Archive for August, 2007

clinton’s mojo

August 15, 2007

If Hillary Clinton’s recent showing in Iowa is any indication, husband Bill still got his mojo. With the help of the former President, who actively campaigned in July throughout the hawk-eye state, Hillary is now surging in Iowa and chipping away at John Edwards’ formidable lead in this key state.

The latest Iowa University poll shows Clinton leading with 27 percent of the vote, with Edwards and Obama trailing by five percentage points. In another poll, Clinton is in a virtual deadheat with the other two leading candidates. In averaging the four polls taken thus far in third quarter 2007, Hillary leads with 26.3 percent of the vote, followed by Edwards at 24 percent. (Click on table below)

polls_2007_03.jpg

What is new about the four most recent polls is that Hillary’s numbers don’t exhibit the wild roller-coaster fluctuations that characterized her numbers in the months leading up to July.

In ten polls conducted during second quarter 2007, Clinton averaged a respectable 23.6 percent to Edwards’ 26.5 percent. But her second place average was based on numbers that fluctuated wildly, which resulted in a standard deviation that at 5.2 was significantly higher than Edwards’ standard deviation of 2.2. (See below for a discussion on standard deviation). In addition to scoring high poll numbers, candidates want to avoid fluctuating numbers as consistent returns across numerous polls indicate a core base of voters.

The chart below visually displays the difference between Clinton and Edwards. For the most part, Edwards’ poll numbers when plotted on a graph describe a smooth line, particularly between March 19th and June 30th. Edwards’ fluctuations are small compared to Clinton, whose Iowa numbers prior to July fluctuate wildly — up and down, and up and down again. (Click on chart below)

polls_2007_041.jpg

While Edwards continues to garner solid support from core group of Iowa voters, Clinton’s numbers up to now suggested a certain amount of fickleness toward her. But in the four most recent polls, Hillary’s numbers are fairly consistent (and high) suggesting that she may be in the beginning stages of turning the corner in Iowa. At 3.3, her standard deviation for the most recent polls is significantly lower than 1st and 2nd quarters figures of 8.2 and 5.2 respectively.

While it’s too early to say for sure if Hillary will continue her strong showing since the analysis is based on four polls only, one thing that is certain is the relationship between Bill Clinton and the lessening of Iowa voters unease toward Hillary. Re-assured by the presence of the much-loved former president, Iowa voters have rewarded Clinton with consistently high polling figures since July 1, although what happens next remains to be seen.

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standard deviation schmandard deviation

August 15, 2007

Here’s my cliff notes version of “standard deviation” and why this is as important as the actual poll number: suppose several polls have tracked various candidates over time, and, from these polls, two leaders emerge. One leader’s poll numbers when plotted as a line describe peaks and valley, going up and down, and up and down again. The other leader has a similar average but this candidate’s numbers are fairly consistent, such that, when plotted on a graph, the numbers describe a smooth line. While both leaders in our hypothetical have similar averages, there is a way to gain some insight as to who is actually doing better: for each candidate, we can calculate a “standard deviation,” which is the mathematical expression of how widely values are dispersed around the average.

Using Excel, you can compute standard deviations for both candidates and, in the case of the candidate with a high average based on wildly fluctuating polls, more than likely the computed standard deviation will be “high” relative to that of the candidate with consistent poll numbers. There is no agreed upon threshold for determining when a standard deviation is “low” or “high”, but I’ve always used anything below 2.0 as the threshold for what constitutes a “low” standard deviation. In tracking elections in 2004 and 2006, I noticed that winning candidates have standard deviations at or below 1.5 that were also decreasing over time, even if they were consistently trailing in many polls.

This was the case of G.W. Bush in New Mexico in 2004. In that race, Bush had a strong support base as reflected in low and decreasing standard deviations even as Kerry consistently led in polls. In contrast, Kerry had a high standard deviation indicating a number of his supporters supported him only tepidly, a situation that Bush and Rove exploited successfully.

In summary, analysts and pundits typically track presidential politics like a horse race, comparing poll numbers at a given point in time to say “so and so” is leading “such and such.” In applying a rudimentary tool like “standard deviation,” you can obtain other equally important insights with respect to a series of polls, particularly on whether support for a candidate is hardening or softening.

north carolina

August 10, 2007

Me and my significant other travelled to North Carolina this past weekend.  Beautiful state — great infrastructure, too.  Here I am in front of John Edward’s national headquarter in Chapel Hill.  The office is on the second story, right above the “Town Hall” sign.  If you look closely, you can see a “John Edwards for President” sign in the window.  Kind of a low-key headquarter, from what I can tell.  To be sure, the office was closed since it was Sunday.

“do over”

August 8, 2007

Over the weekend I thought a lot about my interpretation of what I think Hillary Clinton meant with respect to the use of nuclear weapons, particularly against Pakistan in the event Al-Quaeda detonates a “dirty bomb” in the US. I think if this awful event occurred, Hillary, as President, would take all necessary action — but most likely Clinton wouldn’t nuke Pakistan if Al-Quaeda goes nuclear, at least I think so. So I’m going to do a mulligan and say that I (and Robert Borsage) was reading too much into what Clinton said as it relates to any particular event or threat that could trigger the use of nuclear weapons.

hillary-obama raise profound questions

August 4, 2007

Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton offered remarks the implications of which few people caught other than Campaign for America’s Future Robert Borsage.  Responding to Barak Obama’s comment that he would rule out the use of nuclear weapons against terrorists in Pakistan, Clinton countered by saying, “[P]residents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace, and I don’t believe any president should make blanket statements with the regard to use or non-use.”

Borsage argues that what Clinton said amounts to replacing the current doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” with a “doctrine of first use.”  In the former, the US in effect says, “If you go nuclear on us, then we will go nuclear on you, and all of us will be worse off because no one wins a nuclear war”; in the latter, the use of nuclear weapons is an arrow in our quiver that we could use whether or not an attacking opponent goes nuclear.

What concerns Borsage is that Clinton’s remarks break with tradition in that, up-to-now, while letting Russia, China and any nation with nuclear arms know we will respond in kind if attacked, the United States has never threatened to use the nuclear sledgehammer in dealing with pesky mosquitoes and gnats of the world.

“For this country to continue to threaten the first use of nuclear weapons — particularly against countries that have no such weapons — isn’t just immoral, it is profoundly stupid,” writes Borsage.

But . . . .  let us suppose that Hillary Clinton is a serious candidate (as she is) who has carefully measured her words, particularly as these words address the very issue Obama was addressing, namely what to do with Al-Quaeda in remote parts of Pakistan.

In this light, Clinton has managed to subtly pressure Pakistan to capture or kill Bin-Laden by letting leaders there know that the nuclear option is on the table if, in failing to take action, Al-Quaeda manages to blast a “dirty bomb” in the US.  In contrast, Obama would send US troops into Pakistan to deal with the Al-Quaeda.

Yet, in signaling a willingness to implement a policy shift of profound magnitude, Clinton needs to be mindful that she is opening a can of worms in addition to attempting to solve the immediate problems that such a policy shift is meant to address.   If nothing else, the Obama-Clinton debate forces Americans to debate and come to grips with the proper course of action and limits to a fact of life that will remain with us for generations to come, namely the “War on Terror.”