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Friday, October 22, 2010

Political Demagoguery

I'm angry at Bill Flores, the Republican candidate for U.S. representative from the 17th congressional district in Texas. Flores is running against the incumbent, Chet Edwards, a Democrat. Flores is running an ad that says Edwards voted with Nancy Pelosi 96% of the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to Edwards doing that, if he did it. However, this is clearly an attempt to inflame passions in a conservative district. What really gets me is that I'm a stat guy and he's inflaming the passions with statistics.

As the old saying goes, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. Flores is lying with statistics.
First, the 96% is not how Edwards voted with Pelosi but how he voted with his party. It implies that he voted with the Dems 96% of the time and with the GOP 4%. Wrong! Most votes in the House of Representatives are non-controversial. They include votes for naming a post office after somebody. Since those things pass with a majority of votes and since Edwards is in the majority party, he will have voted for most of the issues passed in the House. Those issues are also likely to get a majority of the votes of the other party, So on a large number of issues, Edwards voted with the majority of the other party as well as the majority of his own party. Although, Edwards did vote the way the majority of his party voted 96% of the time, most of those were unimportant votes. How many times did he vote the way the majority of the GOP voted? A lot more than 4%

Does that mean he voted with Pelosi? No! The Speaker of the House does not vote on most bills. He or she will vote only on the critical and/or controversial issues. The minority leader, John Boehner, does vote on most bills, so, Edwards probably voted with Boehner more than he voted with Pelosi.

That still doesn't get to the real issue. What we really want to know is, of the bills on which all three (Pelosi, Boehner, and Edwards) voted, and of which Pelosi and Boehner voted differently, how often did Edwards side with Pelosi and how often with Boehner?

The Washington Post maintains a database of how members of congress vote on key issues. I looked up Edwards's record on these issues. You can find it here:
http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/e000063/key-votes/
On 31 key issues, the Ds and Rs had the same position on only 2. That leaves 29 votes which the Ds (presumably Pelosi) and the Rs (presumably Boehner) voted differently. How did Edwards vote? He voted with the Ds 58.6% of the time and with the Rs 41.4% of the time. Clearly, Edwards is a Democrat and a supporter of most Democratic positions. The argument that Flores is trying to make, that Edwards does not vote independently of the party line, is plain demagoguery. Flores is lying with statistics.

3 comments :

  1. Bill Crider said...

    I saw those ads when were in the old hometown a couple of weeks ago. Clearly Flores, and a lot of people, are running against Obama and Pelosi rather than against whoever their actual opponent happens to be. And people fall for it.

  2. Arthur B. Burnett said...

    Greetings from Falls County,

    Political Ads are a pox on mankind. We aren't in District 17, and truth be told in a contest between those two men I as well flip a coin.

    There is another political ploy that I find more disturbing. If you pay attention to the ads, you can find claims that canadiates have voted both sides of an issue. Being slow, it took me awhile to figure out how that works.

    The only time I know of a vote was conducted in one sitting was World War Two when the US declaired war on Japan and Germany. Other times the role will be called, and those present vote.

    This is repeated several times until the bill has enough votes from different members to pass or fail. The important thing to remember here is that ALL the names are called each time. In one vote a politation votes in favor, next time they vote against. Now when asked they can say, with what passes for honesty in Washington, they voted either for or against an issue depending on the audience. All that is nessarry now, is to vote a third time for the agenda you actually support.

    A disturbing number of our elected officals practice this trick. It turns my stomic

  3. Mark Troy said...

    Yeah, I have gotten tired of ads. It's easy to ignore them or take what they say at face value. It requires a lot of effort to look deep into the claims the ads make.