...and statistics

I've been trying to come up with a clever label for the sort of person who, while leaning left on most issues, is nevertheless credulously sympathetic to Republican talking points. Lately I've favored the term "idiot", but I'd prefer something a little more fine grained.

Be that as it may, it's worth keeping in mind how easy it is to fall into this particular brand of idiocy. For example, I had been planning to link approvingly to this Krauthammer column, since, given the source, it seemed to me to be an uncommonly reasonable piece of political analysis. Krauthammer's main point, for those of you who can't be bothered to follow the link, is that a Democratic electoral victory shouldn't be interpreted as a repudiation of the GOP. The key fact he relies on and builds his argument around is that, "Since the end of World War II, the average loss for a second-term presidency in its sixth year has been 29 House seats and six Senate seats."

Seems pretty reasonable. But:
Nice try, guys, but here's the reality. Up through the 70s, big swings in House elections were common, but in the last 20 years there's only been a single year with a big swing (1994). Aside from that, the average change has been less than five seats. You can see the same thing if you look only at sixth-year midterms:

1958: 49 seats

1966: 47 seats

1974: 49 seats

1986: 5 seats

1998: 5 seats

See the trend? In the two sixth-year midterms since 1980, only five seats changed hands. There are plenty of reasons for this, including improved gerrymandering, huge money imbalances, and increased self-segregation...Bottom line: Thirty years ago a pickup of 25 seats wouldn't have been that big a deal. Today it is. If Dems win that many seats, it really will be a historic victory. |Kevin Drum|

That's about as close to a knock down refutation as you're ever going to get.

But let's bring this back to the idiocy. Note two things. First, Krauthammer's column is fundamentally dishonest. It just isn't possible to work the math and come up with the averages without noticing the trend in the data that Drum points out. Krauthammer's concern wasn't to support a conclusion through argument, but was rather to fool his readers. Second, for Krauthammer to get away with this kind of dodge requires that readers trust Krauthammer to argue honestly. Given his history, granting such trust is an idiotic thing to do.

Now, obviously, conservatives don't have a monopoly on misleading rhetoric. But, just as obviously to anyone who's not an idiot, the Repubican message machine reaches further, exhibits stricter message discipline, and is more systematically mendacious than anything their political opponents have on offer. Given this, anyone who finds themselves sympathetic to a political analysis promulgated by the GOP really ought to stop and ask themselves a question:

"Am I being played for an idiot?"

The answer is probably yes.

No comments:

Post a Comment

eXTReMe Tracker