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Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 03:40 PM PST

Keystone XL and NEPA: Flawed SEIS?

by AlaskanAnt

Please do not assume that I'm an anti-enviro, pro oil, faux news champion. I've been falsely accused of that here, and it’s tedious. For more than 30 years my academic and professional life has been informed by the conviction that climate change is the single biggest issue of our time, and I've watched with dismay as our generation has dawdled and dithered and done almost nothing about it. I've spent literally years of intense work on the issues of how to transition from our current path to something different. So, please: understand that I offer this in constructive light.

I'm not even remotely convinced that the SEIS is materially flawed. I think that the NEPA process has an internal logic that frames the wrong question. Attending to that has some implications for how we understand the struggle around KXL, and for what we demand of our elected leaders.

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President Obama is well-versed in what the Harvard Project on Negotiation call "interest-based" negotiation. His inclination is to try to negotiate from an interests-based approach. In the healthcare legislative effort, for example, he abandoned both single payer and public options because his first interest was finding a way to get (near) universal health care coverage and he was willing to accept other ways of getting there. "The art of negotiation is letting the other side have your way."

Sadly, he was slow to recognize that the other side's key interests consist in obtaining more power, and they have identified the best way to do that is to ensure that the President fails to achieve results.

If this is right then the president, to be successful, has to use his position to frame political debate where his counter-party (the House R's) has more to lose from obstruction than from allowing the President a "win". His payroll tax break extension is a case where he succeeded in doing this. That was just negotiation, successful because he was finally identifying what the other side most cares about, which in this case appears to center less on any particular policy outcome, and more on protecting and amassing political power.

So how does this fit into my title? More below the jump...

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I find myself checking DailyKos at least a dozen times (ok, maybe two dozen?!) a day for updated poll news. I scan past politicarewire and Nate's blog and RCP many, many times a day for the slightest hint of movement. At this point as soon as a new poll hits I've an awfully good idea (if not perfect) of how it fits into the context of the pollster's previous results, other recent polls in the state, its partisan lean, etc. My mood rises and falls on the barest hint of a trend one way or the other.

And really? It's a colossal waste of time.

My reptilian mid-brain can't stop being terrified. That fear that keeps me obsessively, obsessively checking: "Are we going to be ok? Will we just punt and continue to give even the hope for future change over to the Mourdock/Cheney/Romney bastards?"

My analytical brain knows that subtle poll shifts cannot allow us to deduce much in a quasi-close election. To extrapolate responses from any poll to what's going on in the general population requires really strong assumptions. The poll's "margin of error" is, most definitely, the least of it.

Partly as therapy, I want to describe some of the obvious complications with trying to "deduce" the mood of the population from a poll (any poll); the contents won't be news to anyone who's studied this stuff, but may well be to those who haven't. More below the jump.

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I've been scratching my head, wondering what on earth was going on with Gallup's presidential tracking poll. Except for the post-convention bounce (since faded, by their lights) Obama's lead has been consistent but tiny. Gallup's a poll of registered voters, rather than likely voters. Given Nate Silver's research that RVs tilt democratic by ~2% compared with LVs the Gallup numbers have always made me a wee bit nervous.

I haven't done a detailed analysis, but comparing Gallup's sample to the US Census data on RV's at the time of November 2010 helps clear things up: Gallup has way too many old folks in their sample.

Age         Gallup %          US Census %
18-29           9.1                     16.2
30-49         22.5                     34.2
50-65         32.3                     29.0
65+           35.0                     20.6

(NB: Gallups percentages do not add to 100. I can't tell you what's going on that their N only divides to 99 percent, but those are their numbers.... weird).

Given that Gallup has all voters younger than the 65+ age group favoring Obama I think we can square the results with other polling that we're seeing. I'll do that tomorrow.

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