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Saturday, July 23, 2016

So you're telling me the Mormons are the real majority?

In 1977 PBS in a moment of uncharacteristic excellence premiered In Search of the Real America. The show was hosted by Ben Wattenberg, a neo conservative Democrat who had co authored with Richard Scammon, a former director of the Census Bureau The Real Majority in which the two posited their finding that the typical American was a 47-year-old homemaker from the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio, whose husband was a machinist. That was quite an accomplishment in the days before computer generated voter models and it was widely referenced in the 1972 presidential election.
 As for the PBS show one might guess that Wattenberg's motivation for producing it was to unite his badly fractured party which had split asunder over Vietnam and along with the rest of the nation was treading water in Mr. Carter's "national malaise" but that aside an update to his Real Majority is certainly in order.

Anyone who watched the Republican primaries unfold must conclude that's Trump's perception of the Republican and probably the national electorate was more spot on than any of the competition but there is one particular demographic that seems to have been misunderstood, namely the so called evangelical Christians. Supposedly this group would fall head over heels for Ted Cruz and his rather vague brand of Cotton Mather's Calvinism but no. They went for Trump. They went for Trump throughout the South and they went for Trump throughout the Midwest save Iowa, leaving Cruz looking like a Rocky Mountain regional candidate who could occasionally capture a Midwestern state.
The Cruz quest for the presidency was dependant on the notion that he could bring to the polls in the general election the 4 million conservative Republicans who sat out the 2012 election. Many of the stay at home Republicans were deemed to be evangelical Christians, a nebulous term that has found favor in the liberal media. I would submit that the elusive demographic Cruz was appealing to has been extinct for almost two generations. The elder Cruz, who was kept out of sight by the campaign, is rumored to be a full blown head case, who could find friends among the Appalachian snake handlers of bygone days but what about Ted Cruz? Other than his personal assertions there is scant evidence to suggest that he is a religious person. Where does he go to church? Where is the preacher who guides him through matters of faith?
This is where it gets funny. From NPR:
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign is obsessed with data. If there's political science research proving an idea works, there's a good chance his staff has studied it. That's why Cruz didn't back down last month when the campaign came under fire for sending mail to Iowa voters shaming them for not showing up to vote in recent elections.
TED CRUZ: And I will apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote.
SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Detrow takes a look at the campaign's unique analytical effort - and attempt to try to quantify the personality type of every Republican voter it's trying to woo.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Ted Cruz's campaign wants to talk to you one-on-one. And to have a good one-on-one conversation, you need to know who you're talking to. That's why you probably Google blind dates before you meet them, and it's why Cruz is spending millions working with a British company that claims it's put together more than 4,000 data points on every single American voter - how often you vote, who your friends are and, most importantly for Cruz, what issues you're interested in.
CHRIS WILSON: What this allows us to do is do something that products have been for a long time, which is market to individuals specifically, be able to talk to them about things they care about.
DETROW: That's Chris Wilson, Cruz's director of research and analytics. But he says knowing the issues isn't enough. The campaign needs to know why a voter cares about something like gun rights.
WILSON: There are people who support the Second Amendment because they live in a rural community, they like to go hunting. There are people who are supporting the Second Amendment because they care about the Constitution. There are people who support the Second Amendment because they want to be able to protect themselves and their families.
DETROW: The Cruz campaign has divided Republicans into five different personality types. When the campaign reaches out with phone calls, canvassing or targeted ads, each group gets a slightly different sales pitch.
ALEXANDER NIX: We're appealing to the same demographic on the same issue, yet how we nuance this engagement is completely different.
DETROW: At this point, you're probably wondering how all this works. Well, Alexander Nix is the person to explain it. He's the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, the British company the Cruz campaign is working with on all this. Nix says a lot of the data the company has on personality types comes from...
Hmm. Five different Republican personality types gleaned from 4,000 data points on each voter? Wow! And people worry about the NSA's propensity to data mine!
 Janet Yellen, and Ben Bernanke before her, have sufficiently demonstrated the limits of data's ability to predict sans proper interpretation. So what the hell does Cambridge Analytica know about evangelical Christians? All computer models begin with assumptions about the subject under study. In the physical sciences where water always boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the researcher's job is easier but in economic or political models the researcher must make judgments. Economic models are usually easier to construct than political models because the variables have a numeric value. One can place a dollar value on an ounce of gold but how does one measure voter sentiment on a given issue? Usually a numerical value is given to a response. Published polling results that vary widely demonstrate the limits to polling and modeling based on polling must be taken with a grain of salt.
So, no one who actually knows an evangelical Christian sets out to determine how that demo will vote. What could go wrong? For one thing mainline Protestantism has changed and so have the evangelicals. They care more about the price of Walmart's Wrangler jeans than the state of Sam Walton's soul. If someone were to tell them that Donald Trump was going to hell the would probably express some personal sadness but also express hope that that wouldn't happen until after he finished the wall. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Jimmy Carter are more representative of evangelical Christians than the unflattering caricature perpetuated by the media. The typical evangelical does not sleep with a AR-15 mounted above the bed and a Bible under the pillow.
The Breitbart post, Salt Lake Tribune — ‘Cruz in Utah: Glenn Beck Says He’s Fulfillment of Mormon Prophecy’ suggested that Cambridge Analytica's model must be a few degrees off target. OMG, they missed the Evangelicals and hit the Mormons with their micro targeting. What else explains Cruz's success in the West and his failure everywhere else? Romney's dislike for Trump is probably based in jealousy and purely partisan differences but what about the remainder of the Mormon community? Are they simply pro Ted Cruz? I think so but I'll let Cambridge Analytica figure it out while I reread Wattenberg's Real Majority.


  1. I actually think evangelicals are very concerned about the direction of the country and its spirituality, which, believe it or not, explains Trump, as Falwell did. The problem is that most Republican leaders will NOT speak the truth or stand up to the left. They are weak and selfish. I know for myself, I am extremely interested in and worried about what is happening spiritually in this country. I had to quit listening to Beck; he's off the deep end, which is sad because he often has great insight and can be very funny. Now I listen to Chris Plante and only Chris Plante on WMAL out of DC on iHeart radio. He's wickedly funny, sharp and focuses right to the heart of issues.

    1. The point I was trying to make is Cruz and his Cambridge Analytica were speaking to the Methodists and Baptists I knew when I was a kid. They were frequently anti Catholic and anti Semitic. Many would not patronize a store that sold liquor or was open on Sunday.
      I'm sure Huckabee and Palin are concerned about the election as are most evangelicals but they are are great deal smarter and a great deal nicer people than the caricature presented by the media and evidently pursued by the Cruz campaign.