Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reza Pahlavi seconds Nate Silver

Nate Silver's blog tagline, "Politics done right," amounts to an admonition: "do the math." To a verbally inclined baby boomer who felt free to blow off math in mid-eleventh grade, 538 has offered a sobering demonstration that while the truth may set you free, the math very often reveals the truth.

On Monday, Silver took a dive into Iranian pre-election polling data, which according to pollsters Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty of Terror Free Tomorrow showed that Ahmadinejad was indeed likely to win the "real" vote count. Focusing on the large number of respondents who would not reveal or had not made a choice, paired with wide margins in favor of reformist policy positions, Silver found evidence of multi-level voter intimidation. His conclusion:
The point that few commentators are realizing -- Al Giordano is an exception -- is that this story really isn't about the way that the votes were counted. It's about whether Iran is capable at this point of having an election in which the democratic will of its electorate is properly reflected. If Ahmadinejad hired a bunch of thugs to hold every Iranian at gunpoint while they were casting their ballots, it would not have been difficult for him to get 63 percent of the vote -- indeed, he'd probably have wound up with very close to 100 percent. This would be an election -- and there would be no need at all to tamper with the results. But it wouldn't be an expression of democracy. We need to separate out those two concepts. Ahmadinejad, as far as we know, did not go so far as to hold anyone at gunpoint. But the tentacles of fear in Iran run deep.
Are good math skills are proxy for experience? Exiled Reza Pahlavi, the 48-year-old son of the last Shah of Iran, needs no numbers crunching to assess the regime that deposed his father. Here's what he told the WSJ:
"We have a major paradigm change right now," he said. "It's a mockery to call any of these theatrics an election process. However, given the limits the Iranian people have, that was the only way to show the whole world they are against the established regime. Now they have gone to questioning the very legitimacy of the regime, and it's unfolding before our very eyes."
Of course, Pahlavi is hardly an unbiased observer. Nonetheless, the congruence with Silver's analysis is striking.

I should add, too, that it doesn't require advanced math skills to contrast the poll numbers for the candidates with the poll numbers for policy positions. But it's the habit of mind that counts. And often, Silver's mathematical analysis goes far deeper.

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