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Friday, May 16, 2008


the triumph of the technocrats

posted by Aziz P. at Friday, May 16, 2008 permalink View blog reactions
The Politico has a great profile of the mastermind behind Obama's nomination strategy, Jeffrey Berman, a lawyer whose hobby is delegate math:

Clinton’s delegate chief is the much-heralded, oft-profiled, tough-talking past master of the party’s rules, Harold Ickes. But Ickes had a broad portfolio that included fundraising and politicking, a lobbying and consulting business, and a sideline in bitter infighting — all conducted while Berman was concentrating solely on tasks such as hashing out the details of the mixed Texas primary system and arranging obscure Puerto Rican political deals.

Berman’s counterpart on the staff level in the Clinton campaign, meanwhile, is a former New York State Democratic Party official new to the delegate hunt.

Berman, by contrast, 25 years ago joined the very small fraternity of Democratic operatives steeped in the obscure — and typically unrewarding — subfield of delegate selection. It’s a job description that begins with getting the candidate on the ballot with full delegate slates in 50 states and extends through building a whip operation for a possible floor fight at the convention.

In the middle is the crucial process of setting a campaign’s strategy for amassing the maximum number of delegates — a mind-numbing blend of math and politics that will focus a candidate’s energies on congressional districts in which the math of proportional representation gives him or her a chance to pick up an extra delegate or run up a big margin.

The infamous Obama Spreadsheet that predicted the outcome of every race thus far (and which has only been wrong twice) was almost certainly Berman's work. This is exciting because it represents the triumph of technocracy over the political machine establishment. It's not unrelated to note that an anonymous blogger was able to out-predict all the professional pollsters using only a sophisticated statistical model based on demographics and past vote data:

Over the last week, an anonymous blogger who writes under the pseudonym Poblano did something bold on his blog, He posted predictions for the upcoming primaries based not on polling data, but on a statistical model driven mostly by demographic and past vote data. His model predicted a 17-point victory for Barack Obama in North Carolina and a 2-point edge for Hillary Rodham Clinton in Indiana.

Critics scoffed. Most of the public polls pointed to a close race in North Carolina. Looking back at Poblano's efforts in Pennsylvania, pollster Dick Bennett decried the models as "stepwise regression run amok." Slate's Mickey Kaus predicted failure for "a sophisticated model that ignores... what's been happening in the campaign. Like Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright."

But a funny thing happened. The model got it right. ...

Moreover, the predictions were more accurate than any of the pollsters' results.

This is just the beginning. After the 2008 race is over, the publically available county by county data should be a gold mine. Literally - I wouldn't be surprised if a few cycles from now, that data won't even be free anymore.

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Literally - I wouldn't be surprised if a few cycles from now, that data won't even be free anymore.

Boy, that would be worth fighting tooth and nail against: our votes, our elections, our data. I'm a little ticked off I can't get GIS files here in Montgomery County without jumping through hoops and paying a fee.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.