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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Politics and The Blog

One cannot escape the tight races for the democratic and republican nominees for president. While I would never endorse any specific candidate on this blog, one cannot ignore the race and the various mathematical aspects of the elections. I helped, in a very small way, with the design of the Yahoo Political Dashboard, that really boils the race down to just a bunch of numbers, perhaps a bit too much.

The Electoral College comes often comes into criticism but at least it is essentially just a weighted majority of pluralities. States, on the other hand, allocate their delegates in a variety of different and confusing ways. Right now news agencies seem to just count state wins but after February 5 expect some interesting analysis of delegate counts.

A little game theory: Why does John Edwards stays in the race when he has a virtually zero chance of getting a majority of the delegates? Because there is a non-zero probability that neither Obama or Clinton will have a majority either, and then Edwards wields incredible power with his small number of delegates. I don't know what Edwards would do with this power, but he won't give it up by dropping out of the race.

Notice that when we have a surprise victory in a primary, like Clinton in New Hampshire, much of the talk revolves on why the pundits, polls and prediction markets all "failed." Meanwhile in sports when we see a surprise victory, like the New York Giants over Dallas and then again in Green Bay, the focus is on what the Giants did right and the Cowboys and Packers did wrong. Sports fans understand probabilities much better than political junkies—upsets happen occasionally, just as they should.

8 comments:

  1. Lance, a belated "Welcome back!" to you! Re: your comment below, the other natural use for such power is to once again come across as a good possibility for the VP candidate.

    I don't know what Edwards would do with this power, but he won't give it up by dropping out of the race.

    aravind

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  2. but there is a big difference between predicting the outcome of sports games and elections. unless a large number of people make/change their minds on the election day, the outcome must be predictable with a high probability, but this is not the case in sports.

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  3. Why does John Edwards stays in the race when he has a virtually zero chance of getting a majority of the delegates? Because there is a non-zero probability that neither Obama or Clinton will have a majority either, and then Edwards wields incredible power with his small number of delegates.

    But by the same token, one could argue that he should drop out. After all, there's a much higher probability that, were Edwards to end his campaign and endorse either Obama or Clinton, that candidate would easily win the Democratic nomination. From a game-theory perspective, the top two candidates should be vying to give Edwards the best deal (Vice President? Supreme Court justice?)

    So why doesn't he cash in his chips now? The answer, as I see it, is politics. Such a "corrupt bargain" would almost certainly hurt the Democratic ticket's chances in November, which lowers the incentive for Hillary and Barack to make such an offer.

    While we're on the subject of football and politics: Rudy Giuliani got a lucky break in the Super Bowl! He can root for the Giants instead of (another) Boston team.

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  4. Is anyone disturbed by the fact that Obama claims to have been a law professor?

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/30/politics/p132303D74.DTL&type=politics

    He was actually a senior lecturer -- a big difference in the US.

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  5. Don't see the problem. From Wikipedia: "In other English speaking regions and countries like the United States, Brazil, Canada, India, Hong Kong, individuals often use the term professor as a polite form of address for any lecturer, or researcher employed by a college or university, regardless of rank."

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  6. Don't see the problem. From Wikipedia: "In other English speaking regions and countries like the United States, Brazil, Canada, India, Hong Kong, individuals often use the term professor as a polite form of address for any lecturer, or researcher employed by a college or university, regardless of rank."

    He's referring to himself though.

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  7. Notice that when we have a surprise victory in a primary, like Clinton in New Hampshire, much of the talk revolves on why the pundits, polls and prediction markets all "failed." Meanwhile in sports when we see a surprise victory, like the New York Giants over Dallas and then again in Green Bay, the focus is on what the Giants did right and the Cowboys and Packers did wrong.

    There are a number of things wrong with this analogy. First, elections are statistical, unlike sporting events, and so we expect them to be much easier to predict. Second, most of the action in political events happens before the actual voting, so there is a lot more information to go on. Finally, we accept and enjoy the uncertainty in sports, that's kinda why we watch them. But we treat elections as less of a game, and far more money is spent on predicting their results. If political predictions are no better than sports, then something has indeed gone wrong.

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  8. If only there was a candidate that would realize the US has a finite credit limit, foreign military intervention is a large strain on GDP, and using the states for distributed computation was a strength of the founding fathers' design plan...

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