Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Latest Silly Argument

The latest silly argument in the Democratic presidential race is that superdelegates should vote for Clinton because she's won states with more total electoral votes. This is a variant on the "she's won the big blue states that we'll need in the general election" argument.

Now look, Senator Clinton is a fine and strong candidate and I will happily vote for her in November if she is the Democratic nominee. But could people please stop with these silly arguments? Even prior analyses don't point out the obvious flaw.

The flaw is this: whether Clinton beats Obama in a state or vice-versa is not much of an indicator of whether either of them would beat McCain in the same state.

It's just a matter of simple game theoretical analysis. Let's imagine hypothetically (these numbers are not meant to reflect the actual state of play) that Democratic candidates A and B are each favored by about 30% of the general electorate and that Republican candidate C is favored by about 40%.

In the primary race, C challengers have all dropped out, so C is coasting toward the nomination, but A and B are still hard at it. In state after state, A and B are running about even, trading victories, and staying close right up to the nomination.

But what happens in November? Whether A or B is the Democratic nominee, those who voted for the other in the primaries are still, primarily, Democrats, and are unlikely to vote for the Republican C over either A or B. Let's imagine that of the 30 percentage points of the public who voted for the Democratic runner-up in the primaries, 25 percentage points vote for the Democratic nominee and 5 for the Republican. The result: The Democrat, whether A or B, wins a handy victory with 55% of the total electorate to 45% for C.

Now, the above hypo is obviously very simplified, and reality is more complex: there are independent voters, some voters will stay home, etc., etc. And the November matchup will feature many subtleties, particularly if both parties put up centrist candidates.

But unless there are a lot of voters whose preference list is Clinton, McCain, Obama, or Obama, McCain, Clinton, the preference between Clinton and Obama is not a strong indicator of how a Clinton-McCain or Obama-McCain matchup would come out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 'argument' is one of Equivocation or Ambiguity - the fallacy of using one of two or more meanings of a word or phrase factually in one context, in an attempt to extend truth to the use of the same word or phrase in its other meanings, where it is not logically true to do so.

When done through ignorance, it is simple falsehood. But when deliberate, as is the case here, it is lying.

And there is nothing 'silly' about it to the prevaricator - it is done with deadly seriousness to advance his or her position and personal gain to the detriment or others.

Because most people are not trained to identify such fallacies, they are very often persuaded by them. That is the purpose of those who deliberately use the fallacy.

When people are the direct victim of such a fallacy, they may later have a general feeling of having been fleeced, but cannot specifically 'put a finger on' the precise mechanism until far too late.

That is probably what Ms. Clinton is banking on here. She knows full well the falsehood of her tactic, and hopes that her opponents, as well as her supporters, will overlook it, and, if exposed with force, forgive her for just one more minor misstatement.