Scott Adams — Still Dumb as a Post

Scott Adams paid out of his own pocket to do a survey of economists on Obama’s and McCain’s economic policies. While the survey decisively picks Obama’s policies over McCain’s on 9 out of 13 of the issues (6 by >50%, 3 by plurality). McCain is chosen as superior on only one issue (international trade), and beats Obama on only one other issue (waste in government), but even on that issue gets less support than “neither will make a difference.”

So, the poll is pretty darned clear in picking Obama’s policies as vastly superior to McCain’s in almost every respect — it really isn’t even close.

What is Adams’ take-away? That 48% of the respondents were Democrats. His conclusion? They are partisans, so their answers have no merit at all. This is despite the fact that independents (27%) plus Republicans (17%) plus Libertarians (3%) add up to 47% of the survey respondents, which, statistically speaking, exactly balances the Dems in the sample. If the survey numbers entirely stem from party ID, then it must show that the group of non-Democrats agree with Obama’s positions a significant portion of the time. And on 4 issues, McCain can’t even retain the 20% of his own partisans (presumably, Republicans + Libertarians) and on 1 other, can’t exceed his partisans (i.e., reaching only 20% support).

There are statistical tests that can be done to see if partisanship skews the survey results, and Adams himself is forced to admit (in a followup post) that there was a rather large degree of party-line crossing on several of the issues considered.

Adams seems completely unable to conceive of the idea that economists might support the Democrats more than Republicans because the Democrats over the past 25 years have not pushed a whole succession of batshit-crazy economic ideas as the basis for their governing philosophy. Republicans TELL LIES about the economy (for example “reductions in capital gains taxes always increase revenues”). They still subscribe to the completely discredited supply-side economics. They still think there’s no such thing as a bad tax cut (or a good tax increase). They have shown themselves irresponsible in governing, racking up record deficits and mis-spending what funds are available inefficiently.

In other words, if you look at the way Republicans act once they are in power, they implement economic policies that no economist but a partisan hack would consider good. Is it, then, surprising that most economists would not rationally pick the party that has been promoting economically sensible policies over the one that talks economic nonsense?

This is not something Adams seems able to imagine, since he lives in that disconnected fantasy world where, Nader-like, there is no difference between the two parties. In fact, there are long-term massive objective differences between the two parties on facts and on support of widely-accepted best practices in the field of economics.

But Adams got an answer he didn’t like (he wanted a tie or a McCain win) and must explain it away with accusations of bias. In doing so he plugs into all the right-wing memes about academic political bias, as well as subscribing to a strong current of anti-intellectualism, this latter despite the fact that he paid a lot of money to consult with experts.

Scott Adams is simply a moron.

If you’ve been paying attention, though, you already knew that.

Addendum: Adams has the honesty to post a comment by an economist that explains the party ID differences thus:

In general, I suspect the economists who favor Obama tend to have a greater relative weight on equity vs. efficiency compared to economists who favor McCain. Both groups might agree that both efficiency and equity are important, but they disagree PHILOSOPHICALLY (outside of their training as economists) on the relative importance of these two social values.

A preference for equity over efficiency would likely make these economists vote Democratic, since the history of the Democratic party’s economic policies has been almost entirely a succession of efforts to improve economic equity.

Poll Freakout

Well, everybody in the progressive/Democratic side of the blogosphere and media is freaking out over all the polls that have swung massively for McCain in the last few days. These swings actually are significant, since the crosstabs in most of them really do reflect major changes.

But I really think everyone should really chill, and for two reasons:

  1. The assumption that people choose on likability/issues first and then determine the candidate they favor is backwards. That is, most people assume that now that McCain is getting more votes, it’s because people have changed their minds and now favor his position and like him better. But the way it really works is people choose the candidate first (for nebulous reasons, some having to do with issues, some with personality and optics) and then harmonize their answers on “favor on health care” and “favor on change” to match their top-of-the-ticket choice. In other words, these things are not independent at all. And the swing is just a matter of enthusiasm and lack of familiarity. People really want to like McCain and a choice like Palin (which is wearing awfully thin for me — if I see that smarmy, arrogant, self-satisfied “lipstick” sound bite one more time I think I’ll scream) just makes them want to like him more. For now, they are warm and rosy about him. But when we get to the debates, the rubber will meet the road and we’ll find out how completely different the two candidates really are in regard to where they want to take the country (I’ve no doubts about Obama’s ability to put across his policies and control the framing of McCain’s platform, despite all the hand-wringing about Obama not being so strong in debates).
  2. I much prefer my candidate being behind at this point in the race. It’s better to have to scrap and come from behind than it is to get self-satisfied and cautious. Obama is going to have to come out as a fighter, as someone who is passionate. Passion is what he’s lacked, and the polls are going to force him to make the commitment that will the win hearts and minds of those who still have doubts about him.

So, I’m not so very worried. There’s plenty of time for Palin to self-destruct. There’s plenty of time for it to become obvious how unserious the Republicans are in their campaign, with their constant spouting of lies betraying their basic contempt for the American electorate. As long as Obama’s surrogates keep hammering home the message that McCain really cannot possibly be an agent of change (or, of any kind of change that people would want), and keep harping on the fact that it’s Republicans who have screwed everything up, then I think things will turn out OK.

If they don’t, I think it will be the fault of the traditional media for simply not doing their job and pointing out what an awful candidate McCain and Palin are in terms of their lack of interest in truthfulness. I sure wish they’d give them the Al Gore treatment, except this time it would be well-deserved.

Last of all, we have to keep in mind the principle that drives Nate Silver’s, i.e., that the polls whose questions run “If the election were held today…” are simply false. The election is not today, and what people say about their choice now (when forced to choose) does not necessarily determine to any large degree what choice they will make in November. In other words, we just don’t know what will happen because the polls actually don’t mean what they are always presented to mean. And, besides, the top-line national polls simply don’t mean a damned thing, given that the popular vote doesn’t determine the winner. The Electoral College math has tightened, yes, but it’s still Obama’s game to lose.

All in all, we simply don’t know enough to panic yet. And I still feel more comfortable with Obama tied or behind at this point.