Department of depressing government data series

By Felix Salmon
August 12, 2009
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When I visited Argentina in early 2003, the finance ministry gave me, as finance ministries worldwide are wont to do, a printed-out PowerPoint presentation of how wonderfully the economy was going. One slide did stand out, however — the one entitled “Social protest events during 2002″, showing how “crowd concentrations, mobilizations, blocking highways and downtown streets, partial and total strikes, takeover of establishments, and so on” (seriously, that’s what it said) had dropped from over 2,000 a month in the first four months of the year to a mere 847 in December.

Still, it’s understandable that there would be someone in the government charged with tallying such depressing statistics. It seems that the US, too, has such a person:

A new book, “In The President’s Secret Service,” says Obama receives as many as 30 death threats a day, 400 per cent more than those made against his predecessor, George W. Bush.

I would be fascinated to see this data series charted over time, assuming it really exists. I wonder if there’s any correlation between number of death threats, on the one hand, and the probability of a president being assassinated, on the other.


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I’m astounded that you are giving voice to this unspoken, universally dreaded nightmare.

Please modify your post to delete the last sentence. You’ve been mildly and forgivably tone deaf in the past on some things, bit this goes beyond mere geeky thinking our loud.

Posted by michael | Report as abusive

I want to see the actual data to see how they came to this conclusion.

Given the Bush Derangement Syndrome on the left, I would have expected Dubya’s numbers to have been higher than Obama’s. Furthermore, I wonder if they “adjusted” from the number of threats that we know Bush received from outside the US.

While I didn’t vote for Obama, I hope they find the people who make threats (or try to act on them) against any President.

Posted by Brad Ford | Report as abusive

Why shouldn’t we talk about the likelihood of assassination for a given president? Is it really all that surprising that those who fear President Obama do so with much more intensity than those of us on the left who experienced “Bush Derangement Syndrome”?

The left most definitely felt frustrations and helplessness during the Bush reign. But those who wish President Obama harm, do so because of deep seeded hostilities that most likely originate from racism. They fear for their way of life. They feel that African-Americans are out to destroy “what makes our country great”. I know, both my parent fit that category and that quote is from my father. Neither one would every react in a violent way, but it doesn’t surprise me at all that there are many who would.

Bush may have been a doofus and I sure did hate him. But not nearly to the intensity that some people hate President Obama. I see no comparison there.

Posted by Lil | Report as abusive

In this case there is a more than reasonable expectation that an attempt will be made. Do you really want to try to quantify that risk? To what purpose? and why here?

I guess I just got spooked by the combination of the “golly gee” tone of the thought and the the byline banner “Just a kid spouting off”. I get it that its a Charlie Gasparino quote describing Felix.

Posted by michael | Report as abusive

If you want to compute a probability index for presidential assassination, you need to (1) weight the individual death threats for their probability of coming to a state of action, and (2) you need to estimate the death threats that are not voiced publicly and weight them.

In the end, assassination attempts are so rare that they probably are not usefully forecast with statistics.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

My response is a little bit more “golly gee” than alarm as well, probably in significant part because on some level I don’t expect an actual assasination. My feelings would probably change if a serious attempt were made on the President’s life.

If my memory is working correctly, we went a bit over 52 years from Washington’s inauguration to the first President to fail to complete his term. I believe that’s the longest such period in the history of the republic, and that we are now in the second longest such period (35 years this month).