Friday, September 30, 2016

Hillary Had a Good Week (We'll See if it Continues)

Although the polls had been tightening for a couple of weeks, the weekend when Hillary Clinton made her remarks about Trump's "basket of deplorables" and then nearly passed out at a 9/11 memorial service was the start of a series of bad news cycles for Clinton that negatively effected her poll numbers for a couple of weeks (actually, her numbers didn't move too much; Trump's improved). And by this past Monday afternoon, Trump had almost pulled even according to an average of national and state surveys.

But then Monday night's debate happened. Over the course of the debate bettors (prediction) markets climbed approximately 5 percentage points from about 68% to 74% (i.e., they went from predicting that Hillary had a 68% chance to a 74% chance of winning the election). This rise was confirmed by post-debate polls, at least those that sought to interview a random sample of respondents, which found that Hillary had won the debate, some as high as by a 2-1 margin. And most pundits from both sides of the political aisle agreed. Hillary debate-night win led to an improvement in her standing among state and national polls. An average of polls released later in the week showed that Hillary's lead has increased from approximately a 1-2 percent prior to the debate to a 3-4 percent lead afterward. Heck, even Fox News has Hillary ahead by 3 points. The Times-Picayune/Lucid poll, which was taken completely after the debate, had Clinton with a 10 point lead. That seems a bit high to me but the trend -- the day before the poll had Clinton with a 5 point lead -- is probably a reasonably accurate reflection of the movement in national sentiment, as well as in important swing states ("Election Update: Clinton’s Debate Performance Is Helping Her In Swing States").

Can her good luck continue? Possibly. There are still two more debates, and in this election season it seems that just about anything could happen. So, you never know. But at least for now, things are looking up for Hillary. Negative stories either directly or indirectly linked to Trump have been in the news lately. Trump's surrogate, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, is getting hammered by former associates in the Bridgegate trial ("Chris Christie's Numbers Have Officially Reached 'Nixon Terriorty'"). And Trump's charitable foundation is repeatedly coming under scrutiny for engaging in activities that charities are not allowed by law to do ("Trump Foundation lacks the certification required for charities that solicit money"). And in the last few days, a report came out that provided evidence that in 1998 one of Trump's companies secretly conducted business with Cuba, violating U.S. laws in the process. And finally, Trump has spent the last couple of days insulting, via Twitter, Alicia Machado, the 1996 Miss Universe winner, whom Trump once referred to as "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping" after she gained weight after the 1996 event, once again calling into question his temperament and judgment ("Trump's Overnight Twitter Tirade Sums Up His Weaknesses"). If stories like this continue to pour in, Hillary's road to the White House will get a lot easier.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Can the Giants Get Back on the Road to the Playoffs?

Have you noticed that once people pull into a parking lot, many of them forget how to drive? Skills such as stopping at appropriate places, signaling when turning, awareness of other drivers and pedestrians, and so on, seem to go out the window in their quest for that parking spot that is 20 feet closer to the store than the one they just passed up (never mind that the extra time and money spent on gas isn't worth it).

For whatever reason, I thought of parking lot drivers while lamenting the latest blown save by the San Francisco Giants' bullpen. The 9th inning appears to be their parking lot. Through the first 8 innings of a game, they're as good or better than most teams, but when the 9th inning arrives, all they know about pitching seems to go out the window. They lead the majors with 29 blown saves. No other team contending for a playoff spot has more than 20. Santiago Casilla is the team's poster child for blown saves, but he's not the only guilty party. Plenty of Giant relievers have had a 9th inning meltdowns. Like all Giants' fans, I hope they find their way out of the parking lot and back on to the road to the playoffs. I'm becoming increasingly skeptical, however.

Note: If the Giants don't make it this year, wouldn't a Cubs-Red Sox World Series be great?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Slow Vehicles Must Turn Out

The sign to the right appears quite often on the road to South Shore Lake Tahoe. Apparently, however, most people think that it doesn't apply to them. It doesn't matter whether there's a line of cars stretching back a mile or more, most drivers will not pull over. This is somewhat akin to those drivers who plod along in the left lane of a freeway (aka, "road boulders"), forcing those driving faster to change lanes in order to pass.

The most common excuse is, "I'm going the speed limit" (although there a plenty of drivers who aren't). The problem is that if people want to pass, they will, regardless of how safe or dangerous it is. And there's already plenty of evidence to suggest that most automobile accidents occur when people are changing lanes. So, we need to ask ourselves whether it is more important "being right" (i.e., going the speed limit) or protecting the lives of those around us. I vote for the latter.

Note: In some states, you can get a ticket for not pulling over to let someone pass even if you are going over the speed limit but slower than the flow of traffic ("Left-Lane Passing Laws").

Monday, September 12, 2016

Basket of Deplorables? Seriously, What Was Hillary Thinking?

As most people are now aware, last Friday at a private gathering of some of her supporters, Hillary Clinton remarked:
To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorable. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that and he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.
It's hard to believe she was dumb enough to say this (although her opponent says stuff like this on a regular basis). It strikes me that in political campaigns it's strategically okay to go after your opponent but it's never okay to attack your opponent's supporters (at least not their person -- attacking their actions is fine), regardless of what you might privately think of them. To her credit she expressed regret for her remarks the following day ("Last night I was 'grossly generalistic,' and that's never a good thing. I regret saying 'half' -- that was wrong"), but at least in the short-term the damage was already done.

It may all be forgotten, however, given that almost passed out on Sunday at a 9/11 ceremony due to complications from pneumonia, which was first diagnosed on Friday night. It could turn out to be ironic that her bout with pneumonia may help distract from one of her more unfortunate comments (at least from the perspective of her supporters) on the campaign trail to date.

Note: In something of an ironic twist, at a rally in North Carolina today where Trump called on Hillary to apologize for her "basket of deplorables" remarks, one of his supporters hit two protestors in the head ("Man at Trump Rally Hits 2 Protesters in the Head"). You can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Largest Seminaries? Evangelical (and Primarily Southern Baptist)

On more than one occasion I've lamented the demise of Mainline Protestantism and the (public) denial by of Mainline Protestant leaders that there's anything wrong (Mainline Denial; Mainline Denial Redux; The Myth of Evangelical Decline). However, data published by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) once again reinforces the fact that Mainline Protestantism is in decline and Evangelical Protestantism continues to thrive. More precisely, the ATS data indicate that evangelical Protestant seminaries draw the largest share of students seeking training for church ministry. While all of the ten largest seminaries are evangelical, half are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In fact, five of the six are associated with the SBC although the largest is Fuller Theological Seminary, which is not affiliated with the SBC. There has been little fluctuation among the list of the top ten schools over the years although this year Reformed Theological Seminary (of the evangelical Presbyterian Church in America), Princeton Seminary (Presbyterian Church, USA), and Candler School of Theology (United Methodist Church) fell off the list (from The Aquila Report as reported in Religion Watch).

Monday, September 5, 2016

2016 Presidential Election Prediction

Every four years I venture an educated guess as to who will win the Presidential election. Except for Bush vs. Kerry in 2004, which I declared to be a tossup, my record is spotless, at least in terms of the popular vote. This year isn't like any recent election year, however, so I am less confident than I usually am. I was certain, for instance, that Trump didn't have a prayer to win the G.O.P. nomination, but I (along with a lot of other people) were horribly mistaken. Thus, although I think Hillary will win the popular vote (and probably the electoral college), I am less certain in a long time. But I am getting ahead of myself.

For years I looked primarily to the state of the economy at election time (i.e., what I believe will be the state of the economy) for basing my conclusion. If the U.S. economy is doing well, it generally helps the incumbent party. It's not that a healthy economy affects the voting behavior of most voters, but it tends to exert a large influence on undecided voters, which are often the key to winning an election. A healthy economy helps incumbents more than it does the party, however; thus, while it looks like the economy will be relatively robust come November 8th ("The Economy Will Probably Be Pretty Good On Election Day"), it won't help Hillary as much as it would Obama if he were running.

Obama's increasing popularity should also help Hillary although how much is unclear. Hillary is very unpopular. Her unfavorability ratings would set records for a presidential nominee if it were not for the fact that her opponent's unfavorability ratings are even higher. As I noted in an earlier post, regardless of who wins, our next President will be very unpopular ("Our Next President Will Be Really Unpopular").

In recent years I've relied increasingly on prediction markets, which have been remarkably accurate in predicting the outcomes of presidential elections (see e.g., "Election Update"). Prediction markets are speculative markets created for the purpose of making predictions, and current market prices are interpreted as the probability of the outcome occurring. People make money in the markets by buying low and selling high. For example, currently the price of a share of Hillary Clinton sells for around $0.75, which means that if she wins, holders of shares in Hillary will receive $1.00 for each share they own. The price of a share is interpreted as the probability that someone will win. Thus, currently prediction markets believe that Hillary has a 75% of winning the election.

The prices for Hillary shares increased steadily after the close of the Democratic Convention, but after a couple of weeks, they began to fall (see chart above -- from PredictWise, which aggregates several prediction markets). It is tempting to attribute the rise after the convention to a "convention bump," but prediction markets tend to factor in such things, so most of the rise is probably due to Trump's several missteps, such as attacking the family of a fallen soldier, intimating that gun owners might have to take matters into their own hands if Trump loses, suggesting that Obama was the founder of a terrorist group that formed long before Obama was elected, and so on.

This year I'm also incorporating (Nate Silver's) FiveThirtyEight's election forecasts ("Who Will Win the Presidency?") into my prediction. These take into account poll data at the state and national levels. FiveThirtyEight has actually built three forecasting models: a polls-only forecast, a now-cast, and a polls-plus forecast. The first takes into account trends in recent polls; the second only looks to current polls; the third is similar to the first except that it factors in other factors, such as demographic, economic, and historical data (e.g., presidential races tend to tighten as they get closer to election day). The polls-plus tends to be the most conservative in that it reacts least to recent shifts in polling, while the now cast reacts the most. Below is the polls-plus graph predicting the probability of Clinton or Trump victory. Currently, the models predicts that there's a 70% chance that Hillary will win the election.

To be clear, these are probabilities of winning, not the vote share each will get. Indeed, the FiveThirtyEight model that produced the above graph also predicts that Clinton will get approximately 47.7% of the vote and Trump will get 44.4%. In other words, the models predict that Clinton will win, but it won't be a landslide, at least not in terms of the popular vote, and probably not in terms of the Electoral College vote.

Taking all of these factors into account, I hesitantly (I haven't been this unsure in a long time) predict that, barring a major scandal (e.g., unforeseen email problems) or world event (e.g., another 9/11) Hillary Clinton should become the next President of the United States (as long as the electoral college follows the popular vote). She should win the popular vote by 3-5%, but if Trump reverts to shooting himself in the foot, she could win by more. That said, if Trump continues to reign his impulsiveness in, he may make it a lot closer. He could even win by a whisker.

Note: I wrote most of what appears in this post mid-August, but I decided to wait until after Labor Day, in order to give the polls time to settle down after the conventions.