Henry Farrell rebukes me for spurious pattern recognition:

Human beings are cognitively predisposed to perceive patterns in the world. Many, likely most of these patterns are garbage. Without good theories, and good ways of testing those theories, we’ll never be able to tell the garbage patterns from the real ones.

He may well be right. You should never put much weight on crude pattern extrapolation.  70% is a guess.  I’m not betting on it, and no one else is, either.

The only thing I’d add is that I would bet on crude pattern extrapolation before I would bet on the apparent certainty among a lot of Democrats that they’re headed for a permanent majority.  There are a lot of people on twitter and in these comment threads who are basically saying “Are you crazy!  Republicans suck!”  I think they’re overextrapolating their own feelings about Republicans to the rest of the American public.

This is not in any way to suggest that this is all the folks who are disagreeing with me are doing.  There are all sorts of very good reasons I might be wrong. As I say, no one should bet on my off-the-cuff guess.

But by touching the filibuster–and I think setting the conditions for the whole thing to unravel–Reid is betting that the GOP won’t have control of the Senate and the White House for quite a while.  Polls are no good this far out, so what should he wager on?  Judis and Teixera’s demographic theory?  Maybe, but probably not decisive in 2016.  That seems to leave crude pattern extrapolation or one’s gut instinct about the GOP’s chances.  Of the two, I’d rather rely on crude pattern extrapolation, not because it’s without problems, but because one’s estimation of the GOP’s chances tends to be heavily influenced by one’s personal feelings about the GOP.  The more complicated your analysis, the easier it is to choose the factors that make you feel good about your party’s chances.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that my thesis certainly doesn’t rise to the level of a peer-reviewed study, or an academic theory. But whatever decision method Harry Reid is using, I’d bet that it doesn’t either.


16 thoughts on “

  1. Most of the comments I’m seeing aren’t of the form, “are you kidding, Republicans suck!” They’re mostly of the form, “are you kidding, 70% is a ridiculous number.”

    Also, no one’s really discussing the House right now, but it’s worth remembering that the “structural advantages” the GOP has there are due to there being lots of districts that are Democratic strongholds, and lots of districts where Republicans have slim majorities. That’s great for the GOP for now, but if people change how they feel over the next few years (that is, some number of democrat voters start voting republican and an equal number of republican voters start voting democrat) the structural advantages may turn into disadvantages.

  2. Maybe Reid is thinking that if he can “stack” the judiciary, it won’t matter who controls the House or Senate…

  3. Have you yet acknowledged the possibility that Reid probably thinks that Republicans will get rid of the filibuster when they regain the Senate in 2017 (or 2015 for that matter)? Maybe that’s the *main* reason he is pushing to get rid of the filibuster. I would say that’s more likely than that he is so overconfident that Democrats will retain the White House in perpetuity.

  4. The Daily Beast was such a low point. But, now that you’ve escaped, your post quality is back to its previously high level. It’s so nice to have back the Megan I know and love.

  5. The only thing I’d add is that I would bet on crude pattern extrapolation before I would bet on the apparent certainty among a lot of Democrats that they’re headed for a permanent majority

    I totally agree as you don’t know how various power struggles with shake out in terms of: the hawks, the doves, the social conservatives, the libertarians, big business republicans vs populists, etc.

  6. There are no permanent majorities in American politics. But it’s not an accident that the Democratic candidate for president has won the popular vote 5 of the last 6 elections (and the sixth was when the incumbent was a Republican and not long after 9/11). Given that the popular vote winner usually wins the Electoral College as well, it does suggest that, absent a Democratic term that the public widely views as a disaster, Republicans start presidential elections from behind. And, absent another recession, I don’t think Obama’s second term will be viewed by the electorate as a disaster.

    I don’t see the Republicans getting the necessary six of Lichtman’s 13 keys they’ll need to win in 2016, regardless of who the competing candidates are And, for all those who pooh-pooh Lichtman, he called 2012 right back in mid-2011, keeping his average at 1.000.

    • It should be noted that in 3 of those 5 elections the democrat presidential candidate did not get 50% of the total votes cast.

    • Josh —

      It should be noted, as well, that in those same three elections, the republic presidential candidate received an even lower percentage of the total votes cast.

  7. The reason you should go with the crude pattern extrapolation over a detailed analysis, is statistics. Two experts using the same set of data often come up with completely different results.
    One of the entertaining spectacles on the talking heads shows is when one expert says the support is overwhelming and the opposition speaker says the the call is to close to make. I often wonder if I were to watch a counter-based network if I would hear the support is to close to call and the situation is hopeless.
    Crude pattern extrapolation takes into account raising ones head out of the mire and seeing which way the flow is going.

  8. ” I think they’re overextrapolating their own feelings about Republicans to the rest of the American public.”

    This thinking always reminds me of the Pauline Kael quote from 1972 (?) – “Nixon can’t be president, nobody I know voted for him”

  9. “Judis and Teixera’s demographic theory?”

    Judis and Teixeira proved to be 100% wrong for the first eight years. After eight more years, they’re down to 50% wrong, but it could go up next time.

  10. “70% is a guess. I’m not betting on it, and no one else is either.”

    Actually people do bet on it and because you’re not it’s probably (one of) the reasons you can pick 70% out the air. Where even to begin? Unless something radical happens in the next 3 years, I’m pretty sure the winner of the presidential election is going to need 271 electoral votes. Enlighten us how there’s a 70% chance Republicans get win the “toss-up” states they need to reach 217, where each of which is well-under 70% likely to go Republican? (And yes I recognize that each state’s likelihood of going red or blue is not completely independent, but even granting that 70% – for the Presidential election, let alone house and Senate – sounds far-fetched).

    Let me put this another way, if you we’re willing to bet on this with odds reflective of a 70% chance you better find some very wealthy backers because I can’t begin to imagine how many people would take that bet.

  11. To expand on Greg’s point, if what was meant is something more like “a better than even chance of unified Republican control,” then that might be a better way to put it than “a 70% chance.” Saying “70%” is kind of specific, and invites some evaluation of what it would take for the probability to be around that level.

    We’d have to believe that, come 2016, there’s only a one-in-three or one-in-four chance of a Democrat winning the presidency — *and* a similarly low chance of Democrats emerging with a Senate majority. I’m not sure how either of those could be regarded as more predictable than a coin toss at this point.

  12. I believe the Republicans will never win the White House again. We are watching a major political party disintegrate and fade away. Remnant will remain in the House and Senate for perhaps two or three more decades, though.

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