A time away from the blog which has nothing to do with the number seven Melbourne Cup Tips

The US Presidential Election

November 3rd, 2008 at 04:41am

Well here we are again, the year, when divided by four, produces an integer, and that means there’s a presidential election on the boil in the US.

It’s McCain/Palin vs Obama/Biden vs Barr/Root vs Nader/Gonzalez vs Baldwin/Castle vs McKinney/Clemente, although you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s merely a Republican vs Democrat race as they are the only candidates who seem to get any media or poll attention, which is probably fair enough considering that the rest are of almost no consequence to anything.

If the polls are anything to go by, then Barack Obama is likely to win, with the polls having Obama anywhere from a few percentage points to ten percentage points ahead of McCain. The Gallup Poll currently has Obama ten percentage points ahead, which is good for Obama considering that he has the Bradley effect to deal with, which historically shows that black political candidates do not do as well in the official results as the polls indicate, with the average difference being about five to seven percentage points. It could be argued that the Bradley effect, based on some polls, would be enough to see John McCain win on Tuesday.

Of course, whenever you talk about polls you have to consider that, as “statistically valid” as the polls may be, they aren’t a census, they can’t predict an “on the day change of mind”, they can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie, and they almost invariably fail to predict the exact outcome of an election. The most important point there is that they aren’t a census and therefore do not count every person who plans on voting, and as such are always going to be somewhat tainted depending on the make-up of the sample group.

The other important point about polls is that, when we talk about polls, we usually talk about the larger, regularly-released polls, and forget entirely about the smaller polls. For example, radio station KXNT Las Vegas have been running a poll on their website for the last few days which so far has McCain/Palin leading Obama/Biden 90% to 4%. You may dismiss this as an unrepresentative poll skewed towards the general view of the demographic of the station, and you’d probably be right, except that the station has been receiving plenty of calls from people planning to vote for both sides, and you can be sure that they’re giving the poll results a good run on the air. With voting not being compulsory in the US, smaller polls like this can have a big impact. I believe that most publicised polls have an effect on some voters who seem to be somewhat sheepish in their voting habits, insofar as they hear poll results and vote accordingly. In a town like Las Vegas, a poll like the one being run by KXNT can have an impact, although measuring that impact would be quite difficult.

With the US being the world power that it is, the results of “who would you prefer to have as president of the United States?” polls from overseas also filter through to the US and have some impact. Interestingly I notice that 2GB’s poll along those lines is in favour of John McCain by 58% to 42% whilst callers to Open House with Sheridan Voysey last night were all tied up at 50% for both McCain and Obama.

Where am I going with this…basically I think that the result is going to be a lot closer than the large polls say it will be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if John McCain wins, and quite frankly I think the world would be better for it.

When it comes down to it, both John McCain and Sarah Palin are experienced political administrators, they both have put a considerable amount of effort in to fighting corruption, and they aren’t afraid to go against the views or wishes of their party if necessary. Probably more importantly, they both have an interesting amount of “real world” experience prior to becoming politicians.

On the other hand we have Barack Obama and Joe Biden, one of whom is a career academic who jumped to being a career politician, and the other is a career politician who almost jumped straight from academia to politics…thankfully he did at least try applying his studies to the real world before deciding that being a lawyer just wasn’t for him. It’s also unfortunate that he has a track record of peculiar outbursts and backflips.

If you don’t already know, I have a problem with career academics who think that they know what’s best for the world. These people almost invariably end up sitting at a desk with a large bookshelf behind them containing a significant percentage of books with their name on them despite the fact that they had no hand in writing them, growing the largest, most ungroomed beard possible, and releasing as many kooky statements based on flawed logic as possible to whichever media outlet will listen. The usual bit of flawed logic is their failure to understand that humans don’t behave as defined in a text book, and their belief (based on this flawed logic) that simply making a rule will solve some large complicated problem in humanity. There are some career academics who I have a lot of respect for, such as those who make advances in medical science, but I can’t stand those who end up doing almost nothing productive, and decide to waste their time and my taxes on their deranged theories that only distract us from important issues and research.

I have a similar aversion to career politicians. Much like their counterparts in the land of career academia, they have minimal, if any concept, of how the real world actually works, and have the strange delusion that they can make the world a better place simply by rising as far as possible up the political cherry tree.

You can probably see from that, at least part of the reason why I have an aversion to someone like Barack Obama who has gone straight from being a career academic to being a career politician. I just don’t see how anyone in that position can really understand what life is like for the vast majority of people who don’t work in either politics or academia, and therefore I fail to see how anyone in that position could really understand what’s best for the nation and for the public.

Of course, deciding to support a candidate based entirely on their background is a bad idea as their background is only a contributing factor. Another important factor is their current views, policies and objectives, and on the whole I agree with more McCain/Palin views, policies and objectives than I do Obama/Biden views, policies and objectives.

Not being in the US, it can be difficult to understand some of their issues thoroughly, so one of the ways to help me determine where I stand on the policies of the US candidates is to draw comparisons between US candidates and Australian politicians. Kevin Rudd can pretend until the cows come home that he is a conservative, or even a “fiscal conservative”, but it’s quite clear that he isn’t. He certainly isn’t as far to the left as Obama (although Jon Stanhope would be a closer match for Obama) but his cabinet is full of people who would be…and New South Wales has been enduring the wrath of a number of career politicians for quite some time. What a wonderful job this lot have all done, it’s talkfests, bungled financial rescues that make things worse, and imagined conversations with world leaders at the federal level, “an inquiry in to the results of the inquiry that we had in to the royal commission”, record revenue, crumbling infrastructure and on the brink of insolvency in New South Wales, and in the ACT it’s unwelcome major infrastructure projects involving dodgy Freedom Of Information document disclosure (or lack thereof), single-lane arterial roads, ever-changing budget figures and public artwork taking priority over education and health.

Is it any wonder that I don’t want the equivalent of that residing in The White House?

John McCain and Sarah Palin on the other hand…well the fact that I’ve voted for their equivalents in each election that I’ve been able to vote in probably says about all that I need to say on the matter. That said, I probably should add that, as far as I’m concerned, this country was humming along quite nicely at the federal level until last year’s federal election. It’s been slowly but surely going downhill since then…and why was Kevin Rudd elected instead of John Howard? As far as I can tell it was mainly due to a general view of “it’s time for a change”. That’s fair enough I suppose, we all need a change every now and then, and with the Australian system of “you can have as many terms as prime minister as the public are willing to give to you”, change effectively means radical change. Something which either works or fails miserably…sadly I think we’re having a helping of the latter.

I’m sensing a “time for change” mood in the US, and not surprisingly, both the McCain/Palin camp and the Obama/Biden camp claim to be the change that the country needs. When it comes to “time for change” moods, there usually isn’t a lot of hard evidence behind them, it’s more a matter of the natural human tendency to become tired of the same thing constantly.

Imagine for a moment that you’ve had Rice Bubbles for breakfast every day for the last eight years, you’re tired of it, and on November four you get to choose something else to have for breakfast for the next four years. The sensible thing to do would be to change to something else which is a breakfast food, such as another cereal, or perhaps toast or crumpets. It wouldn’t make sense to make a radical change such as making pumpkin soup or roast lamb and vegetables your breakfast for the next four years. The US public have the luxury of choosing a sensible change rather than a radical change, an it would be a great shame if they ignore that opportunity and then spent the next four years wondering why the roast lamb and vegetables didn’t uphold its promise of being a good breakfast.

This election also has the odd twist that both presidential candidates have a reasonable chance of not being able to serve their full term, John McCain due to his age, and Barack Obama due to the almost weekly assassination attempts which have, to-date, been thwarted, and as such the vice presidential candidate’s credentials as a possible president need to be considered.

Sarah Palin has experience (quite successfully) as a mayor and a state governor, so there’s no doubt in my mind that she would be able to handle another “top dog” role. She also appears to be quite happy to speak her mind and oppose her party when she believes that it’s necessary. She also seems to be very capable of “connecting” with people, which is very important when you’re in a position that requires you to explain things to the public constantly. In many ways I think she would be a better president than John McCain, although there are a few areas where John McCain has a clear advantage over Palin on experience and knowledge. If asked to step up to the plate, I’m sure Sarah will be able to handle the job quite well, although if she can be given four years to perfect it before running for president in 2012, it would probably do her the world of good.

Then there’s Joe Biden. Whilst I think he would do a better job of president than Barack Obama, I just get the distinct impression of him being America’s version of Mark Latham without the profile. From what I’ve seen, Biden’s most impressive characteristic is his ability to get to the point. He doesn’t suffer from the “talk and keep talking and go on and on and on without ever saying anything of substance” rhetoric ailment that many politicians, especially Obama, Rudd and Stanhope, suffer from. Unfortunately he also seems to have a bit of a hard time sticking to an opinion. Whilst his opinions may be firmer these days than they used to be (he wouldn’t want to repeat his backflip on the original gulf war), I prefer to know where I stand with a politician. Sure, everyone is entitled to change their mind, but if I vote for someone because they say that they believe in something, then I don’t want them to come out with the exact opposite view three years later and use that to enact a policy that I voted against. Unfortunately Joe Biden gives me that impression.

So, what will the final result be? I’m leaning towards a very narrow victory to John McCain and Sarah Palin, and I have more reasons that what I’ve already written, but the election will be over by the time I publish this if I keep writing…I suppose the general gist of the reasons is that I think a reasonable number of currently undecided voters will see the candidates in ways similar to the way I see them. Of course I do have another reason which is nowhere near as important as the fate of the US and the world for the next four years for supporting a McCain victory…Centrebet owe me $180 if McCain wins. When there are two horse races on Tuesday, one has 24 horses and the other has two, and the one with two horses is offering odds of $1.05 for one horse and $9.00 for the other one, it’s worth the gamble in my book. (Usual disclaimer: The golden rule of gambling is to only bet what you can afford to lose. If you need help with a gambling problem, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 in the ACT, or your local gambling support service)

I’m not brave enough to provide an actual number for my prediction, just that I think it will be a 5% or less victory to John McCain. Somebody who is brave enough though is regular contributor (as long as I write something here) to this blog Padders, who has produced an entire state-by-state rundown of his prediction which sees McCain/Palin defeating Obama/Biden by 298 to 240 electoral college votes, or about 55% to 45% which would be a 10% victory to John McCain. I hope Padders is right, but I think it might be a tad closer than that. It will be interesting to see how it transpires.

And to that end, on Wednesday (Canberra time) I will be spending most of my day following the election results on the KXNT Las Vegas webstream, whilst flicking between various news websites and possibly having Nine’s coverage on in the background, and probably checking in on 2CC/2UE’s correspondents occasionally. Coast to Coast AM with George Noory is having an extended election coverage edition from 4pm to 9pm Canberra time which will probably be quite worthwhile listening to.

I have been spending a lot more time than usual listening to US talk radio lately, especially KXNT Las Vegas, and I’ve got to say that with the local media seemingly obsessed with the large polls (and, in the case of Nine News, ensuring that any crosses to a reporter at a McCain rally are of the reporter in an almost empty room where everything is being packed up), it’s been great to hear some sensible voices from the US such as Alan Stock, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I also enjoyed my eight cent phone call to Alan Stock on Tuesday last week.

Well, I’ve had my eight cents worth and my 2610 words worth, now it’s up to the citizens of the US to decide. Regardless of the outcome, I think we’re going to see some interesting changes over the next four years…this election will merely decide which flavour and how radical those changes will be.

Samuel

Entry Filed under: General News,Samuel's Editorials

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3 Comments

  • 1. padders  |  November 3rd, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Hi Samuel

    Welcome back!

    A very thoughtful essay from you, as always.

    Your breakfast cereal analogy is highly amusing. I sincerely hope that American’s don’t switch from Rice Bubbles to Coco Pops!

  • 2. padders  |  November 3rd, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    I can’t believe I put an apostrophe in ‘Americans’ in the above post. My (very) bad!

  • 3. davky  |  November 4th, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Hiya Sambo… good to see you back.

    As for your comment:
    “…there are a few areas where John McCain has a clear advantage over Palin on experience and knowledge.”
    I think this is a dramatic understatement!!

    I, personally, would support McCain – and I think Sarah Palin is the sexiest politician I have ever come across – but I have grave concerns about her abilities to govern at such a high level. She, through no fault of her own, would ultimately be a de facto puppet – her strings pulled by other players.

    Nonetheless, it certainly appears to be a moot debate. Given the polling, a McCain-Palin victory is an almost absurd proposition. I hope I am wrong on all counts.


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