The primary for Oregon’s 6th congressional district is now over, and it’s looking like Carrick is going to lose, coming in second out of nine candidates. That Carrick lost is a real shame. My sense is if Carrick had won, he could have done a lot of good – in particular, advancing pandemic prevention (e.g., via participating in bill markups), with an outside chance of getting Biden’s pandemic prevention plan enacted. As a silver lining, I think the value of information from this race was quite high, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the information this race provides will be valuable enough to EA that it outweighs the costs associated with the race.
First off, I want to applaud Carrick for taking the plunge and running; as a general rule, I think EAs should be more ambitious, especially in novel situations where the value of information is high, and it’s nice to see someone really following through with this. Carrick, his wife Kathryn, and their whole team put it in an enormous amount of work, faced many obstacles outside of their control, and withstood unfair public criticism, all in the service of improving the world.
Below are what I believe to be some of the more important lessons that we should take away from this race. For transparency sake, I started jotting down notes and sketching part of a draft of this piece before the day of the race – I didn’t write the piece entirely today. I also got feedback on this post from a few people in my network, and I strongly recommend others who plan on writing further posts on this topic similarly get feedback from other EAs before posting, in order to ensure that the post embodies community ideals, both to those reading it from within our community and those who may be looking in from the outside, especially right now as more external attention is being directed at EA. Personally, some of the feedback I got from others led me to rephrase certain things in ways I hadn’t considered and for which I think was helpful for reducing misunderstandings of EA.
Lesson 1: EAs can seriously compete for open congressional seats, and preparing to run well in advance of a race probably would significantly further improve the odds of winning
Yes, Carrick lost. But he came in second out of nine, despite several factors pushing pretty strongly against him. Had things shaken out differently on a few key factors, he could have won.
Here’s a partial list of factors that were pushing against Carrick:
• lack of local political connections, which led local political actors to strongly fight against him
• relative lack of practice/training in talking like a politician, which understandably led to politically costly misstatements
• running in a state that he had very recently moved back to (he moved back after COVID hit), which appears to have led to some skepticism
• a combination of the above factors led to unfavorable media coverage
• Salinas (the winner of the primary) benefitting from $1M of Super PAC money herself from BOLD PAC.
Most of the items on that list seem avoidable by any future EA candidate who preps for a political career far ahead of time instead of first beginning to think about running when a seat opens up – even the adversarial Super PAC spending (the least controllable item on the list) may be reduced by having better long-term relationships with the political community. For instance, if Carrick had held local office before running for the House, I think he would have been in a much stronger position for this race (I think he probably would have won). To be clear, this point is not a criticism of Carrick running for the House directly – I actually agree with the decision, given that Congressional seats only open up so often, and the value of information here was likely substantially larger than it would have been if he had just ran for a local position.
Meanwhile, I don’t think there were any factors of comparable size pushing in Carrick’s favor that couldn’t apply to other potential future EA candidates. Carrick’s most positive traits don’t seem to have mattered a ton in this election – Carrick seems unusually selfless and intelligent, even for an EA, but these don't seem to have been the largest deciding factors for most voters. Carrick is definitely more charismatic than some EAs, but he’s not unusually charismatic for an EA (see, for instance, this interview; also, sorry if including this point causes offense – I’m choosing to prioritize faithful assessment over tact).
So the fact that Carrick came in second, despite several (in the future, mostly avoidable) factors strongly pushing against him, and no comparable unique factors pushing in his favor, makes me more optimistic about the prospects of any future EAs who decide to run. To be concrete, my personal best guess is that >30% of American EAs would have at least a decent shot (say, >20%) of making it into Congress if they chose to dedicate themselves to their local community and spend time practicing the appropriate communication skills.
Lesson 2: When running for Congress, having political experience and a good track record is very valuable – including if your campaign is backed up with lots of Super PAC donations
Having a political track record is obviously helpful for showing voters what sort of policies you’ll pursue in office. Having political connections is further valuable, as politics is an inherently social process, and pre-existing relationships make it much easier to convince local party officials and other respected members of the community to endorse your campaign. The best way to prove to voters that you will work in their best interests is by having a track record of working in their best interests and having respected community leaders who can vouch for you.
I think these points are especially true if your campaign is backed up with large donations from Super PACs, as voters may otherwise be skeptical about your motives and more susceptible to speculations. In this campaign, both Carrick’s opponents and the local media semi-successfully portrayed Carrick as a crypto shill, despite Carrick (as far as I can tell) not caring much about crypto one way or the other, and actually caring a great deal about other issues such as pandemic preparedness. If Carrick had held local office previously and used his time there to advance policies for pandemic preparedness and expanding the social safety net (another one of the issues he campaigned on), I think voters and the local media would have been more trusting of his message, and, further, he would have been able to secure more local endorsements.
As another piece of data, SBF has also supported a number of other (non-EA) candidates across the country this cycle, all of whom have more political experience than Carrick. In several of these cases, the candidate SBF supported has either already won their primary or is very likely to win. In each of these races, the candidate’s opponent(s) have similarly tried to portray them as a tool of crypto, but these criticisms have mostly fallen flat, and in none of them did the local media play along in the same way they did here. While we can’t completely rule out that the differentiating factor here is the amount of money donated, I’m skeptical that this was the main factor – while SBF didn’t donate quite as much to other candidates as to Carrick, he still donated substantial sums (e.g., ~$2M to one candidate, ~$1 to four more), and, due to scope neglect, I’m skeptical that the emotional response to one or two million dollars donated is substantially different from that of ten million dollars donated. (I suppose it’s also possible that the relevant difference between Carrick and other candidates SBF supported here is actually more due to stochastic effects, in which case Carrick may have gotten “unlucky” while others got “lucky” – there may be something to this, though I’d be surprised if it was the main relevant difference.)
Lesson 3: In Congressional races, more recent ties to the district/state matter much more than ties from long ago
As far as I can tell, other than Carrick, none of the other candidates in the primary appear to have been born or grown up in Oregon (for instance, Salinas, the winner, doesn’t appear to have information about her childhood online, but she did attend UC Berkeley). Carrick, meanwhile, is originally from the area, and teachers from the local school remember him fondly.
Despite Carrick’s deeper roots to the area, his lack of more recent ties to the state caused him to be portrayed as a geographic outsider (Carrick moved back to Oregon in 2020). Meanwhile, none of his competitors appeared to suffer politically for not originally being from Oregon.
“Carpetbagger” is a dirty word in US politics – but apparently the way it applies today is to refer to people who recently moved to an area to run for office, without developing connections to the community. People who moved to an area long enough ago to develop real connections to the community evidently aren’t considered carpetbaggers – especially if they’ve already gotten involved in local politics.
The implication seems to be that if two potential candidates are deciding whether to run for office, one that’s recently moved back to their hometown, and another that, as an adult, has moved to an area they did not grow up in but have since become part of the community, the latter is will probably be in a better position to run, ceteris paribus.
Lesson 4: If you think you might run for office in the future, make sure to vote in every election
One of the main substantive attacks against Carrick was that he had only voted in 2 of the previous 30 elections. Now, I know Carrick was living overseas for much of that time so voting would have been a pain, and further that Oregon isn’t exactly a swing state, significantly decreasing the expected impact of his vote. Having said that, the optics here are still not great, and voting records are public information (whether or not you vote is public, the way you vote is obviously secret). Since voting is generally pretty low cost, I think that (barring incredibly extenuating circumstances) every EA that’s eligible to vote should vote.
Lesson 5: EA candidates themselves may face bad press when running for office, as may the candidates’ large donors, but this doesn’t automatically translate into bad PR for EA as a community
It’s no secret that both Carrick and SBF faced a fair bit of negative press throughout this campaign. I was surprised by the extent to which one local media outlet went after Carrick (not linking to them since I think it’s generally good for there to be a little bit of friction between someone posting negatively about a thing on the internet and their readers/followers descending on that thing – I’m sure you can find them if you want). While I think most of this negative press could be avoided in the future with proper precautions (e.g., being part of the local political community before running, running for local office in the district before Congress, etc, as mentioned above), we should obviously expect some negative press from running candidates, due to the inherently adversarial nature of party politics. One thing that I found interesting in this race, however, is the bad press didn’t seem to rub off much on EA as a whole.
I’ve heard people previously worry that running EA candidates may substantially worsen the reputation of the movement. I believe this race provides an update against this view. While Carrick faced a barrage of attacks from other candidates, as well as several hit pieces from a local media outlet, none of these attacks focused on EA – instead, they focussed on the crypto connection, money in politics, Carrick’s political inexperience, Carrick only recently having moved to the area, and things like voting record and political misstatements. Two major media pieces about the race were focused on EA, but both of them were mostly positive on EA (and, for that matter, neutral-to-positive on Carrick).
In retrospect, I suppose it’s not that surprising that attacks focused on things other than EA. “Preventing pandemics” isn’t exactly particularly unpopular, and tying in EA to a political attack would add one more step of reasoning compared to more direct attacks; from a strategic perspective, it makes sense that competitors would instead highlight bigger and more direct political vulnerabilities or call into question motives, rather than highlighting the connection between Carrick and EA, and then attacking EA as a whole. Of course, none of this is a guarantee that future campaigns couldn’t trash EA’s reputation – but it is worth noting that in this race, that didn’t occur to any significant degree at all, even in a very heated primary, where, among other things, the local political machine lined up to try to take Carrick down.
Lesson 6: As a Democratic candidate, being “the crypto guy” is a political liability; being tied to EA, not as much
This point is a bit of the inverse of the above point. I’ve heard some EAs worry that a candidate being tied to EA would be a political nonstarter, with several potential reasons given: political candidates are supposed to represent their constituents and prioritize their country, so the cosmopolitan aspect of valuing all lives everywhere equally would end any campaign; veganism has a bad rap, most people intuitively think of vegans as weak/soft, and further the agricultural industry would lobby heavily to stop an EA candidate; heavy involvement in a niche subculture just seems weird, and EA has some weird beliefs; etc. Note how, if any of those lines of attack were particularly effective, they should have destroyed Carrick. Carrick previously has worked in Kenya, Liberia, Timor-Leste, India, Malaysia, and Ethiopia, helping people that were most definitely not American citizens. He is publicly vegan (as is his wife). He co-founded GovAI, and he’s published articles explicitly about the subject of superintelligent AI, with Nick Bostrom as co-author. There was also a very-highly-upvoted post on the EA forum by a public-facing EA in good standing with the EA community, which used EA logic to recommend that EAs support Carrick (who, the post reminded everyone, is an EA) – and this post was picked up by the political media.
If ever there was a person that could be tied to EA, in exactly the ways that some have thought might sink EA political campaigns, Carrick should fit that bill. Yet none of those factors hurt his campaign at all (none led to negative press coverage, a couple of national media outlets had positive coverage of the EA connection, and his opponents didn’t seize on any of these points for attacks).
To be clear, none of those factors seem to have helped his campaign either, so to the few people I’ve previously heard argue that EA traits such as the selflessness might be attractive to voters (e.g., “accepting a low salary and donating much to charity would signal good things to voters”), well, that didn’t really happen. I just don’t think being tied to EA as a candidate has much effect one way or the other (at least it didn’t in a single Democratic primary in Oregon during 2022).
On the other hand, the (much more tenuous in reality) crypto connection was a real negative – bigger than I would have thought ahead of time. As mentioned above, I think local political experience and connections would weaken that connection by, among other things, honestly and credibly signaling to voters priorities unrelated to crypto.
Lesson 7: Even among EAs, politics might somewhat degrade our typical epistemics and rigor – we should guard against this
I should start off by saying that I think many of the actions that EAs took surrounding this campaign were both positive in EV terms and well supported as such. I think the case for small-dollar donations, for instance, was strong, and I personally maxed out my donation and made the case to many others to do the same. I also think it’s great that members of this community are generally supportive of each other's goals and want to help each other.
But some of the arguments that EAs took regarding supporting the campaign, especially as the election became closer, seemed less to be well reasoned by EA lights, and more to be simply emotionally motivated, out of something like a sense of tribalism or a desire to do something.
A lot of this is picking up on vibe, and it’s possible I’m misinterpreting things, but it felt like some of what some EAs were doing late on in the campaign was defended within the movement more on activist-y grounds than on truth seeker-y grounds.
As just one concrete point, a few times I saw EAs (while arguing for further support for Carrick) advance the claim that this race was likely to be very close, as predictit was giving Carrick and Salinas each ~50% odds (with the implication that actions that only very marginally helped Carrick could still be very high EV). While one possible interpretation of this datapoint is that the race was likely to be very close, another (in my opinion, more obvious) possibility was that the race was just very uncertain – after all, there weren’t very many polls, and those that did exist showed a large majority of voters not having coalesced around either Carrick or Salinas. I think that most EAs that were arguing the race would be very close would have, in other contexts, realized the other interpretation was the more likely one.
Insofar as our epistemics were momentarily weakened during the campaign, I don’t think this led to any terrible decisions. But I do think that, in any future political endeavors, we want to guard against emotional interests clouding rational analysis.
My sense is that the best defense against motivated political reasoning may simply be to be conscious of the biases, and to screen arguments a bit harder – especially as other people’s enthusiasm rises or as an election approaches.
I’m upset that Carrick lost. But I’m also happy that he ran. I think the information we can gain from his run is quite valuable. First off, I think this race showed that EAs have the ability to win Congressional seats, and that the downsides to pursuing these seats likely aren’t catastrophic if future candidates embody the best attributes of EA as Carrick does. Second off, I think the race yields many specific lessons about how to increase the chances of winning, as well as how to limit the downsides, and pitfalls to avoid.
As someone deeply involved in politics in Oregon (I am a house district leader in one of the districts Flynn would have been representing, I am co-chair of the county Democratic campaign committee and I am chair of a local Democratic group that focuses on policy and local electeds and that sponsored a forum that Flynn participated in ) I feel that much of the discussion on this site about Carrick Flynn lacks basic awareness of what the campaign looked like on the ground. I also have some suggestions about how the objectives you work for might be better achieved.
First, Flynn remained an enigma to the voters. In spite of more advertising than ever seen before in a race (there were often three ads in a single television hour program), his history and platform were unclear. While many of the ads came from Protect our Future PAC, Flynn had multiple opportunities to clarify these and failed. Statements such as “He directed a billion dollars to health programs to save children’s lives and removed a legal barrier that may have cost several thousand more lives.” that was featured on his website led people to come to me and ask “What did he do to accomplish this? Who was he... (read more)
Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective. I'm not sure I share your sense that spending money to reach out to Salinas could have made the same expected difference to pandemic preparedness, but I appreciated reading your thoughts, and I'm sure they point to some further lessons learned for those in the EA community who will keep being engaged in US politics.
I strongly upvoted your post, and thanks for taking the time to write it.
I note that you’re effectively recommending a strategy of lobbying instead of electioneering in order to advance the cause of pandemic preparedness. Do you have data or personal experience to support the idea that lobbying is a more effective method than campaign sponsorship of aligned candidates to build political support for an issue?
Matt Lerner spent some time looking into lobbying for altruistic causes and posted about it on the EA forum. I appreciate his research, and would like to see more exploring the effectiveness of altruistic lobbying and how to do it well.
Personally (though obviously Carol may disagree), I don't think that's necessarily the strategic takeaway from Carol's post. The value of electioneering vs. lobbying probably depends on the specifics of the districts and candidates.
When an EA-oriented candidate has stronger ties to the district, a more robust political history, deeper local political connections, etc? Sure, the monetary value of donating to that candidate probably exceeds lobbying. .
But at the end of the day, none of those factors were remotely there for Flynn.
As an aside, I grew up in OR-06 and still have a ton of connections there, and Carol's post is 100% spot-on. The only thing I'd add is that -- in the absence of clearly defining himself -- the fact he was backed by what appeared to be crypto did the defining for him. And in the context of a Dem primary, that's not a helpful association
As someone who has both worked to elect candidates and who has lobbied at many levels, my experience is that lobbying can be quite effective if it is done with a candidate who shares your values and goals. I have done this mostly at the state level and find that, until they rise to a position of some power, candidates may not be able to achieve what they wish. In contrast to this, spending time with committee chairs who have much power over the agenda is quite effective, especially if you can establish yourself as a source of reliable information and policy directions. Both are valuable. Thanks for the article referral. I look forward to reading it.
Thanks for writing this Carol.
To specifically flag this, I agree with you that I do not like the quoted behaviour at all. I do not think that EA or EA adjacent campaigns should be misrepresenting other candidates. It hurts ability to cooperate later and damages the democratic environment. Perhaps this is naive of me, but I think the cost from these behaviours in terms of reputation were greater than what they added.
Beyond that, I'm not sure I agree that this was a huge miscalculation from Carrick. He took a risk and he lost. You describe him as "assuming he could win a race with many qualified candidates". I am unsure whether he thought he would probably win, but he thought it was worth a shot. And he didn't do terribly, but the people of Oregon chose a candidate they preferred, as is their right. To me, that seems to be how democracy works.
This is an excellent post, one slightly subtle point about the political dynamics that I think it misses is the circumstances around BoldPAC's investment in Salinas.
BoldPAC is the superpac for Hispanic House Democrats. It happens to be the case that in the 2022 election cycle there is a Hispanic state legislator (Andrea Salinas) living in a blue-leaning open US House of Representatives seat. It also happens to be the case that given the ups and downs of the political cycle, this is the only viable opportunity to add a Hispanic Democrat to the caucus this year. So just as it's basically happenstance the the EA community got involved in the Oregon 6th as opposed to some other district, it's also happenstance that BoldPAC was deeply invested in this race. It's not a heavily Hispanic area or anything, Salinas just happens to be Latina.
If it was an Anglo state legislator holding down the seat, the "flood the zone with unanswered money" strategy might have worked. And if there were four other promising Hispanic prospects in the 2022 cycle, it also might have worked because BoldPAC might have been persuaded that it wasn't worth going toe-to-toe with Protect Our Future. N... (read more)
Where to even start here? Nearly every fact in this post is wrong, the interpretation of events is backwards, and the conclusion is contrarian, wrong and frankly fairly ugly.
OR-6 contains the most populated areas of three counties in western OR with the highest Hispanic populations (map from wikipedia). It also contains towns like Woodburn, which is 57% Hispanic or Latino.
By the way, Rep. Salinas and Rep. Leon are actually both Latina, and I believe both are the children of immigrant farm workers. That's a substantial constituency in the Willamette Valley and they've always been under represented in government.
This isn't how it was. The timeline tells a pretty clear story. Here's what happened:
First, Flynn-aligned super PACs spent a ton of money in the race and made it the country's most expensive primary.
Then, Nancy Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC announced they were spending $1m to support Flynn, around April 10. Their firs... (read more)
I wanted to see exactly how misleading these were. I found this example of an attack ad, which (after some searching) I think cites this, this, this, and this. As far as I can tell:
So my impr... (read more)
Yeah, bummer, not happy about this.
Thanks for checking. I initially thought _pk's claims were overblown, so it was helpful to get a sanity check. I now agree that the claims were quite misleading.
I at least do not want to be associated with claims at this level of misleadingness. I guess it's possible that this is just "American politics as usual" (I'm pretty unfamiliar with this space). To the extent that this is normal/default politics, then I guess we have to reluctantly accede to the usual norms. But this appears regrettable, and to the extent it's abnormal, my own opinion is that we should have a pretty high bar before endorsing such actions.
I don't think we have to accede to that at all - it's not like it's useful for our goals anyway. What probably happened is sbf's money hired consultants, and they just did their job without supervision on trying to push better epistemics. A reputation for not going negative in a misleading way ever might be a political advantage, if you can make it credible.
What's the proportion of Hispanic people in OR-6? Based on the county data I'd guess it's close to the national average of 18.7%. Someone should probably compute this.
17.4% of the citizen voting age population of OR-6 is Hispanic
We can answer this quantitatively.
17.4% of the citizen voting age population of OR-6 is Hispanic. Of 9 candidates who ran in OR-6, two, Salinas and Leon, are Hispanic, making Hispanics 22.2% of the candidate pool. So they were not particularly over- or under-represented in this race. It is slightly surprising that the strongest candidate in this race happened to be Hispanic, but 22.2% chances happen all the time. Obviously, referring to this as "chance" is in no way suggesting that Salinas won "by luck," she's clearly a skilled legislator.
Matt says that "this is the only viable opportunity to add a Hispanic Democrat to the caucus this year." It seems like we have to consider four counterfactuals here:
1. Salinas didn't run
I think it's a safe assumption that people who vote for Hispanic candidates specifically because they are Hispanic and represent Hispanic issues are a subset of the Hispanic population.
Let's say that the entire Hispanic vote in OR-6 went for Salinas (surely an overestimate), that this repr... (read more)
I think that these are good lessons learned, but regarding the last point, I want to highlight a comment by Oliver Habryka;
This seems really important, and while I'm not sure that politics is the mind-killer, I think that the forum and EA in general needs to be really, really careful about the community dynamics. I think that the principal problem pointed out by the recent "Bad Omens" post was peer pressure towards conformity in ways that lead to people acting like jerks, and I think that we're seeing that play out here as well, but involving central people in EA orgs pushing the dynamics, rather than local EA groups. And that seems far more worrying.
So yes, I think there are lots of important lessons learned about politics, but those matter narrowly. And I think that the biggest ... (read more)
I've been thinking about this too. I was really struck by the contrast between the high level of explicit support for "one of our own" running for office vs. the usual resistance to political activism or campaigning otherwise. Personally, I'm strongly in favor of good-faith political campaigning on EA grounds, but from my perspective explicit ties to the EA community shouldn't matter so much in that calculus -- rather, what matters is our expectations of what the candidates would do to advance or block EA-aligned priorities, whether the candidates are branded as EA or not.
In 2020 I suggested that it might be a good idea to set up an entity to vet and endorse candidates for office on EA grounds. While I'm sure such an entity would have still supported Carrick in retrospect, I think one benefit of having a resource like this is that it would allow us to identify, support, and develop relationships with other politicians around the US and in the rest of the world who would be really helpful to have in office while not facing some of the disadvantages of being a newcomer/outsider that Carrick faced.
There are a variety of reasons that having people who are both aligned with our goals, and ALSO willing to listen to pitches on specific policy suggestions, is far more impactful than having people who we are just aligned with in general - but if you look at the list of candidates that Guarding Against Pandemics is supporting, it's definitely inclusive of many people who are aligned with our goals and not aware or not particularly engaged with EA, but have more background in politics. And while we're focused on longtermist policy, rather than EA more generally1, we are doing much of what you suggest in terms of finding and vetting candidates - and doing more to actually engage and develop relationships.
I think that among the majority of EAs, we haven't been as clear as we should be that Carrick's campaign was part of a larger set of things that GAP is doing, and there are lots of specific political campaigns we still encourage donations towards - in addition to being happy for people to donate directly to the "hard money" PAC, which is capped at $5,000 per donor.
... (read more)
- We're supportive of other EA policy ideas and goals, but we both have limited capacity, and are not cur
What are examples of "pressure toward conformity" or "acting like jerks" that you saw among "central people in EA orgs"? Are you counting the people running the campaign as “central”? (I do agree with some of Matthew’s points there.)
I guess you could say that public support for Carrick felt like "pressure". But there are many things in EA that have lots of support and also lots of pushback (e.g. community-building strategies, 80K career advice). Lots of people are excited about higher funding levels in EA; lots of people are worried about it; vigorous discussion follows.
Did something about the campaign make it feel different?
Habryka expressed concern that negative evidence on the campaign would be "systematically filtered out". This kind of claim is really hard to disprove. If you don't see strong criticism of X from an EA pers... (read more)
Overall, I agree with Habryka's comment that "negative evidence on the campaign would be 'systematically filtered out'". Although I maxed out donations to the primary campaign and phone banked a bit for the campaign, I had a number of concerns about the campaign that I never saw mentioned in EA spaces. However, I didn't want to raise these concerns for fear that this would negatively affect Carrick's chances of winning the election.
Now that Carrick's campaign is over, I feel more free to write my concerns. These included:
... (read more)
- The vast majority of media coverage was negative from the start. If voters made even a cursory Google of Carrick Flynn's name, they would be met with plenty of negative headlines like "Carrick Flynn, Crypto-Backed Candidate in New Congressional District, Has Rarely Voted in Oregon" or "Environmental Groups Condemn Congressional Candidate Carrick Flynn’s Comments on Spotted Owls and Timber Unity".
- The vast majority of comments on Oregon subreddits were also negative.
- The campaign seemed to have quite few non-EA donors or volunteers, suggesting a lack of local support.
- The campaign seemed to have few volunteers until about a week ago, after Why Helping the Flynn Campaig
I'd recommend cross-posting your critiques of the "especially useful" post onto that post — will make it easier for anyone who studies this campaign later (I expect many people will) to learn from you.
I think I was primarily concerned that negative information about the campaign could get picked up by the media. Thinking it over now though, that motivation doesn't make sense for not posting about highly visible negative news coverage (which the media would have already been aware of) or not posting concerns on a less publicly visible EA platform, such as Slack. Other factors for why I didn't write up my concerns about Carrick's chances of being elected might have been that:
... (read more)
- no other EAs seemed to be posting much negative information about the campaign, and I thought there might have been a good reason for that
- aside from the posting of "Why Helping the Flynn Campaign is especially useful right now", there weren't any events that triggered me to consider writing up my concerns
- the negative media coverage was obvious enough that I thought anyone considering volunteering would already know about it, and it had to already have been priced into the election odds estimates on Metaculus and PredictIt, so drawing attention to it might not have been valuable
- time-sensitivity, as you mentioned
- public critiques might have to be quite well-reasoned, and I might want to check-in with the campaign
Just because some people loudly opposed it, doesn't mean most people who opposed it were loud.
(I imagine there were also a lot of people like me who simply chose not to investigate whether or not they thought this race was competitive with donations elsewhere - in my case because I'm not American so couldn't donate either way.)
I'm sorry someone was an ass to you.
I'm glad to see EAs running for political office explicitly as EAs. But I hope that the attitude and approach by the EA community towards the Flynn campaign doesn't become the norm. I felt that the campaign was intrusive and pushy, and the standard of care was much lower than what we expect for other causes/interventions.
re: your second bullet point, I volunteered for door-knocking, and none of the other volunteers I knew/met (which was basically all of them) were either asked to come doorknock or offered travel subsidies by the campaign team. Some volunteers did reach out to their friends to encourage them to come help out (though the campaign didn't ask people to do this). I would guess that's what happened with the message your friend got.
That said, I really appreciate how carefully you're trying to think through this. I wish we saw more in-depth red-teaming and criticism of popular ideas floating around in the community.
Edit: I checked with the campaign and they explicitly said that they didn’t pay for anyones flight nor offer to pay for anyones flight
This seems like a very surprising claim to me fwiw. Like it sounds reasonable and rational on the face of it, but if I think about it for even 15 seconds, it breaks down under (my current and potentially very flawed) understanding of the world.
Can you elaborate?
I expected this critique when I wrote that claim. I think I understand why someone would see the other candidate as being insignificant. Let me know if I'm presuming the wrong reasons here:
It seemed that the Flynn campaign message was all about pandemic preparedness. At least that's how it was marketed in EA spaces. And it's mostly true that there isn't anybody in congress championing pandemic preparedness. If you are a single-issue voter on pandemic preparedness or AGI, I can see how the opposing candidate doesn't matter to you; your candidate will do more for the cause than any other candidate, regardless of party, who likely doesn't care or have an opinion on it. It's more of a binary. If you care more about existential risks much more than anything else, this reasoning make sense.
But if you care about other causes like animal welfare, local or global poverty, climate change, democracy health, etc., chances are the other candidate does have views on it. If they are a progressive democratic candidate like Andrea Salinas, EA-aligned poverty alleviation, climate change action, and voting reform are significant parts of their platform. Also, one of the key... (read more)
It's very much not obvious to me that EAs should generally prefer progressive democratic candidates in general, or Salinas in particular.
Speaking personally, I am generally not excited about Democratic progressives gaining more power in the party relative to centrists, and I'm pretty confident I'm not alone here in that.
I also think it's false to claim that Salinas's platform as linked gives much reason to think she will be a force for good on global poverty, animal welfare, or meaningful voting reform. (I'd obviously change my mind on this if there are other Salinas quotes that pertain more directly to these issues.)
There are also various parts of her platform that make me think there's a decent chance that her time in office will turn out to be bad for the world by my lights (not just relative to Carrick). I obviously don't expect everyone here to agree with me on that, and I'm certainly not confident about it, but I also don't want broad claims that progressives are better by EA values to stand uncontested, because I personally don't think that's true.
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To be clear, I think this is very contestable within an EA framework, and am not trying to claim that my political pref
I think your paraphrase is roughly right. But this is not exactly how I'd frame it. Instead, I'd frame it as:
I think improving the long-term future significantly is quite hard. So you need either a pretty targeted theory of change, or the type of mindset that has an implicitly very strong ToC that lets you spot great opportunities along the implicit ToC and execute on it.
Some people do manage to accidentally improve the long-term future significantly (e.g. there's an argument for Petrov's grandmother), but this is very much not the default, and we should not rely on them being successful at this, especially ex ante.
I guess I'm also not convinced if you care about typical neartermist EA causes that the math checks out. Like, I don't think typical progressive democrats are very good at e.g. increasing foreign aid or phasing out factory farming, though at least this seems more plausible. *
I did look briefly at Salinas' platform and I didn't see anything about (e.g.) increasing global health spending.
(EDIT: I do think the "functioning democracy" angle may be a reasonably strong contender for the type of crucial consideration that could flip my conclusion, though I'm currently at <10% here. I think it's great that you brought this up).
* Obviously there are more exceptions for specific Democrat candidates on non-LT issues, e.g. I was (and am) a Cory Booker shill.
I don't understand why you keep presenting this as a long-term vs near-term issue. I would have been thrilled to support a candidate who advocated for comprehensive and unprecedented welfare reform for farmed animals, or for massive increases in well-targeted global health spending. Support for such issues is so rare in American politics, and could be so disproportionately impactful, that it makes perfect sense to focus exclusively on the exceptional candidate who decides to make them a top priority.
I probably framed my first reply to Matthew in a way that was unhelpfully focused only on LT stuff, which I'd guess partially led to the presentation in his response.
Yes, it was one thing to say the money was worth it because of the (small) chance of Carrick winning, but saying it was worth it for the information value alone really stings when you think about how far that money could go if donated elsewhere.
The post author doesn't say anything about having a special connection to the campaign. I assume the "value of information" argument is that campaign staff/insiders gained knowledge they couldn't have gotten otherwise, and I'm not sure this post would shed much light on that argument either way.
As a relatively trivial example of learning not available from a Google search: the campaign presumably learned things like how many people would show up to make calls, how much money they could raise, etc.
This is a great post, but I would like to present a counterargument to the claim that the extent of the funding did not matter due to scope neglect. Specifically, I think Flynn's race could suggest there are limits to the amount one organisation can spend on primary races relative to other ones (I agree that absolute numbers are unlikely to matter). I have two reasons for thinking that the relative levels of spending could have mattered. Firstly, it does seem highly unusual for a well-funded campaign to get all its funding from just one donor, which may have made it easier to land attacks relating to SBF. Secondly, this race becoming the most expensive primary in the country grabbed the attention of national media outlets and possibly political groups (e.g., the opposition PAC), potentially helping rally support around viable opponents. Finally, I will note that my argument is reasoning from one unusual data point and thus am not certain of it myself.
Yes, I strongly agree with this. Almost all money in politics goes to establishing and maintaining narratives about the candidates, but money becomes a problem rather than a help in politics when the supporter and candidate allow the money itself to become the narrative. This is especially true in a Democratic primary.
Condolences to the campaign team. Their efforts were not a waste, because we've learned a lot from them.
In retrospect, we can see that too many variables were stacked against Carrick.
There were some variables in his favour. To name a few, his compelling personal history, talented team and volunteers, and campaign and outside funding. But it wasn't nearly enough. A good half of these weaknesses are changeable, though. I think a candidate who has a bit more inclination toward politics and mass outreach, who has experience in the state house, and some of the connections that come with that, will have good chances.
Maybe someone should user-interview or survey Oregonians to see what made people not want to vote for Carrick
Just some random Twitter comments I've seen:
"I received a flyer for Flynn multiple times a week for months. Made me 100% sure I wasn’t going to vote for him."
"Great! I voted for her. There IS a point where you can run too many commercials. Was turned off by the non stop deluge of ads from the Flynn PAC. A little more restraint might have tricked people. Way too obvious of an attempt to buy a seat."
"I guess you really can't buy anything with crypto."
"Crypto bro goes down just like crypto did"
The Reddit comments I've seen have been largely the same as well: people being tired of apparently incessant campaign ads along with some suspicion of large out of state money and crypto.
A couple of random threads:
Here are some impressions of him from various influential Oregonians. No idea how these six were chosen from the "more than a dozen" originally interviewed.
There's a weird detail I see in this post that seems to overemphasize the campaign's success:
However, Carrick only received half as many votes as the winning candidate (results). Maybe this wasn't immediately clear as the data was tentative, but I find it hard to update much on this data.
Great post, and I hope folks will consider it carefully. I was thinking of writing up my thoughts on how to field better candidates, and points 1-4 cover what I would have written. (And do it really thoroughly, nice job Daniel_Eth!)
One thing about all of those points: they're not just about optics or voter preferences. They're proxies for being prepared to do the job. You don't just need to live in the district for a while before you run so you won't get called a carpetbagger, you need it to know what's going on. You need local connections to get support, but also to know who to call on when new issues come up. Experience in local office doesn't just look good on the bio, it shows that you've got experience with committee meetings and all the other basic blocking and tackling on a local level. And so on --these are matters of substance not just optics.
It would be great to see more long-term thinking in Congress, and I think if you all back candidates that would be viable without their EA connection and also add that perspective, you could do a lot of good.
I hope Mr. Flynn also considers running for local or state office. There's been a lot of churn in the Oregon state legislature recently, and that's likely to continue. He'd be a strong candidate for state rep in the next cycle.
Just wanted to say that I really appreciated this post. As someone who followed the campaign with interest, but not super closely, I found it very informative about the campaign. And it covered all of the key questions I have been vaguely wondering about re: EAs running for office.
How strongly do you think this was an update in the favor of an underlying reality of “EA being easy to present”, instead of “EA getting really good draws” in one campaign?:
If the speculation in this comment is true, it might be hard to tell the difference. This is because these “draws” from this one instance have lasting effects and will set a positive tone for EA for a long time.
I guess one difference is that, if the story in this comment is right, EA can’t be confident that a median quality political effort wouldn’t create issues or erode positive sentiment.
edited a lot due to comments
My view is that this is a bet we'd take again. Copied from my twitter:
Sam Bankman-Fried et al spent $13 million on an I'd estimate an additional 25% chance for Carrick Flynn to win. Assuming an 80% chance to win in the national, that's $60 million to win house seat on expectation for someone who cares deeply about pandemic prevention + great record + all the information learned in the campaign. My 25% comes from the metaculus estimate of 30% (which I think we should accept as a reasonable guess) assuming a 5% chance of him winning without the money.
Should Sam spend that much to increase the chances on many house seats? I don't know, probably? How many seats do you need to pass pandemic bills? Also the first person has much higher marginal value. This looks like a choice that those involved would make again.
Also, this has great signalling value. If I were in a tough race in the next 2 years, I'd be pushing for Pandemic Legislation and negotiating for some money. "If he's willing to blow $13 mill on a nobody, if I back this legislation, maybe he'll back me"
correct me if I'm wrong
How much did the $13 million shift the odds? That's the key question. The conventional political science on this is skeptical that donations have much of an effect on outcomes (albeit it's a bit more positive about lower profile candidates like Carrick) https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/money-and-elections-a-complicated-love-story/
(In this case, given the crypto backlash, it's surely possible SBF's donations hurt Carrick's election chances. I don't want to suggest this was actually the case, just noting that the confidence interval should include the possibility of a negative effect, here.)
Signaling is a more interesting idea, but raises more questions about effectiveness. How much is it worth spending to get someone elected on the basis that they've endorsed pandemic prevention for self-interested reasons?
Fundraising is particularly effective in open primaries, such as this one. From the linked article:
Although early fundraising could be correlational with success rather than causal, if it's an indicator of who can generate support from the electorate.
(I'd be pretty confident there's an effect like this but don't know how strong, and haven't tried to understand if the article you're quoting from tries to correct for it.)
I think your cost-effectiveness analysis is a little bit misleading: You're assuming there was a binary choice between spending $0 and having a 5% chance of a seat or spending $13mn and having a 30% chance*. This is not the case, though, as they could have spent anything between those two amounts. It is quite reasonable that spending say $3mn would have led to something between 25-28% chance of winning and spending $10mn probably to something like 29.9%, so the effectiveness of most of the $13mn spent is much lower than you are suggesting.
*I'm much more sceptical than you though that the Metaculus estimate is a reasonable guess: It seems plausible to me that there could be a significant overlap between people highly excited about Flynn and people estimating on this question, which could very well have biased the estimate in Flynn's favour.
You might want to use more political sensitivity re the perception of "buying" a seat.
I think it's immoral to (attempt to) buy seats in a democracy; it goes against my values.
Fundraising in order to try to make sure voters are aware of your candidate and his message is fine, but "buying seats" isn't.
Thank you for this statement. I am including the current results from FEC filings here. It is clear that there was not only a lot of money spent to buy the election, but there was a good deal of subterfuge. Contributions to other PACs from Protect our Future were made just late enough to escape reporting until after the election.
One of the mysteries about this election was what the Justice Unites US Pac was. It spent almost $850,000 on canvassers for Flynn and touted itself as an AAPI led and run organization. Campaign filings now show that money for the PAC came exclusively from Protect our Future and supported only one candidate. Protect our Future spent over $10 million supporting Flynn and almost a million dollars against Andrea Salinas, the victor in this race.
These current filings also confirm that Bankman-Fried donated $6 million to the House Democratic Majority PAC just before that PAC gave an inexplicable $1 million to Flynn.
This was neither effective nor altruistic. It was an experiment in whether big money could overcome the unquestionable advantages of other candidates.
This is a great post that I think captures a lot about what happened here. Especially 5. I think to some extent the super PAC donations backfired — after all, you're right that Carrick got terrible press from the gifts. The dominant storyline in local media about Flynn was about how much money he was getting from this crypto gazillionaire in The Bahamas. Not to say that it would have been better for him not to have had the money. But I wonder how this election would've been different if POF had spent only, say, $2m on his behalf.
FWIW, we just published this on POF over here at Puck which may be of interest to the thread.
I do agree that this provided quite some useful information. However, there may also be a big downside if the criticism of SBF is sticky and will carry to future EAs being funded in politics by him.
While it's uncertain, I think it's more likely that the signal sent by the overwhelming funding of Carrick's campaign by both SBF and by a large network of private EA donors, and the ability to push the national party to support a primary candidate, was actually central to the success of so many other campaigns that GAP is funding and supporting, and that this will be useful in the future.
Did Carrick anywhere address the 'crypto-shill' claim directly?
I have not followed this campaign closely, but I can totally see why Carrick came across as being inauthentic - because he sort of was. He was downplaying his EA side and presenting himself as a normal local politician.
I think the bold move here would have been openness: talking more deeply about his true motivations and those of SBF. Obviously, that brings EA much more in the scope of opponents, with major risks.
The lesson I'm (tentatively) drawing is that an "EA insider" cannot easily enter politics because it's hard to be authentic without exposing EA to political attacks.
I am not sure if he did this / this sort of thing is feasible, but it could have been a great move to say something like: I will not in any way seek to influence crypto policy while in office OR I will not seek relevant committee assignments for crypto regulation OR even I will abstain from all votes related to cryptocurrencies.
Might have been better to be more forceful in distancing himself from SBF. But I guess this is all very easy to say in hindsight.
It was pointed out a while ago in some EA groups that the campaign website was bland and had less specificity than even the non-EA contenders.
In this “news cycle” of EA posts related to the election, has anyone actually written on the actual issue of how compulsion/authority was used on EA in any sense, mechanical/intent/norms/solutions?
This purported undue authority or compulsion is what is motivating a lot of this anxiety right?
But I get the sense this all stemmed from just one very well liked (or high status if you’re cynical) EA (ASB) who promoted the candidate, along with a number of colleagues of some EA status.
As devil’s advocate, it’s unclear what the issue was, or how this could be prevented in the future (especially if no one is going to articulate this).
(Credit for idea of EA “news cycles” goes to Nathan Young).
Am a bit late to this but wanted to jot down a few thoughts:
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- Does EA Represent Electoral Constituents? Since EA is cosmopolitan and disregards national and possibly temporal boundaries, does that mean EA politicians will prioritize non-voters over the interest of voters? A lot of EAs may feel like which Americans have health insurance coverage or have a right to an abortion is less important than Africans dying of malaria or humanity going extinct. But 1. is this a legitimate basis for democratic politics and 2. if legitimate, will espousing it inhere
I'm worried about how much this campaign hurt the perception of EA as a whole. My guess would be not too much, since it's a local primary race, but I'm sure there are some people skeptical of the community. It's also possible that crypto is just easier to understand as bad than EA is, so that's what Salinas decided to run on. I'd argue that we don't know yet how EA affects a candidate's campaign. Although, most candidates probably have something that could drown out EA anyway, although probably not anything as damaging as crypto was.
Curious about this part:
“To be concrete, my personal best guess is that >30% of American EAs would have at least a decent shot (say, >20%) of making it into Congress if they chose to dedicate themselves to their local community and spend time practicing the appropriate communication skills.”
Would be curious for a bit more explanation from OP or others on this part.
So now that it's over, can someone explain what the heck was up with SBF donating $6m to HMP in exchange for a $1m donation to Flynn? From an outside perspective it seems tailor made to look vaguely suspicious and generate bad press, without seeming to produce any tangible benefits for Flynn or EA.
Endorsement by the Democratic congressional leadership. There are plenty of low-information voters who hardly follow politics but generally prefer Democrats to Republicans so in the primary, they are more likely to vote for candidate endorsed by the those people who aim to get a Democratic majority in Congress.
Thanks so much for writing this up! I agree that we should be taking lessons from this run.
I haven't read all the related articles. This may be the Crypto case. Carrick is not a weak person. He dedicate his life to all human. He travel much, success much so that he would have won primary in his native town. But he don't have political playbook. People want to associate with the high power, if not they can't possess it, Virtual reality worsen the bad media intervention. Media is a dangerous estate. Summing up, virtual reality and people who get exponential rate of return from crypto exchange is I think, not the way. Carrick didn't connect with l... (read more)