Politics, Uncategorized

538 White Liberals

When political reporters and bloggers talk about a pending election, we can usually expect little more than a recitation of the latest poll. The great ones might throw in a margin of error.

Since 2008, Nate Silver brought a whole new brand of analysis using reason and actual statistical analysis. He didn’t make predictions; he calculated probabilities. In 2012, while many pundits were wildly wrong, Nate accurately predicted the outcome of all but one election, suggesting that his probability forecasts might have even been too conservative.

I’ve been disappointed by FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 coverage and change in vision for a number of reasons, but I’ll focus on one here. Many of their posts have argued that Bernie Sanders has a big (yoooge) demographic advantage in Iowa and New Hampshire, since those two states have some of the highest percentages of self-described “white liberals”. Though consistently trending up, Bernie Sanders is still trailing Hillary Clinton nationally and in states following Iowa and New Hampshire. FiveThirtyEight argues that demographics are to blame. They bring it up again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again… ok, you get the point. FiveThirtyEight can’t get enough of the “white liberals” argument. Here are 2016 polling aggregates from RCP in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationally:

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.50.50 PM

Iowa, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.50.07 PM

New Hampshire, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.51.13 PM

National, 2016

The problem is that Bernie’s higher poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire could be due to demographics, or more likely, are simply due to Iowa and New Hampshire being first, more engaged, and therefore most likely to show interest in a truly insurgent campaign. The rest of the country is obviously going to be slower to take notice. Obama wasn’t nearly the insurgent that Sanders is, nor was he even anti-establishment, yet you saw a similar trend in their numbers in the early states. Keep in mind that in 2008, the Iowa Caucus was on January 3.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.56.27 PM

Iowa, 2008

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.41.42 PM

New Hampshire, 2008

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.59.18 PM

National, 2008

Clinton led Obama by 20 points until Iowa and New Hampshire. He continued to trail her by 10 points nationally all the way until Super Tuesday, after which he edged out a narrow lead. Sanders is actually doing much better nationally than Barrack Obama did at this point in the race.

I think that it’s simply a matter of time rather than race and labels. The results in Iowa and New Hampshire move national opinion, which is why the candidates put so much time and effort into them. Later states are going to be naturally delayed in paying attention, and naturally hesitant to support an insurgent.

The “white liberals” argument really comes from the demographics of South Carolina where there is a significantly larger black vote, especially among democratic primary voters. Sanders has long trailed Clinton in South Carolina, especially among African Americans. It’s important to realize that very little polling has been done so far in South Carolina, including only two this month. Let’s look at the latest CBS poll in South Carolina, since it asks some interesting questions beyond your typical tracking poll.

Clinton is ahead of Sanders 60/38. Clinton leads Sanders 76/22 among African Americans and Sanders is winning among Whites 60/38.

In my opinion, the most important question from this poll was “How much attention have you paid to the 2016 election so far?”. 46% of likely Democratic voters have paid “some” or “not much” attention to the campaign, so there are plenty of minds to be changed, and that will definitely help Bernie. More important is who those open-minded people are. They are disproportionately young and African American. It’s well known that Bernie is huge (Yooooogge) among young people, and it explains the tepid support from African Americans. Those who haven’t paid attention to this campaign are much more likely to support the well-known, establishment candidate… at least for now.


Conclusion? There is none. That’s why FiveThirtyEight should stop acting like they’ve found the secret decoder ring that will keep Bernie Sanders from the nomination. Maybe African Americans will reject the candidate who marched with MLK, got arrested for protesting segregation, fights for $15/hr minimum wage in favor of the pro-death penalty candidate who pushed the crime bill, mandatory minimums, TPP, and the Iraq war. Maybe… but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Religion, Uncategorized

Answers from an Atheist

Sometimes I’m asked to write something, and it’s just too much work not to publish somewhere. A theology professor submitted a few questions for me for his class through my role as a Sunday Assembly organizer. Here are my responses:

“1) Among atheists (as a broad and diverse group of people, of course), what is usually of most frequently deemed or held to be most sacred?”

It would depend on what you mean by “sacred”. As a religious concept, defined as godly or religious, the term is useless to an atheist. I you simply mean what is “important” to an atheist, see question #2.

I don’t find the word very useful except for referring to what other people consider sacred, but that is not to say that I don’t value things highly. In fact, I find it remarkable how trifling religious people appear to value things that they would consider “sacred”. If I believed that my actions determined the destiny of my immortal soul, or that the creator of the universe was watching and commanding me to act, either as a tyrant or benevolent father, I would think of little else. My momentary life would be consumed by religion, and I am very glad that there is no good reason to believe that any of it is true.

“2) What is the essence of what someone would need to do, or generally does do, in order to live their life in accord with the most common beliefs held by atheists?”

The only way to be a bad atheist is to believe in a god. If you ask someone if they believe in a god, and they say “yes”, they are a theist. If they say anything else, including “no”, “I don’t know”, or “maybe”, they are an atheist. Your question implies that you already know that, but it’s worth repeating. There are principles and philosophies that most atheists would agree with, but they have nothing to do with the fact that they are atheists, only that they are human. The ideas of “living in accord with ____”, holding our neighbors to certain standards, or being held to certain standards by our neighbor also have nothing to do with being an atheist. Such standards would include individual rights, property rights, freedom of expression, freedom from oppression, personal security, and privacy, all of which I would expect of my neighbors equally, regardless of their religious beliefs. I value free exchanges of ideas and the scientific investigation of objective reality. I believe that it’s important to openly criticize all ideas to find the best ones. I even wish to protect the rights of people to hold and express bad ideas as long as they do not infringe upon the fundamental rights of others.

“3) What argument, reasons, or evidence is usually offered to support that your answers to numbers 1 and 2 above are actually true? (By which I don’t mean what evidence is there that your answers are statistically accurate. I mean what justification is there that the beliefs about what is sacred and moral are true. For example, when I sent a similar question to Christian organizations, I was asking what arguments, etc. they had that think God/Jesus, as most sacred, actually exists.)”

I think the parallel to your Christian question would seek atheist arguments that religious claims are insufficient to warrant belief. IronChariots.org is a good resource, an attempt to catalog the long list. Since they are merely rebuttals to religious arguments, there are far too many to count. Theistic arguments come in infinite flavors and can be rebutted in so many different ways, it’s impractical to give a comprehensive list. In my experience in both academia and popular discussions, there is no one argument that can be counted upon to come up. However, I would throw out Pascal’s wager, the need for a source of human morality, and arguments from ignorance concerning cosmic and biological origins as the most common theist arguments in popular circles. Further fallacies include shifting of the burden of proof and the construction of atheist straw men.

Since I rejected the premise of questions 1 and 2, the best I can answer you concerns the source of human morality. Again, you can be an atheist and a humanist, an atheist and a nihilist, or an atheist and a sociopath. Atheism has little to do with it. From my fairly mainstream point of view, the answer is first that human morality is innate. We are a social species, and love of family, altruism,  and cooperation are natural instincts. Aversion to actions contrary to those principles is also a natural reaction. We want to do well, we want others to do well, and we benefit from both desires. Figuring out how to best maximize human wellbeing is the purview of science. I refer you to Sam Harris’s “The Moral Landscape”.

“4) What do atheists around the world generally believe about how to deal with someone who holds different religious views, such as Muslims, Hindus, or Scientologists?”

I believe that no idea is above scrutiny. Some ideas are worthy of hostility. In a practical sense, these confrontations are rare, since social convention and the commonly defensive or tribal nature of the pious prevents a lot of good conversation in everyday life. On the other hand, many atheists consider any such confrontation to be rude by definition. For these atheists, even the word “atheist” is often avoided like the plague. I believe that this point of view is fueled by moral relativism and/or the normalized religious domination of society. In my experience, the most routine and pervasive forms of anti-atheist bigotry come from this crowd of fellow atheists who wish we would all just shut up. From confrontationists to diplomats, there is a spectrum of styles and extent of engagements with religious beliefs. I would further posit a third category that would contain closeted atheists who pretend to be religious out of fears such as ostracism.