Friday, November 19, 2010

Checking Nancy Pelosi's Math

On Tuesday, during a marathon meeting of the Democratic caucus of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi made the following argument to her colleagues...It was the economy that did in the Democrats in the recent midterm elections. It wasn't her fault that the party suffered such a historic loss of seats.

What evidence did Pelosi cite in defense of this argument? One element of her claim was that pre-election forecasting models predicted that Democrats would lose in the vicinity of the 61 seats that ended up switching over to Republicans. These models, she told her colleagues, derived such predictions largely from the fact that the economy is struggling mightily, a factor that is historically associated with steep electoral losses for the party in the majority.

Wondering whether Pelosi's claim holds water, I took a quick look at some of the forecasting models that political scientists produced prior to Election Day. As it turns out, there certainly were some models that forecasted Democratic losses in the range of 50 seats. These models, however, tend to incorporate factors other than, or above and beyond, the state of the economy. Such factors include the generic ballot, in which likely voters are asked whether they will vote Democratic or Republican in their congressional election.

As for those models that most heavily weight the economy, the typical prediction was in the 25-30 range in terms of Democratic seat loss. What these models in combination suggest is that, based solely on the sad state of the economy, 2010 definitely shaped up as a bad year to run as a Democrat. That said, the best guess of the economy-based forecasting models was that Democratic losses should have been much smaller than how things actually turned out, small enough in fact that Democrats stood a reasonable chance of retaining their House majority.

What, then, explains the "excess" loss of somewhere in the vicinity of 30 Democratic seats? Can responsibility for these losses be laid at the feet of party leaders such as Nancy Pelosi? Although that is too big of an inferential leap to make from the models themselves, what can be clearly stated is that Pelosi's argument doesn't withstand empirical scrutiny of pre-election political science forecasts. It was not just the economy that was at work earlier this month in upsetting the balance of power here in DC. Exactly just what was it then? That's, of course, what Democratic and Republican strategists will desperately be seeking to figure out between now and Election Day 2012.

~Steve

PS: Click on this link for the figure that accompanies this post, as well as for many more details about the 2010 political science congressional election forecasts.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Class Trip To Philadelphia

After studying the events leading up to the American Revolution, the 8th grade class at my school took our annual trip to one of our nation’s most historic cities, Philadelphia. We were required to be at school by 6:00 am to board the bus that was going to take us to our destination and back. After our teachers checked to make sure we were all present, we set off. One of my best friends and I sat next to each other and talked with our classmates for a while. We ate snacks, watched a movie, and played Sudoku.

Finally, after a three hour ride, we arrived in Philly. Once we got off the bus, we met our tour guide, a woman dressed in colonial clothing. We all took a quick pit stop and then began our walking tour of the city. Our first stop was the grave of Benjamin Franklin and his wife. Our tour guide gave us a short background story of how many people were at his funeral (something like 20,000) and that the reason that there were many pennies on his grave is because of his famous saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

We continued walking down the street and stopped at the historic Quaker Meeting House, built in 1809. As we walked, we would see other groups on tours, obviously doing the same thing we were. Our next stop was Betsy Ross’s house. Our tour guide explained to us that Betsy Ross only rented the place and that she was a flag seamstress for Washington’s army. Also, according to our tour guide, she was not the designer of the famous flag, but only the maker.

We then stopped and took a quick peek at a street that was supposedly what a colonial street used to look like. As we walked, we asked our guide some questions and took a lot of pictures. We passed the first Bank of America, an elaborate, stone structure with columns and carvings on it.

We then went into Christ Church. The inside was all white with no stain glass, only clear windows. On its second floor was one of the biggest organs that I had ever seen. It was so big that I thought that it had to have come from a Dracula movie. There were also grave stones built into the aisles. To get to the pews, you had to walk directly over them. In the back, they had a gift shop. We were told that it was there to raise money for the church because it was not government run.

After a man gave us his five minute presentation, we walked over to Carpenter’s Hall. Then came the Liberty Bell. Our class did not have tickets to go into Independence Hall, but the other class did. After the last of our class went through security, we realized that we were missing a bunch of people. Almost all of the boys and several girls had disappeared. After several moments, we realized that they had sneaked in with the other class. Once we realized this, we headed over to Congress Hall for a tour of the building. A woman gave us a lecture about the first and second floor and the government. We then took a tour of the upstairs and the downstairs.

In the downstairs section, we met several Chinese men. I began talking to them in Chinese about where they were from, what they were doing here, and where they were going next. I had my picture taken with them, and then our class went to meet up with the other class.

Our combined classes went through the security check and then entered the Liberty Bell building. We looked at it and took pictures for a few minutes and then went to the Boars Building for lunch. I quickly ate my pizza that I bought and went with my friends to the candy shop. We realized that the candy shop was really expensive, so we went to the Travel shop, where candy was cheaper. As we browsed the store, I saw a laser that came with 42 different caps that made different shapes. The price was really cheap and the quality was pretty good, so I bought it. When all of my friends saw how cool it was, a bunch of them went back and bought the lasers.

We walked around until we were due back at the bus. Our next and final destination was Valley Forge. After about half an hour, we unloaded from the bus and went into the gift shop where I bought Julie a gift. The room next to the gift shop had all facts about Valley Forge and what went on there. After about fifteen minutes, our guide was ready for us and we all drove up to a certain point of Valley Forge. When we stopped, our guide told us that the huts that we saw were replicas of what the cabins used to look like. We took pictures and then continued on. As we drove, the guide pointed out places and structures such as memorials and barracks. At the end of our tour, we all got out of the bus and went to check out a house that was owned by rich people in colonial times. We toured the small house, took pictures, and then hit the road.

On the ride back, three of my friends and I were playing blackjack and poker, betting candy. We arrived back at school at about 7:45 pm. My dad picked me up, and we headed home.

~Z

Monday, November 15, 2010

This Hits Me Where I Live

Click here to check out a video about what life is like for us political science professors. We sure are easy to make fun of, aren't we!?

~Steve