Three Ways to Watch the Presidential Returns

The day of the Brexit vote, the very first constituency to report results, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, reported a defeat for Brexit, 51%-49%. The defeat for Brexit there was expected. However, the margin was wrong: experts had expected Brexit to fail in Newcastle by 12 points, not 2 points. Newcastle had been a “safe state” for Brexit that turned into a narrow win.

This, in the end, was the story of the entire Brexit results night. Areas that were expected to vote for Brexit by a narrow margin voted for it by a large margin; areas that were expected to oppose it by narrow margins ended up supporting it by narrow margins. There were a few places where the anti-Brexit “Bremain” vote did better than expected, as there always are… but not many. By the time the results were tabulated in England’s version of  “battleground states,” the result was fairly clear on the strength of the vote totals in the “safe” constituencies alone.

Lesson for Americans: you can infer a great deal about the state of the presidential race from even early results in small geographic areas.

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Trump, Brexit, and Our Uncertain Election

Map of British regions by Brexit vote share

A few weeks ago, Trump supporters were talking about how their man was going to win even though all the polls showed him losing, “just like Brexit!”

Those of us who knew something about Brexit said this was stupid, and rightly so: the final Brexit polls showed Brexit losing by about 0.5%, and Brexit went on to win by 3.8% — a polling error of 4.3%. The global elites who had been handicapping the race had been predicting a loss for Brexit, but they had ignored the polls (which showed a close race). The elites looked like idiots after Brexit won, and rightly so, because the lesson of Brexit is you should always pay attention to the polls.

So when Trump supporters started saying they were going to win by beating their polls, “just like Brexit,” those of us with sense went and checked the polls.  At the time (right after the third debate), Trump was losing by an average of 7 points.  In other words, even if Trump beat his polls by 4%, “just like Brexit,” he’d still lose the election by 3%!

Brexit comparisons three weeks ago were silly.

Brexit comparisons today are not.

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For the Record, Trump is Evil (Clinton, Too!)

I was asked this morning whether my deep, profound objections to casting a direct vote for Donald Trump are based solely on his (total lack of) character, or whether Trump has actually campaigned on promises to enact intrinsic evils. While this was the first time the question has been put to me directly, it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen similar. There seems to be an idea going around that, while Trump has done bad, gross, perhaps illegal things in his private life, his public political platform is free of any intrinsic evils, and thus conscientious voters can feel free to support him.

“Intrinsic evil,” for those who haven’t seen the phrase before, is a bit of a magic wand in voting ethics debates, especially Catholic voting ethics debates. To briefly explain:

A candidate who supports something that might cause evil (but might not) is a candidate who might, debatably, be worthy of your support. Tax plans are often used as an example of this kind of thing: people of good conscience can disagree about whether it would be best for our society if we raised taxes on the rich or cut them. People of good conscience can even disagree about really important, life-and-death matters, like whether or not a certain war is a just war.

But there are some questions which are absolutely beyond debate. If a candidate supports rounding up the Jews, putting them in slavery camps, and then gassing them, that is an intrinsic evil. It is evil not because of its causes or consequences, but in and of itself, with absolutely no room for debate. A candidate who supports this is unacceptable, and must be opposed. The only case in which a voter can ethically support a candidate who supports intrinsic evil is when all viable candidates support intrinsic evils, and the voter is thus forced to either choose the lesser of two evils or not vote at all. In that case, the voter may, in conscience, cast a vote for the candidate who seems “less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods”

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A 2016 Compromise: “Voting the Slate”

Minnesota Presidential Electors, DFL, 2008
You thought Minnesota voted for Obama in 2008. Minnesota actually voted for these guys. Read on to see what difference it makes.

For swing state voters, there are no good choices on Election Day. As Ross Douthat argues, it is too dangerous to vote for Trump. As Janet Smith argues, it is too dangerous not to. As Rachel Lu argues, for me to signify support for Trump by voting for him risks injury to my soul (for that matter, the same case applies to Clinton). Yet it seems to me that, under our fundamentally flawed first-past-the-post voting system, failing to use my vote to advance the best available version of the common good risks the same injury. As far as I can tell, they’re all right.

We talked about the awfulness of all our choices back in May, so I won’t belabor this point except to say that, in the six months since I wrote that post, things have somehow gotten worse. Those of you who don’t live in swing states are very, very lucky. (I posted a full list of “safe” and “swing” states on Saturday morning.) Those of us who do live in swing states have been trying to figure out how we are going to vote.

I’ve been leaning toward supporting my preferred presidential candidate, Mike Maturen of the American Solidarity Party. (Here is his platform. It is imperfect, but better than what you’ll get from Trump.) Crucially, a vote for Maturen is not just a symbolic gesture in Minnesota: if Maturen gets 1% of the total (~30,000 votes), the Solidarity Party gains official status in Minnesota, which brings with it public financing. And public financing means that an alternative to the Republican and Democratic Parties — which is absolutely essential — will be able to run more candidates for more state offices in 2018. My vote for Maturen could thus do real good in Minnesota.

However, many of you do not live in Minnesota, so the practical argument for Maturen doesn’t apply. Many others who do live in Minnesota still wonder whether it is morally justifiable to help a minor party gain public financing in one state if the price is the election of the Greater Evil major-party candidate. (And, because we are a swing state, it very well could mean exactly that.)

I hear you. Heck, I agree with you: if I allow Clinton to win by supporting Maturen instead of the only viable alternative to Clinton, I won’t be able to look my daughter in the eye. On the other hand, if I allow Trump to win by voting for Trump, I still won’t be able to look my daughter in the eye!  It seems I’d better study her eyes closely, because I won’t ever see them again after Tuesday!

After several weeks of thought, I think I’ve found a compromise. It’s not perfect, and I’m not convinced it is the best solution. I may still vote for my Solidarity Party of Minnesota. But it is the closest I’ve come to a solution that my conscience can accept. Some of you may find the distinctions it makes too fine, too academic, to be taken seriously. All I can say is, this is the best I can do. I offer my compromise here for those of you who might find it helpful.

I call it Voting the Slate. Continue reading

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Does Your Vote Matter? (Plus: Some Endorsements!)

Throughout this election, I have hoped that my state, Minnesota, would be a “safe state” for Clinton or Trump. This would free me to vote my conscience with no worries at all.

Neil Patrick Harris sings A Better Way starring Paul Ryan
If you haven’t seen This American Life‘s new song about Paul Ryan, it’s a good anthem for ’16.

After all, the whole argument for voting for one of the major-party candidates instead of for a third party is that only the major-party candidates are viable alternatives to one another. But, in a safe state, there is no viable alternative to the winner, so you can feel free to vote for anyone. Even if there were a dramatic upset, enough states would already have been carried by the underdog to ensure that candidate’s victory in the Electoral College with or without your state’s help. So, no matter what you do, your vote in a safe state fits the wide definition of a mathematically wasted vote. Therefore, in a safe state, you should just vote for the person you want most to be president, even if that person is a fringe third-party candidate.

So I have carefully watched the list of safe states grow and evolve throughout this election. Sadly, Minnesota never appeared on it. The full list is below.

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Minnesota Presidential Electors, 2016

When you vote for a major-party presidential candidate on Election Day, you don’t actually cast a vote for that candidate. You are actually voting for a slate of presidential electors from the candidate’s political party. The electors are hand-picked party loyalists elected by the party to support the party’s presidential candidate.

In each state, the presidential electors from the winning party will meet in the state capitol in the third week of December. There, they will cast ballots for president (and vice-president). Those ballots will be sealed up and mailed to Congress, which will open, certify, and count them during the first week of January. Whichever candidate receives an outright majority of electoral votes (270 votes) is informed that he has been elected President of the United States. (This “electoral college” is a very good idea.) If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the Twelfth Amendment “throws” the election to the House of Representatives, which is allowed to pick any of the top three electoral college vote-getters to be President.

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The Nitty-Gritty Beginnings of a New Political Party

A couple of weeks ago, I said that we can’t start just one new party to replace the dying Republican/Democrat system; we have to start many new parties.

Every area needs its own grassroots-driven, nimble, flexible new party, led by locals, fighting wherever they can to claim state legislative seats, mayoralties, commissionerships, and any other low-level political offices from the incumbent machine that has given us Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

In the Twin Cities, we’ve started the Solidarity Party of Minnesota (as of today, we have a website!). Solidarity Minnesota is tied to the American Solidarity Party (a national group), but the national party has very little infrastructure, so we are basically starting from scratch.

Many of you have written to me looking for a little more direction about how to actually start a new party in your local area. Well, here’s the best advice I can give you. This is what we did to get a new party started in our area.

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Guest Post: The GOP is Going to Splinter, by David Riehm

This guest post comes from David Riehm, treasurer of the American Solidarity Party of Minnesota. It is a counterpoint to my own recent argument that, with the collapse of the current Republican Party, a new major-party alternative will quickly assert itself to oppose the progressive agenda.  It’s more pessimistic than I am — which is impressive, because I am very pessimistic indeed — but nevertheless a thoughtful look at where things stand.

Historical Context

In recent months, I have heard a lot of comparisons between the ongoing reorganization of American politics and the political reorganization which occurred just prior to the Civil War, in which the Whig Party collapsed and Abraham Lincoln’s GOP rose from its ashes. This has been accompanied by discussion of the contemporary issues around which a replacement for the GOP can be expected to organize in the next 2-6 years.

I think, however, that a better historical comparison for our present situation may be the aftermath of America’s first political reorganization, colloquially known as the “Era of Good Feelings”. This was a period of one-party rule in the US which began with the total collapse of the Federalist Party in the 1816 elections and did not end until the formation of the Whig Party in the early 1830s. It seems quite possible to me – likely, even – that the Democrats have a period of similar dominance ahead of them.

There simply is no single political issue today which unites Americans as opposition to slavery did in the 1850s, when the GOP formed and elected Lincoln. Instead, just as Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans largely co-opted the platform of the Federalist Party, the Democratic Party has effectively co-opted the original GOP platform, leaving it a jumble of disunited interest groups more likely to fracture into a multitude of ineffective third parties than to reorganize into a new one. (That the GOP cannot survive long as presently constituted, I think, goes without saying.)

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Putting on the Web Developer Hat For A Second…

This probably isn’t of much interest to most of you who read this blog, but Mozilla just struck a major blow for online security and — as importantly — accountability.  Quick-and-very-dirty layman’s explanation:

Much of the invisible infrastructure of the Internet depends on “identity certificates” to establish secure connections between a website and your browser. A certificate uses some very clever cryptography to prove that the website is actually the site it claims to be, and your browser alerts you if there are any problems. Once you know that you are connecting to the right website, you can use the certificate to establish an encrypted connection to that website.  Every time you do an online credit card transaction with a legitimate vendor, you are depending on an encrypted connection backed by a certificate to keep your credit card data safe as it travels across the public internet.

This “web of trust” depends on the people who create certificates — a small number of so-called “Certificate Authorities”. Because of their key role in keeping Internet commerce buzzing, CA’s are subject to strict standards, ever-improving cryptographic requirements, and regular audits.  Mozilla recently uncovered a giant web of lies at one such CA, WoSign, which were overlooked by its auditor, the highly reputable Ernst & Young.

Now, truthfully, I don’t know a whole lot about certificate security; my job doesn’t require I know more than the basics. But I do know quite a bit about politics. The political incentives to sweep this kind of thing under the rug are large. As we saw in the global financial crisis, it’s very easy for regulators to get into bed with the industries they’re supposed to be regulating, helping bad actors get away with things in order to preserve the “overall stability of the system” or something.  It’s even harder to take action when a major name like Wells Fargo or Bear Stearns or Ernst & Young is going to take a serious hit.

But Mozilla did its job and, after some weeks of deliberation, brought down the hammer. All new certificates from this CA, and all certificates that depend on certificates from this CA, are now “distrusted” by Firefox (read: effectively invalidated). All CA audits by Ernst & Young’s Hong Kong office (which was responsible for the WoSign audit) are also going to be considered invalid in upcoming versions of Firefox. One wonders where the global economy would be today had financial regulators had taken such firm and decisive action against bad behavior in their industry.

Kudos to the Mozilla security team. I still have my differences with Mozilla, but Mozilla lived up to its highest ideals today, and helped make the Web better, and safer, for all of us.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check if any of the websites I’m involved with have any dependencies on recent WoSign certificates.

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Ancient aliens guy voting conspiracy
Basically my Facebook feed the past few days

I’ve been swimming in Trump supporters arguing that the polls are “rigged” against their man. In every political cycle, there’s always some fringe that argues the polls are understating support for their candidate. In 2012, Republicans argued why Romney would beat his polls, and the Romney campaign itself truly believed this. In 2010 and 2014, as the midterm polls looked better and better (for Republicans), it was Democrats screaming about “oversampling.” I myself indulged in this back in 2012 (but hahahaha oh boy was I wrong).

But it’s worse this year. Trump supporters are being publicly bolstered by their own candidate, who is claiming the polls are “rigged” to anyone who will listen. This has energized a base that is already inclined to believe many less-than-reputable sources because of their (completely justified) distrust of the mainstream media and the incredibly, genuinely dishonest cottage industry of so-called “fact-checkers”. Unfortunately, the simple fact that the MSM is basically untrustworthy does not mean sites of the lunatic fringe (like suddenly become trustworthy.

They aren’t. This year as in previous years, there is no poll-rigging conspiracy.

Now, it is possible that the polls are wrong. This happens routinely. In fact, I think the media on the whole is greatly underestimating Trump’s chances. By looking at the polls and other factors, FiveThirtyEight’s model at this hour projects Trump with a 17% chance to win. That’s not good, but it’s not doomed, either: it’s the college basketball equivalent of the Marquette Warriors coming back from a 6-point deficit with 15 minutes of play left in the second half to defeat the racist Adolf Rupp. Or, for nerds: it’s the equivalent of rolling a crit on a 17-20/x2 weapon.*  It’s not likely, but it still happens pretty routinely.  Trump could win this election, and I wouldn’t even be surprised to see the polls proved wrong.  (I also would be unsurprised by Hillary beating her polls and bringing home a landslide victory of 12 points or more. Thing about polling error is it goes both ways.)

But what the polls aren’t is rigged.

Here are four false rigged-polling stories I’ve seen in just the past 24 hours:

(1) Monmouth is Collaborating with Clinton!!!

I have no idea where this one came from.

Click for full size
Click for full size

An outlet called PolitiForum made the following claim two weeks ago (under the headline “Wikileaks Proves that the Polls Are Rigged for Clinton”):

The latest batch of files and emails show that Monmouth University was in bed with the Clinton campaign to skew polling data

This claim was attached to this document (at right), which does indeed appear to show Patrick Murray of the Monmouth poll deliberately skewing the polls in order to bolster Hillary.

Problem is, the document is fake. There is no such document in the WikiLeaks archive. There couldn’t be: this document is dated September 2016, but the WikiLeaks archive (at least so far) only goes through March 2016. The headers on this document are fairly clear photoshop jobs, given the giant lines in the page and the bizarre use of a mission-statement image seemingly clipped from the Monmouth website in the header (where no email could print an image). And the rest of the document is just absurd, exactly what you’d expect a Trump supporter with a heavy fever to dream up, from the misspelling of “embedded” to the “lying harpy” line in the summary. “Favored are liberal arts degrees, and, especially, sociology. See attached call files.” Seriously? Does anyone think Monmouth has call files of sociology majors?

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