November 8th, 2016

You can question authority but still trust science

    The results of a new Pew Research Center poll on politics and climate change surprised even some of those who study public attitudes toward science. Forty-five percent of respondents who identified as conservative Republicans said they had little or no trust in climate scientists, compared with 6 percent of self-described liberal Democrats. Only 15 percent of conservatives said they trust climate scientists "a lot."

    This is surprising, according to Daniel Kahan, a Yale professor of law and psychology, because Americans have unparalleled confidence that scientists know what they're doing. After all, global warming and other science-related issues are complex. Most people don't have time or training to gather their own data, he said, so they have to defer to experts.

If the election goes into overtime . . . don't panic

    After all that's happened in this bizarre election, we need to brace ourselves for the chance that it might not end on election night, or even the next morning. The risk of that happening is higher than it used to be - and higher than most of us realize.

    This is not reason to panic. No one wants to relive the 2000 recount, but the good news is that we don't have to.

    Certainly, some of the reform measures adopted in the aftermath of 2000 have had the unintended but unavoidable consequence of increasing the possibility that a presidential election remains undecided for days or weeks. Yet such uncertainty would likely be a sign of the electoral system functioning as intended, not of a massive failure. In addition, an election without a clear victor after Nov. 8 need not be as disorderly or as protracted as the 2000 mess. If the 2016 presidential election goes into overtime, the game will be played on a different - and better - field from the one back then.

Have some pity for anyone forecasting this election

    When election season rolls around, Americans want the news before it happens. The journalistic innovation of poll aggregation tries to meet that demand with political forecasts, and it's become a booming business. But there's a problem.

    The credit for this business, and perhaps the blame, belongs to FiveThirtyEight, which earned its reputation by using others' polls to forecast the outcomes of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Presidential and Senate candidates send out fund-raising messages using FiveThirtyEight probabilities as carrots or sticks. Journalists use the latest FiveThirtyEight forecast to show the state of the race. In the final days of the 2012 race, up to 20 percent of the New York Times' web traffic was attributable to FiveThirtyEight (which had been acquired by the Times at that point and has since been spun off to ESPN).

Virginia for the Win: All eyes on Chesterfield County

    The lowest and most dishonest presidential campaign of the 21st century is almost over. And not a moment too soon. Who will emerge the victor on Tuesday night?

    I has long argued that no Republican can win the White House without winning Virginia. Since the nominating conventions this summer, Republican nominee Donald Trump has never led Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the polls.

    Could those numbers be wrong? Sure. Could they be missing an army of Trump voters unwilling to tell a pollster how they will vote? Maybe.

    But those are hopes, not facts. And the preference for hope over fact feels all too familiar.

    In the waning days of the 2012 campaign, Republican operatives and elected officials were telling me they had done everything they could - and done it well - to win in Virginia. They were confident, too, that George Allen, running against Tim Kaine, would reclaim the Senate seat he lost in 2006 to Jim Webb.

When it comes to trusting politicians, don't go with your gut

    In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that Americans' trust in our government is dismally low, with only 19 percent of respondents saying they trust our leaders all or most of the time. A year later, it's hard to imagine things are looking much better. With less than a week to go to before Election Day and dirt on the candidates piling up at lightning speed, whom should voters trust, and how can we reverse such widespread cynicism?

    Most political marketing revolves around trying to erase trust and confidence in one's opponent. Thus, Donald Trump tries to paint Hillary Clinton as "lying Hillary" and Clinton suggests that if Trump can be "baited by a tweet," he should not be anywhere near nuclear codes. In each case, both candidates seek to make the other seem unreliable.

How to Rig an Election

    It’s almost over. Will we heave a sigh of relief, or shriek in horror? Nobody knows for sure, although early indications clearly lean Clinton. Whatever happens, however, let’s be clear: this was, in fact, a rigged election.

    The election was rigged by state governments that did all they could to prevent nonwhite Americans from voting: The spirit of Jim Crow is very much alive — or maybe translate that to Diego Cuervo, now that Latinos have joined African-Americans as targets. Voter ID laws, rationalized by demonstrably fake concerns about election fraud, were used to disenfranchise thousands; others were discouraged by a systematic effort to make voting hard, by closing polling places in areas with large minority populations.

    The election was rigged by Russian intelligence, which was almost surely behind the hacking of Democratic emails, which WikiLeaks then released with great fanfare. Nothing truly scandalous emerged, but the Russians judged, correctly, that the news media would hype the revelation that major party figures are human beings, and that politicians engage in politics, as somehow damning.

For Kenyans who survived post-election violence, US race feels like déjà vu

    A firebrand populist positions himself as the savior of a marginalized segment of the electorate. He whips his supporters into a frenzy, implying that a loss at the polls would mean the destruction of democracy itself. Then he rejects the outcome of the election as rigged and acts surprised when some of his supporters resort to violence.

    Could the story of Kenya's disputed 2007 vote, which ignited a bloody melee that left more than 1,000 people dead, be a harbinger of America's future on Election Day? The parallels are clear enough to have inspired a trending hashtag: #RailaAnotherTrump is a jab at Raila Odinga, who ran for president in 2007 and is still the leader of the political opposition. But it's American voters who may find it the most painful to read.

    "Raila and Trump, the presidential candidates who believe the media is rigged and elections will be rigged too," writes one Twitter user.

    "Trump inciting his poor & uneducated whites to bring fracas if he dose (sic) not win, just like Raila does with his minions!" writes another.

The Post-Truth Presidency

    We can say with absolute certainty that the Chicago Cubs ended a 108-year spell of futility and won the World Series. The Curse of the Billy Goat is dead. We also know with absolute certainty that on the dawn following the last out, the sun rose over Chicago, my dad’s hometown, at 7:26 a.m.

    But with nearly everything else, we choose to believe what we want. Segregation lives. Reality no longer bites — it sorts. This coming Election Day, separate theaters for red and blue voters will open so that viewers can get their political news inside the comfort of their own fact bubbles.

    Of all the concerns facing a Madam President, governing in a post-truth environment may be the biggest challenge. Perhaps a third of American adults now believe a few Big Lies. And those Big Lies may be nearly impossible to dislodge, because in the course of this awful election, even fact-checking became suspect.

Voting machines aren't rigged, but they are flawed

    Interference by hackers is just one of the nightmare scenarios that worry computer scientists about the upcoming election. The other is a race so close that calling the result is beyond the capacity of today's voting technology.

    Experts who've delved into the accuracy of these apparatuses -- from punch cards and mechanical levers to electronic voting machines -- say that no system is perfect. In most cases the error rates are unknown, or are only measured in artificial test settings and not as they would be used in the real world.

    Computer scientist Douglas Jones of the University of Iowa, who co-authored the book "Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?," came to realize that voters usually blame themselves when something goes wrong in the voting booth -- a tendency that could mask intentional hacking or equipment error. When Jones set up experiments with electronic voting machines rigged to switch votes away from the subjects' choices, the people casting ballots assumed they had done something wrong. "People tend to trust the machines," he said -- even when the machines don't work.

Even if Trump loses, the 'Populist International' wins

    They share ideas and ideology, friends and funders. They cross borders to appear at one another's rallies. They have deep contacts in Russia - they often use Russian disinformation - as well as friends in other authoritarian states. They despise the West and seek to undermine Western institutions. They think of themselves as a revolutionary avant-garde just like, once upon a time, the Communist International, or Comintern, the Soviet-backed organization that linked communist parties around Europe and the world.

    Now, of course, they are not Soviet-backed, and they are not communist. But this loose group of parties and politicians - Austria's Freedom Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the UK Independence Party, Hungary's Fidesz, Poland's Law and Justice, Donald Trump - have made themselves into a global movement of "anti-globalists." Meet the "Populist International": Whoever wins the U.S. election Tuesday, its influence is here to stay.