Saturday, October 13, 2012

Reading for Thinking, on Saturday

This is an interesting article about a fundamentalist Christian man who decided to spend a year pretending to be gay and what he learned about it.   To what extent can similar experiments be done about the impact of gender on one's perceptions?  Or more importantly, about the impact of gender on the perceptions of others?

Remember those tax loopholes the Romney/Ryan plan vows to close, in some completely unspecified manner, preferably carried out by the Democrats in the Congress while Romney/Ryan would get the credit for the tax cuts?

Against that background this article in the Rolling Stone magazine is kinda fun:

Are Romney's tax dodges legal? It's impossible to say for sure, given how little he has disclosed. But tax experts note that there are plenty of red flags, including an investigation by New York prosecutors into tax abuses at Bain Capital that began on Romney's watch. "He aggressively exploits every loophole he can find," says Victor Fleischer, a professor of tax law at the University of Colorado. "He's pushing the limits of tax law beyond what many think is reasonable." Indeed, a look at Romney's finances reveals just how skilled he is at hiding his wealth – and paying a fraction of his fair share in taxes.

Finally, Huffington Post has a nasty piece about Goldie Hawn.   It's almost a concentrated shot of ageism and sexism mixed up and injected straight into the vein.  It's also a good basis for asking why actors are supposed to have no right to privacy, even when they are not working.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Romney v. Obama: Such Feistiness! Ryan v. Biden: Such Buffoonery!

What a difference a week or so makes!  After the first presidential debate Fox News wrote:

Mitt Romney energized his campaign for president Wednesday night, charging out of his first debate having by most accounts from both sides of the political spectrum dominated President Obama in a stand-off for which he was evidently well-prepared.
The Republican nominee was quick on his feet, polished and feisty as he repeatedly cut off the moderator and challenged his opponent on the facts. His central argument -- that Obama's economic policies have consigned the middle class to an eroding "status quo."

Bolds are mine.

This morning last night's vice-presidential debate was called a "slugfest" in the New York Times:

Mr. Biden’s smirking, emotional and aggressively sharp approach toward his rival, Representative Paul D. Ryan, prompted cheers from Democrats who had been desperate for the kind of in-your-face political rumble that President Obama did not deliver during his debate with Mitt Romney a week ago.
But Mr. Biden repeatedly mocked and interrupted Mr. Ryan in ways that led Republicans to use words like “unhinged” and “buffoon” and “disrespectful” in the hours after the fast-paced, 90-minute exchange ended.

These bolds, too, are mine.

No, I'm not equating the performances of Mitt Romney and Joe Biden.  But I wonder how the style points would have been awarded had Biden chosen the sort of  lethargic approach Obama adopted.  I think Ryan would have been declared the clear winner under that scenario.

And here comes the Times with a demand for a tightrope walk from the president:

Mr. Obama’s biggest challenge may now be the next debate with Mr. Romney on Tuesday in New York. The president must somehow thread the needle between the first two debates — demonstrate more energy than he did in the first one while avoiding the kind of sometimes sneering performance that Mr. Biden delivered. 

What about the contents of the debate?  You know, the stuff that matters more than those style points.

I'm a biased critic in this case because Paul Ryan frightens meA lot.

But  my meta-criticism of Ryan's economic arguments is this:  What he proposes is exactly what caused the current recession in the first place.  What he proposes is what the Bush administration did, and that was the cause of things going wrong in the first place:  Tax cuts which tilted towards the wealthier people and financial and housing markets which were allowed to go haywire because "markets know best."

Then there are the more detailed problems with the Romney/Ryan tax cut plan which supposedly remains revenue-neutral because some tax loopholes will be closed.  What, exactly, those loopholes are and how they might be closed is something neither Romney nor Ryan wants to talk about.  Given that silence, the proposal cannot be judged on any rational basis.   I think it's just an attempt to offer people lower taxes with no bad consequences.

But note that tax burdens will shift and some people will pay more  if some current deductions are disallowed, and it's pretty likely that those closed loopholes would have to include at least some of the popular deductions the middle class currently enjoys.*

The odd question in this debate had to do with the two men's personal religious beliefs about abortion:

“We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country…please talk personally about this, if you could.”
In a mostly exemplary performance, this was a lapse. Martha Raddatz could have asked about the voting gender gap, or maybe whether we have a “war on women” or a “war on religious liberty.” She could have asked about access to contraception to reduce unwanted pregnancies, or the rights of rape victims, or the stalled Violence Against Women Act, or equal pay for women.
Instead, she chose to frame the late-breaking, much-yearned for question about “social issues” in just the way Republicans prefer: in terms of religion. (Watch the clip below.) Everyone at Salon’s debate-watching party groaned, and with good reason. Please, let’s hear more from two religiously observant white men about their personal experiences with women’s reproductive freedom and access! It’s not that religion, or men, have no place in the debate over abortion rights; it’s that her question left women out of the equation from the start.

Paul Ryan would make an exception in his firm anti-abortion stance for a dying woman or in the case of a rape or incest which is noble of him, I guess, though the pregnant woman's health he would let suffer to any point short of death.

Of course he would never be held to such extremely rigorous parental standards of self-sacrifice, what with that absent uterus.

Nobody is proposing laws which require the father or the mother of a post-born child (sorry) to, say, donate a kidney to that child if she or he requires it to live.  But in Paul Ryan's ideal world pregnant women would be required  to sacrifice their own health on behalf of the embryo or fetus they carry.

Added later:  This article tells us how unrealistic that plan is if it is supposed to keep tax revenues constant.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Did You Sleep Your Way To The Top? And Other Journalistic Questions.

The topic of this post is not of wide-reaching relevance, given the horrible problems of this world, but it opens a nice peephole to some of our cultural beliefs and customs about women, men and sex.  In particular, to what extent sex can be a topic for an interview with either men or women, and what type of questions can be asked.

It all started with a Twitter fight between Andrew Goldman and Jennifer Weiner.  The former writes for the New York Times, the latter is an author.   The fight begins:

And then it got worse, other people joined in and so on.

Margaret Sullivan, the NYT's public editor,  addressed the issue:

I asked Hugo Lindgren, the editor of the Times Magazine, about the incident, sending him a blog post that raised questions about some of Mr. Goldman’s earlier questions to women he interviewed, including one with the NPR journalist Terry Gross and one with Whitney Cummings, both of which had elicited criticism from some female readers.
My questions and his responses are below:
1. How do you respond to the complaints that Mr. Goldman’s questions are frequently sexist and misogynist?
We don’t publish material we believe to be misogynist or sexist. The blog post you sent me cited 3 examples, out of probably a thousand published questions that Andrew has asked since he took over the column. In the context of the full interviews, none of them struck me as sexist or misogynist. There were frank, sensitive questions, not declarations or assertions of his own. In the Terry Gross interview, Andrew is not making his own presumption about her sexuality. He is referring to an anecdote that was published in the introduction of her own book, which was made even clearer when she makes a joke about how widespread this misperception is. The Whitney Cummings question is perhaps a little cheekier but still refers to something other people have said about her — “On those Comedy Central roasts, your fellow comedians liked to joke about how you slept your way to fame. How accurate is that criticism?”
2. What is your view of the specific question to Ms. Hedren about sleeping her way to the top? Did you see it in advance? If not, would you have approved it?
I saw it and approved it. This is the full question: The worst abuse happened after you rebuffed his advances. Actors have been known to sleep with less powerful directors for advancement in show business. Did you ever consider it? The whole reason for the interview is a new HBO movie about how Hitchcock sexually harassed her. It was an unsavory decision she was actually faced with, so he asked her about it: He made no assertions about what she should or shouldn’t have done. Andrew’s questions acknowledge and refer to sexism in the world, but they are not, in and of themselves, sexist.
For what it’s worth, his editor and top editor are both women. They did not object to the question. But I take full responsibility for it all the same.
3. What is your response to the Twitter back and forth as detailed in the piece I’ve attached here?
I thought Andrew was needlessly rude and insulting, and I told him that. He apologized to Jennifer Weiner, and she accepted it.
4. Could you clarify Mr. Goldman’s position with the magazine? Is he a freelancer? A part-time staffer? Does he do other work than the Q&A?
He is a freelancer. He has not yet contributed to the magazine in other ways, but has an active assignment.
5. Is he in good standing at this point? Are you providing any coaching/feedback/disciplinary measures? Does all of this change his standing with The Times?
I made it clear to him that kind of behavior he exhibited in this Twitter exchange would not be tolerated, and he was contrite and accepted that without argument. My feeling is that he had an unfortunate outburst, and that he will learn from it. He works very hard on these interviews and does a good job. Readers are entitled to whatever opinions they have of his work, and he needs to be comfortable with that and engage thoughtfully when appropriate, or not at all.

John Cook responded:

Goldman was rapidly and roundly rebuked on Twitter by New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum—"If you can't respond to criticism without embodying the very douchebaggery you're accused of... C'mon"—and many, many others. After briefly trying to explain the insult as an attempt to comically embrace the caricature he felt Weiner was painting, Goldman apologized for the comment and deactivated his Twitter account.
Last night, Sullivan weighed in. After interviewing Goldman's editor Hugo Lindgren and Weiner, she correctly criticized his "hideous misjudgment" in attacking Weiner personally on Twitter. But she went farther: She gave credence to Weiner's charges that Goldman had exhibited sexism in his interview questions, sending an angry and unhinged critique by blogger Ed Champion to Lindgren and asking him to respond. And she was eager to see Goldman disciplined, strongly suggesting that he should have been fired for the error: "It sounds as though he's going to get [a second] chance. Given his misbehavior on Twitter and his status as a highly replaceable freelancer, I think his editors are extraordinarily generous to give it to him." (She also, oddly, repeatedly harped on the "strong obscenities" Goldman used on Twitter, as though bad words are an offense worthy of disciplinary action. The obscenities he used were "shit" and "bullshit.")
Sullivan's condemnation of Goldman was smug and unforgiving. Calling for his head over one insult, for which he has apologized, is massive overkill. And the eagerness with which she contemplated Goldman losing his job over a mistake that he regrets—almost gleefully calling him "a highly replaceable freelancer"—was unbecoming. Astonishingly, Sullivan, who purports to be the Times' ethical line judge, didn't even contact Goldman for his thoughts before virtually calling for his firing.
But the worst part was Sullivan's seeming endorsement of the charge that Goldman is some sort of misogynist based on the questions he had asked various interview subjects in the past. As evidence of the purported controversy, she cited Champion, who called Goldman "vulgar" and "repulsive" and floated half-baked conspiracy theories about Harvey Weinstein's role in his career. If you're interested in checking out Champion's bona fides on the subject of misogyny, here he is joking about double-teaming the First Lady of the United States.
The rap against Goldman is this: He asked Hedren, "Actors have been known to sleep with less powerful directors [than Alfred Hitchcock] for advancement in show business. Did you ever consider it?" (In Sullivan's inaccurate framing, that became Goldman "asking a successful woman if she has slept her way to the top.") Goldman asked that question in the context of a new HBO movie about Hedren's relationship with Hitchcock, which was a bizarre and cruel sort of sexual slavery—he was obsessed with her and ruined her career over her refusal to give in to his vile advances. Asking did you ever consider it is a perfectly legitimate question—Hitchcock forced her into an awful choice, and he's asking her if she ever had second thoughts about the one that she made. It is most emphatically not, per Weiner, an "accusation" that Hedren slept her way to the top. After I went back and forth with her on Twitter today, Weiner acknowledged to that if she had been Goldman's editor, she wouldn't have thought twice about the question.
But Weiner is also upset about this question Goldman posed to the comic Whitney Cummings last year: "On those Comedy Central roasts, your fellow comedians liked to joke about how you slept your way to fame. How accurate is that criticism?" This was obviously not offered as a serious question. It was not an attempt by Goldman to assess the veracity of the claims being made by Cummings' fellow comedians. Any attempt to read it as such is willfully obtuse. It was a chance for Cummings to address the jokes, and to either riff on them or respond in earnest. (She riffed on them: "If sleeping with people worked, I would be doing it.") It was a provacative way of saying, "What's it like to constantly be accused by men of sleeping your way to the top?" Which is a question I'd imagine a lot of women would want her to be asked.
But there's more. Weiner also cited this Q-and-A with NPR's Terry Gross, in which Goldman asked: "I gather that people frequently assume you're a lesbian. Several years ago, it came up at a cocktail party for your husband, the writer Francis Davis, celebrating his Pew Fellowship." That question was premised on the book Gross was promoting. Here's what Gross herself wrote:
The second most frequently asked question about me is whether I'm straight or gay (this may be number one in San Francisco).... The confusion about my sexual orientation has led to some pretty amusing scenarios. About ten years ago, when my husband, the writer Francis Davis, won an arts fellowship, I went with him to a reception honoring him and the other recipients. My mother-in-law came with us, and at one point I saw her laughing at something the wife of one of the other fellows had just said to her. She later explained that the woman had pointed at me and whispered, 'Terry Gross is here. Did you know she's a lesbian?'"
Goldman's question was literally in invitation for Gross to tell a funny anecdote from her book. There's nothing remotely inappropriate about it. Goldman also asked Gross in the same interview whether she chose "'Fresh Air' over having children," which some may object to as somehow presuming that women are baby-making machines, or something. Of course it doesn't—it simply asks whether she considered her career and children as incompatible alternatives, which is a totally reasonable question. (The answer is no.)

I'm probably quoting too much above, but that's the quickest way to set the stage for what I want to say.  Perhaps it's worth adding that Goldman's assignments in the past have often included asking questions about sex, or at least that he has interpreted those assignments in that light.

OK.  That's enough stage-setting.  The basic issues here are three:  The first, and easiest to resolve is the Twitter brawl.  Goldman was clearly out of line there and pretty much every critic agrees on that, even John Cook.  And Goldman apologized.

The second question is about whether Goldman routinely asks sexist questions of women but not of men.  This matters because no one interview is enough for trend-spotting and because the specific questions in any one interview can easily be justified by stating that the interviewer had heard rumors and decided to ask about them.  The problem, of course, is that in a different interview there might be equivalent rumors but the interviewer does not ask about them.  The only way to solve that conundrum is by looking at masses and masses of interviews by Andrew Goldman and by analyzing them based on the sex of the interviewee.

This question embraces the narrower question about the possible sexism in the mentioned interviews in those quotes above.

The third issue is the widest and by far the easiest to judge!  Aren't you glad that I'm finally going to say something less fuzzy?  That issue has to do with the wider cultural values about women's proper roles and about who can be asked what.

For instance, consider a journalist interviewing a very powerful man in the movie industry.  Would that interview ever ask about whether he had ever made women give him blow jobs or other sex in exchange for a role?  Would an interview with a powerful male CEO ever ask how many women he had promoted only after they slept with him?

I don't see that happening in a general interview about the careers of those men.  Indeed, I can't even imagine interviews with women about possibly sleeping their way to the top asking for the names of those magnates that demanded it.

And asking Terri Gross about children vs. career can be shown to be a similar culturally driven question because men are not asked about choosing children OR a career:

Goldman also asked Gross in the same interview whether she chose "'Fresh Air' over having children," which some may object to as somehow presuming that women are baby-making machines, or something. Of course it doesn't—it simply asks whether she considered her career and children as incompatible alternatives, which is a totally reasonable question. (The answer is no.)
This question is perfectly unreasonable if addressed to famous men because they are not expected to be in charge of all childcare.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Voting is Not Like Buying A Pair of Shoes or A New Car

Three odd things I have recently noticed (again) when people talk politics, both in the media and in private lives:

The first has to do with the idea that voting is just like buying a new car or a pair of shoes!  If you decide not to make the purchase, you won't have to pay for it.  So it's all OK.

But voting is NOT like buying a new car.  If you don't vote in a political election you get someone ruling over you anyway, and if that person causes havoc the fact that you didn't vote for him or her makes no difference.  The consequences are there.  You pay for the shoes or the car and someone else picks them out for you.

It's also true that the American political system throws a humongous number of votes down the toilet and then flushes it, while happily telling us who the winner in each state was.  I get that voters become discouraged about that, but the answer is not to take a consumerist stance.

The second odd thing has to do with judging political candidates as "deserving" to lose because of bad campaigning or bad debate performance or similar ultimately non-essential aspects. 

Even that is OK if the task is to judge campaigning performance.  But when someone happily crows about a candidate "deserving to lose" they might spend a minute considering the fact that the political platform of that candidate then also loses, whether it deserves to lose or not, and that all those whom the platform would have helped more are among those losers.

I think both of these odd things (and several others) have to do with a confusion between our role as consumers and as citizens.  The former gets practiced all the time, the latter not so often.  But the media is not helping when they focus on the horse race aspect of politics.  The underlying policy questions are the crucial ones, after all, and I, for one, prefer to have a clumsy performer of the platform I prefer to a slick performer of the platform I frequently visit in my nightmares.

The third odd thing is not about voter or journalist behavior but about the way politicians offer us false dualistic choices.  For instance,  the Republicans tell us that women want jobs and a better economy for themselves and their families, not reproductive rights.

But reproductive rights don't clash with policies which push for jobs and such.  Indeed, providing women with reproductive rights is almost costless, as policies go, and the provision of free or subsidized contraceptives to poor women would save the government money in the long run (thus decreasing the deficit!).

We are asked to look elsewhere, pretty much.

Perhaps at the awfulness of the government subsidy to public television and radio?  The money that could be saved by killing Big Bird is miniscule.  The loss of information and childhood education would have an immense cost.  But the killing of public television is dear to the conservative hearts and the hunt goes on and on. 

The same reason applies to women's reproductive rights.  Conservatives don't want women to have those rights, and that's why women are told that they must choose between jobs and reproductive rights.  Because the Republicans don't want women to have the latter.


The Shooting of Malala Yousafzai

It was carried out by the Taliban in Pakistan (or at least they took credit for it).  Malala Yousafzai is fourteen years old and an activist for girls' education.  The Taliban explains:

Public fury seems to have built up as the country's rolling news channels devoted considerable attention to the story and the Taliban announced they would make another attempt on her life if she survived.
Perhaps conscious of what one media pundit described as a "major PR disaster" for the Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) circulated a lengthy statement that tried to justify the assassination with references to Islamic history and the Qur'an.
It said that although the TTP did not believe in attacking women, it was obliged to kill anyone "whosever leads campaign against Islam and sharia" and that her main crime was "because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism and so-called enlightened moderation".
It also said that Yousafzai had been guilty of inviting Muslims to hate the mujahideen, as the insurgents style themselves.
Yousafzai, who won Pakistan's first peace prize for her efforts, did indeed speak out against the Taliban, initially on a blog published under a pseudonym on the BBC Urdu service website. There she chronicled the terror of life in Swat when the area was being fought over by the Taliban and the government. Later she spoke confidently in public against extremism and spoke of her desire to enter national politics.

As a consequence of this shooting, Pakistan has erupted in anger against the Taliban,  the New York Times and other newspapers report.

It's useful to ask what the Taliban's real motives in the shooting were.  The religious explanations it offers  can be debated, even within the circle of Islamic scholars.  But of course they are on some level intricately bound with the need to control women because that control is necessary for the control of the next generation.

Whether the term "misogyny" adequately covers such opinions or whether we need a more specific term I cannot tell.  But I certainly agree that the desire to keep women uneducated has its roots deeply entangled with misogyny.

And no, this particular attack cannot be justified as a response to Western drones killing innocent civilians, horrible as it is.  Malala Yousafzai is not the person who caused that to happen.  Indeed, she is still a child and a Pakistani child at that.

Based on the most recent news I could find, Malala Yousafzai had emergency surgery to remove the bullet and her condition has stabilized.

A Dog Post

Here's my guess (at the age of five) of what a dog might look like:

The text says:  A dog if it is.

It looks like a horse, and that can be explained by the fact that my grandparents had horses but nobody near me owned a dog.  There are deep political insights  to be drawn from that!  The dangers of inferring wider questions from one's own life experiences, the dangers of using analogous thinking and the importance of direct evidence before making wider generalizations.

What I really wanted to write about is the way little children are asked "What does a dog say?" and the answer varies by language, though all the phrases are onomatopoetic.  So what does a dog say in your world?  And which of the many possible correct answers actually IS the correct one?

That's pretty tricky.  When I learned to "read" dog language better I also learned that there is no one single thing that "a dog" says.  They speak, and sometimes they speak in sentences.  The bark which tells a visitor is approaching sounds quite different from the one which asks someone to play with that dog or the one which asks for help.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Romney Leads on Women's Issues --- Back to the Nineteenth Century?

Via Jessica Valenti on Twitter, we learn this about Romney's views:

Mitt Romney today said no abortion legislation is part of his agenda, but he would prohibit federally-funded international nonprofits from providing abortions in other countries.
“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” the GOP presidential candidate told The Des Moines Register’s editorial board during a meeting today before his campaign rally at a Van Meter farm.
But by executive order, not by legislation, he would reinstate the so-called Mexico City policy that bans U.S. foreign aid dollars from being used to do abortions, he said.
President Barack Obama dropped the policy on his tenth day in office, Romney said.
In response, Obama’s Iowa spokeswoman, Erin Seidler, said: “Mitt Romney’s not telling the truth about his positions. He’s said he would appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn [Roe v. Wade]. Romney may try to change his image four weeks before Election Day, but can’t change the fact that women can’t trust him.”

Of course legislation is not what the president does, in any case.  Here's Romney in his own words, earlier this year:

And a year again he was firmly behind the Personhood Amendment, the one about Egg-Americans and their rights, combined with fewer rights for the aquaria, of course.
This is the time in elections when  the candidates pretend to move towards the imagined middle positions, when the bases have been fed with fresh meat and so on.   Given the short memory of many voters, it's useful to look back to see where Romney actually stands, on reproductive choice and other issues about women.


Added later:  Romney's campaign has already reassured the conservative base that, indeed, women's repro rights will be up to them in the possible Romney administration.  So that's clear, then.

The Polling Games!

Have intensified.  I came back from a political break to the news that all is lost and we better flee, because the Pew poll for October shows Romney running away with the presidency.  And what's even more horrendous, it's the women's opinions which did that.  So.

What's the next stage in the divine self-defense against angst-and-emotion overflow?

To get hold of that poll and to look at it, naturally.  But first I took a short detour to Nate Silver's blog.  Here's what he says:

But were it not for the Pew poll, our forecast would have been unchanged from Monday, with Mr. Romney’s chances holding at 21.6 percent.
The Pew poll, however, may well be the single best polling result that Mr. Romney has seen all year. It comes from a strong polling firm, and had a reasonably large sample size. Just as important is the trendline. Pew’s polls have been Democratic-leaning relative to the consensus this year; its last poll, for instance, had Mr. Obama 8 points ahead among likely voters. So this represents a very sharp reversal.
There are two smarter questions to ask about the Pew poll. First, is it really likely that Mr. Romney leads the race by 4 points right now? The consensus of the evidence, particularly the national tracking polls, would suggest otherwise. Instead, the forecast model’s conclusion is that the whole of the data is still consistent with a very narrow lead for Mr. Obama, albeit one that is considerably diminished since Denver.
It might be granted that the situation is more ambiguous than usual right now. But our forecast model looks at literally all of the polls; it estimates Mr. Romney’s post-debate bounce as being 2.5 percentage points, not quite enough to erase Mr. Obama’s pre-debate advantage.
The other valid line of inquiry concerns the timing of the poll. The Pew poll was conducted from Thursday through Sunday, although more of the interviews were conducted in the earlier part of that period. There’s nothing in the poll that really refutes the story that Mr. Romney initially received a very large bounce after the debate (perhaps somewhere on the order of 4 or 5 points, if not quite as large as Pew shows it), which has since faded some between the news cycle turning over and the favorable jobs report on Friday.
The evidence that Mr. Romney’s bounce is receding some is only modestly strong — as opposed to the evidence that he got a significant bounce in the first place, which is very strong. Still, the order in which polls are published does not exactly match the order in which they were actually conducted — and at turning points in the race, these details can matter.

I also noticed that the Daily Kos/SEIU State of the Nation Poll found a somewhat similar shift towards Romney after the first presidential debate:

The candidates for President are Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. If the election was today, who would you vote for? Obama 47 (49)
49 (45)
That's a pretty disastrous six-point net swing in just a week, and the first time we've ever had Romney in the lead. It is inline with all other national polling showing Romney making gains in the wake of his debate performance last week. Both the Gallup and Rasmussen trackers saw their Romney bounce evaporate on Sunday. In this poll, 75 percent of the sample was gathered on Thursday and Friday, at the height of Romney's bounce. This is because PPP does call-backs: It identifies a random range of numbers and begins calling them on Thursday. If they get no answer, they keep trying the same numbers on subsequent days until they get the required number of responses (we ask for at least 1,000). This avoids the old tropes about young liberals being out partying on Friday nights, while conservatives are at church on Sunday mornings, etc.
So this week, 47 percent of responses were on Thursday, 28 percent on Friday, 17 percent on Saturday, and just 8 percent on Sunday. Romney won Thursday 49-48 and Friday 49-44 before losing steam over the weekend. While Romney won Thursday and Friday by a combined 2.5 points, he won Saturday and Sunday by just 0.5 percent.
So where did Romney gain? Among women, Obama went from a 15-point lead to a slimmer 51-45 edge. Meanwhile, Romney went from winning independents 44-41 to winning them 48-42. And just like the Ipsos poll showed last week, Romney further consolidated his base. They went from supporting him 85-13 last week, to 87-11 this week while Obama lost some Democrats, going from 88-9 last week, to 87-11 this week.

In both cases the shift seems to be due to women's opinions, and in both cases the results appear to capture the immediate post-debate reactions.

The Pew poll results are available here (pdf).  I don't see anything major wrong with it, though I wonder how it got such a low number of Hispanic registered or likely voters and young likely voters.

The crucial question asks whom the respondent would vote for if the election was held on the date the poll questions were asked.  That date was sometime last week, from Thursday to Saturday.  The answers to that question:

Forty-four percent of registered male voters stated that they would vote for Obama, 47% for Romney.  Forty-nine percent of registered female voters stated that they would vote for Obama, 45% for Romney.  The percentages for likely voters benefited Romney more:  Among likely male voters 51% chose Romney and 43% Obama, while among likely female voters the percentages for Romney and Obama were both 47%, or a tie.

This means that women are still more likely to vote for Obama than men are.  On the other hand, among the white non-Hispanic (what happened to the Hispanic voters, again?)  respondents in this poll the usual gender gap has essentially disappeared.  Both men and women  would have picked Romney over Obama at roughly the same percentages.

So what's going on here?  I'm not on expert in polling, and probably should not have written about this at all.  But I'd wait and see what happens in the next week or so in all the different polls.  This is because the two I mentioned here were both taken right after the first presidential debate and could be measuring a debate bounce.  The only way to be sure is to see whether Romney's apparent advantage in these two polls turns up in other, later polls.

It's true, naturally, that  the first presidential debate completely protected Romney when it comes to his views on reproductive freedom and whether women should be treated fairly in the labor force and so on.  Obama didn't mention women, either, and not a single question was about this giant wedge issue between the parties (sorta like "are women partly human or not at all human").  Neither did anyone refer to Romney's comments about the 47% being leeches and parasites.

People not following politics that eagerly might have taken the message from the debate that nothing else distinguishes the two candidates except their policies on taxes, jobs and the deficit.  The Pew poll respondents, on average,  thought that Romney did better on all those three questions.  That he also lied a lot more might not matter to the respondents.  Or they may not even know about those lies.

What's the morale in this story?  I'm not sure but Obama should certainly start practicing his debate skills and perhaps even remember that his re-election is crucially dependent on women's votes.

Finally, the Pew results really hinge on the percentage of respondents who self-identified as Republicans: The September Pew poll had 39% Democrats, 29% Republicans and 30% Independents.  While the percentage of Independents stayed the same in the October poll, the percentage of Democrats dropped to 31% and the percentage of Republicans rose to 36%.

This could be a real change in how voters self-identify.  On the other hand, it's always possible that any particular sample fails to be representative, simply because of bad sampling luck.  That jump looks pretty huge for just one single month, though, but who knows.

Julia Gillard, the PM of Australia, Talks About Misogyny

Well worth watching, if not for any other reason than because in the US discussing any of this is utterly outside the mainstream politics.  Indeed, polite and courteous presidential debates on domestic policies never even mention women! 

More here.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Truth Is Weirder Than Fiction. Or On What Some Conservative Politicians Say.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) is a member of the House Committee on Science and Technology. This is how he describes his scientific beliefs:
All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.

The Bible as a science textbook, in other words.  Broun is a tea party member.  By the way, you can find his votes on women's issues here.  Do watch some of the video at the linked site, just to see all those dead animals stare back at you in a religious meeting.  But be warned, Broun moves from a story about hunting a bear which was minding its own business to the importance of freedom for hunters to the necessity of getting to know Jesus on a personal level.

In Arkansas:

Arkansas Republicans tried to distance themselves Saturday from a Republican state representative's assertion that slavery was a "blessing in disguise" and a Republican state House candidate who advocates deporting all Muslims.
The claims were made in books written, respectively, by Rep. Jon Hubbard of Jonesboro and House candidate Charlie Fuqua of Batesville. Those books received attention on Internet news sites Friday.

House candidate Fuqua skips merrily to this conclusion on his website:

Fuqua blogs on his website. One post is titled, "Christianity in Retreat," and says "there is a strange alliance between the liberal left and the Muslim religion."
"Both are antichrist in that they both deny that Jesus is God in the flesh of man, and the savior of mankind. They both also hold that their cause should take over the entire world through violent, bloody, revolution," the post says.
In a separate passage, Fuqua wrote "we now have a president that has a well documented history with both the Muslim religion and Communism."

I love the intellectual dexterity of someone who can make a moderate Republican (which Obama really would be called in a saner world) into an Islamofascist communist.