Friday, October 17, 2008

Hope where there is none

I haven't exactly been shy in my predictions. Much as I would like to think otherwise, I am all but certain that John McCain is going to lose this election in a landslide, due not only to a perfect economic storm but also to his own total and utter ineptitude during the debates.

If there's any chance left for McCain at all--and I have serious doubts about that--it lies in the fact that Obama's supporters are tactical morons.

I'm not speaking here of the insane assaults on Sarah Palin that completely and utterly backfired on the media. I'm speaking instead of what Zombie calls The Left's Big Blunder--an overemphasis on opinion polls that are almost certainly substantially inflated:

In the majority of strategy games, the most effective plan is to trick your opponent into underestimating you. The goal is to catch them unawares, to spring an attack when they least expect it. But there are exceptions to this rule: in poker, and sometimes in warfare, the most effective strategy can be the reverse -- to bluff, which means to trick your opponent into overestimating your strength.

There's a catch, however: bluffing only works when the rules of the game allow you to avoid a showdown with your opponent. Imagine, for example, that you were playing a hand of high stakes poker against a skilled opponent. You look at your cards and you see that your hand is not particularly good. Under these circumstances, some professional poker players will bet everything they have, and act confident, in hope of bluffing their opponents into folding. When the opponent folds, there is no final showdown; the player who was bluffing collects the winnings without having to reveal his cards, or, even if he does reveal them, doesn't actually need to have the better hand. The opponents gave up because they couldn't take the pressure. But what if the rules of this particular game of poker were changed so that every hand necessarily ended in a showdown: it was not possible to fold, and no matter how much you bluffed, and how much your opponent feared the strength of your hand, you still have to beat his hand at the end of betting. Under these circumstances, bluffing is not only ineffective, it's absolutely foolish, because you're risking everything on a group of cards that are not likely to win.

Similarly, in ancient warfare, if you could convince your opponent that your army was bigger than it really was, you could possibly trick them into surrendering without a fight -- a fight you might have actually lost if you had gone to battle.

Yet presidential elections are not like poker or siege warfare. There is no way to bluff your way to victory. The McCain campaign can't "fold" or surrender, nor can the actual voting on November 4 be cancelled. No matter how much the Obama supporters inflate their apparent strength, at the end of the day they're going to have prove it's true -- or lose the election. Because of this, bluffing in a presidential election is the worst possible strategy, because all you'll end up achieving is to inspire the opposing camp to fight more desperately, since they'll assume their backs are against the wall. Teddy Roosevelt advised that the best political posture is to "Speak softly and carry a big stick" -- but in 2008 the Democrats are yelling at the top of their lungs and carrying only a medium-sized stick.

It's the longest of long shots--but between the identities of the actual pollsters (i.e. the ones in direct contact with those being surveyed), the Clever Hans Effect, and a viscerally renewed Bradley Effect, Zombie lays out a pretty compelling case for the last hope McCain has left: that enough despairing conservatives go out to vote in protest, while enough complacent Obama supporters decide to just stay home.

Frankly, though, McCain would have a better chance of winning the lottery.


In a row.

Playing the exact same numbers.


(H/T: Dr. Sanity)

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