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Tuesday, October 29, 2002


Expect Bush to keep stalling at the United Nations for another week.

I think it's politically advantageous for the Administration to drag out the U.N. debate until just after the November elections. As long as the situation remains in flux, no voter constituencies are being alienated.

Consider: If the U.N. successfully passes a compromise resolution, conservative hawks will scream that Bush and Powell have gone soft and are letting Saddam off the hook. Especially since France will try to spin the resolution as a diplomatic triumph which at least temporarily blocks U.S. military action (that's the excuse France would give for not vetoing it).

On the other hand, if a resolution acceptable to the Administration fails to pass and Bush washes his hands of the United Nations, the anti-war contingent will howl that the U.S. is defying international law and acting unilaterally. In fact a lot of liberals will be far more upset by Bush's denigration of the U.N. than they are by the prospect of war with Iraq.

But for moment neither side can be confident of the outcome, or know whether Bush will pull off another stunning diplomatic coup. Nor does either side want to be blamed for upsetting delicate negotiations and precipitating an undesirable result. So their voices are relatively muted, while the Administration continues to expound on the danger posed by Iraq. Thus Bush can keep voters' attention focussed on this issue without giving his opponents an opening to rally against it.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, the political need for caution evaporates on November 6th. Close proximity to Saddam Hussein after next Tuesday could result in a dramatically lower life expectancy.

Monday, October 21, 2002


Favre-able prognosis provides perspective.

These days it's all too easy to become caught up in concerns about terrorism, war, elections, corruption, politics, etc. Then something will suddently come along which makes all those matters pale into insignificance, and remind us how important it is to keep our priorities straight.

Just such an event occurred yesterday, early in the third quarter of the Packers-Redskins game, when Brett Favre was sacked and his left knee was twisted in what initially looked like a season-ending (or career-ending?) injury. Could we be witnessing the untimely finish of one of the greatest quarterbacks (perhaps the greatest quarterback) in the history of football?

Since that moment, Green Bay Packers football fans have been collectively holding their breaths (which, given the vast numbers involved, has substantially reduced carbon dioxide emissions), waiting for definitive word on Brett Favre's medical condition.

Well, we can all exhale now (and global warming can resume, except within the environs of Lambeau Field during the prime football months of November, December, and January). Today's MRI test "confirmed the team's original diagnosis of a sprained lateral collateral ligament and showed no structural damage to the star quarterback's knee". Favre is expected to play against Miami in the Monday night game two weeks hence, and thereby add a 165th game to his incredible streak of unbroken starts.

Wars erupt and die down; the economy fluctuates; and Presidents and governors and other politicians come and go.

But there is only one Brett Favre.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002


UPDATE: The blood pours out of the stump of Simon's leg.

Investigation of the photograph has verified that Davis did not accept the contribution in a government office, and hence stayed within the law. The backlash against Bill Simon is growing (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub described how a flustered Simon screwed himself at the press conference following his debate with Davis:
Simon made the biggest blunder of his problem-plagued campaign. A former federal prosecutor, he accused the incumbent governor of committing a crime. Having never even seen the photo, he lied about possessing the evidence. And he exposed his incredibly bad judgment in trusting a phony law enforcement group and a campaign staff that hadn't done its homework. Anybody looking for evidence that Simon has the experience or temperament to manage the nation's biggest state in tough times certainly wouldn't find it in this chain of events.


Instead of just shooting himself in the foot, Simon blows his entire leg off.

All the papers around California are filled with Bill Simon's latest fiasco: An accusation that Gray Davis broke the law by accepting a $10,000 contribution inside the Lt. Governor's office. Except that the photographic "proof" seems to be crumbling into dust.

Timm Herdt, who is state bureau chief of The Star newspaper (my hometown paper), nailed it when he likened this to a failed reprise of "The Sting". He specifically compared it to the political ploy which propelled Tony Strickland into the State Assembly in 1998.

Let me take this occassion to bask in a little nostalgia for what was, in my opinion, one of the great political coups of all time. Back in 1998 a wealthy businessman named Rich Sybert decided to run for an open Assembly seat in Thousand Oaks, after failing to win two previous bids for Congress. The district leans strongly Republican, and Sybert collared the endorsements of the departing Assemblyman and much of the local Republican establishment (except Tom McClintock). Sybert did have some primary opposition, including a Port Hueneme city council woman and an administrative aide to McClintock named Tony Strickland, but Sybert was widely expected to far outspend them all (which he did) and coast to an easy victory (which he probably would have).

But Strickland's campaign noticed some of its large signs being torn down, and assigned a campaign volunteer to stake out remaining signs in hopes of spotting the vandals. Imagine his astonishment when he observed Rich Sybert personally sneaking around in the wee hours of the morning and ripping off Strickland's signs! Imagine the joy in the Strickland camp as they watched the videotape which the campaign staffer had taken of the vandalism!

Now comes the brilliant part. Tony Strickland held a press conference to accuse Sybert of destroying his signs, but didn't mention the videotape. Sybert indignantly denied the accusation, saying that Strickland must really be desperate to make up something like that. The Los Angeles Times quoted Sybert as further embellishing his story:

"Oh, please!" Sybert had said when informed Wednesday that Strickland had filed a complaint with the district attorney. "I've got better things to do. I'm in bed at three in the morning. I checked with my wife," he added, "and she's pretty sure the guy next to her Monday night was me."
Strickland patiently waited a day while Sybert tied the noose around his own neck and pre-positioned the rope on the gallows. Then the Strickland campaign began distributing copies of the tape to the Los Angeles television stations and other news media.

I have one of those tapes. It's an amazing thing to watch a grown man systematically commit political suicide.

Of course it was all over after that. Sybert had to admit he'd lied, but insisted that neither the lying nor the vandalism should be considered a reflection on his character. Tony Strickland was instantly converted from a young, inexperienced, little-known, long-shot candidate into the frontrunner, while all the other candidates faded into obscurity. Sybert kept spending money and refused to concede the race, and his big-name endorsers stumbled all over themselves trying to excuse and rationalize Sybert's "mistake", but in the end he got only 7% of the vote.

Following the election a Los Angeles Times article titled Sybert a Study in Ambition Unfulfilled quoted Sybert as whinging: "I don't think I was prepared for the brutality of the political process. When I look back over the last six years, it's been nothing but heartache for me and my family."

Bill Simon was hoping to inflict a bit of that same heartache on Gray Davis by "pulling a Strickland". But Davis is a hell of a lot cleverer and vastly more experienced than Sybert. Remember, campaigning and fundraising is Davis' area of expertise. It was wishful thinking to expect to be able to catch Davis in a comparable screw-up.

It was even more hopeless to expect Simon to competently execute such a political maneuver. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know Tony Strickland. Tony Strickland is a friend of mine. And Bill Simon is no Tony Strickland.

Friday, October 04, 2002


My POSSLQ had her letter published in the Los Angeles Daily News today, attacking Prop 52.

Proposition 52 would allow election-day voter registration in California, and from among its numerous flaws Sandi chose to focus on the following:

Dirtier campaigns

Bruce L. Bialosky is correct that Proposition 52 won't solve the low voter-turnout problem ("Easier registration won't bring more voters," Opinion, Oct. 2). But he misses the worst effect that this measure will have - dirty, deceptive, highly emotional campaigns. Campaigns have become dirtier and more fraught with emotion in the past few decades, and Proposition 52 will only raise that to a fever pitch.

We need more informed voters, voters who care enough to read the literature and study the issues. Not voters who don't care until the very bright advertising people who run modern campaigns insert an emotional appeal in the last days before the election, when it is too late for any counterarguments and too late to refute lies.

Sandi Webb
Simi Valley

This is no small problem with the proposition. I can easily imagine some of the last minute scaremongering that will be used to try to panic people into registering and voting on election day. Push polls and slander will become commonplace tactics (e.g., "Do you agree with candidate X that all the members of your ethnic group should be tatooed on their foreheads so police can identify them? If not, we'll give you a ride down to the polling booth today, so you can register and vote against this Nazi who wants to kill all your firstborn children."). After all, if a candidate is behind in the polls, what does he have to lose by resorting to such tactics?

I have other major concerns with Prop 52. The opportunities for fraud are enormous. No photo ID is required for registration, and same-day registrants do not cast provisional ballots.

Normally in California if a question arises at the polling place as to whether a person is eligible to vote, that person is allowed to cast a "provisional ballot", which is sealed in an envelope containing all pertinent information and explanations on the outside. After the election the County Registrar checks the voter's eligibility (e.g., is the signature on the outside legitimate, was the person properly registered in that county and city, etc., etc.). If it is determined that the voter was indeed eligible, the envelope is unsealed and his or her vote is counted along with the remaining absentee ballots. The system works quite well. But under Prop 52 that firewall against fraud and error doesn't exist. Votes of same-day registrants will be mixed in with everyone elses. So if fraud occurs, there is no way to identify and remove the illegally-cast ballots, and no way to rectify the problem except by invalidating the entire election.

My other objections to election-day voter registration are philosophical. I see no value in encouraging inattentive citizens to vote. High turn-out purely for the sake of high-turnout does not make for better government. Californians have ample opportunities to register to vote prior to the election; we have postcard-registration forms and Department of Motor Vehicle registration. If some people are too damned lazy or uninterested to bother to register ahead of time, then I don't want them making uninformed decisions about who should be elected to office or what laws should be adopted.

I know a lot of Libertarians who are all in favor of Prop 52 on purely pragmatic grounds. They want to appeal to disaffected citizens who are turned off from voting by the corrupt Demo-Republican duopoly. They think that someday they can replicate Jesse Ventura's astonishing success, such that hundreds of thousands of non-voters will suddenly be inspired to flock to the polls, register on election day, throw the rascals out, and elect the Libertarian candidates instead.

It's a nice pipe dream, but in real life it almost never happens that way (and Jesse himself has turned out to be quite a disappointment even to his most ardent former supporters). The people who don't bother to register generally don't care about politics, and making it easier and easier for them to register isn't going to change that, nor will it somehow magically turn them into responsible and thoughtful and well-informed voters.

No, what it does is dilute the votes of those people who do care about government and public policy. I know this isn't the Politically Correct thing to say. But I take my vote very seriously. I don't want it negated by the votes of stupid or ignorant people, or by the politicians who manipulate those people, or by the criminals who want to commit election fraud.

Didn't we learn anything from Palm Beach, Florida? Why should we encourage that crap in California?

Tuesday, October 01, 2002


FURTHER UPDATE: Western Political Review (10/8/02) reports L.A. Times poll bias.

Knowledgeable political observers keep piling on, as indicated by the following excerpts [the Western Political Review requires a $9.95/mo subscription]:
WesternPR has learned from reliable sources that the Times Poll was weighted in a way to take a larger sample of Democrats. In short, our source maintains the Times used a sample made up of 50% Democrats, well over the registration figures provided by the Secretary of State’s office of 44.73%. That’s just over a 5-point head start if you are a Democrat.

Remember that the Times didn’t represent that they were mirroring statewide registration figures. ... "This is why you can’t take polls at their face value," a highly regarded campaign consultant told WesternPR. "The Times can poll any way they like --- and we all know they like Democrats."

According to our sources, there is one more tidbit of information about the LA Times’ polling techniques worthy of mentioning. When they conduct a poll and get numbers that don’t appeal to them…as they did not to long ago in a similar Davis-Simon match-up, they simply don’t publish it.

If the Times' sample overestimated the Democrats by 5%, it must have also underestimated the Republicans and others/undecideds by 5%. If (for example) the Republicans were underestimated by 3% and the undecideds underestimated by 2%, then that alone would transform Davis' 10 point lead into the 2 point lead I calculated below.

UPDATE: California Political Review shares my doubts about the L.A.Times poll.

John Jorsett posted an October 3rd "Capitol Watch" email from California Political Review which says the following:

Polling experts criticized an L.A. Times poll released this week for its sampling methods and results that starkly contradict other recent surveys. The Times employed "random digit dialing"; calling randomly-generated telephone numbers. Respondents are asked whether they are registered, whether they plan to vote, and about their past voting. This unverifiable information is used to define survey results as polling of "registered" and "high propensity" voters. Both parties' campaign polling uses official voter files to select samples and to categorize voting propensity, not relying on the voters' recollection and honesty. Also, according to the Times Poll, "the entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education, region and registration." Thus, if the sample's proportion of Republicans is larger than GOP registration, Republicans are dropped to conform.

Polling experts criticized the Times' projection that election turnout will favor Democrats by 13 percent, 53 to 40: four points more than Democrats' statewide registration advantage. The Times Poll also found a 51 percent approval rating for Gray Davis's "handling of his job as governor." Other surveys consistently find lower approval ratings. Last week's Public Policy Institute of California survey found Davis's job approval at 42 percent among likely voters, with 52 percent disapproval.

* * *

Times overstated Democrats' popularity compared with other surveys. Although Gov. Davis has consistently polled at or near 40 percent in several recent surveys, the Times Poll showed him moving up to 45 percent. Polling experts said they believe Davis is between 6 and 10 points ahead; the Times placed him at the high end of that margin, leading 45 to 35.

The Times contradicted findings in down-ticket races. An early September Field Poll showed Tom McClintock leading Steve Westly for controller 42 to 30; in the Times, Westly led 44 to 35. Internal polls give Keith Olberg 2 points over Kevin Shelley for secretary of state; in the Times, Shelley leads by 14. GOP insurance commissioner nominee Gary Mendoza is within 4 or 5 points of John Garamendi in other surveys; in the Times, Garamendi leads by 22.


There's something strange about today's (10/1/2002) Los Angeles Times poll.

According to the L.A. Times, "Gray Davis has opened a substantial lead [10 percentage points] over Bill Simon Jr. in the race for California governor." But is that really true? Other data from the poll shows some anomalous numbers when compared to a Field Poll in early September.

Consequently I've done some statistical analysis which suggests that Simon has sharply narrowed the gap, and trails Davis by only about two percentage points.

Anyone who glances over my blog will quickly see that I am no big fan of Simon, whose incompetence as a candidate is exceeded only by Davis' corruption as a governor. So I'm certainly not about to whitewash Simon's poll results. But I also don't have a lot of respect for the reliability of the Los Angeles Times' surveys, which appear to me even more suspect than the Field Poll.

Here's what's strange: The Times Poll has radically different (and more Democrat-leaning) results for the seven down-ticket statewide races than the Field Poll, as indicated in the table below. A particularly striking example is the race for Insurance Commissioner: Garamendi led Mendoza by 5 points in the Field Poll but by 22 points in the Times Poll. Another example is the State Controller race, where McClintock led Westly by 12 points in the Field Poll, but trailed Westly by 9 points in the Times Poll.


Vote for Democrat

Vote for Republican

Undecided / other















Att. General














Ins Commissioner







School Sup







Lt. Gov







Sec of State




























Such results make no sense. No one is paying much attention to the down-ticket races, and the candidates are mostly hoarding what money they have for advertising during the final weeks of the campaign. There is nothing that could move the numbers so sharply in favor of the Democrats. One or the other of these polls (or both) must be seriously in error.

Aside from the usual random fluctations (i.e., the "margin of error") that all polling is subject to, there are many other potential sources of error. The exact wording of questions, the training of the interviewers, the times of day when polling takes place, the randomness of the selection method, etc. all play a part. Even assuming that a polling organization is honest and competent (always a debatable assumption), there remains the "secret sauce" that each polling firm employs: Each organization has its own unique weighting formula to try to rebalance the survey sample for age, gender, ethnicity, political party allegiance, geography, and likelihood of voting. Very small perturbations in those formulas can have a substantial effect on the reported results.

Intuitively, the Field Poll would seem to make more sense on the down-ticket races. A 5 point lead by Garamendi is much more believable than a blow-out 22 point lead. And other surveys I've seen indicate that McClintock is ahead of Westly, so a Westly lead of 9 points seems highly unlikely.

So I made the initial assumption that the Field Poll is the more accurate, and that the down-ticket numbers have probably not changed much during the three weeks between the polls. Then I did a least squares fit between the Field and Times results for the down-ticket races, to calculate correction factors. It turned out that you should multiply the pro-Democrat results in the L.A. Times Poll by 0.7871; multiply the pro-Rep results by 1.1632, and multiply the undecided/other results by 1.1944. Then I applied this to the L.A. Times numbers for governor, normalized the results so that the sum equalled 100 percent, and obtained the following:

Davis (at 31.6%) trailed Simon (at 36.4%) by 4.7%, with 32% undecided.

But I hate to make the assumption that the Field Poll is entirely accurate, and the L.A. Times Poll is entirely wrong, with regard to the down-ticket races. So I split the difference by averaging the two polls, and used the averages of the down-ticket races to re-calculate correction factors. Under this assumption, you should multiply the pro-Democrat results in the L.A. Times Poll by 0.8935; multiply the pro-Rep results by 1.0816, and multiply the undecided/other results by 1.0972. I applied this to the L.A. Times numbers for governor, normalized the results so that the sum equalled 100 percent, and obtained the following:

Davis (at 36.2%) led Simon (at 34.1%) by 2.1%, with 29.7% undecided.

I tried various other options in my spreadsheet, such as testing the two subgroups that the Field Poll divided their sample into (they asked half their sample about three of the down-ticket races, and the other half of their sample about the other four down-ticket races). The result correction coefficients were similar, which again suggests that the Field Poll results for down-ticket races are more reliable.

So my surprising conclusion is that the race for California Governor has actually tightened, and may in fact be a statistical dead heat.

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