Friday, November 8, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Alfre Woodard, 61.

Good stuff:

1. Ezra Klein reviews Double Down and The Gamble.

2. Sean Trende breaks out a new explanation for the polling vs. results difference in VA-Gov.

3. While Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy consider both that and other possibilities. I'm sticking with different switch-away from the Libertarian as my best guess, but I'll admit it's more speculative than solid.

4. And: State of the Parties! The papers are here. This is the quadrennial conference on US political parties in Akron that's always excellent. I'll continue retweeting stuff from there tomorrow; if I'm lucky, I'll get to some of the papers, too.


  1. Klein's review is excellent, although I doubt I'll get to read either book, unfortunately (the "waiting shelf" is too full as it is). However, his point about the true bias of the media, i.e. for excitement, is extremely important, if hardly new. As JB has constantly been pointing out, it's also worth constantly repeating in these constantly overheated days of Obamacare. Really, it brings to mind a discussion I had a few years ago with a public affairs professional, who was talking about the pitfalls of dealing with the press. He said, and I tend to think he was being honest, "You know, believe it or not, I actually like reporters. I think a lot of them are very intelligent and are honestly trying to give good public service. In fact, I know a lot of them that have given good public service. But don't ever forget, at the end of the day they are in the business of selling newspapers, even if they don't always like to think of it that way themselves."

    1. And I do constantly use the word constantly, don't I? Oh, well, I should constantly remind myself not to do that.

    2. In the business of excitement, yes, but within some major conditions which I think are understandable to some extent but also very questionable. It seems to have to be conventional, cliched forms of excitement, and it's excitement that can be quickly and relatively shallowly digested. There are plenty of exciting stories with high stakes, big time principles, and major forces (both personal and structural) that the media overlooks or doesn't cover well and with insistence simply because journalists and editors in print and on TV all too quickly judge that they are too complicated or too obscure or too involved in laying out substantive policy matters.

    3. I understand what you are saying PF, but in fairness to reporters and editors and even, much as it hurts, publishers, they may just know the limits of their audience. There is a reason that, as the saying goes, "no one ever went broke betting on the ignorance of the American public." I also acknowledge, however, that those limits arise from a complex of circumstances, and that the press in playing to them is, at the very least, not helping and may actually be one of the prime culprits in creating them. Still, I do have sympathy for, as I say, even the publishers, who after all do have to sell their product to a public that has plentiful outlet for information/stimulation/entertainment, and is not known for rewarding people who speak about difficult and complex matters in sophisticated ways, much less (shudder) telling the public things it does not want to hear.

      If it is any comfort, I don't think Americans are unique, or worse than anyone else, much as they get bashed for being so. Try explaining to the German public why Germany is not guiltless in the continent's economic woes, and why the policies they favor are against their own interests. Try getting the South Korean public to understand all the reasons the US is as unhappy with the situation on the peninsula as they are, and all the reasons the US can't do the things they want us to (which really comes down to an example of Green Lantern thinking in the international arena). After all, to go to that great well of quotes, Winston Churchill, "the most powerful argument against democracy is five minutes conversation with the average voter."

    4. Agreed on the matter of the US vs other national news cultures. That's my sense too, that the US isn't, on its face and in general, uniquely bad, in either its journalism standards or the public's level of coherent knowledge.

    5. Not sure I fully agree on the public knowledge component, but I think there's a fully understandable reason for the discrepancy.

      I think Americans are particularly bad at knowing about other places (not POSITIVE about this, but I do think I've read something about this difference being real). Others are usually quite a bit better at talking about the US than we are about their government/politics. And, a perfectly reasonable explanation for that could be that the US is considered inherently newsworthy internationally. So, in the US, it would be bad coverage to not talk about the US, and it would also be bad coverage in other countries to ignore the US. Naturally, what is newsworthy in Brazil would have a lot more to do with Brazil than what is newsworthy here, but the US would still deserve more coverage in Brazil than Brazil would in the US.

      NOTE: This is ASSUMING that the US is inherently (or, for some journalistic purpose) "newsworthy." As an American, I wouldn't be a good judge on the true newsworthiness of US news to Brazilians or Chinese or whomever. This is NOT assuming that the US is ACTUALLY worthy of such coverage, just that journalism thinks it is

    6. Matt, I agree with you in terms of the narrow observation about the relative knowledge Americans have about other countries. However, I don't think that primarily has to do with national journalism standards or unique cultural philistinism. Rather it primarily comes from the specific circumstances of power relationships that presently exist. Those at the top of a power hierarchy rarely feel the need to know much about those "below" them, while those lower down always feel the need to understand those on the upper rungs. The faculty of any given American state university almost certainly know more about Harvard than the faculty of Harvard know about said state university. When power relationships shift, so do circumstantial needs. What you say about Americans, probably truly, was also said, probably truly, about British citizens of the late-19th and early-20th centuries when their empire was at its height.

      Now, in the case of the US there is also the factor of most people being insulated from foreign contact by living inside an enormous, heavily populated, essentially monolingual country that offers plentiful opportunity for diverse experience with no need to cross a national frontier. Still, I do think the bulk of the situation is do to the power relationships of the moment. When those relationships change, so will the situation, at least to a significant extent.

  2. "On Wednesday we wished for some further explanation from Dem pollster Geoff Garin, who'd revealed that his unreleased internal polling had seen the race as a 2-4 point race the whole way through (except for a small surge during the shutdown). And it looks like we got it, via further Garin conversation with Mark Blumenthal. Garin credits the use of samples drawn from registered voter lists, and probability scores that assess the likelihood of particular voters actually voting. That's, of course, why good internal polling, the kind that campaigns actually rely on, costs much more to do than basic random-number-dialing polls, but also why it gets better results."

    If that's the case, what we really need is some political-science-loving billionaire financing public polls that will be as sophisticated as the best private ones....

  3. Re Double Down and The Gamble, see also Dave Weigel's double review

  4. Trende's argument is really kind of interesting. If he's right, then voting for Cuccinelli is really very similar to voting against a black candidate in the years when blacks did worse than polls indicated the would.

    Really. Having somebody think you're a tea partier is similar to the stigma attached to somebody thinking you were racist. That's kinda funny to me. Not sure I buy his argument, but it's interesting.


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