Sunday, March 06, 2016

In this Democratic primary, H is for (sports) Handicapping

Hilary Clinton is probably the most handicapped candidate for president this election cycle. Well, Trump is also handicapped, and probably more so, but in an entirely different sense of the term. When I say "handicapped" in this context I mean something similar to equalizing the chances of winning in sports:
Handicapping, in sport and games, is the practice of assigning advantage through scoring compensation or other advantage given to different contestants to equalize the chances of winning. The word also applies to the various methods by which the advantage is calculated.
The above text comes from Wikipedia in an entry to describe the practice of handicapping in sports. In this article, I wish to draw an analogy of the same concept but in the context of the political contest between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton.

First, lets look at this contest in the larger context. Hilary Clinton had an enormous advantage to start. She is highly regarded for her name recognition. Most voters in America knew who she was before she announced her intention to run for president this election cycle. She is the wife of former president Bill Clinton, has helped to run the Clinton Foundation for 40 odd years, served as senator for New York and as Secretary of State under president Barack Obama. To sum it up, she has an ideal position to run for the highest office in the land.

When Sanders entered the race, he was polling at about 3% and had very little national name recognition. He has served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, represented Vermont as a member of the House and the Senate in the United States Congress and has won 14 elections in all. He has held some form of elective office for more than 30 years.

And yet, Hilary has been handicapped by more than a few powerful and influential entities to improve her odds of winning while Sanders received virtually no institutional assistance in his bid for president. Now let's look at the ways Hilary has been handicapped, and what I mean by that is, let's look at the advantages given to her above and beyond what she had when she entered the race.

1. The debate schedule. According to Wikipedia, the Democratic National Committee announced on May 5, 2015 that there would only be 6 debates during the primary season. This is contrast to the 26 debates and forums for the 2008 primary season and it is a huge cut for which the DNC was roundly criticized. The move was widely seen as effort by the DNC to create an advantage for Hilary Clinton.

Not only did the DNC cut the number of debates, the remaining debates were scheduled on days when viewership would be unusually low. Opponents to Hilary Clinton criticized the debate schedule for their timing around holidays and weekends, periods that are ordinarily associated with low ratings. In addition to the short schedule and terrible timing, the DNC restricted candidates from accepting invitations to other debates not sanctioned by the DNC. Any candidate that appeared in an unsanctioned debate would not be invited to any future DNC sanctioned debates.

It was only after intense pressure from outside the DNC that party leadership finally relented and added 4 more debates to the schedule.

2. Free airtime and ink. Hilary Clinton has received far more free air time and ink than Bernie Sanders. In fact, of all the candidates, Sanders seemed at the outset to be almost completely ignored by major media. To a large extent, he still is. If anyone were looking for a liberal media bias, it isn't apparent in coverage of this election.

A common meme promoted and shared by Bernie Sanders supporters would be a picture of a stadium filled to capacity with the caption: "The revolution will not be televised." This is a reference to what is perceived to be a very well orchestrated blackout of the Sanders campaign. While Clinton and Trump are treated to "all you can eat" air time in national news television, Sanders barely gets a mention.

It might be easy to dismiss this perception as paranoia, but there is actually a large body of data to support the contention of a media blackout of the Sanders campaign. Decisiondata.org has done a rather thorough job of reviewing the available data in the text from closed captioned television shows. By analyzing the television coverage of this race for media mentions of candidate names they can determine who is getting the most mentions on TV. But that is just the start.

Decisiondata.org analyzed the correspondence between media mentions and searches on Google. Here are some of the numbers as raw data:

Candidate                               Google Searches                              Mainstream Press Mentions
                                               (Jun-Present)                                    (Jun-Present)

Clinton                                         9,235,231                                            87,737
Sanders                                     21,536,032                                           29,525

To put the numbers differently, Hilary Clinton is getting 10 times the media mentions per Google search that Sanders is getting. Even Trump is getting 5 times the media mentions per Google search than Sanders is getting. Hilary tops them all.

The major media have researchers who can crunch these numbers and come up with the same results. If the major media is looking to generate ratings, they could use this analysis to air stories that correspond to the interest that people are showing by their searches on Google. Better ratings means more revenue. Apparently, higher ratings aren't that important this election cycle.

3. The myth of inevitability propounded by the media. Story after story I see in the major media talks about the early victories of Clinton in the primaries as if that's it. Sanders might as well pack it in and go home. They point to the delegate count and say, "Look, Clinton has 1121 delegates and Sanders only has 479 (as of tonight). Maybe he should call it quits."

But those numbers stand only if you include the superdelegates, you know, the most undemocratic feature of the Democratic Party. Hilary has 458 pledged superdelegates and Sanders has only 22. The superdelegates don't really count until they actually vote at the convention in July anyway. Take out the superdelegates and the path to the nomination is not so daunting. The total delegates won in the primaries by Clinton and Sanders (as of tonight) are 651 and 454, respectively. That means that Clinton's lead consists of 195 delegates out of a total of 4763.

That lead is tiny compared to the total field of delegates and there are still 32 states to go. Yet, the mainstream media is almost breathless in their urgency to declare the winner. More than a few pundits have the galling arrogance to suggest that Sanders should "drop out" or "get in line" so that he'll get a shot at a post in a Clinton administration. Yeah, right.

These same pundits are conveniently omitting two facts. First, the superdelegates only make up 15% of the total delegates. But the other one, and this is the kicker, is that if the popular vote goes with Sanders so do the superdelegates. Say, isn't that what happened in 2008 for Obama? That was even after they pledged support to Clinton - once they saw the popular vote, they had to give weight to the that support from ordinary people like you and me, lest they alienate their base. God knows they don't want to do that.

But they would love to be able to do that without losing the general election. Really, they do. Check out this quote from the DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (video on same interview here):
"Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don't have to be in a position where they are running against grass-roots activists."
The purpose of the superdelegates, at least in her mind, is that they wouldn't want a grass roots activist to get in there and spoil the party. One other thing you might not know about Debbie Wasserman Schultz: she was co-chair of Hilary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.

For more on how the DNC under the leadership of Debbie Wasserman Schultz has handicapped Hilary's campaign, go here.

4. Arrogance? Clinton? Aw, just ignore that FBI investigation! I mean, at least wait until she's president. Then she can shut it down and pretend like nothing happened.

The press and the Obama administration are giving Hilary a pass on the email scandal that is brewing beneath her campaign. Clinton supporters would like us to just ignore it for awhile. The Obama administration would like to ignore it because they're going to look a wee bit embarrassed for even letting a secretary of State pass classified documents and information through a private email server.

The FBI has the server and as far as they can tell, they say there is no sign of hacking by outsiders. But what they don't say is there is no need to hack it because email is sent in plain text. Just point a packet sniffer at it and collect packets 24/7. Then reconstruct it later to get at all that wonderful confidential information.

This is really the height of arrogance by Clinton. She knows that the Obama administration could apply pressure to Attorney General Loretta Lynch to avoid a grand jury or even the smell of an interview by the FBI. We wouldn't want to stigmatize Clinton's campaign with something like that. And we can't just ask her to drop the campaign because there is so much riding on it (Wall Street can't wait to get their hands on the Treasury department). If we indict before the election, it looks like we're partisan. If we stonewall or delay the investigation, it still looks like we're being partisan.

Besides, there is a certain legal doctrine that some in the Obama Administration would really like us to forget about if Clinton is indicted: respondeat superior - "let the master answer" (I just love how that sounds). Hilary said that she didn't know that she was sending classified documents through her server. I guess she never asked the guy who set it up. Or maybe she's taking a page from the Reagan playbook, and instead of saying she "can't remember", she's saying she didn't know. Well, she won't have to ask how that happened because the DOJ has just granted the guy who built her email server with immunity in exchange for testimony. Cute.

Doesn't this all seem rather ironic considering the way they've been pursuing Edward Snowden? Granted, she didn't stuff DVDs full of classified information and share it with select media outlets. But it's not like she told her boss what she was doing, either. So Clinton gets a pass on her handling of classified information from the press and her former boss all because someone at the top insists that she's the most electable candidate.

So if Hilary is the presumptive nominee, and she's such a great candidate, why is she getting handicapped with a few choice advantages? Does she really need all that help to beat Sanders? I guess so.
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