Drew Curtis is pulling about even from potential Conway and Bevin voters

Yesterday’s release of the most recent Kentucky gubernatorial election Bluegrass Poll showed Jack Conway 42%, Matt Bevin 37%, and Drew Curtis 7% (MoE 3.8%), meaning that the gubernatorial race is a statistical tie. Given, however, that the same poll two months ago showed virtually identical results, it gives more confidence to the reality of Conway’s lead.

One question that has come up in the gubernatorial campaign so far is the effect of Drew Curtis in the race. Is he pulling more from potential Conway or Bevin voters?

By doing some quick arithmetic with the cross-tabulations on the most recent Bluegrass Poll, we find that 2.5% of likely voters in Kentucky are Republican Curtis supporters while 2.8% are Democratic Curtis supporters[1]. This suggests that Curtis is pulling roughly evenly from Conway or Bevin, which further suggests that he won’t likely play a “spoiler” role for either candidate.

Further, by the same method we can see that 6% of likely Kentucky voters are undecided Republicans while 5% are undecided Democrats. If the undecideds break in favor of their partisan identities (and there’s little reason to suspect that they won’t), this suggests that neither candidate will gain much of an advantage from the “undecided” folks.

All told, the polling evidence is still giving a very slight, but consistent, advantage to Jack Conway in the upcoming gubernatorial election. That being said, it’s still close enough that campaign events might “matter” enough to sway the election one way or another.

[FN1] I arrived at these figures by multiplying the total proportion of the sample in a particular sub-category by the proportion of voters for the particular candidate (or “undecided”) and then adding the categories together. For example, the 2.5% of Republican Curtis supporters is arrived at by multiplying his 1% by the 17% of strong Republicans, adding 9% of the 14% weak Republicans, and 8% of the 13% Republican leaners, for a total of about 2.5%

Comments on July’s Bluegrass Poll on the Kentucky Gubernatorial Race

Here are the cross-tabulation results between partisanship and support for the three-way Kentucky gubernatorial election between Matt Bevin (R), Jack Conway (D), and Drew Curtis (I) as per late July’s Bluegrass Poll. This shows results among likely voters only with a margin of error of 3.8%.

  Matt Bevin (R) Jack Conway (D) Drew Curtis (I) Undecided Composition of Likely Voters
Strong Republican 90% 5% 4% 2% 15%


71% 11% 5% 12% 12%
Independent-lean-Republican 54% 11% 12% 23% 16%

Pure Independent

34% 27% 20% 18% 11%
Independent-lean-Democrat 15% 62% 12% 11% 14%
Democrat 7% 78% 4% 11% 18%
Strong Democrat 1% 94% 2% 3% 14%


38% 43% 8% 11% 100%

There are a couple of interesting patterns here:

  • It is noteworthy that Conway’s support among Democrats is higher than Bevin’s support among Republicans. Conway is also drawing slightly more support from Republicans than Bevin is from Democrats.
  • The nearly 4% margin of error means that Bevin’s support could be anywhere from 34%-42% and Conway’s support could be anywhere from 39%-47%. So this is essentially a “statistical tie.” That being said, the small but consistent lead that Conway has enjoyed all year should make us more confident in the reality of Conway’s small lead in public support among likely voters.
  • It is noteworthy that the Republican-leaning-Independents are more undecided than the Democratic-leaning-Independents. This again speaks to Matt Bevin’s weakness with those who would otherwise be inclined to vote for a Republican candidate.
  • That being said, Conway should not be pleased that he is not drawing more support from the Democratic-leaning-Independents.
  • It’s interesting that Drew Curtis is drawing roughly equal support form both Republicans as well as Democrats.

At this point in time I’d say that there is weak-to-moderate evidence that Jack Conway enjoys a small but steady lead over Matt Bevin among likely Kentucky voters. Given that campaign events tend to make a bigger difference in state and local elections (as compared to presidential elections), there is still potential for either candidate to potentially pull into a more confident lead as the campaign heats up this fall.

Research suggests that Kentucky GOP may lose votes for nominating Matt Bevin

A recent research article by Andrew Hall entitled “What Happens When Extremists Win Primaries?” asked whether parties who nominate more extreme candidates in a primary face a penalty in the general election. To test this question, he examined U.S. House elections from 1980 to 2010 and found that the party that nominates a more ideologically extreme candidate over an ideological moderate tends to lose, on average, somewhere between 9%-13% of the vote in the general election. This reduces the chance of winning the seat by anywhere from 35%-54%. The take-away from this research article is that parties stand to benefit from nominating more moderate candidates and take big risks when they nominate more ideologically extreme candidates.

Political scientists often argue that partisan and economic “fundamentals” matter more than campaign events or candidate characteristics when it comes to predicting the outcome of political elections. Thus, whether Republicans nominate Jeb Bush or Rand Paul, it will end up mattering only a little in terms of the final outcome of the election. This effect, however, is most strongly the case when it comes to nation-wide presidential elections. The further one goes “down the ballot,” the less the “fundamentals” tend to matter and the more campaign events and candidate characteristics come into play.

In the case of gubernatorial elections, I would argue that they’re roughly equivalent to U.S. House congressional elections in terms of the relative effect of “fundamentals” vs. campaign events and candidate characteristics. Thus, I don’t think it unreasonable to assume that, all other things being equal, the effect that Professor Hall found for U.S. House elections would generally apply to state-wide gubernatorial elections as well.

This suggests that the Kentucky Republican party did themselves no favors by nominating Tea Party ideologue Matt Bevin over establishment Republican James Comer on in the May 19th Republican gubernatorial primary. It may have potentially cost them up to 10% of the two-party vote come November, giving a respectable advantage to Democratic candidate Jack Conway.

Outline of “The Origins of Political Order” by Francis Fukuyama 2011

This is one of the best explanations of the origins of human political behavior that I have encountered. It deserves careful consideration.

The book is available here.

Outline based on portions of summary chapter 29.


  • Fukuyama rejects the idea that all behavior is socially constructed. There are certain scientific facts about human biology that affect and constrain human behavior.
  • Humans never existed in a “state of nature”
    • The “state of nature” of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc. is a fiction. Humans never actually existed in such a state of isolated individuals. As long as there have been humans (and primates) we have organized ourselves into groups and behaved in terms of our group identities.
    • Thus, humans evolved the necessary “cognitive and emotional faculties” to exist efficiently in groups. The fact that we cooperate in groups isn’t purely a rational cost-benefit calculation, but also a biological instinct and urge that evolved over time.
  • Why do we cooperate with one another?
    • ANSWER 1: “kin selection.” Human beings have evolved to be altruistic toward those who share common genes. This is an evolutionary adaptation to promote gene survival and reproduction.
    • ANSWER 2: “reciprocal altruism.” Human beings learn from repeated interactions with other individuals/groups and develop either trust or mistrust based on the results of those interactions.
      • Since we interact most often with those who share our genes and learn that this is beneficial to us, we are predisposed to treat those in our kin groups better than those outside our kin groups.
      • We learned that our survival is enhanced by cooperating with members of our kin groups.
      • This explains the political behavior of PATRIMONIALISM – or favoring those in your kin group.
    • Why are human beings rule-followers?
      • Human beings have a natural inclination to create rules and institutions.
      • Humans can create rules rationally through an economic cost-benefit analysis based on a desire to maximize advantages, reduce costs, and solve “prisoner’s dilemma-type problems of social cooperation.”
      • The instinct to follow rules, however, is more a product of emotion, evolution, and instinct. These come through emotions like “guilt, shame, pride, anger, embarrassment, and admiration.” These are biologically transmitted more than culturally transmitted. This is evidenced in the fact that small children organize their behavior according to these emotions.
      • We have evolved a psychological predisposition to “endow rules with intrinsic value.”
        • This explains why there is a bias toward conservatism in societies.
        • Individuals and societies cling to rules long after conditions have changed because of the emotional investment in the “rightness” of those rules.
      • Why are human beings aggressive?
        • We are predisposed to violent behavior. This has been inherited from our primate ancestors who behave similarly.
        • Institutions have always arisen to help “control and channel violence.”
      • Human being desire “not just material resources but also recognition.”
        • Recognition is “the acknowledgement of another human being’s dignity or worth.” This is also known as “status.”
        • Status is relative, not absolute, and thus exists in a zero-sum environment.
          • We attain recognition only at the expense of others because we organize ourselves into hierarchies.
          • Those with higher levels of recognition (status) have greater access to sexual partners and thus a higher degree of reproductive success. Thus, we have evolved a desire for recognition and status.
        • Much of human political behavior revolves around the desire for recognition.
          • This involves recognition not just for oneself, but for one’s values, culture, religion, etc.
          • Liberal democracy is based on the desire/demand for “equal recognition.”
        • Political LEGITIMACY arises when humans transfer the object of recognition from an individual to an institution. AUTHORITY is based on that perceived legitimacy.
      • Ideas are causal factors in political behavior.
        • Humans have evolved to create “mental models of reality.”
        • These models attribute causal explanations to things. These can be visible and demonstrable or invisible and assumed.
          • Early human causal factors: spirits, demons, gods
          • Contemporary human causal factors: gravity, radiation, self-interest
        • All religions constitute a “mental model of reality” that explain cause and effect relationships.
          • Humans have evolved a desire for mental models that make the world “legible, predictable, and easy to manipulate.” Religion is a mental model. Science is a mental model.
        • Shared mental models are necessary for facilitating widespread collective action. Religion is especially useful for playing this role. Religion can motivate people to overcome the collective action problem because it gives people intrinsic motivation for action. Thus, religion is very useful to the formation of politics and the state.
          • Religion also helps motivate people to transcend kinship and friends as a “source of social relationships.”
          • At the same time, secular ideologies like Marxism or nationalism can accomplish the same function.
        • Religions persist because they are non-falsifiable to one extent or another, and the natural bias toward conservatism endows them with intrinsic value. Also, there is evidence that humans are “hardwired” for religion just as they are “hardwired” for language or following rules.
        • Contra Marx, religion is not an invention of the elites to control the masses. Religion was present long before social hierarchies became common.
        • Brahmanism in India and Catholicism in Europe helped establish political institutions and the rule of law in those areas.
        • Political legitimacy should be understood as an idea, similar to other ideas that people have about “God, justice, society, wealth,” etc.
        • Democracy and accountable government cannot be explained in the absence of the importance of ideas.
      • How do political institutions develop?
        • “Political systems evolve in a manner roughly comparable to biological evolution.” Variation and selection.
        • Human biology provides for the instinct to follow rules, but the content of those rules develops through an “evolutionary” process.
        • Differences:
          • Variation is planned.
          • Characteristics are transmitted culturally instead of genetically. This is an advantage because they can be changed at whim instead of being biologically “hardwired.” But it’s a disadvantage because of our conservatism bias.
          • Can spread through imitation, not reproduction.
        • Competition drives political development. This drives the selection process of political development.
          • Most competitive pressures have come from “violence and war.”

Why gender equality matters

When my six-year-old daughter saw Hillary Clinton’s recent announcement for the presidency, her first response was to say, very innocently and matter-of-factly, “Oh! I didn’t know that women were allowed to be president.”

While I don’t mean this as an endorsement of Clinton’s candidacy (far from it – I strongly believe that an uncompetitive presidential primary and an assumed “coronation” is not a healthy thing in our electoral democracy), I’ll admit that my daughter’s response surprised and shocked me just a bit. My first reaction was to think “where did she get the idea that women were not allowed to be president?”

Is it the implicit signals from the “American presidents” dinner place mat she sometimes uses that features the faces of an all-male presidential line-up?

Is it the messages from the culture she’s growing up in where, despite great strides made over the several decades, women are still less likely to be in positions of leadership, prominence, and visibility?

Is it the patterns she internalizes at the church we attend were women are not eligible to serve as the chief pastors in our congregations or in the highest governing councils of the worldwide organization?

Of course much of the responsibility is ultimately my own. After all, it’s my job as her father to teach her about the world. I suppose I’ve dropped the ball by never explicitly explaining to her that “women are of course eligible to serve as U.S. president but no one ever has yet for a variety of reasons…” So my immediate response was to make it clear that YES women are eligible to be elected president and then I showed her on my smartphone pictures of other female heads of state around the world (e.g. Angela Merkel, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Dilma Rousseff, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, etc.).

In a few weeks my wife and I will be welcoming two more twin girls into our family. I hope that by the time they’re six years old that their environment will have more egalitarian messages and signals about the role of women in society than is the case today.

“Rifts of Rime” Poems

Poems inspired by The Rifts of Rime by Steven Peck. Written by Abigail Knoll, age 6, with grammatical and editing assistance from yours truly.



The Quickening are all helped by the Wealdend,

Protected by the Saffre, the Grays also help with the Folk.

Paper makers and poets are Folk or Keppla.

The philosophers and healers are the Marmots.

The wolves travel around the world:

Tell the Foreteller what they saw!

Ants, the Strange Quickening, no one knows…

But maybe Pinecone and Leaf have the right nose!

Those are the jobs of the Quickening.



Our teeth are sharp

Our howl is strong

Our run is steady and fast

Our claws have the power to take down a moose

But the thing to be aware of the most is the Saffre on the loose!



The foxes are enemies

Their teeth are sharp their claws are sharp

Their feet are slow but quiet

I rush up the tree to escape these features

There’s one thing that’s clear

If you are a trained warrior

This is an opportunity.



The power of the oak, the elm, the pine

Are nothing compared to the power of the Wealdend

Their Foreteller keeps us safe, so does the Saffre.

The Grays have some power,  but nothing like the Wealdend.

We must honor and respect the Wealdend and their helpers.

We are grateful to the Wealdend.

We are grateful to the Wealdend for the Quickening.

Because of the Grays, the Marmots, Folk, and Wolves

We thank the Quickening for the elm, oak, and pine

For they make our nests and our homes divine.

We thank the Wealdend for the water and land

Best of all, for the Quickening of all creatures.

Ben Wyatt faces an uphill battle in 2018

This week Pawnee, Indiana City Manager Ben Wyatt announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the Indiana 9th congressional district in the 2018 midterm election. While many are enthusiastic about his decision (especially Deputy Director of the Midwest National Parks Service Leslie Knope), I must admit that I’m not too optimistic about his prospects for electoral success.

First, campaign consult Jennifer Barkley informed Wyatt that he would be challenging the Republican incumbent. Challengers to sitting incumbents historically do very poorly in U.S. House races. Based solely on that information, Wyatt’s chances are already likely less than 10%.

Second, the southern Indiana 9th congressional district is a heavily Republican district, with a Partisan Voting Index score of R+9. Even if it the incumbent were to choose to retire, any Democratic candidate would have a strong uphill battle to fight in that congressional district.

Third, while we do not yet have enough information to accurately predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, we can apply political science forecasting models to say that if the election were held right now (January 2015), the Democratic candidate would be favored to win the election, given the incumbent Democratic presidential job approval rating of 46% and a 2014 economic growth rate of 2.6%. This means that the 2018 midterm congressional election will very likely favor Republican candidates, as the president’s party almost always loses seats during midterm elections.

In sum, the cards are stacked against a Ben Wyatt victory in 2018. This could be an opportunity for him to get his name out, however, and to build a campaign infrastructure for an election year when the fundamentals would be more favorable to a Democratic candidate.