Monthly Archives: June 2017

Lessons from the Georgia Special Election

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, June 21, 2017)

If you are reading this post, you probably have read more than a few analyses of the lessons learned from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election where Karen Handel (R) won over Jon Ossoff (D) by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. But let me add three more lessons that you probably haven’t heard.

(1) First, the Congressional Leadership Fund ran the most brilliant political ad I’ve seen in a long time.  If you don’t believe me, watch the ad here.

The TV ad simply links Ossoff to Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). It’s funny (even to Democrats I know) and makes a very relevant point: Ossoff raised the majority of his money from California. How do Democrats still not realize that most of America does not align itself with the politics of San Francisco, California?

The Civil Rights-Climate Change-Abortion party is not an attractive product. In fact, if the Democrats were a commercial product, it would have been discontinued soon after the 2010 election debacle. The product doesn’t sell.

And I am not just hating on the Democrats. I am the only political analyst who does not think Bernie Sanders is an unrealistic, out-of-touch socialist. He is not. He is actually trying to pull the Democrats into a policy space where the Democrats can dominate the Republicans across a broad swath of the American public.

The establishment Democrats (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Tom Perez, Kamala Harris) try to convince the Democrat base that post-materialist issues define the party’s future (civil rights, climate change, abortion) and that Bernie Sanders is an out-of-touch socialist who can’t win on a national level. However, the truth lies elsewhere.

Bernie Sanders and the  progressives refuse to accept the strictures of the Democratic establishment and instead recognize the strategic advantages the Democrats possess relative to the Republicans when they emphasize old-time, materialist issues (employment and wage growth, fair trade agreements, health care access, student debt, education investment, non-interventionist, U.S. interest-focused military policies, etc.).

The Georgia special election reminded me again, as information consumers, we cannot accept the CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, FOX News, and MSNBC definitions of the political left and right. These news outlets are dominated by post-materialists who have little understanding or interest in the real world where most voters reside.

(2) The second lesson I gleaned from the Georgia election is…NEVER RELY ON ONE DATA SOURCE OR ANALYTIC METHOD.

Nate Silver and are not a bunch of geniuses who know something everyone doesn’t know. I’m a statistician by training and I believe decision-making must always include the best available data.

Yet, the problem is one of humility and most statisticians, including Nate Silver and his cohorts at, possess very little of that trait. Instead, they have developed one of the great cons of our time and a con that our media outlets systematically ignore.

This most recent Georgia election has put this con directly in the spotlight. Nate Silver and have learned that when making predictions, predict all possible outcomes, thereby making yourself appear to be the Nostradamus of your time. Its the political analog to climate change. Assert that all outcomes prove the validity of your model and you can’t go wrong.

They are modern-day versions of witch doctors.

If you don’t believe me, I invite you to read Nate Silver’s multiple predictions on the Georgia special election here.

It’s not that Nate Silver and are frauds. They are not. They earnestly employ sophisticated modeling techniques on a wide range of data sources (opinion surveys, econometric data, past voting behavior, etc.) to make predictions. One of Silver’s innovations is that he understands that electoral outcomes at the local and state levels are correlated with outcomes nationwide. Without modeling that fact, predictions will be biased.

No, the problem is not that Nate Silver and are frauds.  They are not.

The problem is that they (and myself at times) fail to appreciate how unpredictable attitudes and behaviors can be within the American population. The data we collect on all Americans (past purchase behavior, current life stage,  past voting behavior, public opinion polling, credit history, online behavior, etc.) is not enough information to reliably predict political behavior (i.e., how people will vote). It just isn’t.

We need only look at the hubris of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and its over-reliance on big data models for tactical decision-making to realize decisions based solely on data are susceptible to unacceptable amounts of error.

Clinton lost in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania because the data models said she was safe in those states. The data failed.

Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, not because of the Russians, but because she allowed the data nerds to make tactical decisions that did not properly value real-time, survey-based opinion data — which is expensive to collect and analyze, but remains an irreplaceable element of today’s election campaigns.

Kellyanne Conway understood this fact. That is why the Trump campaign was well-positioned to exploit Clinton’s tactical errors.

Yes, this last conclusion is a little self-serving, but nonetheless true. Big data relies on easily available data sources. The data are not selected because of their theoretical relevance to the empirical question (How will people vote on election day?). It is selected because it is readily available and correlates with election outcomes.

But as we all learned in our first-year college statistics class, correlation is not causation. To assume it is, is not good  data modeling practice.

(3) Finally, my third takeaway from the Georgia special election is that media-selected experts are not expert enough to be truly called experts. I don’t need to pick on any specific media analyst because they all, near universally, failed to provide any specific insights into the Georgia special election.

Laura Ingraham and Michael Moore are two exceptions. They seem to understand people at the DNA-level, even if they come from different ideological viewpoints.

We live in the age of faux expertise. In fact, it does appear to the naked eye, that the more someone fails in the American political circus, the more often they are relied upon for expert analysis on our news networks. Robby Mook and Jennifer Palmieri should be selling corn dogs on the Atlantic City, New Jersey boardwalk after what they did to the arguably “most qualified presidential candidate” in our nation’s history. Van Jones from CNN got it right when he assessed the competence of Clinton’s campaign operatives : They set fire to over $1 Billion and called it a campaign.

But, no, I am forced to regularly listen to the expertise of these former Clinton campaign operatives on CNN and MSNBC instead.

That’s what I learned from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election.

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

Paris Agreement: Exit Stage Right

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, June 2, 2017)

Three certainties remain after the Trump administration’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement. First, climate change science will become even more politicized. Second, coal is not coming back.

The third certainty is that the Paris Agreement on climate change, with or without the U.S. in it, will not change the facts on the ground. The planet will continue to warm even as the developed economies will continue to rapidly convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration’s decision to leave and potentially renegotiate the agreement has been met by near unanimous criticism from the media, the Democrats, and the international community.

Yet, much of the criticism rings hollow given that many of these voices decrying Trump today were also denouncing the agreement nearly two years ago when it was signed in Paris. The central feature of the agreement most criticized at the time was its nonbinding nature and lack of enforcement mechanisms.

Writing for The New Yorker, John Cassidy summarized in a 2015 article the inherent weakness of the Paris Agreement:

“The only way to ensure the participation of the United States and China was to make the agreement nonbinding. The Obama Administration insisted on it, well aware that the U.S. Senate wouldn’t ratify a formal treaty…If a country fails to live up to what it promised in Paris, there is no obvious recourse beyond naming and shaming.”

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the Paris Agreement came from the very scientists the Democrats today use as cudgels to shame “climate deniers” and other critics of the Paris Agreement.

Former NASA scientist James Hansen, one of the first scientists to document how greenhouse gases are putting the planet’s climate at risk, said of the Paris Agreement, “It’s a fraud really, a fake. It is just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2-degree Celsius warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

“The emissions cuts promised by countries (in the Paris Agreement) are still wholly insufficient,” said Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia, who studies global emissions, about the agreement when it was signed in December, 2015.

“The deal in Paris may well have been the best deal possible,” wrote New Scientist writer Michael Le Page. “But the protesters outside the summit are right when they say it will not save the planet.”

Nothing has changed in the Paris Agreement since Dr. Hansen and Dr. Le Quere made those comments in 2015. So what justifies the hysterics we now hear about the Trump administration’s decision to leave the agreement? The nonbinding nature of the Paris Agreement that was once declared as the agreement’s fatal flaw, is now portrayed as part of its strength. Critics of the Trump action further suggest the U.S. will cede its leadership position in the world by leaving the agreement.

“Its a shameful moment for the United States,” says former Secretary of State John Kerry, who helped negotiate the agreement.

“This was a crushing blow,” says Alice Hill. who helped negotiate the agreement for the Obama administration. ”

“A profound abdication of world leadership,” says former U.S. Senator Max Baucus. “This is a huge opportunity for China.”

Its not clear how China becomes a world leader on climate policy, given their own reluctance to adhere to binding and enforceable CO2 emissions cuts, but we are asked to accept this inevitable shift in power without examination.

What seems more likely from the Trump move is that climate change science will become even more politicized which doesn’t serve anyone’s interest.

The distress over the Trump decision is motivated by more by the politics than the science.

That’s not a criticism of Trump’s critics. Of course, politics is a big part of this debate. We are potentially talking trillions of dollars in costs and wealth transfers as the impact of global warming becomes increasingly evident over time. When money on that scale is involved, we can’t let scientists unilaterally make the substantive policy decisions that address global warming. Scientists are not elected representatives and they won’t suffer the consequences the way politicians will should the transition to a renewable energy economy cause significant economic dislocation.

Furthermore, since the Paris Agreement is voluntary and nonbinding, the most likely impact of the U.S. withdrawal will be in perceptions. Where the Obama administration portrayed itself as a leader on the issue (it wasn’t), the Trump decision has left a perceived power vacuum likely to be filled by the Europeans in the near-term and potentially by China in the long-term.

But the truth is even more complicated. China and other rapidly developing economies can’t afford energy prices to rise too fast — which will happen if the conversion to renewable energy sources occurs too rapidly. Its a balancing act that determined the shape of the Paris Agreement and ultimately limits its impact on global temperatures.

The claim that China will assume leadership in the new technologies behind renewable energy because of the Trump action is a baseless canard. China and Europe were catching up in those technologies (if not already surpassing us) while the U.S. was part of the Paris Agreement. Trump’s action doesn’t change that — and nothing prevents this country from keeping its leadership in these technologies. Economic demand will drive technology development, independent of the Paris Agreement.

The Trump decision is predicated on a political calculus that presupposes millions of fossil fuel-based jobs will be jeopardized if we adopt the Paris Agreement targets. You can argue they are wrong, but its hard to deny why they would be concerned about these potential job losses.

“Paris represents an international agreement that puts the U.S. at a disadvantage and does little to change global warming,” says U.S. EPA chief, Scott Pruitt. “The U.S. has made significant advancements in CO2 emissions. We have nothing to apologize for.”

Its hard to ignore the irony in Pruitt’s statement. It is because of the active efforts of the Obama administration that allows him to highlight this country’s achievements in reducing CO2 emissions. That the Trump administration is already rolling back regulations that could reverse these gains is left unaddressed by Pruitt.

But Trump’s critics ignore the realities of climate change as well. The science says the Paris Agreement will be insufficient in stopping the planet’s 2 degree Celsius temperature rise from the pre-industrial baseline.

So what are we left with?  Not much. Global temperatures will continue to rise. The Europeans, China and the U.S. are likely to continue unabated in their  efforts to convert from fossil fuel-based to renewable energy-based economies. And those efforts may not occur soon enough to avoid the significant costs of global warming.

But that is where this has always been heading and no politician, country or political movement is positioned to change that fact.

You contact the author at:

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.