and by 54 to 44 percent. In reality, Obama’s vote and percentage went down. Considering what happened in Bush’s second term, that suggests a course of caution and wariness for the reelected president and his party.

The key word here would be "counterfactual". This has been your day's exercise in pretending numbers are different and painting a word picture of what that might mean, which as I understand it is the heart of modern mathematic theory.

*facts may be fabricated if I see fit
**probably not the real reason

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