Ronan Lyons | Personal Website
Ronan Lyons | Personal Website

September 2008

Lean on who? McCain's problem – RCP poll analysis 09/29

A couple of weeks ago, at the height of Palin-mania, I did a quick cross-check of RCP’s electoral college polls compared to how they’d been at the start of September. At that time, there was lots of bad news for Obama, in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana, in particular. To compound that, McCain had turned lots of his ‘weak’ electoral votes (EV) into medium and strong votes, in places like Florida, Georgia and Virginia. On Sep 12, according to my analysis of the RCP figures, McCain was only one strong EV behind Obama (130-129, strong being 10 points or more ahead in the polls).

I wondered at the time, whether it represented a shift change in the race, i.e. was the Palin announcement setting a new average around which the numbers would shift, that average being closer to 50-50 than before, or was the announcement and its aftermath just one of the ups and downs around the existing average, i.e. that the average was going to stay something like 53-47 in Obama’s favour? It seems, if the evidence of the last two weeks or so is anything to go by, that it is more the latter than the former. Maybe it is the turmoil in the finanical markets, maybe it is the public tiring of Palin for a while as they did with Obama earlier in the year, or maybe it is something else again, but the last 15 days or so will have left the Obama-ites a lot happier than the McCain-ites.

A first glance at the polls could leave one to argue that it is not as cut and dry as one might think. McCain has actually gained ground, in a statistically significant sense (i.e. 3% or more) in more states than Obama (3-2). However, it’s the composition of those gains that is important – McCain’s gains have been non-battleground states, including New York and Maine, where his team probably doesn’t rate his chances, and Montana, which he was probably counting on anyway. Obama’s two gains have come in very interesting states: North Carolina, where he has overturned an 11% poll deficit to now have the slenderest of advantages 46.8-46.5, and New Mexico, which (by the simple rule of 5% or more means leaning) is now leaning to Obama 50.3-44.3. In addition, Michigan is now leaning to Obama (+6.6%), while Florida is back to being a toss-up state (46.0-47.6, in McCain’s favour). Ditto Missouri.

Further down the electoral vote pecking order, McCain did get some good news: Minnesota and Wisconsin have moved from leaning to Obama to being toss-ups – interesting to see how much the location of the RNC affected the former. The net of it all, in electoral vote terms, is the following (and bear in mind that the RCP analysis only covers about 480 of the 540 or so electoral votes):

  • Obama’s has managed to take 17 weak EVs and move them to strong (+14) and medium (+3). His strong EVs amount to 144, up from 130 on Sept 12 (but still below the 156 on Sep 1).
  • At the same time, he’s upped his weak EVs from 56 to 73, giving him a total of 274 – enough to win the Presidency even without the 15 smaller states missing from RCP’s analysis, were results to go exactly as the polls.
  • McCain, on the other hand, has seen a slight fall in his strong votes, from 129 to 117. It’s his medium level votes, though (that is, those states where he has a 5-10 point advantage) that have collapsed. Literally. While there are 11 solid pro-Bush 2000-04 states that McCain has ‘in the bag’ so to speak, Florida and Missouri’s conversion to toss-ups means that there is not a single state in the USA that leans to McCain, i.e. where he has a lead of between 5 and 10 points.

The upshot is that the simple sum of RCP polls gives Obama an 83-vote lead, up from just 27 votes on Sep 12. Better still for Obama, that lead is entirely made up of medium to strong poll showings, i.e. a lead of 5 points or more. Still, elections can swing on small margins and it is worthwhile noting that there are now almost 150 electoral votes in toss-up states (i.e. where neither candidate has a lead of 5 points). Were something small to happen to push the marginal voter back to the GOP, who knows what could happen? Vice-presidential debate anyone?

Byrne, baby, Byrne… Wicklow inferno!

OK, my blog titles are getting worse not better! Welcome, nonetheless, to another Irish genealogy post.

Earlier this week, I was contacted by my fourth cousin, Stephen Macken. Like myself, Stephen runs a family tree website on myheritage.com. Stephen worked out, through the SmartMatch system, that we share a set of great-great-great-grandparents. Thomas Boyd, whose first name I hadn’t known until now. married Mary Fields in November 1841. (Until now, I hadn’t known any details about her at all, so I’ve just found my 20th of 64 surnames at the 3-times-great-grandparents!) One of their daughters, Catherine, married a German migrant, Philip Mannweiler, and they had ten children including my great-grandfather, while her elder sister, Mary Anne Boyd married Michael Kinsella, and their son John was Stephen’s great-grandfather.

It made me focus a little more on my Wicklow roots, which had suffered from a bit of neglect as I was busy chasing my Cork and Tyrone roots. In particular, I’m interested in finding out how surnames like Boyd and Fields crop up in seemingly earnest Irish Catholic families in Wicklow in the mid-19th Century. Part of the reason, I guess, is that if a Protestant man married a Catholic woman, while the surname came from the father, the mother would typically pass on the religion, turning previously Protestant names into Catholic ones!

The very useful Failte Romhat website has lots of data on Griffith’s Valuations, the best Census substitute for Ireland for the mid-19th Century. In Wicklow, the valuation was taken in 1852-1853, so it’s a good post-Famine snapshot of Wicklow. Taking the data for the various civil parishes in Wickow, the most common surname – by a good Wicklow mile – is Byrne. Don’t take my word, here’s the by now customary word cloud:

Given that I’m looking for Boyd and Fields, it’s interesting to see that pretty much all the top surnames are Irish Gaelic surnames – Byrne, Toole, Kavanagh, Cullen, Kelly, Murphy, Doyle… (If I’m honest, I do actually have a Farrell and a McGrath, more than likely Wicklow-based, in the same neck of the family tree woods.) I think you’ll agree that Byrne is a little overbearing, though! So I did the cloud again, this time without Byrne. It allows a slightly better perspective of some of the medium tier surnames – in particular some non-Gaelic surnames like Wilson and (if you’ve got your glasses on!) Hopkins, Gilbert and even Powerscourt!

Wicklow Griffiths Valuations, excluding Byrne
Wicklow Griffiths Valuations, excluding Byrne

The good news for those like myself looking into North Wicklow for their roots is that the Catholic records in Bray, for example, go back well beyond what’s typical for Ireland – to before 1800. For those with Protestant ancestors, the news is even better – records for Bray and Delgany go back to 1667! And while it looks like those records are probably not on familysearch.org, they will be on the Irish Family History Foundation’s site ‘soon’, to quote their site.

So who knows where we’ll end up – or rather what surnames we’ll end up with – soon?!

McCain solidifies his electoral votes – Pennsylvania, Michigan teeter

I had been wondering how long it would take for the electoral college system to reflect the polls, in the US presidential election. For quite a while, Obama seemed to be struggling in the polls but well ahead when all that was translated at the state level into electoral votes (EVs).

It seems that it’s finally happened! Real Clear Politics’ assessment of the polls and EV implications has Obama ahead by just one vote. I decided to have a look at the figures myself, as a non-expert of the whole college system. I looked at the figures from 1st September and from 12th September, to see where the change was happening, and drew out some ‘key points’, like a good consultant! First up, the bad news and the good news for Barack Obama – there’s more of the former!

Obama’s bad news

  • Pennsylvania (a chunky 21 EVs) has fallen from being an Obama likely to a toss-up – he was +6.8% and is now just +2.3% ahead of McCain.
  • Obama has also seen his lead shrink in the other large toss-up state that’s currently in his favour, Michigan (17 EVs), from +3.2% to +2.0%.
  • Indiana (11 EVs), a huge pro-Bush state in 2000/2004 (by 15-20%), was Obama +0.5% but has now swung substantially in McCain’s favour – he leads by 4.7%.
  • Obama’s is even taking a hit in states where he is probably safe, e.g. in New Jersey and Washington (together 26 EVs), his lead in both is has fallen by 1% and is now below 10% in each.

Obama’s good news

  • Minnesota (10 EV), however, has moved towards Obama, from +2.3% to +7.0%, while he has also almost doubled his lead in Iowa (7 EVs) to 9%.
  • Colorado (9 EVs) has gone from being a virtual tie (McCain +0.5%) to an Obama lead of +2.3%, while his lead in New Hampshire (4 EVs) is small but growing (from 1.4% to 3.3%).
  • His lead has grown in New York (31 EVs), already solidly pro-Obama.

So leaving out the solid states, there is bad news for Obama in states worth 49 EVs, and good news in states worth only 40 EVs. What about John McCain?

  • Florida (27 EVs) has moved from being a toss-up, McCain +1.8%, to looking little more solid for McCain – it’s now McCain +5%.
  • In Georgia (15 EVs), which was already leaning towards McCain, McCain’s lead in the polls has doubled to 13.4%.
  • North Carolina (15 EVs) has moved from toss-up with McCain tendencies (+4.3% in his favour) to being solid McCain ground (+11%).
  • Virginia (13 EVs) was a tie last time but is leaning towards McCain, by +2.6% – perhaps not a big surprise, as it was Bush +8% in 2000/2004.
  • Gained Indiana (11 EVs, as per above) and improved his lead in Missouri (11 EVs) from 2% to 7%

Nevada (5), New Mexico (5) and Montana (3) are new to the RCP polling stats. McCain is ahead by 9% in the latter, but the other two are both toss-ups and are split – Obama leads in New Mexico by 2.3%, while McCain leads in Nevada by 1%.

So, defining ‘Strong’ as a lead of 10% or more, ‘Medium’ as a lead of 5-10% and ‘Weak’ as a lead of less than 5%, how have things changed since the start of the month?

  • Obama’s ‘Strong’ count has fallen from 156 to 130 (269 are needed in total). The fall of 26 is spread relatively evenly across medium and weak Obama EVs, but by simple polls, it suggests that Obama would get 246 EVs out of the 35 states for which there are data available.
  • McCain’s big improvement has been turning his weak votes, of which there were 82, into Mediums or even Strongs – having trailed Obama 156-99 in strong EVs at the start of the month, he’s just one behind now (130 to 129). He’s also moved about 25 votes from weak to medium.

By my simple count of the polls, and including college votes of every strength, Obama still has a healthy 246-219 lead, although that’s almost a halving of his lead in about 2 weeks. It’ll be very interesting to check in again in two weeks and see whether that’s a temporary bounce due to the Palin effect or whether it’s the start of a prolonged trend!

Dublin in the 1780s: It's Hell, Jim, but not as we know it

Recently, as I trawled through Google Books archive looking for various tidbits that would service my twin Irish historical interests – economic history and genealogy – I stumbled across an edition of the Quarterly Review from 1852 which contained a fascinating lengthy article, essentially a proto-Lonely Planet for Dublin. I’m still going through it – there are an amazing amount of anecdotes about daily life in Dublin, as well as guides to all the sites of prominent buildings, still standing now, standing then but gone by now and those which had even gone by then.

Early in the article, there was a fascinating diversion in a footnote, containing a discussion of an area of Dublin long since gone – Hell. My first thought was that this must have been one of the slums of Dublin, possibly the most notorious. It turns out, however, that it’s just another example of Dublin wit. The area itself was quite posh – rooms in Hell for lawyers working in the nearby old Four Courts were advertised in local papers. Dubliners just liked the idea of having an area right beside the main Cathedral, Christ Church, called Hell. It even had a statue of the devil! To better follow the story, you might cross-reference against this map of Hell, Dublin, circa 2008, courtesy of Google Maps.

Dublin's Hell Region, circa 2008
Dublin

I’m hoping to dig out a series of little interesting anecdotes about Dublin from this excellent trove – I’ve spotted a list of pubs and gentlemen’s clubs later in the piece, so that might be up next! Here’s the footnote in full, though. The bulk of it is a direct quotation from about 1830, the reminiscences of an old man, presumably thinking back to his youth in the 1780s or so – enjoy!

The “London Tavern” appears to have been destroyed by a fire which broke out in 1729, in the “London Entry” between Castle-street and Fishamble-street, the greater part of the houses in these two streets, as well as in Copper-alley, close to the back of the “London Entry”, being then built of timber or “cage-work”.

The iron gate of the passage through which the judges entered the old Four Courts of Dublin, stood about ten yards from the present west corner of Fishamble street, in Skinner’s-row, now called Christ Church-place. The widening of the upper part of the west side of Fishamble-street and the adjacent alterations, totally obliterated this passage, which was known as “Hell”. The following description of it appeared in a Dublin periodical twenty years ago:-

“I remember, instead of turning to the right down Parliament-street, going, in my youth, straightforward under the Exchange and up Cork-hill, to the old Four Courts, adjoining Christ Church cathedral. I remember what an immense crowd of cars, carriages, noddies, and sedan chairs beset our way as we struggled on between Latouche’s and Gleadowe’s Banks in Castle-street – what a labour it was to urge on our way through Skinner-row – I remember looking up to the old cage-work wooden house that stood at the corner of Castle-street and Werburgh-street, and wondering why, as it overhung so much, it did not fall down – and then turning down Fishamble-street, and approaching the Four Courts, that then existed, through what properly was denominated Christ Church Yard, but which popularly was called Hell.

This was certainly a very profane and unseemly soubriquet, to give to a place that adjoined a Cathedral whose name was Christ Church; and my young mind, when I first entered there, was struck with its unseemliness. Yes; and more especially, when over the arched entrance there was pointed out to me the very image of the devil, carved in oak, and not unlike one of those hideous black figures that are still in Thomas-street, hung over Tobacconists’ doors. This locale of Hell, and this representation of his satanic majesty, were famous in those days even beyond the walls of Dublin. I remember well, on returning to my native town after my first visit to Dublin, being asked by all my playfellows, had I been in Hell, and had I seen the devil. Its fame even reached Scotland, and Burns the Poet, in his story of ‘Death and Doctor Hornbook’, alludes to it when he says –

‘But this that I am gean to tell, / Which lately on a night befell / Is just as true as the dell’s in hell, / Or Dublin city.’

As Hell has not now any local habitation in our city, neither has the devil – but I can assure you, reader, that there are relics preserved of this very statue to this day; some of it was made into much esteemed snuff-boxes – and I am told there is one antiquarian in our city, who possesses the head and horns, and who prizes the relic as the most valuable in his museum. At any rate, Hell to me, in those days, was a most attractive place, and often did I go hither, for the yard was full of shops where toys, and fireworks, and kites, and all the playthings that engage the youthful fancy, were exposed for sale. But Hell was not only attractive to little boys, but also to bearded men: for here were comfortable lodgings for single men, and I remember reading in a journal of the day, an advertisement, intimating that there were ‘To be let, furnished apartments in Hell. N.B. They are well suited to a lawyer.’

Here were also sundry taverns and snuggeries, where the counsellor would cosher with the attorney – where the prebendary and the canon of the cathedral could meet and make merry – here the old stagers, the seniors of the Currans, the Yelvertons, and the Bully Egans, would enjoy the concomitants of good fellowship – there Prime Sergeant Malone, dark Phil Tisdall, and prior still to them, the noted Sir Toby Butler, cracked their jokes and their marrow bones, toasted away claret and tossed repartee, until they died, as other men die and are forgotten.”

Would you prefer a promise or a fight? A different take on Obama-McCain

Hot on the heels of last week’s word cloud for Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, I’m delighted to be able to do the same for John McCain’s acceptance speech. The word cloud is below and as you can see some old reliables crop up: country is more important than world, Washington gets a bit of a grilling, and “change” is about as prominent in McCain’s speech as it was in Obama’s. That latter one sounds about right, when you think about just how much the GOP have decided – better late than never, I guess – that ‘change’ is working with the voters and that the Party had better make it look like they’re also not in the White House at the moment, so they can call for it too!

John McCain Word Cloud
John McCain Word Cloud

Whereas Obama’s little surprise was ‘promise’, tying him right back to Martin Luther King, McCain’s was ‘fight’. The language is interesting, because it ties in to a broader strategy that the GOP are using, pitching the voter as essentially having to fight ‘the system’ in his or her daily grind and that plucky John McCain will be there on your side. The implication – particularly bearing in mind the now infamous ‘celebrity’ ad – is that Obama and his team are insiders, benefitting from a corrupt system. There’s almost an Orwellian feel to that kind of spin, when you think about the respective Washington careers of the two candidates!

In other news, Mitt Romney is nuts. As Paul Krugman wrote in an excellent article in the New York Times:

Can the super-rich former governor of Massachusetts — the son of a Fortune 500 C.E.O. who made a vast fortune in the leveraged-buyout business — really keep a straight face while denouncing “Eastern elites”?

Apparently, he can. As you can see from his word cloud, the fact that he’s done rather well out of the whole set up doesn’t faze him. He blazes on about those liberals and how voting for the incumbent party would really annoy those Washington elites. He reminds me of Mr. Burns’ speech when running for mayor, speechifying in good old-fashioned American style about going down to the Capitol and sorting out those fat cats!

Mitt Romney's RNC Word Cloud
Mitt Romney

What I particularly liked, though, was what he didn’t say. His word cloud makes by far the least reference to John McCain of all the main speeches at the Republican National Congress. In fact, you can almost use the prominence of McCain in the cloud of each of the speakers to work out who likes (and knows) him most. For example, take John McCain’s ‘best mate’, in a political sense, Joe Lieberman. John McCain this, John McCain that, you couldn’t get him to stop. (Incidentally, contrast that with next to nothing for poor old Dubya and even Obama!)

Joe Lieberman RNC Word Cloud
Joe Lieberman RNC Word Cloud

There’s a similar story with the man who’d always said all along that he’d back McCain if he weren’t the nominee, Rudy Giuliani. He seemed to be most frank about who was actually in the election, McCain and Obama.

Rudy Giuliani RNC Word Cloud
Rudy Giuliani RNC Word Cloud

Mike Huckabee also spoke – he’s a bit of legend, to be fair. First of all, it was an excellent speech, really well delivered. And secondly, the man said the word ‘desk’ – you figure it out – almost as much as he did John McCain! “John McCain want desk something something.”

Mike Huckabee Word Cloud
Mike Huckabee Word Cloud

Then there was Sarah Palin, who to be fair to her doesn’t really know McCain at all. She mentions him a little, certainly more than Mitt Romney, but nowhere as near as often as Lieberman or Giuliani.

Sarah Palin RNC Speech Word Cloud
Sarah Palin RNC Speech Word Cloud

What I found interesting about her speech is that it didn’t really mention Obama at all. In fact, while the total lack of reference to George Bush is entirely understandable, particularly when you bear in mind that the Republican congress was designed to make them not look like the incumbents, the almost equally deafening silence in relation to Barack Obama is a little perplexing. For an election that’s supposed to have whittled down to a referendum on whether Obama is suitable, both congresses certainly talked about John McCain a lot!

Just as I was writing this, I came across a good analysis by the New York Times, which takes a few key issues and assesses the frequency of their use. The big issues for Republicans were taxes and businesses, while the key topics for Democrats were healthcare, energy and the economy/jobs. A surprise? Probably not.

At the end, I think Barack ‘promise’ Obama and John ‘fight’ McCain is a good summary of the candidates. The question now is: which one would you choose?