Friday, September 26, 2014

National Pulse Index Update

Here's the latest. Marginal wind behind the Republicans' backs, but volatility has been decreasing. Calm before the storm?

See the last post for an explanation.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The National Pulse Index

Every two years, we here at the Naked Dollar trot out our proprietary political model called the National Pulse Index.The purpose of this index isn't so much to predict elections as it is to see which party, nationally, has the political momentum. who has been winning the news cycles. The model does this by aggregating polling changes in every available race, at every level. (For a complete explanation, see below.)

This is a daily graph going back to early May. (Sorry, I can't seem to make it show dates - curse you, Excel!) Lines going up mean the Republicans have momentum, down the Democrats. You can see that there's been a whisper of Dem momentum of late,and a couple of really big Republican moves earlier. Overall, Republicans are net +58 polling points since the start (although the graph looks like an oscillator, it is not.)

I will update this a few more times before election day so we can see which way the wind blows.


I used to run a quant hedge fund. What a quant does is take lots of data and make sense out of it. So, how to use this approach to capture the ebb and flow of an election cycle at the national level? Is the national mood swinging Democrat or Republican?

The approach I came up with four years ago is a simple metric, and the purpose is to use data - not the media or the water cooler - to track short term swings in political momentum. As it happens, it's a quick way to determine if the media narrative has any merit.

Essentially, the Index aggregates polls from everywhere, from presidential down to the House level. The idea is to pull in a huge and continuous sample, exploiting the wisdom of crowds. Specifically, the Index compares each new poll with the previous poll from the same race. The other day, for instance, Fox News reported that Terry Branstad, who's running for re-election as Governor of Iowa as a Republican, was up by 13 points. While this may seem like good news for Republicans, the previous Quinnipiac poll actually had him up by 23. I assign this a "minus 10" for the Republicans.

Each day, as new polls come out, they are compared to the previous polls from the same races. The numbers are added up to get a net score for the day. Then, I use a moving average of the last five days to smooth out the data. This gives us a very good picture as to which side has the momentum.

Allow me to make my case for why this works.

1. On any given day, this will capture the aggregate opinions of up to 20,000 people, whereas an individual poll (that might get one side or the other excited) can have as few as 300 people.

2. There really is a national "mood," and it really does matter which way it's moving. Opinions are infectious. It matters in Ohio what people are thinking in Alabama. They may not be perfectly in sync, but they do tend to move in the same direction at the same time. Thus, if Governor Jerry Brown just went from 20 points up to 30 points up, it doesn't mean anything for Brown - he's still going to win easily - but it does mean the mood in California is moving in a certain direction. This makes it likely the mood is moving in the same direction elsewhere.

3. Aren't some of these polls partisan and/or sloppy? Absolutely, but the Index takes them all, because the very next poll will likely net it out. Bad polls tend to get balanced out, in other words. To the extent that they don't, they probably have useful information, which is why one doesn't want to make judgments about which polls to use, and which not to.

4. What about the Generic Ballot polls, the ones where people are asked whether they intend to vote for a Republican or a Democrat? Don't those show the national pulse? Yes they do, but they don't come out every day, and they survey far fewer people (as few as 700).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Growing Trend of Hate Crime Hoaxes

Perhaps it started way back with Tawana Brawley. When it was reported that "KKK" and "N*gger" were written on her body in human feces, I remember thinking that it just didn't sound right. Not that bad things, including hate crimes, don't happen, but this just sounded like a cliche, or someone's fantasy of a hate crime. And it was, of course. It was a 15-year old's attempt to get out of trouble for being late.

Later, motivations would change. Maybe a decade after Brawley, a black student at my very own high school, Milton Academy, had a nasty note thrust under his door. Lots of n-words, of course, and this: You don't belong here in our world. I remember thinking, people just don't speak like that, or even think like that, any more. This is a liberal Massachusetts prep school we're talking about. I smelled a hoax, and I suggested as much to the school. Of course, it was, but they didn't figure that out until after hand-wringing town halls and the involvement of the Massachusetts Attorney General.

Lately, the trend has accelerated. Just this month, someone posted "Whites Only" and "Coloreds" signs over water fountains at Sweet Briar College. They also made threatening phone calls, saying things like, "First Ferguson, now this!" The school president was prepared to come down hard, until it turned out that the perpetrator was black. Then it became a teachable moment about hate and bigotry, and perhaps we should we should even thank the young woman for raising our consciousnesses.

Last year, two students perpetrated a series of stunts at Oberlin, including flying Nazi flags and painting swastikas on classroom walls. The very liberal school was not-so-secretly excited to have perpetrators of right-wing hatred so palpably in their midst, and classes were abruptly cancelled for a "Day of Solidarity," during which everyone got to express their feelings. It turned out that the bandits were two Occupy types frustrated by the lack of anything evil and right-wing to rail against. Oops, this didn't fit the school's narrative at all.

The solution? The school president, who I am embarrassed to say is a college classmate of mine, tried to cover it up. He failed, and was fired. 

(Hahahahaha. That last part was a joke. He's still there, and probably got a big raise.)

There have been many other incidents. There was the (black) Columbia professor who hung a noose outside her office door to deflect attention from the fact the school was about to fire her. There was the University of Wyoming woman who posted fake rape threats to herself on Facebook and the two lesbians who spray-painted "Kill the Gays" on their garage door. There was the Central Connecticut State University woman who put fake, anti-gay hate messages to herself under her door, prompting an anti-hate rally at which, conveniently, she spoke. And who can forget the Duke lacrosse incident.

There are many, many more. Perhaps my favorite was at Vassar college last year when someone spray-painted things like, "F*ck N*ggers," and "Hey, Tranny, you know your place" on walls around campus. The offending writings were discovered by the college's Bias Incident Response Team. The ensuing investigation revealed that the incidents were actually committed by...wait for it...the Bias Incident Response Team.

It seems that we conservatives just aren't mean and hateful enough. There are college freshman out there who are in danger of not having properly raised consciousnesses, and if we're not going to play our part, the left will just have to do it for us.