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Friday, February 19, 2016

What to look for in South Carolina

Saturday's Republican primary in South Carolina will serve as another mile-marker in a race whose length is as unknown as its direction is. FiveThirtyEight gives Trump an 79% to 84% chance of winning -- and Hillary a better than 99% chance of winning the Nevada caucuses.

I'll put a dime down on Bernie then. You never know. And putting up one dime for a chance to win 99 sounds like a reasonable risk in Nevada right now. We shall see.

South Carolina is the better focus. Primaries are less unpredictable than the caucuses. The Republican race is a referendum on Trump, as he has succeeded in making the race all about him. Unlike Hillary -- who made 2008 and 2016 all about her -- Trump knows how to work this to his advantage.

Or so it seems.

Just remember, the polls were all wrong on the Republican side of the Iowa caucus. The results fell outside the margin of error. But instead of taking the polls to task for their inaccuracy, the media painted Trump's second-place finish as a huge loss while Marco Rubio's third-place finish was a huge win. The reality was Ted Cruz won. FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a 46% to 54% chance of winning; Cruz 33% to 39%. No one is infallible.

The New Hampshire polls were better. The polls erred in undercounting the size of Trump's big win. FiveThirtyEight gave him a 69% to 75% chance of winning.

I will not predict the winner on Saturday. Instead I will predict that the media will interpret the results against the polls, rather than measuring the polls against the results. Which is amusingly backward. We should measure the polls against the actual outcome. The media's acceptance of polls as gospel stems from ignorance of math. To his credit, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has tried to factor in the bias of polls.

But this is the world in which we live, and so the media will talk about surges that may or may not exist, and disappointments, which will be many. Half the candidates will not finish among the Top Three, and if they are smart, they will hand in their resignations on Monday.

By the way, while everyone, including me, mocks Jeb Bush for burning through a gajillion dollars and getting squat, we ignore the other Hindenburg-at-Lakehurst in the race, Marco Rubio. He racked up endorsements from the popular governor of the state, the popular senator, and just about every other endorser in South Carolina. So why is he not winning by a landslide?

But the primary is all about Trump, who now leads the Real Clear Politics Poll Average by 14.8 points. He is at 32.9 percent. All stories will be measured from that.

If he wins by less than 14.8, or scores less than 32.9 percent, the story will be that he actually lost the primary because enthusiasm for him is waning. If he meets or beats both of those arbitrary markers, well it was expected and South Carolina does not matter because Newt Gingrich won it in 2012 and did not get the nomination.

Ah, 2012. The RCP Average projected a 5-point win for Gingrich. He won by 12.5 points. The media went hysterical.

From Paul Begala:
Reactions to Newt Gingrich’s stunning and impressive victory in the South Carolina primary form a symphony. First, of course, we hear the cheers of South Carolina Republicans who have chosen their champion. From Ronald Reagan in 1980 through John McCain in 2008, the winner of this primary has always gone on to be the Republican nominee.
Then, of course, we can hear the buttons popping from Newt Gingrich’s shirt as his ego swells to Macy’s parade size. If you listen carefully, you can hear the soft sobs of Mitt Romney and his consultants, crying in their chocolate milk.
But above it all we can hear the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth of the Republican establishment as Gingrich’s victory sends them into full-blown panic. I’m not talking about mere fear, nor normal nervousness. Not even the feeling you get when the captain says, “We’ve lost power in one of our four engines.” No, this is worse. Worse even than when your doctor says, “I don’t like the looks of that shadow on the X-ray.”
This is terror. Chest-clutching, breath-sucking, soul-shaking panic. This is your teenage daughter telling you, “I think I’m in trouble.” This is a Turkish border guard pulling you into a holding room when you’ve got a baggie of coke in your pocket. This is what George H.W. Bush famously called “deep doo-doo.”
Gingrich went on to win his home state of Georgia and was never heard from again.


  1. For anyone who watched a Grand Prix race last year, this is a familiar tale..Mercedes was so dominate a third place finish by the establishment car, Ferrari, was hailed as a victory. The announcers and the cameras were almost never focused on the 2 front runners as they ran in clean air with monotonous perfection. Media Attention was usually far back in the pack where was an actual race was happening . The networks want a good horserace with something at stake to keep viewers planted for the commercial break. They have no interest in Don's physics, only their own. It's capitalism to some extent, some self interest, a large dose of perversity hoping Trump will blow up on air for a good 10 second loop while some one thought to be a sure loser scrapes across the finish line to glory.

  2. Trump WILL win SC. We won't know, however, how broad his support is until the field is narrowed to 2 or 3. I'm praying that he falls flat on his loud mouth.

    1. I never knew Howell was a Mexican name.

    2. Eees my coosin. ;-)

      Stuff it, doc. I want to see border enforcement just as much as you or anybody else. Trump doesn't mean one goddam word, and is a con man supreme. He made his fortune (if he has even increased what his old man qave him; there is credible doubt about that) conning investors and creditors then paying off 10 cents on the dollar FOUR TIMES in Chapter 11.

      I never knew teapartiers were addicted to snake oil.

  3. "the media will interpret the results against the polls, rather than measuring the polls against the results"

    The same as what happens in the stock market when companies announce their quarterly financials. The financial news media obsesses over the corporate results versus the predictions (I hesitate to call it analysis) by self-proclaimed financial experts instead of measuring the (in)accuracy of the pundits predictions against the real-world results announced by the companies.

    1. Along the same lines, the navel gazing regarding the polls vice votes also reminds me of "reasons" given for rise or fall of the stock market. Oil is too high. Oil is too low. China is x, China is y. Congress did this. Congress did that. Consumer confidence up, confidence down. Always sounds like just guesses to me.

      Someone with a following ought to start providing alternate reasons for stock market ups and downs. "The Dow gained 212 points today on last night's news that Bernie Sanders won the primary."

  4. I cannot understand why Trump Weenies cannot do some research into the information streams that show Donald for what he is and isn't.

    This 1989 film, called "Donald Trump: What's The Deal?" is a good place to start but you have to invest two hours and people with their minds made up cannot be headed off.

    If you have the guts - go here.