Face it: Gore doesn't have a chance.
August 19, 2000 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Face it: Gore doesn't have a chance. -- So what is going on? In an illuminating essay, Bijan Parsia suggests a cheap way that Gore might 'soften his anti-progressive image', but then concludes wisely that 'that image isn't merely skin deep'. Barbara Ehrenreich argues along similar lines. So will Gore lose because he has permanently alienated the progressive vote, or for other reasons? And regardless, what will a Bush victory mean for progressives? (more inside...)
posted by johnb (39 comments total)
First, some details. The graph depicts the probability of a Bush (red) or Gore (blue) victory, based on the price of a winner-take-all futures contract on the Iowa Electronic Markets. Notice that even after the tidal wave of TV propaganda that is the DNC, not only is Gore still behind Bush, but he has fallen further behind, and indeed the rate at which he is falling behind is accelerating.

Why is this happening? In contrast to the commentators mentioned above, Gore's advisors seem to think it's because he is 'too progressive', and is not catering sufficiently to 'the center'. I don't think so. My guess would be that a lot of voters are revolted by him because (a) he's sleazy and (b) he has a plastic personality, or maybe (c) they're just sick of seeing him on TV. Of course, GW Bush is just as sleazy, but apparently he hides it better, or people don't know him well enough, or whatever. The point is that Gore will not lose because of an allegedly "progressive position on the issues." And on the other hand, I don't believe he will lose because Nader is "stealing his votes". I think he will lose because of "charisma problems".

If this is correct, what does it mean for us (progressives)? Here is my opinion:

1. It means the "lesser-of-two-evils" argument is not applicable. If Gore loses, it will not be our fault -- even with all our votes he would still lose (probably). Why, then, invest in him (an evil loser) the substantial power and momentum we have been building?

2. IMHO it means voting for Nader, rather than not voting, and rather than voting for McReynolds etc. McReynolds is a perfectly sane candidate, but in terms of momentum and media attention, the Green Party is where the action is. Morover, green parties in the US and Western Europe have provided crucial support to the new global protest movement, and are, among those who hold government positions, our closest allies (IMHO).

3. It means thinking beyond the ugliness of the Bush years, and building the movement through direct action and independent media. We need more IMCs and other democratic media outlets. We need more alliances among labor, environmentalists, and university students -- both in the West and in the Third World. We need to build the movement in unexpected directions, for example (as someone suggested) into the American suburbs, replacing the banality of corporate "raves" with politically meaningful Days of Action and Resistence (with more people and better DJs!).

It means, in general, focusing on our core issues (democracy, environment, human rights) and not compromising yet. A large turnout for Nader would show the corporate parties that they can't afford to ignore us, because we mean what we say and are willing to undertake electoral as well as direct action.

Right, so a lot of what I just said won't be of much interest to "nonprogressives". However, I'm interested in what people, in general, think of Gore. I know there are not a lot of fervent Gore fans on Metafilter, but I'm curious: does anyone here intend to vote for him? If so, is it because he is the "lesser of two evils", or for other reasons?
posted by johnb at 6:41 PM on August 19, 2000

As usual, I'll be choosing who I vote for based on the fact that I hate even more voting for the other guy.

The last candidate I actually wanted to vote for was Gerry Ford.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:48 PM on August 19, 2000

does anyone know what the electoral college historically bases their vote on? can it be predicted or speculated who will win based on their past actions? at this point it seems quite likely Bush will win the popular vote. but perhaps that's irrelevant unless the college bases their vote on that? comments anyone?
posted by greyscale at 7:36 PM on August 19, 2000

Greyscale, check out this page for the distribution of electoral votes.

Keep in mind that the data from the Iowa Electronic Markets should theoretically represent the actual probability of victory -- rather than the outcome of the popular vote. One limitation, however, is that short-selling of contracts is disallowed. You also have to have faith in the Efficient Markets Theory to a certain extent. See this page for details.
posted by johnb at 8:01 PM on August 19, 2000

I'm not nearly as convinced. I think the IEM is one possible interpretation. There are other ways to predict presidential elections, though: Keys to the White House is one [note: a page I maintain]. Right now that system, as I interpret the "keys", points to Gore scraping out a victory, mainly based on the strong economy and political cohesion of the party. (Despite JohnB's dire worries, the primary fight with Bradley was quickly resolved and did not split the party, certainly not when compared with past splits.)

I expect to vote for Gore, because I've been a DLC New Democrat since the 80s. I do believe in progressivism, but I also believe in the two-party system and in winning elections. I'd rather have Democrats reforming welfare than Republicans, for example; and like many voters, I'm disenchanted with so-called big-government solutions to problems. Progressive ideals combined with pragmatic solutions. This was the key to Clinton's triangulation strategy, which brought Reagan Democrats back to the party. The Republicans countered with 1994's Contract With America, a brilliant political tactic that succeeded beyond their wildest dreams; but many of the seats the GOP took were long-time Democratic districts and those have been slipping back into their hands one by one.

There will always be a place for fringe parties, but they have to accept that they're on the fringe. Time and again the American public have shown they don't have a taste for radicalism. The implications of electoral reform to create something closer to a parliamentary Congress would be to amplify the voice of fringe parties on the Left and on the Right. See Italy and Israel for extreme examples.

Anyway, back to the Presidential race. "The rate at which he's falling behind is accelerating"? I don't see it, I see a blip in the other direction based, probably, on the latest polls finally coming in showing a Dem convention bounce. This is always a volatile period, and many people don't begin to think seriously about their decision until after Labor Day anyway. One reason I prefer systems like the Keys is to get away from the polls and the idiocy of tailoring tactical policy, in either campaigns or governance, to snapshot poll results.
posted by dhartung at 8:39 PM on August 19, 2000

Greyscale, the electoral college and how it operates is covered by the 12th amendment to the Consititution. Dig out your almanac. I won't copy it here because it's a long one.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:27 PM on August 19, 2000

I'm voting for Gore, because he's the only candidate who I think will do a reasonable job of being President. Nader is a wonderful advocate of progressive causes, but the problem is that he's a one-dimensional candidate. The President needs to have a well-developed foreign policy (Nader doesn't) and domestic economic policy (Nader doesn't) as well as a visionary social and environmental policy.

I'm really horrified that so many otherwise well-meaning liberals are considering the Green party. The problem is that the American electoral system isn't designed to accomodate minor third parties, since the President only requires a plurality of the vote, rather than a strict majority. The reason it works in, say, France, for there to be lots of little splinter parties is that there are runoff elections, so that someone who makes a protest vote for the Greens can, on a second pass, vote for a Socialist rather than letting a National Front candidate win the Presidency. I think it would be great if we did something similar, but until the next Constitutional Convention gets convened, voting for a third party really is tantamount to casting a vote for the other side.

Why vote against something? Wouldn't you rather vote for something? I would say the best thing to do would be to suffer through four years of tepid-but-tolerable centrist liberalism through Gore, and in the interim become active in local politics in your area. That way, four years from now, we can nominate Barney Frank for the Presidency. That'll really shake them up.
posted by shylock at 9:29 PM on August 19, 2000

The reason the American system doesn't accomodate third parties is because people tend not to know there's an alternative. There are enough seats in the various chambers that a third party (even if one or two members get in) could hold the balance of power in some crucial votes.

More to the point, I don't think the American electoral system is designed to accomodate a second party anymore.

Lots of people have become active in local politics over the last four (8, 20) years. That's why Nader's doing as well as he is. A lot of those inroads have been paved already.

Giving the American electorate the chance to open up the dialogue a little more in four years' time (all they need is something like 5 percent of the vote to get full funding next time round) is the best thing I can think of to vote for.

Whaddya think? Frank/Biafra in '04?
posted by chicobangs at 10:50 PM on August 19, 2000

Oddly enough, it's Bush who I've figured hasn't had a chance to win this, for a while.

As alluded to above, the race is not won by the percentage of total popular vote nationwide -- it's won in the Electoral College, which goes winner-take-all state-by-state, according to popular vote (these days). (That's also why I don't have much faith in IEM for this... they're self-selecting in a way that probably doesn't match up to the electorate, and they're looking at an overall national sample.)

The problem I've seen for W is in two states: New York and California. California hasn't elected a Republican to a marquee office since Prop 187, which alienated huge numbers of Latino votes. Pete Wilson has much to answer for to Republicans. Recent pre-convention polling shows W. gaining some ground, but so far, California looks to be Gore's. California, of course, has the most Electoral College votes.

New York is where Hillary is running for Senate. So far it's a dead heat, but Leiberman may well cause many Jewish New Yorkers to now show up at the polls and vote Democratic.

It's really tough to win a Presidential election if you lose the two most populous states. Not impossible. But tough. Those two states alone represent 32% of the Electoral College votes needed to win. You can win 38 states plus DC and still lose, if they're the wrong states, the population distribution is that top-heavy.

In fact, W.'s putative popularity in Texas as governor might even hurt him there. I'm reminded of Tom Bradley, who while very popular as mayor of LA ran for governor of California twice, and lost both times. It was mostly because voters in LA liked him so much as mayor, they wouldn't vote for him as governor... Even as they kept re-electing him mayor by record majorities of votes cast. I don't know if W. will run into the same problem... But i wouldn't rule it out.

posted by aurelian at 11:59 PM on August 19, 2000

Can anyone explain to me why we still have the electoral college? Technology seems to have made this method of "voting" obsolete since we can follow the popular vote right alongside the assignment of electoral college votes.

I understand that it would be impractical to require a simple popular majority because of the need for runoff elections, but why not at least a popular plurality? It is ridiculous that it is possible for a candidate who does not get the most actual votes can win the presidency.

posted by plaino at 4:00 AM on August 20, 2000

What difference does this make anyway? To quote Agent Orange: The public gets what it deserves, not what it demands!
Choosing the lesser of two evils is no way to run a democracy!
I want my vote to count for things I believe in and I don't believe that public policy should be dictated by corporate dollars! Why is that so hard for those pooh-poohing third parties to understand?
There should be more choices! Americans don't settle for two choices in any other aspect of their lives-why are we ambivalent about something that's REALLY important.
Call mine a wasted vote if you want...but I'll feel better knowing I didn't have to close my eyes, tighten the sphincter, swallow hard and do something I didn't want to do.

posted by black8 at 4:10 AM on August 20, 2000

In fact, W.'s putative popularity in Texas as governor might even hurt him there.

Bush is ahead by 50 percent in Texas. I think it's safe to call that a lock. I've been discouraged by Gore and all the New Democrat watered-down centrist politics of Clinton/Gore, but his speech Thursday night was old-style Democratic populism. I love that stuff; it's why I fell for the whole embarrassing Ross Perot thing in 1992.

I think it's foolish at this point to declare that Gore has no chance, given the lead that Dukakis had over Shrub Sr. at this point in the campaign in 1988.
posted by rcade at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2000

Yup. 17-point summer swings are extreme but not unusual.

For my part, Gore did a great job Thursday of synthesizing his personal history from old-style FDR progressive to New Democrat. The quality of his delivery notwithstanding ... one of his best performances still isn't saying much (i.e. he's no Clinton) ... I think just watching the convention was always going to bring a lot of wavering Nader supporters back to the party. That's what the conventions do.

plaino, we still have the electoral college because we are a federal democracy. Even though "states' rights" is a watchword for, in the past, civil rights opponents, and these days, crackpot militia types, I think there's merit in remembering that we are a country made up of fifty states, where "state" is an intentional equivalent of "national government". We cannot change the constitution without the approval of a majority of states. When you watch someone Putin push through the legislature constitutional changes that strip the legislature of its powers ... you have to appreciate the importance of a relatively static constitution, with a highly distributed change control system. The vote for President isn't, and probably shouldn't be, the popular vote. It's the collective majority of the states.
posted by dhartung at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2000

You should also know that I'm radical-regressive enough to sometimes wonder whether the election of Senators should be returned to the state legislatures. (This was changed by the 17th Amendment.) Senators today represent the people of their state, but perhaps under the old scheme they represented the government of their state (a crucial difference), which was clearly the founders' intent. Sort of an Ambassador to Washington. But this is probably not a practical idea. For one thing, the old system was rife with abuse (see the Findlaw article), in particular racially-based disenfranchisement. Anyway, the electoral college has some of the same underpinnings.
posted by dhartung at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2000

Ever found two people who agree 100% on EVERY issue? Find five hundred people who all agree on the issue of abortion. Pick twenty other issues. You will not find two people in that 500 who all agree 100% on all 21 issues. This is what politicians have to contend with.

Go to the supermarket and pick up Tide and Cheer. The packaging, size and weight, the fine print on the side panel, ingredients, smell, how they're used.. Even if one of them says "new and improved" they both will clean your clothes the same way. Why is that? The market offers what the consumers will tolerate. Freedom of choice is an illusion in our society.

Reps and Dems alike know what the majority of americans will tolerate. You can't please everybody all the time, but that doesn't stop them from trying. How do they do this? They're listening to the same spin doctors and comparing notes with the same analysts. They read the same polls and absorb the same news media. They're trying to become what all these sources tell them has the highest chance of success. So naturally dems and reps will eventually evolve into the same thing, with slight differences here and there.

At least Nader and Buchannan are more up front and honest about their motives and agendas, [God & Gaia help us]. However, corporate interests don't want more than two parties. It's bad enough they have to pay equal amounts to both reps and dems. It's like they're all hedging their bets. They're not supporting the candidate they personally believe in. They're paying to have their place in the pecking order regardless of who wins.

Why is it this way? Whose fault is it? How did it come to this?

By our own accumulative wishy-washy response to the political arena as a whole, this necessitates vanilla. Then we have the audacity to be surprised when our own apathy and vague concern come voting time causes this "tweedledee or tweedledum" selection process engineered by 'special interests' and PACs. We did it to ourselves cuz not enough of us vote, or care. In order for a politician to survive, it necessitates blandness and wishy-washy vague qualities and aspects to the winner's personality. The slightest thing to rock the boat, and you're suddenly a hot potatoe (sic) one moment, only to be forgotten and left behind the next. Oh, and on top of everything else we also want a bubbly personality that is consistently entertaining without offending anybody. Geez! Why don't we just vote in Jamie from Big Brother 2000 and be done with it? Can't get much more tame and safe than that. The American people no longer control their own destiny. You know who controls it? People with checkbooks that put yours and mine to shame. You want to really vote this November? You better start saving your money... a couple decades ago.

Why is it like this? Cuz a couple decades ago the average voting turnout went down into the single digits. The democratic process stopped working, because we voters didn't hold up our end of the bargain. This is not a democracy. It's not even a republic. It's become an aristocracy, where a wealthy minority owns the working masses lock, stock and barrel, and it's our own damn fault.

Vote. Use it or lose it. I don't care if you vote for Mickey Mouse. If we have less than 20% of the american people vote in this next election, we might as well dig up Jefferson so we can spit in his face.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:00 PM on August 20, 2000

Lots of interesting comments so far.

rcade writes:
I think it's foolish at this point to declare that Gore has no chance, given the lead that Dukakis had over Shrub Sr. at this point in the campaign in 1988.

Remember, the IEM stuff is not polling data -- real money is a stake. In any case, I didn't mean to suggest that Gore literally has no chance. Rather: (1) At this point a Gore victory is, for planning purposes, sufficiently unlikely; and (2) if Gore does lose, it will have nothing to do with lack of support from the progressive community. Why? because even if we (progressives) all voted for him, that would not be enough to offset his 'likeablity' problems (from the point of view of the average voter). That's my opinion.

Right, so that's all very unscientific. Is there a more rigorous model of the presidential race, with more predictive power? Dhartung recommends Lichtman's "Keys to the Whitehouse" model. I visited your page, Dhartung, and I found it very interesting. One question I would have for Lichtman (I haven't read his book) is: how were these 'keys' obtained? Maybe I missed it, but I couldn't find the answer on your page. For example, were they obtained by factor analysis of survey data? Or by 'data mining' of historical election results? By an ad hoc process? A priori? My impression is that the answer is 'data mining', in which case the derived predictions are going to have all the serious limitations associated with that technique. Whether you are talking about the stock market or presidential elections, the whole of history is essentially one data point (as Paul Samuelson pointed out with regard to the predictions of US GDP growth). That is why I am attracted to the IEM approach, because it at least has the theoretical backing of Efficient Market Theory. To be sure, there are some pretty onerous limitations in practice: first and foremost, the limit on the number of contracts any one trader can buy. Also, there is much evidence that in the short term, markets are not even approximately efficient. Anyway...

Aurelian writes:

That's also why I don't have much faith in IEM for this... they're self-selecting in a way that probably doesn't match up to the electorate, and they're looking at an overall national sample.

I don't understand why you would think that. IEM is a futures market, it isn't a poll or a survey. If you think it is biased, you can just sign up and make an easy few hundred dollars. Again, there are limitations, but they would seem to have nothing to do with representativeness...
posted by johnb at 9:28 PM on August 20, 2000

Shylock writes:

The President needs to have a well-developed foreign policy (Nader doesn't) and domestic economic policy (Nader doesn't) as well as a visionary social and environmental policy.

You must be kidding. Nader has been slaving away at his desk for decades developing a coherent and humane perspective on economic issues, both foreign and domestic. Do you think Bush knows anything about foreign policy? Gore obviously knows what he's doing, but what he is doing is morally repulsive, in my opinion. At any rate, Nader is not going to win the presidency, obviously. The point of voting for him is to promote the Green Party and therefore the movement for global justice.

Dhartung writes:
For my part, Gore did a great job Thursday of synthesizing his personal history from old-style FDR progressive to New Democrat. The quality of his delivery notwithstanding ... one of his best performances still isn't saying much (i.e. he's no Clinton) ... I think just watching the convention was always going to bring a lot of wavering Nader supporters back to the party. That's what the conventions do.

I seriously doubt it. Nader supporters aren't that stupid. Sure, there will be some who will fall for the "lesser-of-two-evils" argument, but I don't think they're going to get swept up by some vacuous rhetoric, unsupported by an actual track record of acting in the public interest, and mistake Gore for the Real Thing. What good has Gore actually done? Nader has devoted his life, successfully, to getting stuff done, so that when he speaks, his words are genuine and perhaps even inspiring, as in this excerpt from a speech at the NAACP convention: (see next message)
posted by johnb at 9:46 PM on August 20, 2000

"What do all these movements have in common? The anti-slavery movement, the women's right to vote movement, the worker trade union movement, the farmer, populist, progressive movement, the civil rights, environmental, women rights movements of recent decades, other civil rights movements, disability rights--they had one common theme: They took power away from people and institutions who had too much power and made that power be shared by the many.

That is what made it possible. It wasn't just the documentation of injustice. It wasn't just the feeling by people that they had to have a better life. It was the strategy of power. It was the strategy of deconcentrating power. It was the strategy that confronted the dominant business powers of our history which uniquely were always in the forefront of saying no to social justice movements.

Who opposed the anti-slavery movement? Who opposed the women's right to vote movement? It wasn't just some men. It was the railroads, it was the liquor industry, it was industrial interests that didn't want women to speak out with voting power against child labor and the injustices of the Industrial Revolution.

And who opposed the workers in the steel, coal, textile and other areas trying to unionize? It was the corporations. And who opposed the farmers, dirt-poor farmers coming out of Texas? It was the big banks and the insurance companies.

And I might say it's much the same today. Who opposed Social Security? The corporate lobbies and their allies in Congress. Who opposed one advance after another in terms of equal opportunity of employment, in terms of anti-discrimination efforts in housing? Who opposed the consumer movement to try to reduce death and injury on the part of innocent consumers because of hazardous products and toxic chemicals and other sources of trauma? The corporations did.

Who opposed the drive for environmental health in our country? Who opposed the effort to end this silent cumulative violence that we too charitably call pollution, air, water pollution, pesticides?

Who opposed those? The corporations did.

Who opposed the effort which is now 60 years in failure to take lead-based paint off crumbling tenement walls in the cities, the kind of deadly lead-based paint that to this day is poisoning 200,000 minority children a year, damaging their brain and other organs? It was the interests, the prosperity holders, the landlords, the big apartment owners, the slum lords.

And I think all of these social justice movements finally prevailed, with few exceptions, and America was better as a result, and still we must ask ourselves, what are the sources of power that are keeping us from progressing and advancing?"
posted by johnb at 9:48 PM on August 20, 2000

Sure, Gore's speech may have been more "polished" (not that he actually wrote it or anything). But would Gore have had the balls to deliver a speech like Nader's? I seriously doubt it.
posted by johnb at 9:51 PM on August 20, 2000

One final thing from Barbara Ehrenreich:

"But the left-wing Gore-ites often seem oblivious to the dynamics of real social change. They say we have to build an alternative politics--only just not yet. Wait until we replace "winner take all" elections with something more democratic, they urge. Fine, only where is the energy to reform the electoral process going to come from unless we start challenging that process with attractive third-party candidates now? Or they say wait until we have a real party--who are these Greens, anyway? But parties don't just grow by accretion. Sometimes they have to do things--grand, noble and, from a "realistic" point of view, surely foolish things--like stepping into the fray and duking it out with the bullies and their designated surrogates."

And BTW Zachsmind: great post, bravo!

posted by johnb at 10:01 PM on August 20, 2000

Plaino: we've got an electoral college because it would take a constitutional amendment to change it. No such amendment would pass if it meant that the President was chosen by overall popular vote, because it means that the candidates would never visit Montana or North Dakota or Iowa or New Hampshire or any of the other states which have small populations.

You've got to pass 38 state legislatures to pass a constitutional amendment and there are at least 13 who know they're small enough that in the modified system they'd be completely ignored by the candidates and would effectively not matter at all in the election. So their legislatures would never pass the amendment, and it would die.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:44 PM on August 20, 2000

johnb, Nader's "coherent and humane" approach to economic issues amounts to "dismantle large corporations". Which is fine, and I think most of the things he suggests are good reforms. But there's more to it than that. Nader has no experience with diplomacy. In fact, he has no experience with elected office at all. He would be unable to work with Congress. He'd be a miserable, miserable, miserable President.

And that's my beef with a lot of Naderites. They're not voting for Nader as President. You said it yourself-- "Nader is not going to win the presidency, obviously. The point of voting for him is to promote the Green Party and therefore the movement for global justice. " But that's not the point of an election. The point is that we're supposed to choose the best candidate to be the caretaker of the nation for the next four years. You're not voting for Nader, you're voting against corporate interests. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works. I plan on voting for the man who I think is the best qualified for the job. There are a lot of things I don't like about him, but I plan to continue being an activist between election years, so that the social issues I care about become a part of the national debate. And I think the person who is most likely to be able to effect the changes I want to see done is Gore. And I want my vote to be a vote for something.

The Greens do have something right, though. The only way there's going to be drastic change in the way politics is run in America is if something outside the system pushes it. And I think it's high time we had a constitutional convention to reform the way everything is done. Scrap outdated artifacts like the Electoral College. Democratize elections. Reform the system so that third parties and disenfranchised minorities have a greater voice.

But that's another topic entirely.

Incidentally, Gore did write his own convention speech.
posted by shylock at 12:35 AM on August 21, 2000

Shylock, you make some good points.

However, I don't understand you when you say that voting for somebody like Nader, who has very little chance of winning, is 'not the point of an election' and that it is 'not the way [the system] works'.

Well, why not? The 'point', for us, is that without sufficient support for Nader, we don't get the federal funding. Unfortunately, that's the way the system 'works'. I understand it's not the traditional way to do things, but given the nature of the system, it seems to me that voting for Nader is the most efficient way to build the movement. We've got to start somewhere, right? And Nader happens to have very high name-recognition, therefore attracts at least some media coverage. In my view, opportunities like this don't arise very often. Focusing on the short-term by voting for Gore strikes me as irrational in this context.

By the way, to say Nader's economic policy is to 'dismantle' large corporations is to seriously misrepresent what he has actually advocated.
posted by johnb at 1:30 AM on August 21, 2000

john, some thoughts:

Nader can't win not because he can't muster the necessary votes on Election Day... He can't win because the Greens don't have enough seats in the House of Representatives to put him over the top. You'll be able to recognize a third party that's serious about winning the Presidency by the way they don't run for President until they have 60 or so House seats. It only takes 58 House seats to win, if they're the right ones (under the current apportionment). (Exhaustive explanation available if you wish, but even by the standards of my long-winded posts, it'd take a while :)

In his speech, while Nader's correct in pointing out all the things corporations have been against, he also conveniently lists all the fights they've lost... and if they've lost that many fights, how much of a threat are they, really? "Large corporations" work as a bogeyman for some people the way "godless communism" used to for others... and I think they're both straw men.

Futures markets can be cuaght by suprise, too. Oil futures, pre-1973, were probably a bit lower than post-1973. :) I suggest that actual elections are similarly unpredictable events, and thus not really well handled by a futures market model. And representativeness does make a difference for efficient markets. The NYSE has tens of millions of individuals making investments every day. The level of information aiding those investments is vastly greater, proportionally, than IEM, and the NYSE still has inefficiencies, or else the quants would never make money. :)

Here's an analogy: Imagine driving on a crowded freeway. You know how sometimes, just when you see an opening in the traffic for you to zoom into, someone else cuts right into it? That's basically an efficient market -- the slack is wrung out by millions of such observations of empty space, and the utilization that ensues.

Now imagine a freeway with little traffic, and lots of empty space. As far as I can tell, that's IEM.

Why not invest in it? Because I have things to do with my money that I feel get better rates of return, and where I'm more comfortable with the risk. I mean, a crap game is one form of a futures market, if you've ever watched. I've seen people make much more money betting on a shooter's performance than the shooter himself made. I suggest that political futures are about the same risk level, at least for me. Whether I'm right or not, of course, is my own problem... :)

posted by aurelian at 3:19 AM on August 21, 2000

It only takes 58 House seats to win, if they're the right ones (under the current apportionment). (Exhaustive explanation available if you wish, but even by the standards of my long-winded posts, it'd take a while :)

I'd like an exhaustive explanation, if only because I don't have a clue as to what the number of Representatives has to do with a party's candidate's viability to be elected. I do agree that the Green party (and other alternative parties) should be focusing on building membership in Congress if they want to gain respectability. I just don't know what it has to do with winning the presidency. I still think that if Ross Perot hadn't dropped out and rejoined the race and proved himself crazy in 1992 he would've had a great chance of winning. The Reform party didn't even exist back then.
posted by daveadams at 9:08 AM on August 21, 2000

I was considering voting Nader for a while but have decided to go back to Gore. This is mildly depressing, because it's much nicer to be voting for a candidate rather than against someone else.

Gore is obviously not a huge win for progressives. And he lacks that bizarre charisma that Clinton had, the one that made you feel ok about the fact he was selling your ideals down the river. Still, there's a lot to be said for choosing battles and swallowing pride.

A Gore administration would be much better for progressives that a Bush administration. Someone would have to try really, really hard to make it otherwise. I'm not old enough to remember what people like Watt and Gorsuch (sp?) did under Reagan during the 80s, but I've read a few things. I'm not willing to throw away a decade of progress on the enviroment (however slight) just to punish the Democratic party.

That said I fully support the Nader candidacy and I'm considering making a donation, even if the odds are slim that I'll vote for him. His damage to Gore has most likely already been done, and I have a feeling a number of defectees will (like me) jump back and vote Democrat in November. Where Nader can still get support is from non-voters, and I hope a huge load of non-voters turn out to support him (he's got the perfect ad-man to make it happen, too; he just needs more cash). Green supporters will likely support Democrats in lower-level races (as there are no green candidates), increasing the chances of the Republicans losing at least part of Congress. Which is a useful hedge -- if we've got to have Bush, we should at least try to immobilize him.
posted by tingley at 9:34 AM on August 21, 2000


I didn't follow your first paragraph, but I basically agree with everything else you said.

Futures markets can be cuaght by suprise, too.

Of course. But that does not mean it's not rational to rely on them as a guide to the future. My claim was that, in general, the price of a contract on a futures market is going to be the best empirical estimate available [subject to some qualifications].

And representativeness does make a difference for efficient markets. The level of information aiding those investments is vastly greater, proportionally, than IEM, and the NYSE still has inefficiencies, or else the quants would never make money. :)

Yes, of course there will be significant inefficiencies. But I don't see what that has to do with representativeness. -- unless you just mean that IEM will be "overrepresentative" of stupid traders and "underrepresentative" of smart traders. If that's what you mean, I completely agree (it's a direct consequence of the limit on number of contracts). But "representativeness" in the sense of demographic diversity would not seem to play a role here...

Now imagine a freeway with little traffic, and lots of empty space. As far as I can tell, that's IEM.

Agreed. But again, what's a better model? [perhaps 'keys to the whitehouse' is, but I still have unanswered methodological questions]

BTW, my initial claims about the increasing gap between Bush and Gore are no longer true. But if this is supposed to be Gore's post-convention "bounce", then it's not very impressive.
posted by johnb at 11:37 AM on August 21, 2000

Not to use you as an example, Tingley, but I'm curious as to how many Nader advocates will blink.

After all, if November comes along and it's a neck-and-neck race, I mean, really close, would Nader voters risk a Bush presidency? Personally, I'd do everything short of climbing a clock tower to insure that Dubya never sets foot in the Oval Office (and that includes tours), and as much as people might be disgusted with two-party politics, there are huge differences in where they stand on the issues.

To mangle a metaphor, will Nader voters help elect Bush to spite Gore?

The progressive movement, while welcome, still has a long way to go. After all, the Constitution was drafted by rich landowners out to protect their economic interests yet still appease poor white men. Corporate power is ingrained into our national consciousness. While I support their mission, they need to evolve beyond street theatrics and a motley message. Focus, fer chrissakes!

How about this: Anyone But Bush in 2000!

P.S. As to the original spark of this thread by johnb, Gore and Bush are in a statistical dead heat. No chance, huh?
posted by solistrato at 11:44 AM on August 21, 2000

(lurker finally saying something)

I predict that Gore's polling performance will begin to perk up as voters like me realize that we just might have to hold our noses and vote for him to avoid the nightmare W scenario. For me, the factor that is close to compelling such a switch is the fact that a Supreme court justice or two is very likely to leave in the next four years. Who wants another Clarence Thomas on the bench?

On the other hand, if the bipartisan Comission on Debates loses the Debate access lawsuits, this campaign could very well become energized. In Minnesota, where I reside, Jesse Ventura was polling in the 10% range before the debates, when at the insistence of Skip Humphrey, Ventura WAS included, cleaned the floor with his gubernatorial rivals, and went on to win based on unprecedented turnout of first-time voters. I was grumbling in September that voting for Ventura was throwing my vote away, and come November I was mobilizing my friends to turn out for Mr. Turnbuckle.

Bottom line: I'm watching the polls (shame on me for saying so). If it's close, I'm voting for Mr. Plastic, otherwise, I'll vote for Green matching funds.

posted by norm at 11:56 AM on August 21, 2000

Tingley and Solistrato,

You both seem reasonable enough. How about at least the following:

1. If, on election day, "it doesn't look good for Gore", then the thing to do is take a chance and vote for Nader. [I.e., go with Norm's bottom line]. Opportunities like this are very rare.

2. If your state is a nonswing state, such as Texas or Massachusettes, then there is absolutely no reason not to vote for Nader.

Solistrato writes:
Gore and Bush are in a statistical dead heat. No chance, huh?

I take it you are referring to the polling data, which unlike the IEM does not purport to represent the probability of winning. I admit that the situation has improved for Gore in the last few days, but there is still a sizable probability gap to overcome.

posted by johnb at 12:05 PM on August 21, 2000

OK, guys, here goes:

The straight, direct way you get elected President is by winning a majority of the Electoral College. The Electoral College's votes, these days, get determined on a state-by-state basis, winner take all. Further, the distribution of votes in the Electoral College is determined by the number of seats each state has in the House and Senate combined, with a small fudge factor to allow DC to get 3 EC votes.

This favors the populous states. If you get a plurality of the votes in California, you get 54 EC votes out of 535. If you get a plurality of the votes in Vermont (and a number of other states), you get 3 EC votes. An absolute majority of the EC is 270 votes.


What happens when no one gets a majority of the EC? And that can mean anything from a three (or more) way tie to someone getting 269 votes.

Answer, the election is then thrown into the House.

You can get political wonks to admit that -- sometimes -- but hardly anybody looks at the mechanics of what happens next.

What happens next is, each state's delegation in the House caucuses amongst themselves, and then casts one vote for President. That means you need 26 state delegations' votes to win... and voting continues through multiple ballots until somebody does win.

This reverses the whole balance of power to favor the less populous states, and makes the House, briefly, much more like the Senate. It's a classic Founders kind of move, where if one method doesn't work, try something almost totally opposite... It's an echo of the "Great Compromise" that gave us two legislative chambers in the first place.

If you go through the roll call of the House, and work out how many seats it would take to control 26 state delgations, it turns out you only need 58 seats among the least populous states (states with 8 EC votes or fewer, minus DC, which doesn't get to vote because they're not in the House).

Even stranger, it's possible to get a House where Party A has a majority of 218 out of 435 seats, Party B has 157 seats, and Party C has 60 seats... but because Party C has the strategic seats, Party C gets to elect the President.

Cool, huh? :)

But this is why Perot really couldn't have won in 1992. Unless he'd actually gone ahead and won a majority of EC, the election would've gone to the House... whereupon he'd've been out of luck, unless he managed to get the right combination of members of existing parties to go along.

And now you all know what it would really take for a third party to elect a President.


john, what I'm saying is that IEM is so small that it can't be efficient. The size of the number of traders, relative to the task they're investing in, precludes there being enough information among them to make a genuinely rational assessment of the market. It's OK for the NYSE to have a number of rubes, because it's so big they'll get drowned out by traders with good information. IEM is so small, that even a few rubes skews the market out of whack.

So, yes, I believe in efficient markets. Where we disagree is whether IEM is an efficient market.

posted by aurelian at 4:16 PM on August 21, 2000

Aureliean, thanks for posting that, I see what you mean now.

Re: efficient markets --- neither NYSE nor IEM is strictly efficient, although, yes, obviously the former is vastly more efficient than the latter. The point, however, is: is there a better predictive model out there? If so, I haven't heard of it.
posted by johnb at 8:36 PM on August 21, 2000

No, john I don't know of a better predictive model. But I'm not sure one is necessary.

I thinks politics resembles the movie industry in a notable way. William Goldman, the screen writer, is of the opinion that no one in Hollywood knows anything, in a predictive way. Every single movie gets greenlighted because someone thought it would make money, even things like Ishtar, Heaven's Gate, Waterworld, you name it. Conventional wisdom, usually works, yes... But it fails often enough that you know there are major flaws out there.

I think elections are much the same. Take the idea that money is decisive in politics. Leaving aside such recent examples as the failures of Al Checchi, Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, Phil Gramm (running for President, not Senate), and Jesse Ventura's win... In general, Democrats raise less money than Republicans -- even back when the Dems seemed to have a hammer-lock on US politics, 1932-1980. But that didn't keep Eisenhower and then Nixon from winning, nor a number of other Republicans at different levels. (This is why Republicans are generally against campaign finance reform -- they see it as being unfairly skewed at them.)

I think IEM is useful in that it's fun, and gets people involved and interested. So does the office football pool. :) My only real concern is, not unlike the way rotisserie baseball can sometimes take one's focus away from the game and level it at the tactical mechanics of things, I think IEM plays into the fallacy that everything in politics is tactical, and has no larger context. I'm old fashioned enough to believe that issues and ideas matter. :)

But that's just my opinion, and YMMV.

posted by aurelian at 9:12 PM on August 21, 2000

issues and ideas matter

we can agree on that point, at least :)

posted by johnb at 10:26 PM on August 21, 2000


" The 'point', for us, is that without sufficient support for Nader, we don't get the federal funding. Unfortunately, that's the way the system 'works'.

Well, it sort of depends on what the point of this little insurrection is, doesn't it? I mean, is the point the immediate goal of getting the Greens the same fringe third-party status as the Reform Party? If so, then, yeah, I see your point. But if one is voting for the Greens as a protest against the way politics is run nowadays, the electoral process needs to be more fundimentally reformed so that it was easier for third parties in general to participate-- more federal (corporation-tainted) matching funds for more small parties, easier participation in the official debates, that sort of thing. In which case, those people who are voting for the Greens as a protest vote are missing the forest for the trees. They ought to be clamoring for a broad-ranging reform of the way political parties compete, not helping one fringe party enter that same, corrupt system.

By the way, to say Nader's economic policy is to 'dismantle' large corporations is to seriously misrepresent what he has actually advocated.

An absurdist oversimplification, yes, but essentially correct. (Not to be a corporate apologist.) From the Green Party platform:

"Democratic Conversion of Big Business: Mandatory break-up and conversion to democratic worker, consumer, and/or public ownership on a human scale of the largest 500 US industrial and commercial corporations that account for about 10% of employees, 50% of profits, 70% of sales, and 90% of manufacturing assets. "

"Democratic Banking: Mandatory conversion of the 200 largest banks with 80% of all bank assets into democratic publicly-owned community banks."

Hence "dismantle".

posted by shylock at 1:26 AM on August 22, 2000

...They ought to be clamoring for a broad-ranging reform of the way political parties compete, not helping one fringe party enter that same, corrupt system.

I've thought about this, but still think voting Green is the most efficient way to advance the progressive agenda -- including the drive to democratize the political process -- in the long run. See, e.g., Barbara Ehrenreich's line of reasoning (above).

An absurdist oversimplification, yes, but essentially correct....

This may be a bit confusing, but there are actually *two* green party platforms, one for the Association of State Green Parties -- which is the platform Nader is effectively running on -- and one for the less pragmatic/more radical Green Party USA, which you quoted above. They are very different. The section in the ASGP Platform called "RE-ASSERTING LOCAL CITIZEN CONTROL OVER CORPORATIONS" proposes a policy framework more in keeping with Nader's worldview (although to my knowledge he hasn't officially endorsed either platform).
posted by johnb at 5:55 AM on August 22, 2000

Clarifications and addendum:
1. Ralph Nader definitely does not advocate the wholesale dismantling of the Fortune 500.
2. Some Greens do.
3. Such a measure may make a lot of sense philosophically, but advocacy of it in the present climate strikes me as a form of political masochism. IMHO if you're going to include concrete policy proposals in your platform, there should be at least a faint possibility of implementing them in the near future. Otherwise your 'party' degenerates into a kind of social club, with no impact on the real world (IMHO).
4. As far as I can tell, the AWGP platform (unlike the GPUSA platform) does not suffer from this defect.
5. This, in spite of the fact that the GPUSA platform is philosophically more agreeable (to progressives like me).
posted by johnb at 6:36 AM on August 22, 2000

Okay. Last response. Promise.

You do see the inherent contradiction here, though, don't you? You support a presidential candidate with no chance of winning and little chance of being an effective lawmaker if he were so elevated, yet you denounce the more radical GPUSA platform as "political masochism" precisely because of the impossibility of ever seeing it implemented as policy. Shouldn't you hold both decisions to the same philosophical standard?

Which is my point. If you're going to vote for Nader because you agree with his philosophy 100% and are willing to support the leftist platform more in line with your personal beliefs, then I support your decision completely. But if you don't think Nader is going to win, and if his stated platform is a compromise for your personal beliefs anyway, and you're using your vote to protest the fact that the Democratic candidate isn't far enough to the left, then what are you really accomplishing, other than helping an infintely more objectionable candidate ease into office for the next four years?
posted by shylock at 1:40 AM on August 23, 2000

I'm voting for Nader because it's the practical thing to do, not as a statement of principle. Why is it the practical thing to do, ie what am I really accomplishing?
I basically agree with Michael Albert's answer:

The Lesser Evil Argument By Michael Albert

The general anti-Nader argument is very simple. To vote/work for Nader means not voting/working for Gore. That's uncontestable. In states with close Gore/Bush ratings, Gore could lose enough votes to Nader for Bush to win the state, and ultimately the election. That's also uncontestable. Thus, and here is the leap in logic, if one thinks that Bush has a worse White House agenda than Gore, one should vote for Gore and not for Nader. In short, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.

The most frequent reply to this lesser evil argument either (1) disputes that Bush is that much worse than Gore, or (2) urges that voting for Nader sends a message to the Democrats that they are missing the boat and need to move left to win wider support.

The main problem with the anti-Nader argument is that it assumes that what matters most about an election or an administration is the positions the candidates and their parties want to pursue, rather than what they can get away with.

The main problems with the noted pro-Nader replies are that (1) Bush and the Republicans are -- because of the differing constituencies backing them -- considerably worse than Gore and the Democrats and (2) at most the Democrats would learn from losing a close election due to Nader's appeal that they need to change their image a little‑‑their reality being another thing entirely.

What seems missing on both sides, therefore, is recognition that the most important impact of the Nader campaign will be changing the political climate in the country by energizing the left, and that our arguments need to take account of this impact. Take the cases most often bandied about: Supreme Court Justices, taxes, police violence, abortion, and interventionism. The issue isn't can we plausibly predict that Bush's preferred agenda for each of these policy areas would be sufficiently worse than Gore's to adversely impact many suffering people. Of course it would. The issue is, if lots of people throughout the country support and vote for Nader, thereby awakening not only hope but also organizational clout and commitment, will either Gore or Bush be as able as otherwise to pursue their full agendas on these issues?

In other words, the real choice is Gore winning without Nader getting lots of support and therefore with a typically un‑aroused populace that will allow him to pursue his full corporate agenda nearly unopposed, versus Bush (or maybe still Gore) winning but with Nader getting lots of support and therefore with a highly aroused sector of the populace impacted very positively by Nader's campaign and ready to fight up a storm. The correct comparison isn't the will of Bush versus the will of Gore -- it is what Bush (or Gore) will do with a 10% Nader constituency fighting on, versus what Gore will do with no such on‑going, galvanized, and organized opposition contesting government policy‑making, plus, as well, what the emerging opposition will mean in future elections, and general movement development.

What is odd, therefore, about the lesser evil discussion is that it stacks the deck against third party politics by simply ruling out, tout court, the whole reason for Nader's campaign, it's whole logic and purpose, and thus its real value -- and not only in the long term, but in the short term as well. The discussion most often assumes, that is, that the only thing that matters about an election is who wins it -- not the election's impact on constituencies supporting or opposing candidates, and on movement organization and commitment. It assumes, in other words, that nothing substantial can ever be accomplished electorally (or otherwise, with just a little tweaking of the argument) unless it occurs by some kind of overnight miracle that wins all things sought in one swoop. If Nader could win, then it would be okay to vote for him, but we can't participate in an extended process of work and organizing needed as a prerequisite to later winning major gains and even eventual electoral power. The discussion denies that with elections, you lose, you lose, you lose -- and then you win -- and thus all those losses weren't really losses at all, but were, instead, part of a process of building eventually definitive support. And, more, the discussion denies that the supposed debit of having pushed some elections in the short term from tweedle dumb to tweedle dumber (and more vile), were not such large debits as they might seem, either, because the electoral swing to the right was offset by the fact that tweedle dumber then had to operate against a far more aroused and organized populace constraining his options.

Reasonable people might still plop down on either side of this debate – despite that given the seriousness of their efforts every vote for Nader/Laduke seems like it will be a step in a movement path forward, another tally toward Green electoral finances, another person likely ready to continue dissenting beyond election day, whereas every vote for Gore seems like it will enlarge resignation and whether intentionally or not pave the way for people throwing up their hands as if their task is done once the have elected Gore to gently commandeer our futures further into the maws of big capital.

What certainly isn't reasonable, however, at least for leftists, is to let liberals redefine the lesser evil discussion in a way that presumes that elected officials are invulnerable to pressure, that vote outcomes matter more than the consciousness and organization of constituencies, and that movement organizing impacts what occurs in the short term and what is possible in the long term only by miracles as opposed to the hard work of losing, losing, losing on the road to winning.

posted by johnb at 3:52 PM on August 23, 2000

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