Friday, April 7, 2017

Conceivable but improbable.

This interview caught my eye: Hillary Clinton Explains Why She Really Lost to Trump by Kendall Breitman. I think her root cause analysis is flawed but want to set aside the politics.
She largely cited these factors for her defeat:

- Russia. "A foreign power meddled with our election," she said, labeling it "an act of aggression." She called for an independent, bipartisan investigation into the Kremlin's involvement and said the probe should examine whether there was collusion with the Trump campaign.

- Misogyny. "Certainly, misogyny played a role. That has to be admitted," she said. Clinton added that "some people — women included — had real problems" with the idea of a woman president.

- Comey. Clinton cited as damaging to her campaign his unusual decision to release of a letter on October 28, less than two weeks before Election Day, that said he was looking at additional emails related to the FBI probe of the former secretary of state's use of a private server.

- WikiLeaks. Weeks of disclosures of stolen emails from the personal account of then-Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, were particularly harmful, Clinton said, adding that it "played a much bigger role than I think many people yet understand."
What intrigued me was the idea of how one might confirm or refute any of these four root causes.

Russia would be a lengthy argument. I think I could create a compelling argument that there is no substance to this root cause. Russia interfered in this election to the same extent that they interfere in every election. There is no evidence that anything they did was out of the ordinary or even of any consequence. In empirical and objective terms its just very hard to substantiate this claim.

The degree to which Comey handled the allegations of her email server is certainly a subject of dispute. I don't think there is a material matter of fact that can resolve this argument. She undertook a questionable course of action (complete reliance on a private server) for suspicious reasons (circumventing government transparency requirements) without due caution (poor security). These are reasonably documented. Whether laws were broken, or if broken should have been prosecuted are reasonable debating points. All of this takes precedence over Comey's actions. Without the predicate email server, there would have been no need for an investigation. Whether Comey had sufficient cause to not bring charges is debatable. Whether, on the discovery late in the campaign of further email caches, he was required to bring that to light is also debatable. As with Russia, I think the argument that the email server affair likely harmed her campaign is probably reasonably robust but whether Comey's handling had a material contribution to the outcome is more debatable and ultimately comes down to subjective judgment and opinion.

There is a very similar issue with the Wikileaks of Podesta's emails. I think it is debatable and irresolvable as to what might have hurt her more - The fact that there was DNC sculduggery which was revealed by the emails or whether it was the revelation itself. The analogy I might draw would be to when you are recruiting Candidate A for employment who claims to have a PhD. You learn from Candidate B that Candidate A does not, in fact, have a PhD degree. Is the disqualifying event the revelation or the original lie? That is a nice Jesuitical distinction but I am not sure it is a significant distinction.

Which leaves us with one open root cause argument, and this is the one that made me consider its provability or not. The claim that she lost because of the misogyny of the electorate. How might you know this? Undoubtedly there are at least some misogynists among some 200 million voters. But also, assuredly, there are some hard core misandrists as well. Do they balance each other out? Who knows?

It occurred to me that one way one might test this claim is to see which states have never elected a female Governor or female member of Congress. Forty states have ever had a female governor. Only two states have never sent a female to congress - Vermont and Mississippi. Vermont has had a female governor (1985-1991).

So only Mississippi has never sent a woman to Congress and also never elected a woman as Governor. Given that Mississippi is a deep red state, unlikely to vote for a Democrat of either sex, its loss by Clinton cannot be attributed to misogyny. Partisanship trumps misogyny as it were.

By this train of logic, it is very hard to make the case that systemic misogyny had anything to do with the outcome of the election. The electorates of 49 states have demonstrated, usually with multiple instances, the willingness to elect women to offices that are of greatest consequence to their well-being. The misogyny is simply not apparent.

Given these facts, the generic claim of election lost owing to misogyny is unsustainable. The refined claim might be made that perhaps misogyny is only in the context of the Presidency but that is even harder to sustain. It is hard to see the rationale that would drive a voter to be willing to vote for a female Governor or Congresswoman and not for the Presidency. But even if you grant that supposition, it is still hard to sustain when the majority of women from the largest demographic (whites) voted for the male candidate.

At this point the argument narrows down to an incredibly nuanced claim that people are willing to vote for women candidates except when they are running for President AND that the misogyny is manifested against the woman candidate by both men and women. That is a conceivable thesis but it seems pretty improbable.

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