Five days from now, barring a two month recount battle, we should know who the next president of the United States will be. If you take the word of the pundits, you probably think we already know. Here are the top ten paranoid anxieties which make me wonder if Tuesday night might be longer and tenser than we expect. Worse yet, could some combination of these factors add up to a stunning disaster (a McCain/Palin win)? I’ll be live-blogging on Tuesday night, possibly throughout the day too, so if you’re not at a bar or an election party, feel free to stop by (in person or on the internet).
10. Karl Rove - What about Karl Rove? I don't know. But he makes the list because he’s Karl Rove and he can do stuff. And there are a lot of hours left before the polls close.
9. Joe Biden – Muzzle thyself, Gaffey McGafferson. There are a lot of hours left before the polls close.
8. November Surprise? Too late? Is it?
[ok - those three were mostly filler. now we get into my real paranoid anxieties:]
7. Malfunctioning Machines – There have been reports of electronic voting machines that have been flipping people’s votes – they choose the Democrat candidate and their selection is switched to another candidate instead. They just need to be recalibrated? What if they still don’t work after recalibration (as happened in West Virginia (see video below))? And isn't it possible that this recalibration bullshit is going to open the door to massive fraud? And what if people are given a paper receipt? Should we be happy then? Not if there’s no way to verify that what’s going on inside the machines is accurate. Am I being paranoid? Why are all the reports of machine vote flipping about flipping away from Democrat selections? Wouldn't the Republicans be raising hell if this was happening to them? It's probably not going to matter for Obama in West Virginia (which will likely go McCain), but it might make a big difference in Pennsylvania where voting machines were breaking down across the state in the primary season. When you vote on Tuesday, bring your camera and video your vote. Raise hell if there's something fishy going on.
6. The Bradley Effect - In 1982, the black mayor of LA, Tom Bradley, ran for governor of California and enjoyed a lead in both the pre-election polls and the exit polls. And he lost. The effect named after him suggests that people didn’t want to appear racist so they told pollsters they voted for him when in reality they had not. I don’t think this is going to be a huge factor in this year’s race, but it’s possible that there will be some effect. I saw one Princeton poli-sci professor who suggested that black politicians factor in 5 points worth of Bradley Effect when looking at their polls. That’s scary. But the Bradley election was 26 years ago. We’ve grown as a nation since then. Haven’t we? Have we?
5. The Undecideds are all going to vote McCain - Some analysts seem to think that all the undecideds are going McCain; others see no reason to think they won’t be split. Paul Begala suggested that it’s not the people who say they’re going to vote for Obama who can’t bring themselves to vote for him (Bradley Effect), but the people who say they’re undecided who would rather say that than that they won’t vote for him.
4. The Fear Factor – Will people be swayed by the desperate and irrational fear-mongering of the McCain Campaign and decide that it’s just too risky, too dangerous, to vote for Obama? This concerns me. If we’ve learned anything from the past 7 years it’s that the American people are very susceptible to fear mongering.
3. The Stupid Factor – Will people fail to understand that we already have a fucking progressive tax structure in the United States and that Obama’s tax plan is in no more socialist/Marxist/communist than George Bush’s or any other non-flat-tax-pushing politician?
2. Republican Electoral Shenanigans – Forget about the bullshit misdirection of the ACORN hubbubabaloo. They haven’t done anything wrong or illegal. The real threat to the very fiber of democracy is the continued, systematic, Republican voter suppression effort – which has ranged from disenfranchisement (voter roll purging) to intimidation to discouragement (disproportionate number of voting booths in white and black neighborhoods). In 2000 it was Florida; in 2004 it was Ohio. What state will it be in 2008? Pennsylvania? Virginia? Nevada? Will it even matter this year?
1. Obsolete Polling Methodology? – Are we all being completely fooled by inaccurate polling information? Here’s an interesting interview with UberStatMonkey Nate Silver about polling this election cycle. Silver is the managing partner of the highly respected baseball stat site, Baseball Prospectus, and the brains behind the popular polling site, fivethirtyeight.com. Of particular interest is this exchange:
NATE SILVER: Well, what I'm worried about is that this reliance is happening at the same time the polling itself is getting more and more difficult to do. You know, it used to be considered good if you could get 40 percent of the people to pick up the phone when you called and responded to your survey. That used to be kind of the benchmark. And now, if you get 20 percent of people actually responding, or even 15 percent, that's considered good to adequate. You know, people screen their phone calls a lot more now. People who have cell phones aren't called, in the first place, by most of the pollsters; there are some exceptions. You know, people have Vonage, these services on the internet, where they don't even have a telephone. So it's hard to reach people who are busy, who are distrustful of a random number coming up on their land line. And so, the non-response problem is becoming, you know, very serious. We might have to move into some kind of a hybrid, where you do try some kind of a survey instrument on the internet, combine that with a telephone sample. But these polls, you know, as we saw numerous times in the primaries this year, are not terribly accurate. It's not because the pollsters are dumb. There are a lot of very smart people in the industry. It's just inherently very hard to do when you're trying to do a survey, and, you know, four out of five or five of six people won't take your phone call. It's kind of very hard to balance everything to kind of make up for that fundamental problem.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And is there any concern and any analysis been done of the people who are refusing to be polled, whether they have any particular political perspective or viewpoint that might end up skewing your—the total results of a poll?
NATE SILVER: There are different kind of groups. Usually older people still pick up the phone more than younger people, women still more than men. You know, there's some thought that maybe people who are quite conservative won't pick up the phone as much as people who are more liberal. So it does depend. In this election, those kind of different kind of things balance out, where you might get too few young people, but maybe too few conservatives. That would kind of balance out. But, you know—but there definitely is what's called non-response bias. What the pollsters try and do is say, you know, if the woman answers the phone, to say, "I want to speak with the person having the next birthday," for example. But you can't always correct for that. Some of these polls use automated scripts; they're so-called robopolls. And so, they won't have a chance. Someone can say they're are a woman, if they're in fact, you know, not a woman, if that's what they feel, if they feel like trying to mess with the polling script and stuff like that. So there are kind of numerous problems with your kind of selection and with your non-response bias.
Are we chained to the floor in Plato's Cave, taking the puppet shadows for reality?
Verdict: I think Obama's going to win. But these ten things will keep me anxious and uncomfortable until he reaches 344 electoral college votes. I need a solid 74 ECV comfort zone this year.