• Donald Trump’s Job Approval Dips Slightly After Charlottesville

    There’s not much going on this evening, so how about a look at Donald Trump’s job approval? Here it is:

    Apparently Charlottesville hasn’t done him too much damage. I’m not surprised. We’re getting to the point where Trump’s support is limited to his most diehard supporters, and these are the folks who think his Charlottesville remarks were just fine. So Trump lost a little bit of support around the edges, but race-baiting was never likely to seriously damage him with his base. That’s a big part of why they voted for him in the first place, after all.

  • Republicans Mulling Plan to Hide the Quatloos

    Republicans are in a bind. They want to pass a tax bill, but (a) they don’t want to pay for it and (b) they want it to be permanent. Sadly, a combination of PAYGO and reconciliation rules¹ prevent this. What to do? One option is to design a bill that would get some Democratic support, and then pass a deficit-busting bill with 60 votes in the Senate. However, Republicans have no interest in working with Democrats, especially since Democrats would insist on a bill that doesn’t benefit the rich. That’s a nonstarter.

    So they’re back to square one. Bloomberg reports on their latest brainstorm for sidestepping the rules:

    Under the proposal, the GOP would not account for things like expiring tax breaks when gauging the budgetary impact of tax legislation — giving tax writers more room for cuts. Senate budget and tax panels are discussing the move to a “current policy” baseline — instead of the standard “current law” baseline — said the people who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The chief House tax writer, Kevin Brady, also signaled openness to the approach last month, saying it would lead to deeper tax cuts.

    If you’re even close to normal, you’re thinking, “WTF does that mean?” That’s what I’m thinking anyway. But a couple of charts will help us work our way through this. Let’s suppose we have a tax break of five quatloos that expires halfway through the next decade. Starting in 2023, instead of saving five quatloos, you have to pay five quatloos. It looks like this:

    If Republicans decide to extend the tax break, it will increase the deficit by 50 quatloos (5 years x 10 quatloos) compared to current law. This is, quite sensibly, how CBO scores things.

    But wait! Suppose Republicans declare that their intention has always been to extend the tax break. In other words, current “policy” is that the tax break goes on forever. Then it looks like this:

    The cost of extending the tax break is zero! Republicans are basically saying that since they planned to do this all along, it shouldn’t count against the baseline.

    But here’s what I don’t get. This is obviously a fantasy, and it’s one that CBO will never go along with. In the real world, extending a tax break that’s scheduled to expire does indeed increase the deficit. So to do this, Republicans would have to overrule the CBO’s score of their bill.

    But if they’re this determined to do what they want to do, why not cut the crap and simply instruct the Budget Committee to declare that their bill has no effect on the deficit? It doesn’t really matter how. Just assume enormous economic growth or something. The Budget Committee has final say over the score, so they can ignore CBO if they want. What’s the point of all this absurd rigamarole?

    More here from CBPP if you’re interested.

    ¹Or, as Donald Trump put it last night, “It’s a trick.”

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Every week I try to put up at least one picture of an animal, a vegetable, and a mineral. But what is this one? Animal or mineral? That’s a little tricky, isn’t it? However, my backlog of pictures is pretty top-heavy with animals, so I’m counting Mickey as a mineral. I don’t suppose the guy wearing the giant plastic head would appreciate that, but sometimes we bloggers have to make tough decisions. This was one of them.

  • Donald Trump Lied and Lied and Lied in Arizona

    From Donald Trump at his campaign rally last night:

    We want walls that you can see through in a sense. You want to see what’s on the other side.

    That’s called a “fence,” Mr. President.¹ But how can we ever have a fence if Trump refuses to say the word? Say the word! Say the word!

    I didn’t listen to Trump’s rally last night. My toenails needed tending, I think. So I went looking for a transcript this morning. “Trump Ranted For 77 Minutes in Phoenix,” said the headline in Time, but I managed to read the whole thing in about five minutes. That’s efficiency!

    Honestly, though, pulling out a few quotes here and there just doesn’t give you a sense of how this thing went. The remarkable part is that he just told lie after lie after lie with barely a pause for breath. And everyone in the audience, most of whom probably don’t follow this stuff in gruesome detail,² believed him. His 15-minute rant about Charlottesville—which he had prepared notes for—was just a flat-out lie about what he said, when he said it, and what he was criticized for. After that he lied about CNN turning off their cameras. He lied about the size of the protest outside. He lied about job creation. He lied about his tweeting. He lied (yet again) about the New York Times apologizing for its campaign coverage of him. He lied about the media ignoring big stories. He lied about auto companies bringing jobs back to America. He lied about how much illegal immigration has declined. He lied about extreme vetting. He lied about Obamacare. He lied about how close he was to repealing it. He lied about defense spending. He lied about clean coal. He lied about economic growth. He lied about corporate tax rates.

    It was a 77-minute spittle-flecked presentation of alternate reality. And above all, it was a continuation of his war on the media. His goal is to convince all of his followers, not just the true believers, that everything in the mainstream press is a deliberate fiction and they shouldn’t believe any of it. And it’s working pretty well:

    Republicans are very close to believing that literally nothing they hear is true unless they hear it from Trump. This is the road to catastrophe if it keeps up.

    ¹Unless it’s made of transparent aluminum, of course. Did anyone get a screenshot of the formula for that on Scotty’s little Macintosh?

    ²Or follow it on Fox News, which is probably worse.

  • California Cap & Trade Permits Hit a New Auction High

    Permits to emit greenhouse gases in California hit a new high at the most recent quarterly auction:

    The LA Times has more:

    During August’s auction, every emission permit offered by the state was sold, and prices reached their highest level since the program launched five years ago. The auction results, announced Tuesday, were the first since Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation continuing cap and trade until 2030, erasing some of the political and legal uncertainty that had dogged the program.

    ….Even though the cost of permits has been rising, it may not happen fast enough to provide an adequate financial incentive for companies to clean up their operations, said Danny Cullenward, a Stanford University energy economist. State regulators should take steps to ensure they’re auctioning the right number of permits because making too many available could allow too many emissions, he said.

    It’s a start.

  • Chart of the Day: Women Earn About 82% of Men

    The BLS has released its latest report on women’s earnings, and there hasn’t been much change. Currently women earn about 82 percent of what men earn, a number that’s been pretty flat for the past decade. However, there’s considerable variation by age:

    Women have made progress since 1979, when their earnings were 62 percent of men’s, but for most women it’s not because they’ve caught up to men. It’s because men have taken a huge beating over the past few decades:

    The full report is here.

  • Oh Yes, American Industries Are Much More Concentrated Than They Used to Be

    Tyler Cowen is skeptical that there are very many sectors of the US economy that have become more concentrated:

    Or ask yourself a simple question — in how many sectors of the American economy do I, as a consumer, feel that concentration has gone up and real choice has gone down? Hospitals, yes. Cable TV? Sort of, but keep in mind that program quality and choice wasn’t available at all not too long ago. What else? There are Dollar Stores, Wal-Mart, Amazon, eBay, and used goods on the internet. Government schools. Hospitals. Government. Did I mention government?

    This is very un-Tylerlike. Off the top of my head, here are a dozen more:

    1. Airlines
    2. National accounting firms
    3. Telephone companies
    4. Search engines
    5. Household appliances
    6. Drugstores
    7. Health insurance companies
    8. Banks
    9. Hardware stores
    10. Bookstores
    11. Beer
    12. Supermarkets

    Note that high concentrations don’t necessarily mean less consumer choice. Amazon has wiped out nearly the entire bookstore industry, but my choice of books from Amazon alone is probably better than my choice from all my local bookstores combined two decades ago. The problem with highly concentrated industries is that they have too much pricing power; they inhibit innovation; and they wield too much influence over policymaking. Consumer choice is a red herring, and the sooner we focus our attention on other aspects of oligopoly the better off we’ll be.

  • Senate Republicans Hate Donald Trump

    Alex Edelman via ZUMA

    In the New York Times today, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin have a piece about the relationship between Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. It’s—how do the kids put it?—complicated. Basically, McConnell can barely stand the sight of the guy: “In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, then berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.” What’s more, it turns out that lots of other Republican senators feel the same way. In fact, apparently senators kept calling them back even after the article was published to throw in their two cents:

    I guess ten words is about what I’d expect. But which ten? Let’s think about this:

    1. fantastic
    2. everyone
    3. failing
    4. disaster
    5. repeal
    6. replace
    7. premiums
    8. deductibles
    9. state lines
    10. ???

    I can’t think of ten. Sorry. Am I missing one?


  • There’s No Simple Way to Unite the Democratic Party

    Alex Edelman via ZUMA

    Riffing off a recent Elizabeth Warren speech, David Atkins says that Democrats can easily stop their internal bickering. There is, he says, “no contradiction between winning back some of the white working class that defected to Trump, and achieving social justice on the issues of importance to Black Lives Matter activists.” We just have to take everyone’s concerns seriously:

    The war within the left is based on false choices and straw men. There is no need for conflict if both sides are acting in good faith. Leftists who dismiss “identity politics” as an irrelevant distraction need to be sidelined, as they are not dependable allies of the Democratic Party’s true base. Center-leftists who eschew economic populism and worker empowerment in defense of the Wall Street-dependent donor class in the dream of an identity-blind faux meritocracy of oppression must also be sidelined.

    ….If Democrats listen to Warren, they can quickly and easily bury the hatchet, advance in unity toward common goals, and win back power at the state and federal level. Hopefully her advice didn’t go entirely unnoticed.

    If it were really that easy, I think this whole problem would have been solved a long time ago. Unfortunately, there are still moderate lefties out there who Democrats need to win—not to mention moderate moderates who they also need. These are the kind of people who are OK with increased regulation of banks, but not with a full-bore Bernie assault on the entire financial system. Likewise, there are moderates who support social justice campaigns, but think that Black Lives Matter goes too far. If the answer is to boot everyone like this out of the Democratic Party, it’s going to be a pretty small party that’s left over.

    Warren’s speech sounds nice. But speeches are meaningless. You can always make a speech sound nice by picking and choosing what issues you address. The problems start as soon as you begin taking questions and folks demand answers to the hard problems that you delicately tiptoed around.

    I wish the fighting on the left were merely rhetorical, but it’s not. It’s substantive. As with all movements, there are moderates and there are extremists and there are people in-between. And they really and truly believe different things. Talented politicians like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton can paper over these differences to some extent, but not for long. Eventually, voters are going to start asking the tough questions, and then you have to take sides. That’s when the fighting starts all over again.

    POSTSCRIPT: There’s a good example of this in Warren’s speech, where she says this:

    A few weeks ago, I saw an op-ed in the New York Times from a so-called Democratic strategist titled, “Back to the Center, Democrats.”…We’ve been warned off before. Give up, keep your heads down, be realistic, act like a grown-up, keep doing the same old same old.

    But here’s what’s interesting: instead of lots of ferocious back-and- forth and piling on, this time, no one cared. Big yawn. Why? Because the Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill.¹ It is NOT going to happen.

    Bill Clinton campaigned on both those things and he won the presidency. But when he actually followed through, a lot of lefty Democrats rebelled. Nevertheless, Clinton won reelection by a huge margin. Warren is correct that the Democratic Party has moved left on these issues since Clinton’s presidency, but she’s not correct that this means moderates no longer exist. They do, and Democrats still need them to win.

    ¹Actually, I don’t think that’s why nobody cared. It’s because the op-ed was by Mark Penn, and nobody cares about Mark Penn anymore.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Here’s another plant from my last trip to Silverado Canyon. What kind of plant? I couldn’t say. But it’s a nice, soothing green, surely something we could all use after the excitement of yesterday’s eclipse.

  • Facts or Anecdotes? Pick One and Stick With It.

    Photo: JϋRgen BäTz/DPA via ZUMA, Chart: Millennium Development Goals: Child Malnutrition 2006

    Here’s a quiz for you. Which of these articles about, say, starving children in Africa is likely to get the widest readership?

    1. A piece that tells the story via description and personal anecdotes.
    2. A piece that tells the story via facts and numbers.
    3. A piece that combines the two.

    Some of us respond to numbers, while some of us respond to stories about people, so the common-sense answer is option C. That should rope in everyone.

    In fact, it turns out that C is the worst possible option. Nobody likes it. The numbers people get tired of all the personal stuff, while the tender-hearted people are put off by all the numbers. It turns out that you have to pick one or the other and just accept that you won’t reach everyone.

    I learned this years ago, and I don’t remember where. However, I was reminded of it by an interview with Paul Slovic, who has done loads of research on the limits of human compassion. I’ve had this interview saved for a while because I’ve been meaning to write something related to it—and eventually I will!—but there was one particular bit that’s pretty fascinating. Here is Slovic:

    We have an experiment of helping a starving child. A certain percentage of people help [by donating money to the kid]. Then we have another condition with a different group, same child, same situation, except we put the numbers of the statistics of starvation next to her picture, and the donations dropped in half.

    I wonder how universal this is. Is it always a bad idea to mix anecdotes and data? Slovic chalks up his experimental result to “pseudo-inefficacy,” meaning that the numbers make the problem look so big that people just give up, figuring that their donation will never make any difference. However, I suspect it’s something more general than that. There’s something about numbers that actively turns off people who respond most strongly to anecdotes. And vice-versa, perhaps. It would be interesting for Slovic to run his experiment in reverse: begin with a simple, punchy bit of data about starvation, and then add the picture of the child. Do donations still drop?

    If this is indeed a fairly general finding, it should affect the way advocacy journalists work. Instead of trying to write (or film or record) comprehensive pieces designed to move everyone, they should always write two separate pieces. One contains lots of troubling anecdotes with only a few simple numbers, while the other lays out the fact-based case for action, with only brief mentions of real-world suffering. More work, perhaps, but it’s also likely to make more difference.

  • “Despacito” Is…OK, I Guess

    This weekend, I read a Voxsplainer by Alex Abad-Santos about this summer’s mega-megahit, “Despacito.” What’s the deal?

    Quite simply, “Despacito” is magic….chord progressions and melody….American listeners and even artists seem to be burned out on [the electronic dance music sound] and are craving something new….intimate vocals, and shifts away from high-energy choppy vocal synths and swirling drops….“Despacito” is a scorcher of a tune — the experts I talked to all agree.

    Alternatively, here is Wikipedia’s more restrained description:

    It is a reggaeton-pop song composed in common time with lyrics about having a sexual relationship, performed in a smooth and romantic way.

    I’m going to preface this with my usual disclaimer: I don’t know much of anything about music, and what I do know is limited to Top 40 classical and Top 40 classic rock. Anyone who takes music seriously should just ignore what I have to say.

    Which is this: I’ve listened to “Despacito” many times over the past month. I wanted to give it a fair try, since it often takes a few listens to really get into a new song. But no matter how many times I listen, it only seems…OK. I don’t hate it or anything. But a scorcher of a tune? I just don’t get it. The tune seems distinctly ordinary. I haven’t found myself humming it in the shower. I haven’t added it to my playlists. It’s just…OK.

    I’m genuinely curious about this. “Despacito” didn’t become a megahit by appealing to music afficianados. It became a hit by appealing to millions of teenagers with no more knowledge of music than me. What do they hear that I don’t? In particular, what do they hear in the tune that I don’t? I’m as susceptible to a tune with a great hook as anybody, but I just don’t feel it. Is it really an addictive earworm for most people?

    I assume my audience is not exactly the perfect group of people to ask about this. Still, you go to war with the audience you have, not the audience of plugged-in teenagers you wish you had. Anyone have anything to say about this?

  • Can “Medicaid For All” Save Obamacare?

    Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via ZUMA

    Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz says there’s been a silver lining to Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare:

    “One of the unintended consequences of the Republicans trying to cut Medicaid is they made Medicaid really popular,” Sen. Schatz said in an interview. “This conversation has shifted. There was a time where Medicare was really popular and Medicaid was slightly less popular. What this ACA battle did was make both of them almost equally popular.”

    Schatz wants to take advantage of that by allowing states to add a Medicaid option to Obamacare’s exchanges. However, his proposed legislation also does this:

    The Schatz bill would also raise Medicaid’s payment rates to doctors and hospitals to match those of the Medicare program. Currently, the Medicaid prices are 72 percent of those that Medicare pays — which in turn pays less than private insurers. Raising Medicaid prices to be equal would likely lure more doctors to participate in the program — but also make Medicaid (and the premiums to buy into Medicaid) significantly more expensive.

    Yes, this would raise the cost of Medicaid a lot. It would also—I think—make Medicaid a more generous program than Medicare. Even liberal states like my home state of California probably wouldn’t buy into Schatz’s program under these circumstances. It’s just too expensive. We spend about $40 billion on Medi-Cal, and upping reimbursement rates to Medicare levels would probably cost something on the order of $10-15 billion. In a state budget where bitter fights break out over health care costs of $500 million, this is a nonstarter.

    I suspect a smarter approach would be to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates slightly. Maybe to 75 percent of Medicare. And then work on raising them again a few years from now. Realistically, it’s hard to see any other way to get states to buy into this idea.

  • How Will Afghanistan “Defray” the Cost of the War?

    I heard this line during Donald Trump’s Afghanistan speech tonight, but I was distracted and wasn’t quite sure what he had said. But now the transcript is available, so here it is:

    In this struggle, the heaviest burden will continue to be borne by the good people of Afghanistan and their courageous armed forces. As the prime minister of Afghanistan has promised, we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.

    That zipped by mighty quickly, didn’t it? Let’s rewind and pause a bit. What exactly does Trump mean? What does he plan to extract from Afghanistan to help “defray” the cost of the war?

  • Inside the White House: How Trump Took Command to Get the Afghanistan Plan He Wanted

    Mohammad Jan Aria/Xinhua via ZUMA

    When Donald Trump took office, he asked his generals for a new plan in Afghanistan. Here is how I imagine things have gone since then:

    GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
    TRUMP: Try again.

    GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
    TRUMP: Not good enough.

    GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
    TRUMP: You have to do better.

    GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
    TRUMP: Goddamit, I want to kick some ass!

    GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
    TRUMP: Fine. Where’s my speechwriter?

    TRUMP: Today I am announcing a bold, new plan for total victory in Afghanistan. We will stop talking about troop levels. We will stop coddling Pakistan. We will unleash our military. And we will win.

    There really isn’t a whole lot we can do in Afghanistan. The Pentagon knows this. After all, a few years ago they had upwards of 100,000 troops there—compared to 8,000 right now—and it barely budged the needle. They’ve been pushing on Pakistan the whole time, but if they push too hard we’ll lose our drone bases there and be in even worse shape. And looser rules of engagement just enrage the Afghan populace and provide the Taliban with recruiting material. It’s a no-win situation. All we can do is keep on training the Afghan army and cross our fingers. Maybe eventually the government will have enough support and the army will have enough discipline to maintain order without us.

    Or we can pull out. If we do that, the Taliban will take over in short order and that’s politically unacceptable. No American president wants to be the guy who “lost Afghanistan.”

    So we just stay there forever, fighting a low-level war meant to contain the Taliban—barely—and not get too many US soldiers killed. That’s what Bush did. It’s what Obama did. And it’s what Trump is doing.

    UPDATE: In other words, this, from the Washington Post:

    President Trump was frustrated and fuming. Again and again, in the windowless Situation Room at the White House, he lashed out at his national security team over the Afghanistan war, and the paucity of appealing options gnawed at him.

    ….Trump’s private deliberations — detailed in interviews with more than a dozen senior administration officials and outside allies — revealed a president un­attached to any particular foreign-policy doctrine, but willing to be persuaded as long as he could be seen as a strong and decisive leader.

    As long as it makes him look good, Trump doesn’t really care what we do in Afghanistan.

  • Trump Announces Brand-New Same-Old Strategy in Afghanistan

    So what is President Trump’s long-awaited new plan for Afghanistan? In a half-hour prime-time speech, he didn’t really say. Trump started out by complaining a bit, saying that he had been dealt “a bad and very complex hand,” but one he’d fix because “I’m a problem solver.” The solution, however, was pretty vague. Here were the main changes he announced:

    • We will shift from a time-based strategy to one based on conditions. In other words, we may just stay in Afghanistan forever.
    • We will no longer talk about numbers of troops. This is most likely because the increase in troops he approved was so minuscule as to be pointless.
    • Trump will bring to bear all elements of American power: diplomatic, economic, military. We’ve been doing this for the past decade, but whatevs.
    • There will be no more coddling of Pakistan. How? By threatening to cut off money, it sounds like.
    • There will be no more micromanagement from Washington. The subtext here is that if we don’t make progress, we should blame Mattis, not Trump.
    • The rules of engagement will be loosened, though it’s unclear how.
    • There will be no more nation building. We’re killing bad guys, and that’s all.
    • But we’ll keep giving lots of money to Afghanistan for, um, bation nuilding.
    • “Victory will have a clear definition,” Trump said, though he didn’t really say what that is. However, it appears to mean that ISIS and al-Qaeda are wiped out, the Taliban is transformed into a bunch of moderates, and there is no possibility of new terrorist groups emerging. That sounds good, but it’s just hot air. It will never happen.

    All snark aside, I have no idea what this means. There were no details, just a lot of generalized tough talk. Trump basically promised to accept nothing less than total victory, but there seems to be very little in his plan that’s different from what we’re doing already. The only potentially new item was his promise to force Pakistan to stop giving a safe haven to terrorists. We’ll see what that means in practice.

    He did, however, take credit for our recent success in Mosul, which certainly takes some chutzpah. The Mosul offensive was entirely an Obama operation, and one that Trump had nothing but contempt for in the past. But it worked, so now it’s a Trump victory.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    We didn’t get a total eclipse here in Southern California, but that only lasts a couple of hours anyway. So why not visit this summer and enjoy our lovely beaches? You can spend days or weeks enjoying our golden sunshine. Doesn’t that really sound better?

  • Donald Trump Is An…Oh Forget It

    Somehow, Donald Trump can always find a new way to be stupid. How does he do it?

  • Being the First Name on the Ballot Has a Huge Effect

    Here’s a fascinating bit of political science research. It’s a few months old, but I just recently found out about it. In Texas, names are placed on the ballot in different orders depending on the county. The order is selected randomly, which allows an examination of whether being first on the ballot matters very much. Darren Grant of Sam Houston State University did exactly that, and he found that it really, really makes a difference:

    Across all twenty-four contests, the effect is invariably positive and, with two exceptions in runoff elections, statistically significant. The smallest effects are found in high-profile, high information races: the Republican primary for U.S. Senator, which featured the incumbent, John Cornyn; the governor’s race, which featured long-time Attorney General Greg Abbott; and Land Commissioner, which featured well-known political newcomer George P. Bush. In these races the ballot order effect is only one or two percentage points.

    Larger estimates obtain for most “medium-profile, medium-information” races such as Comptroller, Railroad Commissioner, or the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator. Most of these fall in a fairly tight band that ranges from three to five percentage points. Estimates are even larger in the low-profile, low-information judicial elections, generally ranging from seven to ten percentage points. Overall, the ballot order effect tends to be larger in contests that receive less attention and in which voters are likely to know less about the candidates on the ballot.

    Here this is in colorful chart form:

    In medium and low-profile races, the ballot order effect is big enough that it might decide races all by itself. Even in high-profile races, “one or two percentage points” can be a pretty big effect. There are plenty of races for governor or senator that have been won by less.

    In states that don’t randomize ballot order, this means that the first candidate on the ballot has a huge advantage. And this could be true even in states that do. If you got lucky and ended up at the top of the ballot in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, you’d get an advantage in areas with millions of votes, while your opponent would get an advantage in areas with only thousands of votes. And there are certain unusual circumstances where the ballot order effect can be truly massive:

    In an ironic twist of fate, we were recently able to [test our hypothesis] with the March, 2016 Texas Republican primary, held just after the first draft of this paper was completed. Featuring a highly visible Presidential race, it drew twice as many voters as in 2014—and had contests for three Supreme Court positions, one of which was between Paul Green and Rick Green, two men with common first names and identical last names. It was The Perfect Storm, and our logic implies that this should lead to large ballot order effects. This is immediately evident in the histogram of county vote shares presented in Figure 2(a), without even looking at ballot order: in a race won with 52.1% of the statewide vote, virtually no county’s vote was nearly evenly split. Instead Paul Green’s vote shares are bifurcated into two clusters, one around 40%, and another around 60%, suggesting a ballot order effect approaching twenty percentage points. The regression results in Figure 2(c) confirm this: the coefficient estimate is 19.4 percentage points. We have never seen a ballot order effect this large, and may never again.

    Since different counties had different ballot orders, this might not have made a difference in the final result. But with an effect that gigantic, getting even a little bit lucky with the ballot order in the biggest cities might have made the difference.

    I’m not sure if there’s a policy answer to this. At the very least, ballot order should always be randomized. Beyond that, Grant suggests that if you’re not sure who to vote for, vote for the person at the bottom of the ballot. They could use the help.

  • Here Is Southern California’s 69% Eclipse

    Sure, sure, you can do better at the NASA site, with all their fancy telescopes and stuff. But what you really want to know is what the eclipse looked like in my backyard with a cheap camera. Right? Well, here you go:

    UPDATE: Hey, this is a perfect opportunity to try out my camera’s HDR function, which cleverly takes multiple shots at different exposures and then combines them. In theory, this means the camera can properly expose both the sun and the surrounding trees. In theory:

    Jeez, you really have to hold the camera steady for HDR to work, don’t you? I’m not so good at that. And I guess there’s a limit to just how much contrast HDR can handle. Either that or I need to learn more about it. I just switched the HDR setting to ON and fired away. Oh well. At least I got a moderately interesting effect out of it.