FiveThirtyEight: is knowledge really moderate power

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The latest Nate Silver bulletpoints piece at FiveThirtyEight continues premises that contend for a place as common sense conclusions about US democracy.  What’s worse are his conclusions about what constitutes “liberal” and “moderate”. This in addition to the usual Silver vagueness about “favorability” and “electability” makes this week’s bullet points fodder for examination. Silver bullets, indeed.

Are Americans the “ideological moderates who punish political parties for nominating candidates too far to the left or right”. Is its corollary the media frame of extremism as “losers” with the “landslide” as its message, Goldwater, McGovern, etc.

The mistake might be to map the population of moderate voters onto the population of swing voters. This is even more difficult when situating those voters in their actual voting districts of battleground/swing states.

A further mistake would be to overestimate the effect of high-information voters on any election. They, as “elites” do not necessarily rule the ignorantly blissful considering the “strength” of the Trumpian base and their red hats.

Bulletpoint No. 1: Actually, maybe the moderate Democrats are more popular with swing voters

Be careful with general election polls for candidates who aren’t well-known.

At Vox this week, Ezra Klein — I’m usually a fan — points out that Bernie Sanders is doing second-best among Democrats in head-to-head polls against President Trump (worse than Joe Biden but better than everyone else). This is true as far it goes, at least if you ignore a couple of outlier-ish polls for Beto O’Rourke.

This challenges the theory, Ezra says, that “Americans are ideological moderates who punish political parties for nominating candidates too far to the left or right.”


Bulletpoint No. 2: High-information voters love Elizabeth Warren — and not Bernie Sanders

In a previous Silver Bulletpoints, I asked whether candidates who are popular among high-education voters, such as Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, are also popular among high-information voters. There’s no particular advantage to overperforming with college-educated voters; almost 65 percent of voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries did not have a four-year college degree. But doing well with high-information voters is usually a bullish sign. These voters are more likely to judge the candidates on factors beyond name recognition, and so may be leading indicators for how other voters will view the race once they’ve acquired more information. Moreover, high-information voters are more likely to eventually turn out to vote.

Quinnipiac addressed this in their most recent poll, asking Democrats how much attention they’ve been paying to the campaign and breaking out their topline results on that basis. Among voters paying a lot of attention to the campaign, Warren got 15 percent of the vote, and Sanders got just 8 percent. Among voters who are paying little or no attention, however, Warren got just 5 percent of the vote against Sanders’s 28 percent.

Warren, Biden gain ground among high-information voters

Share of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters who supported each candidate, by how much attention they’ve been paying to the election campaign for president

Biden 35% 42% 33% 23%
Warren 13 15 16 5
Harris 8 9 8 5
Buttigieg 5 9 3 1
Sanders 16 8 19 28
O’Rourke 2 3 1 2
Booker 3 2 2 4
de Blasio 1 1
Klobuchar 2 1 1 6
Gillibrand 1
Gabbard 1 1 2
Yang 1 2 1
Hickenlooper 1
Bennett 1
Bullock 1
Castro 1 1 1

Poll dates from May 16-20, 2019 SOURCE: QUINNIPIAC

Some of this is age-related — younger voters aren’t paying as much attention yet — but It’s hard not to see it as a bearish indicator for Sanders. Voters have a lot more alternatives than four years ago, and former Sanders voters who have started their shopping process already have often come home with candidates like Warren or Buttigieg instead. That includes voters in Sanders’s core constituency, very liberal voters, who preferred Warren over Sanders 30-22 in the Quinnipiac poll.

Does something similar hold for Biden? Actually not. To my surprise, Biden did a little better with high-information voters than with the electorate overall in this poll. Maybe it’s Sanders, and not Biden, whose support has been propped up by name recognition.……

Biden, Buttigieg have most positive favorability ratings

Average of favorability ratings in polls conducted wholly or partly since Biden entered the race

Joe Biden 50.4% 39.8% +10.6
Pete Buttigieg 28.3 24.5 +3.8
Julián Castro 20.7 20.3 +0.3
Bernie Sanders 45.3 45.5 -0.3
Marianne Williamson 11.7 12.3 -0.7
Tim Ryan 15.0 15.8 -0.8
Jay Inslee 13.7 14.7 -1.0
Kamala Harris 34.2 36.2 -2.0
Andrew Yang 14.3 17.0 -2.7
Michael Bennet 12.0 15.0 -3.0
Amy Klobuchar 21.0 24.3 -3.3
Cory Booker 28.0 31.5 -3.5
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David Bishop
David Bishop

What are we doing wasting words on 2020? Time to act now. Politicians never solved anything. Power to the people.