Monday, October 24, 2016

Moscow-based Mark Teeter on foreigners and the U.S. presidential election (from Facebook)

FOREIGNERS JUST DON’T GET U.S. ELECTIONS. Or as Twain described golf: A Good Walk Spoiled
--> So I’m poling along in the park this p.m. on my daily old-guy-who-needs-hip-surgery version of Nordic Walking (cкандинавская ходьба) and suddenly my earphones are crackling w/ a news bulletin from Kommersant FM on the US election campaign: A poll out today, the reader says breathlessly, shows Clinton and Trump neck 'n' neck: 44.4% to 44.1% of the voters surveyed. Yikes! Details follow for those who haven't fainted.
Kommersant FM is a sort-of-okay news station, so I’m a bit concerned by this – as in HOLY CRAP!!! When I checked with Nate Silver @ 538 this morning (for the 2nd time), HRC was an 86% favorite to win – what could possibly have happened since then to cause this massive cave-in and widespread attack of worse-than-Brexit voter insanity?!?
After about 3 secs. of intensive brainpan manipulation, however, I recalled the obvious: foreigners watching the American election process don’t have a clue. Hey, they're *foreigners*! Seriously now, in this instance: some LA Times poll w/ a 3000-respondent base (which is what the news bulletin was about) represents only one v. small chunk of the input data that will be amalgamated into something sociologists and political pros are likely to accept as a genuinely predictive poll result.
And second, the popular vote totals – how many individuals cast their ballots for a candidate – don’t mean jack in any case. Ask Al Gore. It’s *where* they vote for him/her that matters, b/c a candidate must receive 270 *electoral* (state-based) votes to win.
Look, next month Donald Trump will win the individual votes of something like 50 million American citizens – birthers, out-patients, conspiracy whackos, racists, the serially confused, Putin-zombies, men w/ short dicks, women who enjoy being groped, fat guys with stapled-on hair pieces…and a certain number of, yes, regular people (who’ll have some explaining to do in the next life); but these peeps and their stoopid votes don’t mean *anything* unless they distribute themselves between now and Nov. 8 throughout America's 10-12 critical “swing” states, the ones in which Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey are still the most popula-- wait, I mean the ones whose *electoral* votes could go to either candidate b/c the states’ voters appear to be divided fairly closely between the top two.
Yes, it is a complicated two-tier system. And yes, lots of Americans have issues w/ it. And yes, it could produce some really unsettling anomalies: if Kerry had won Ohio in 2004, which he almost did, he would’ve become the 2nd U.S. president in a row to be elected w/o winning the popular vote – hinting at a budding “tradition” for foreigners to laugh at, i.e. “So in America the guy with the 2nd most votes always wins – ahahaha, yeah that makes sense!”
There *is* a case for the Electoral College – but I’m not going to make it here (it’s a pretty long explanation, having done it in class 3 or 4 times now – and nobody’s paying me for a Facebook entry on it). Also, I’ve been watching foreigners misunderstand our elections for a long time, so I’m pretty used to it by now – go ahead, gripe all you want.
Admittedly, it was *very* frustrating the 1st time I encountered the phenomenon: as a college student in France in the fall of 1968, I had to rely on French TV for coverage of a cliff-hanger election that was essentially a referendum on the Vietnam war -- you could vote Timidly Yes (Humphrey), Bigtime YES! (Nixon) or YASSUH ‘n’ YEE-HAH, BOSS! (Wallace) – and the outcome might well determine whether or not you would be asked to democratize SE Asia from 20,000 feet or alternate-servicely charge bed pans in a VA hospital for several yrs.
You can imagine how intense my interest was; but French TV obviously couldn’t, since their idea of “coverage” was occasional shots of the NBC tote board for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District or Ohio’s 3rd – virtually meaningless numbers to me and most viewers – plus a series of live interviews with some of my compatriots spending the evening at the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris -- people who were both unimportant by definition and increasingly incoherent as the night wore on.
Anyway, the *very* short version for simpatico foreigner friends: Don’t put a whole lot of stock in the U.S. election campaign coverage you hear on the radio here, even from otherwise reliable sources. Go to Nate Silver at 538 [link below] and look at the big board there with the chances calculated in %. Forget about those 3000 random people in Canoga Park – and be assured that I’ll get back to you w/ some, ahem, Real Expert Analysis once the country has successfully dodged its big fat crotch-groping bullet.
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