Thursday, March 06, 2008

Elections, causation, and perception

It would be cool if I could tie all those together, but this is actually several thoughts in a row.

First up, we all know that Clinton won Texas, right? Well, only sorta. But sorta not. She definitely won a narrow victory in the Texas primary, 51% to 47% and therefore won 4 more delegates than Obama. That's a victory, no problem there. But, there was also a caucus that night, which Obama happened to win. The caucus only divies up about half of the delegates of the primary, but, here's the kicker, Obama won the caucuses 56% to 44%, twice the margin of the primary. If you take half the delegates but win by twice as much, that comes out even. Clinton won the popular vote, but did not win (maybe a 1 delegate take for Clinton or Obama) the delegate vote, and the delegate vote is what decides the nomination. Despite this, the perception is and will remain that "Cinton won Texas".

Second up, if you are interested in politics, the NY Times has a great election results page that I've lost far too much time to already. Here it is.

Once you go into a state, you can also see both county by county results and exit polling data. I wanted to focus on the polls to talk about causation, which relates to my dissertation.

There's tons of fascinating stuff in these polls, and I spent some time comparing Texas to Ohio yesterday. One result had to to do with the questions: "do you think gender is important" and "do you think race is important". The majority of Democratic voters in both states usually said neither was important, with people who thought it was important maxing out at 20%. Of that 20%, some results are predictable, others surprising. For instance, in both states, if you thought gender was important, about 60% voted for Clinton. Makes sense. If you did not think gender was important, the voters split evenly 50/50.

In Texas, both if you thought race was important and if you thought it was unimportant, the voters also split 50/50. However, in Ohio, if you thought race was important, 60% of voters voted for... Clinton, not Obama. The not important people still came in at 50/50.

How do you interpret this little statistic of race-importance equalling pro-Clinton votes? One way to interpret it is that thinking race is important caused people to vote for Clinton. Race is important was a reason to vote for the white candidate. This is certainly a real possibility, but it's not the only one. Instead of thinking about race as a cause of a Clinton vote, they could also be common effects of some other cause, let's call it unknown cause X. In this possibility, Cause X both causes one to think race is important and causes one to vote for Clinton. Sometimes it's helpful to think of little diagrams to follow these things (but I can't figure out how to do so in this blog entry). In scenario 1, you have a box for "race is important" and a box for "vote Clinton" and a causal arrow leads from the first to the second. In the second scenario, there are three boxes. One box is for Cause X and it has an arrow going to the other two boxes, like a Y shape. In this scenario 2, thinking about race had nothing to do with the voting pattern. If you could erase all beliefs about race from the voters heads, they would still vote the same way (for Clinton) because Cause X is making them do it. Cause X also happens, however, to have some effect on beliefs about race importance.

Does this make any sense? Let me see if I can give an everyday example.

Let's say that 60% of drivers who wear winter coats in their car act irritably to their passenger. One causal model is that wearing coats makes people act irritably. Another possibility is that when it's cold in the car, drivers put on coats and act irritably. The coat isn't causing the irritable behavior, the cold is. In fact, if you removed the coat, they would act just as irritably as before -- or maybe more so.


Precie said...

Dammit,'re making me miss grad school. I loved grad school.

Mommy to Ander and Wife to Box said...

I would say "yes, I think race is important." And I voted for Clinton. So I can give insight into why I voted for Clinton and not Obama, even though race is important. And it's certainly not because I want the white person! In fact, I would probably be equally happy if Obama wins.

Race, along with gender and cultural backgrounds, shape who we are. I know some people try to be color-blind, and since they mean well, I accept that it's a positive thing for them. But the reality is that life in America, at least in my generation (I was born in 1975), means that your background meant being treated differently, by at least some people some of the time, based on your cultural, racial, and gender characteristics. So I think race is important because it shapes who you are.

But it was more important to me that I select the candidate of substance. Obama was, and still is, inspiring. But his words are mostly empty. Can he lead? I suspect so. Does his politics mirror mine? Yes. But does he has a plan? I'm not sure. I feel like Clinton does, so I voted for her.

I'm scared to death of the idea of another Republican president. I'm scared of nuclear war and pollution of our planet and allowing the poor to starve to death on the street. So whichever Democratic candidate comes out on top with get my vote.

pacatrue said...

Hey, precie, feel free to get your geek on at this blog as you wish.

K, your example gives another causal model that I ignored, namely that the two items aren't connected at all. Cause X determines the vote; Cause Y determines the "race is important" box, and they don't relate to each other. Two parallel lines. The statistics just happen to fall that way when comparing two unrelated effects.

Reading your comment, I did realize I described the questions poorly. The full question was, "In deciding your vote for President today, was the gender/race of the candidate important/not important."

I fully understand your reasons for voting Clinton. As someone who voted for Obama in the caucus here, I feel obligated to provide this link to the "Blueprint for Change: Barack Obama's Plan for America." The Clinton web site has no Plan (sorry, couldn't resist), but has the exact same thing broken down into separate issues here. (That was just a little joke; the blueprint plan is just the same as Clinton's except that the Obama gang put it all in a single pdf as well. I would like to say I have compared them both in great detail and made a brilliant and informed decision. But I didn't. I did scan for major differences over about 30 minutes once, and the main thing I noticed that swayed me towards Obama was a mention of the Pay As You Go fiscal responsibility idea. No passing today's budget to the kids. I did not see something similar on Clinton's web site, but I might have missed it.)

Robin S. said...


I'm addicted to your blog and to what comes out of your brain. I hope you don't stop blogging any time soon.

(My concern is, and I'm almost certain of this, is that that by this of time of day, having been in meetings and other gray cell sucks that turn me into a tired kind of jelly, after a while, I won't make good sense, even to myself.) But here it is:

I worry that so many people vote for the wrong reasons, or no reason that makes sense...well, here's a pitiful and true example:

Back in the early 90s, I lived in the Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas area, and I had a sweet hairdresser there, a very sweet woman who'd had a decently hard life, quite frankly, and who was simple in her wants and needs and expectations, because she'd had to learn to be.
She told me she was going to vote for Clinton because, she said, he was the only person she'd ever heard mention hairdressers in one his speeches.

I feel that this is tangentially related to the discussion here - maybe eventually, when I'm more awake, I'll realize why that might be.

I didn't know that Obama was a proponent of pay as you go- and being a Southerner, and fiscally conservative (and quite liberal, socially) I find his stance on that issue a good thing.

I do wonder if the race thing will matter in the stretch- and by that I mean, in the privacy of the voting booth, when I think it so often comes down to tribe vs. tribe, of one sort or another, be it party, age cohort, gender, race, etc., often even without the voter being fully aware of the causes of their responses, other than those for whom straight "party" tribe is simply the safe and done thing.

Sorry for being all over the map on this - your topic fascinates me.

December/Stacia said...

Race and gender are both extremely unimportant to me when it comes to voting. All that matters to me are what I perceive of the candidate's personality and plans, and how those fit with what I want in a President (or Senator, or Congressman, or whatever.)

ChristineEldin said...

I have nothing intelligent to say right now. Although I usually do. Don't misunderstand me.


Paca, your discussion about the Texas caucus vs. popular vote is very interesting. There is something about Rush Limbaugh recently where he's hoping Clinton and Obama will continue to have at it because he thinks it makes McCain stronger.

Precie said...

So...this discussion has brought to mind an NPR thing I heard a couple of months ago, when all the Dem candidates were still in the race. And I'd like to take this opportunity to no one in particular.

An African American woman was interviewed, and she said something about how it was so difficult to be faced with the problem of having to choose between your race and your gender. As if, back then, Obama and Clinton were already the only two candidates in the running.

Race and gender absolutely shape who we are. Historically, both factors have shaped how society treats people, how some groups have marginalized and controlled others. But the fact that someone shares my ethnic background and/or my gender doesn't mean s/he shares my values and beliefs, doesn't guarantee that s/he would work politically in my bests interests, doesn't verify that s/he is even a responsible, virtuous, trustworthy human being.

(Hey, paca, when are you going to post the Venn diagrams that should go with the causal models? :) )

Ello said...

Just so you know, I am always irritable.