Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Period Of Short Term Memory

 The election is two weeks from today.  When I took an into psych course over half a century ago, I was taught in it that two weeks is the period of short term memory, the period in which we remember events with special salience.  I do not know if this is still the official view of the profession, but it has since then made sense to me: I seem to be able, even now, to remember what happened day by day for the previous two weeks.  Things before then are "in the past," although certainly some are salient and on my mind. But those that happened in the past two weeks are just that much more on my mind.

With this in mind even four years ago when people asked me to forecast the election outcome I would drag this up and say "anything can happen in the last two weeks that can change it," and four years ago it happened with the James Comey public reopening of an email investigation into Hillary Clinton 11 days before the election.  Even though about two days before he announced nothing was found, the damage was done.  This year we all remember this, and while he is further ahead in national polls than she was at this point then, Joe  Biden is not much further ahead, and even behind in some, than she was in those crucial battleground states that will determine the outcome. So it remains fully possible that something unexpected can happen that will give Trump the victory.

I must admit, however, that I have been trying to think what could do it.  Much discussion focuses on "October Surprise," as if things early in October has as much salience as those in the last two weeks.  So far most of those surprises have hurt Trump more than Biden, and the poll gap has widened in Biden's favor, with the new rise in cases and hospitalizations of the coronavirus seeming to be the dominant issue, and with Trump's illness and superspreader events not helping him on that front. So if something happens to push it the other way, it is going to have to overcome a strong pressure coming on that front that I simply do not see moving in Trump's favor.  There will not be a vaccine approved prior to Nov. 3, much to Trump's distress and despite all his efforts to force one through.

Of course we have seen the Trump people try to push new stuff on the Hunter Biden case and Burisma, with last Wednesday's New York Post story about his supposed laptop. But, not only did it come out before the final two weeks, it does not seem to be convincing anybody not already in the Trump camp, just too many holes and nonsense I shall not bother  with.  Yes, the brief blocking of it by Twitter et al gives it a few more legs, but it seems not to be going anywhere  serious, mostly just another effort to get the Trump base out, if it  was not already out.

My suspicion is that at this point the only thing that could really do it would be a genuinely unexpected event, with something from abroad the most likely, given that we pretty much know all there is to know about Joe Biden himself.  A 9/11 style terror  attack from the Middle East might do it, fits Trump's narrative and would allow him to pull a "rally the troops around the national leader," or something equivalent.

I close by noting a report I just saw that looked at October Surprises, not just final two weeks stuff, over elections dating back to 1980.  In fact most of them were pretty well baked in by the beginning of October, with few seeing movement in national polls exceeding 1%.  2016 saw the second largest move, almost 3%.  That was the Comey Announcement Effect.  Curiously the only other election with a larger net move was 1992, when Clinton gained about 7%, although I do not remember a specific event or "surprise" that triggered that.  So, in fact, the probability of a something really election altering happening within the next two weeks is pretty low, although not yet to be ruled out.

Barkley Rosser


nobody said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the Trump campaign repeats the Brexit strategy: use Facebook to deliver massive quantities of dark ads in the last weeks up to the vote.

Facebook dark ads are an extremely powerful tool to sway low-information voters. They allow propaganda to be injected directly into the minds of the easily lead without it being seen--and therefore countered--by more rational voices.

I would not be surprised if pro-Trump forces (either the campaign, PACs, or billionaire entities enabled by Citizens United) are pushing Qanon-level propaganda over Facebook right now. If the Brexit vote is any indication, this strategy will probably work.

Anonymous said...

An October surprise that could have occurred: By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks – or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had “blood on his hands”. The BBC’s former Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler learned of this in 1994 and conducted a series of interviews with key Johnson staff, such as defense secretary Clark Clifford, and national security adviser Walt Rostow. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign. He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser. At a July meeting in Nixon’s NYC apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign. If any message needed to be passed to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, it would come via Chennault. In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared. Chennault was dispatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal. So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out. He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to “just hang on through election”. Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace. In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson’s reaction to the news. In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: “We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move.” He orders the Nixon campaign to be placed under FBI surveillance and demands to know if Nixon is personally involved. When he became convinced it was being orchestrated by the Republican candidate, the president called Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate to get a message to Nixon. The president knew what was going on, Nixon should back off and the subterfuge amounted to treason. Publicly Nixon was suggesting he had no idea why the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks. He even offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table. Johnson felt it was the ultimate expression of political hypocrisy but in calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador’s phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon. So they decided to say nothing. The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway. Nixon ended his campaign by suggesting the administration war policy was in shambles. They couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table. He won by less than 1% of the popular vote. Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.

Anonymous said...

"By the time of the election in November 1968..."

This is plagiarism or simply stealing:


rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

As in the dog that did not bark in some election years what is important is the October Surprise that does not happen. They did no call him Tricky Dick for nothing.

2slugbaits said...

Funny you should bring up this topic of public memory. Lately I've been using my pandemic enforced social distancing as an excuse to reread some old and very old books from my college days. Just the other day I found and (literally) dusted off a copy of Social Amnesia: A Critique of Contemporary Psychology from Adler to Laing by Russell Jacoby.

Calgacus said...

Curiously the only other election with a larger net move was 1992, when Clinton gained about 7%, although I do not remember a specific event or "surprise" that triggered that.

Perot pulling out? Remember, he was leading - and his action has never been explained.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Hey, remember COVID-19>

White House science office celebrates Trump ‘ending’ the COVID-19 pandemic — as US hits new record cases

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is declaring “mission accomplished” and saying that President Donald Trump “ended” the COVID-19 pandemic announced Politico.

The United States hit record numbers of coronavirus infections this weekend, with 83,000 in one day, and there are multiple cities being crushed under the weight of 42,000 hospitalizations. But on Tuesday, the White House science office put “ending the COVID-19 pandemic” at the top of the list of Trump accomplishments from his first term. ...

In Trump’s case, the United States has reached the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic and things are only predicted to get worse as the cold winter drives people indoors where the virus spreads faster.

The science office says the Trump administration took “decisive actions to engage scientists and health professionals in academia, industry, and government to understand, treat, and defeat the disease.” ...