Comment author: Michael_S 26 February 2017 03:20:06PM 5 points [-]

Thanks for the write up. I think you make a compelling case that this is more effective than canvassing, which can be over 1000 dollars for votes at the margin in a competitive election like 2016. I do think there are a few ways your estimate may be an overestimate though.

Of those who claimed they would follow through with vote trading, some may not have. You mention that there wouldn't have been much value to defecting. However, much of the value of a vote for individual comes from tribal loyalties rather than affecting the outcome. That's why turnout is higher in safe presidential states in a presidential election than midterm elections, even when the midterm election is competitive. Some individuals may still have defected because of this.

Secondly, many of the 3rd party folks who made the trade could have voted for Clinton anyway. People who sign up for these sites are necessarily strategic thinkers. If they wanted more total votes for Stein/Johnson, but recognized that a vote for Clinton was more important in a swing state, they might have signed up for the site to gain the Stein/Johnson voter, but planned to vote for Clinton even if they didn't get a match. Additionally, even if they were acting in good faith when they signed up, they may have changed their mind as the election approached. 3rd parties are historically over estimated in polling compared to the election results, and 2016 was no exception: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_clinton_vs_johnson_vs_stein-5952.html.

I don't think these problems are enough to reduce the value by an order of magnitude, but it is worth keeping in mind.

Additionally, while vote trading may be high EV now, I am skeptical that it is easy to scale. It's even more difficult to apply outside of presidential elections, so, unlike other potential political interventions, it will mostly be confined to every 4 years in one race. Furthermore, the individuals who signed up now may be lower cost to acquire than additional potential third party traders. They are likely substantially more strategic than the full population of 3rd party voters; in many years, the full population isn't that large to begin with. The cost per additional vote may be larger than your current estimates.

Nevertheless, I agree that right now it's probably more valuable than traditional canvassing and I'm glad people are putting resources into it.

Comment author: Michael_S 08 January 2017 04:54:57PM *  4 points [-]

This sounds really great to me. I love the idea of having more RCTs in the EA sphere. I would definitely record how much they are giving 1 year later.

I also think it's worth having a hold out set. People can pre-register the list of friends, than a random number generator can be used to randomly selects some friends not to make an explicit GWWC pitch to. It's possible many of the friends/contacts who join GWWC and start donating are those who have already been exposed to EA ideas before over a long period of time, and the effect size of the direct GWWC pitch isn't as large as it would appear. Having a hold out set would account for this. With a hold out set, CEA wouldn't have to worry about who they contact. The holdout set would take care of this and make the estimate of the treatment effect unbiased.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 11 November 2016 03:37:25PM *  1 point [-]

That's not true at all.

It is true. Romney got 61 million votes and McCain got 60 million. Obama got 69 million and 66 million in 2008 and 2012 respectively. This year, Trump got 60 million votes and Hillary got 61 million.

There were several instances that fall under the same pattern: the email story, the hollywood access tapes, the debates, probably the apprentice tapes if they had appeared, and potentially the wikileak emails, though it's much harder to gauge their effect size.

Well, depending on how early before the election you want to consider. The debates for instance were all more than a week before the election. Again, it's basically impossible to put effort into making things like this happen, and the best way to do so might simply be conventional ways of building political clout and awareness.

Comment author: Michael_S 12 November 2016 12:04:46AM *  1 point [-]

You can't look at aggregate turnout numbers being different and assume the composition of turnout was different. You're making the assumption that there was 0 movement from Obama to Trump or from Romney to Clinton; both of which are definitely incorrect as evidenced by polling.

Secondly, turnout is much higher than that appears; much more will come in from California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado. It always takes these states forever to report. So the turnout numbers now are misleading.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 11 November 2016 02:01:10PM *  1 point [-]

Thiel had essentially nothing to do with the outcome of this election.

Well he gave about 0.15% of their money, and campaign funding is fairly important. The important thing is that in future campaigns, funding may influence the outcome of elections.

This was not primarily a turnout issue. Black turnout was down, but Hispanic turnout was up. White turnout appears relatively flat (both Democratic and Republican white turnout), but we'll know more when actual person level vote history is released.

It was all about turnout, fewer people voted Democrat than in 2012 and 2008. Trump won just by holding onto similar GOP vote totals from previous elections while people dropped Clinton.

Regardless, EA messaging is not the right way to appeal to Berners.

I don't know what the right type of messaging is and I don't know who we will need to appeal to in 4 or 8 years. My point is that there are probably bigger things to be done besides phone banking.

The easiest way to shift the outcome of the election would have been to change public opinion by a point or two by shifting the narrative of the race in the final week. Comey was successful at doing this.

That's a good point but I think it was an exceptional case as the email story had been unfolding for many months and people were already primed to watch for news about it. It's also very hard to actually do it intentionally if you don't have some big news you can release.

Comment author: Michael_S 11 November 2016 02:54:27PM 0 points [-]

At most, campaign funds would have moved this a point or two. Campaign funding has little impact on presidential elections; Clinton far outspent Trump and Trump was far outspent in the primary election. If we assume an effective size of 5% for all of Trump's money and assume no diminishing marginal return (both very generous assumptions), that 0.15% is 0.0075 percentage points in movement. The outcome was decided by 1, so that's over two orders of magnitude lower than what was needed under generous assumptions. It was probably more orders of magnitude lower.

That's not true at all.Trump gained substantially in rural areas with mostly white people where Obama had won or performed substantially better. I mean, if turnout had magically been higher among Democrats but not Republicans, we would have won, but you don't get to do that. The composition of the electorate was roughly the same (minus some black people plus some Hispanics) as 2012. It's conceivably possible that without the drop in black turnout, we would have won, but this was inevitable without the first black president running. There is overwhelming evidence that attitudes among the white working class moved against us. Hence our drop in the midwest.

I agree on the point that phone banking does not make much of a difference.

There were several instances that fall under the same pattern: the email story, the hollywood access tapes, the debates, probably the apprentice tapes if they had appeared, and potentially the wikileak emails, though it's much harder to gauge their effect size.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 11 November 2016 10:46:30AM 0 points [-]

We didn't need to convince hundreds of thousands of working class whites. Just increase turnout among Berners or change the primary outcomes or show Thiel the error of his ways. There's lots of avenues to do things.

Comment author: Michael_S 11 November 2016 01:46:18PM 0 points [-]

Thiel had essentially nothing to do with the outcome of this election.

This was not primarily a turnout issue. Black turnout was down, but Hispanic turnout was up. White turnout appears relatively flat (both Democratic and Republican white turnout), but we'll know more when actual person level vote history is released. Regardless, EA messaging is not the right way to appeal to Berners.

The easiest way to shift the outcome of the election would have been to change public opinion by a point or two by shifting the narrative of the race in the final week. Comey was successful at doing this.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 11 November 2016 05:16:18AM 3 points [-]

This isn't quite relevant, but I think the election cycle was sort of mishandled by the EA community.

It was mostly sort of ignored, except for some last minute stuff with people trying to put together efforts to fight Trump. Some people jumped quickly on bandwagons and picked a side. Other people just took a blank "politics is the mindkiller!!" stance and refused to care.

Ideally, we should have a rational and serious approach from the outset, looking at the candidates and seeing if there is anything that EA philosophy decisively says that we should do. And when the window opens, then we come together and say "hey, here's our analysis, here's our thoughts, this is what effective altruism says about the election." And push that message as far as we can.

Comment author: Michael_S 11 November 2016 06:29:32AM 1 point [-]

I don't think a rationalist message/meme would have been successful at convincing hundreds of thousands of working class whites not to vote for Trump. Rationalism has it's place in deciding what to do about an election, but I don't think EA messaging is at all useful in influencing a mass audience.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 30 October 2016 04:38:38PM 1 point [-]

I signed the pledge precisely so I could influence others; I probably should have mentioned that in the post. But I believe the effect here isn't large enough to justify the way the pledge restricts me financially, and I would prefer not to have signed it.

People who doubt their dedication to doing good have a stronger case for signing the pledge, because it can help them keep themselves committed. Paradoxically, the people most likely to sign the pledge—people like thebestwecan and Rohin Shah in the comments, me, and many of my friends, who already have a strong commitment to doing good—are the people who least need to sign it. I believe that people like this ("dedicated EAs") sign the pledge more often than they should and don't do a sufficiently good job of considering arguments against signing.

By all means Giving What We Can should keep doing outreach and getting people to sign the pledge. But people who already spend a lot of time trying to maximize the good they do should carefully consider whether signing the pledge helps or hinders that goal rather than only thinking about the upsides.

Comment author: Michael_S 30 October 2016 04:55:33PM 2 points [-]

I agree that the pledge is most useful for those who don't have as strong a dedication. But I expect it is useful for the vast majority of EAs. According to the EA survey, less than half of EAs donate even 10% of their income. So I think we have a far greater incidence of people not taking the pledge when they should than the other way around, even in the EA community. If EAs start putting greater weight on potential problems from the pledge, I expect that would be a net negative across the community.

Comment author: Michael_S 30 October 2016 03:00:14PM 5 points [-]

I don't reject the argument that the GWWC pledge may not make sense for every single person. There are always exceptions. But I think it's quite small, and it's much more beneficial for us as a community to try to get as many people to pledge as possible.

In addition to what it might do for yourself, signing the pledge allows you to influence others. The more people sign the pledge and the more public they are, the more we spread giving a large portion of your income to effective charities as a cultural institution. I think that's very valuable in itself.

Additionally, some of the items you listed as conflicting with donations, eg. wanting a comfortable retirement, seem like items for which donation should take the higher priority from a utilitarian standpoint. I understand that's very difficult for people and many EAs will not be able to do this. That's reality. However, if the pledge gets you to cut back on these luxuries in favor of utilitarian actions, only because you feel obligated to keep the pledge, I think that's a good thing. If you face a conundrum like in the over justification effect, it may be more productive to try and rethink 5) than rethink 2).

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 02 September 2016 06:33:32PM 2 points [-]

Good question about RCTs! We're actually gathering funding to conduct a study on various forms of messaging using Mechanical Turk.

Comment author: Michael_S 02 September 2016 07:00:12PM 2 points [-]

You might want to also try using google consumer surveys. If you restrict it to a single question (you can put the message in the question), they're incredibly cheap.

Comment author: Michael_S 02 September 2016 03:08:14PM 2 points [-]

Is Intentional Insights doing anything to promote the use of RCTs in EA messaging? There may be a lot of value to be gained in conducting message testing experiments to determine which messages are most effective at getting potentual EAs to perform certain actions. Heterogeneous Effects models might also be useful in identifying who to target.

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