Blog Posts by David Pennock

  • Harassment allegations vs. shifting denials: What hurt Herman Cain more?

    It's an axiom in politics: Denying an accusation that turns out to be true can inflict more damage on a politician than the revelation itself. Bill Clinton dug himself into a public and ultimately legal hole in 1998 less for his philandering than for his lying about his philandering. In June, New York congressman Anthony Weiner resigned under pressure after insisting for more than a week that the lewd photos he posted on Twitter were the handiwork of a nonexistent hacker.

    Herman Cain's turn to play defense began Sunday, when a Politico investigation revealed evidence that, while Cain was president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, the group settled at least two lawsuits accusing him of sexual harassment.

    At first, Cain denied knowledge of the details or even the existence of the settlements.  "If the restaurant association did a settlement, I wasn't even aware of it and I hope it wasn't for much," he told Fox News on the morning of Oct. 31. "If there was a settlement, it was handled by some of the other officers at the restaurant association."

    By that evening, Cain acknowledged, in an interview on PBS, that he "was aware that an agreement was reached", and by the morning of Nov. 1, he told the news channel HLN he would take back his initial denial if he could, explaining that, "after 12 hours during the day, many events, many interviews, I was gradually able to recall more and more details about what happened."

    Cain's reversal was swifter and far less dramatic than either Clinton's or Weiner's, but it still offers us an opportunity to investigate whether the candidate's election hopes were at all affected by the allegation or Cain's shifting explanation.

    On prediction markets like Betfair and Intrade, election watchers bet real money on who will win the Republican nomination, shifting money in and out of candidates when events like Cain's scandal erupt and unfold. By tracking how energetically traders sold their stakes in Cain in the wake of Politico's report and in the days that followed, we can get a measure of how harmful the allegations were for Cain and how well he is controlling the damage.

    Between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Oct. 30, Cain's chances of winning the Republican nomination--computed as an average of Betfair and Intrade -- dropped precipitously, from 8.1 percent to 4.8 percent. By cutting his likelihood of winning the nomination nearly in half in the span of two hours, traders sent a strong message that the charges of sexual misconduct were a serious, and potentially fatal, problem for Cain.

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  • David Pennock Bio

    David Pennock, Ph.D.David Pennock is a Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo! Research in New York City, where he leads a group focused on algorithmic economics. He has over sixty academic publications relating to computational issues in electronic commerce and the web, including papers in PNAS, Science, AI Magazine, IEEE Computer, Theoretical Computer Science, Algorithmica, Electronic Commerce Research, Electronic Markets, AAAI, EC, WWW, KDD, UAI, SIGIR, ICML, NIPS, INFOCOM, SAINT, ACM SIGCSE, and VLDB. He has authored two patents and ten patent applications. In 2005, he was named to MIT Technology Review's list of 35 top technology innovators under age 35. Prior to his current position at Yahoo!, Pennock worked as a research scientist at NEC Laboratories America, a research intern at Microsoft Research, and in 2001 served as an adjunct professor at Pennsylvania State University. His work has been featured in Discover Magazine, New Scientist, CNN, the New York Times, the Economist, James Surowiecki's

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  • Did ‘maximum bickering’ in Nevada debate hurt the Republicans’ chances in November?

    Newt Gingrich delivered one of the most memorable lines at the end of the Republican presidential debate on October 18 in Las Vegas, accusing moderator Anderson Cooper of goading the candidates into "maximizing bickering" and warning that squabbling among Republicans "is probably not the road to the White House."

    In the debate, every time one candidate referred to another, Cooper gave the mentioned candidate 30 seconds to respond. In another universe, this rule may have led the candidates to stick to the issues; after all, attacking an opponent from the podium only meant giving their target more airtime.

    In reality, however, the jabs came in as fast and furious as ever. Cooper enforced the rebuttal rule even if more than one candidate was named--and even if mentions occurred inside another candidate's rebuttal (opening up the possibility an endless recursion of rebuttals, but never mind). So the rule's practical effect was to ping the debate back and forth between candidates arguing with each other by name, which ultimately provoked to the astute observation from an exasperated Gingrich. The debate format, executed brilliantly by Cooper, also served CNN well, naturally giving more time to the biggest targets—the frontrunners Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain—without appearing unfair.

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