Monday, October 20, 2008

The youth vote

From an interview by Ken Silverstein of Tom Edmonds in Harper's
The other big thing is the youth vote. There’s been a lot of hype about it, but it’s not going to materialize on Election Day. Roughly 33 million people voted in the 2004 primaries, and 58 million people voted in this year’s primaries. The youth vote was up, but not nearly as much as voting by middle-aged people and old fogies. The polls are capturing the enthusiasm for Obama, but college students are not going to turn out.
There are two possible arguments that this piece is actually making:
A. A technical argument, about whether polls are properly projecting turnout. Note that all polls weight their numbers for turnout based on their model. The appropriate thing to do, then, would be to weight polls based on their previous ability to do this and average them. See here.

B. A pre-game Mad Libs style of prognostication along the lines of:
If (local sports team) can (active verb) (vague accomplishment), (conjunction) (preventing / avoiding / derailing / keeping ) (opposing team) from (another vague accomplishment) they will (statement of probability) (synonym for win).

e.g. "If the Panthers can effectively deploy Riggins, while shutting down Arnette Mead's running game, Coach Taylor's gettin' some free ribblets at the Applebee's on Saturday- if you know what I mean"

Often self satirizing as in: "If the Tigers can get at least 14 points, while holding the Browns below 14 points, they very well may win this ballgame."

The self satirization makes a point - of necessity, the only prognostication that is always true is also trivial - If Barack Obama can ammass majorities in states, the District of Columbia, or the congressional districts of Maine or Nebraska sufficient to give him a majority in the electoral college, or if neither he, nor anyone else can reach a majority, and he receives a majority of votes on a state-delegation bases in the House of Representatives, he will almost certainly be the next president of the United States.1

Consider a statement such as "If Barack Obama cannot connect with white, working class males, he cannot win this election." It is meaningless. First: white, working class males are not modems. They cannot be connected with. Second: Every white, working class male could vote against Barack Obama and he could still win, since wwcm's do not make up a majority of voters in states, the District of Columbia, or the congressional districts of... Third, if Barack Obama wins 35% of the wwcm vote and becomes the next president, he will have connected sufficiently. If Barack Obama wins 35% of the wwcm vote and does not become president, he will have connected insufficiently, even if he has received the same number of votes. The wwcm vote is not only part of a larger system, it is interconnected with, say, the wwcw vote, or the bwcch vote.2,3

The short of what I'm saying is that Barack Obama won the nomination of his party primarily due to votes from the young, the middle aged and old fogies. If he continues to do well in these age groups, he could be getting a very good night's sleep this November 4th.

1. And that statement still requires caveats!
2. black working class cracker hatin' vote
3. This is a variant of Matt Yglesias's 'these people's votes don't count' argument.

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