Saturday, May 3, 2008

Innumeracy, the Media and the Indiana Primary

An article posted today on the Yahoo web site demonstrates how widespread innumeracy in America and, to a lesser extent, the degree of media bias regarding the Barack Obama campaign. The article was titled "Early Indiana turnout heavy in strong Obama counties" and it stated the following:

Early voting in Indiana could offer some encouragement to presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who needs a victory in its upcoming primary after a tough few weeks on the campaign trail.

Obama victories in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries on May 6 could help him regain momentum in his nomination fight against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama has been on the defensive because of comments by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and his own comments about people in small towns growing bitter.

About 20 percent of the 127,000-plus absentee ballots received as of early Friday were cast in three Indiana counties — Marion, Monroe and Lake — that political observers believe Obama is strongly favored to win.

The impression one gets from reading the article is that the share of early votes being cast in these three counties likely favorable to Obama is high enough to suggest that Obama's chances to pull off an upset in Indiana are higher than commonly supposed. Now, this would be the case if the total share of Democratic voters in these three counties over the entire state was much lower than 20%. This can be easily checked. From Dave Leip's web site, we can see that John Kerry received 969,011 votes in Indiana in the 2004 presidential election. The total number of votes cast for the Democratic candidate for president in 2004 in these three counties was 299,957 or 31.0% of the total Democratic votes in the state.

In other words, the 20% share of total absentee votes received from these three heavily Democratic counties as of last Friday represented only about two-thirds of the total share of Democratic votes in these three counties in the 2004 presidential election. As I have pointed out in several earlier posts on this blog, Obama's support is concentrated in urban areas. Thus, while one should anticipate that Barack Obama should do well in these three counties, one would also anticipate that Hillary Clinton should run strongly outside of these three counties. Had the author of this article bothered to take a few seconds to locate the 2004 presidential election totals, this person would have realized that the early vote is heavily concentrated outside of the three counties where Obama is likely to prevail. Rather than suggesting that the early turnout is favoring Obama, this information suggests that Obama may be facing a significant defeat next Tuesday in Indiana even beyond that predicted at present. Unfortunately, the writer appears to lack an ability to understand numbers and appears to be biased towards Barack Obama. In the end, he seems unable to see reality as it is actually unfolding.

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