Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, November 21st, 2017.


The Russians Were Here, But Did They Make a Difference?

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Trump Maladministration

About a year or so ago I wrote a post about how the Russian meddling in our election was serious and ought to be investigated, although I doubted it made a measurable change in the election result. I want to revisit that now, very briefly.

Last December, Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight wrote a post that compared the timing of Wikileaks releases with the polls. In brief, he found no clear pattern that showed the Wikileaks releases of allegedly hacked DNC and Leon Podesta emails had any impact on polls. Further, interest in Wikileaks on social media seemed to have no correlation with polls. Enten wrote,

There just isn’t a clean-cut story in the data. For instance, you might have expected a decline in the percentage of Americans who trusted Clinton after WikiLeaks began its releases. As Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out in mid-October, both Trump campaign officials and even progressives said the WikiLeaks emails revealed that Clinton would be “compromised” if she became president. But the percentage of Americans who found Clinton to be honest or trustworthy stayed at around 30 percent in polling throughout October and into November.

The evidence that WikiLeaks had an impact, therefore, is circumstantial.

The first Wikileaks email drop was on July 22, 2016. This was way too late to help Sanders, note. Assange appears to have held on to the emails until the eve of the DNC convention, which began on July 25. And I seriously think that by that time, people’s opinions of Clinton were set in stone. The only people I saw who paid attention to what was in the emails were disgruntled Sanders supporters, because the emails appeared to support what they already thought to be true about unfair primaries. Clintonphiles ignored them.

The same thing may have been true of the infamous Russian-based social media ads we have learned about more recently. Babak Bahador wrote at WaPo that it’s not clear that the social media ads changed any minds, either.

Confirmation bias is one reason that contemporary research has concluded that, for the most part, political advertising and messaging aren’t very effective in changing minds. For instance, the effects of political advertising are short-term and fleeting, as people’s attitudes bounce back pretty quickly from such attempts to persuade them. Even on social media, recent research suggests that ads do not impart new information or change attitudes. Moreover, the people most susceptible to propaganda — those with weak political attitudes — are least likely to pay attention to political messages, online or elsewhere.

This is not to say that advertising media like Facebook shouldn’t be required to reveal who is paying for political advertising. The social media ads could have made a difference, even if we can’t be sure that they did.

The most serious allegation from DHS is that Russian hackers targeted the election systems of several states. But there is no evidence votes were altered, DHS said.

See also “Demographics, Not Hacking, Explain Election Results” at FiveThirtyEight. There’s a meme that goes around occasionally claiming that the 2016 general election results were so far off from the polls that hackers must have changed the votes, but the polling nerds say that’s not so.

I bring this up because Clinton and other Democrats involved in last year’s election have been going around questioning Trump’s legitimacy.

A year after her defeat by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton says “there are lots of questions about its legitimacy” due to Russian interference and widespread voter suppression efforts.

In an interview with Mother Jones in downtown Manhattan, Clinton said Russian meddling in the election “was one of the major contributors to the outcome.” The Russians used “weaponized false information,” she said, in “a very successful disinformation campaign” that “wasn’t just influencing voters—it was determining the outcome.”

Voter suppression could have been a factor and ought to be thoroughly investigated, of course, but the guys at FiveThirtyEight say that voter turnout in 2016 wasn’t really that different from 2012.

As I’m sure you have heard, fewer than 80,000 votes cost Clinton Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and thereby the Electoral College. Clinton lost a lot of former Obama voters in those states. But beside Russian meddling and voter suppression, what other differences might there have been between Clinton’s and Obama’s campaigns?

Here’s one: She didn’t open nearly as many field offices as Obama did.

Clinton’s efforts in the field simply did not measure up to Barack Obama’s: Democrats were concerned throughout the campaign that Clinton was not assembling the “army of volunteers” necessary to get out the vote, and that worry may have been well founded. Clinton had 537 offices around the country, much fewer than Obama in 2008 (947 offices) or 2012 (789) across the map and particularly in battleground states.

Clinton’s campaign went to Wisconsin, even if she did not, but only opened 40 offices — just over half of Obama’s total of 69 in 2012. In Milwaukee County, the largest source of Democratic votes in the state, Clinton opened only four offices compared to Obama’s 10. Dane County, home to Madison, received only three offices, compared to seven from Obama. Outside the large cities, Clinton failed to open offices in 10 counties (with a total population exceeding Madison) where Obama had an office in 2012, including counties where she received more than 40 percent of the vote, such as Richland, Portage, and Douglas counties.

Democratic turnout declined by approximately 44,000 votes in Milwaukee County alone from 2012 to 2016, from more than 332,400 votes to nearly 289,000, a margin greater than Clinton’s loss in the state. Clinton could have withstood her losses in rural communities with only 23,000 more votes out of Milwaukee, before even addressing the 10 ignored counties above. Given the stakes of Milwaukee turnout, failing to match Obama’s ground game there seems like a mistake in hindsight.

In the Mother Jones interview linked above, Clinton blamed voter ID laws for her loss in Wisconsin. But given that she knew about voter ID laws, wouldn’t it have been prudent to have opened a lot more bleeping field offices in Wisconsin? And the damn shame of it is, she had plenty of bleeping money. She spent more money on her campaign in 2016 than Obama spent in 2012.

However much Trump is an insult to the very concept of leadership, I think Democrats need to stop whining and admit they blew the bleeping election. Trump may be ghastly and appalling, but he’s probably legitimate.

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