This isn’t one of those “oh no the wrong guy(s) won” nor is it a “yay! the right guy(s) won” post. I wouldn’t be writing either of those if the results had been reversed. I’m interested in a few lessons about the way elections work.
1) Those who lead in the polls believe polls. Those who trail write scenarios. For the last few elections we’ve had some pretty accurate models built from multiple polls. Folks like Nate Silver are more accurate than just reading polls because they test the polls and their models objectively. This combination of polls allows one to minimize, though not eliminate the chance or error or bias.
2) The media can’t handle polls. They just can’t. They constantly report minor variations, changes within the sampling error for the poll, as though they were major changes in reality. They also can’t decide what “tied,” close,” or “substantial” actually mean. If you read headlines, you’ll get misled. I’d recommend that the media start reading the aggregators, Nate Silver, Sam Wang (Princeton Election Consortium), Votamatic, etc. Frankly, I thought they were over-optimistic regarding President Obama’s chances for reelection. After looking at the numbers myself, I had guessed in the 280-290 range. But I was wrong and the aggregators were generally right.
3) Everybody needs to learn how to put numbers in context. This relates to the polls. Is a new poll by the same organization as the last one? Are you comparing the same sort of things? When somebody states the deficit or how much they intend to reduce it, what’s the time period and the starting point for each number?Especially in ads, there was hardly a worthwhile number presented in the entire election cycle.
4) 30-60 seconds is too short a time to tell the truth. I didn’t see a single ad that would pass muster on providing information. I don’t say there weren’t any anywhere, but I didn’t see any, and I saw a lot of ads. If you’re getting any of your information from ads, you probably lack context.
5) For that small deciding margin the election is not about ideology. Look at some of the combinations of people that were elected. Too many people have no idea what they’re voting for or against, and with elections this close, that means often that political decisions are made by the uninformed. Some people may think this points toward one party or the other, or ideologically right or left. My unscientific, subjective impression is that there is plenty of ignorance on all sides. A significant number of the ignorant are actually quite intelligent people. Political information just isn’t enough of a priority for them. It’s hard to be informed because information is hard to find and is hidden behind walls of empty rhetoric. There were even more vacuous slogans than there were falsehoods in this election.
6) Winners talk unity while losers question mandates. It’s a psychological game. The only official mandate is having that nifty check mark by your name. There isn’t a defined super majority that gives one a mandate. On the other hand, our system allows for conflicting mandates, and the result of that should be interesting to watch.
7) Everybody knows how to fix a party that’s suffered a major loss. People are now suggesting how the Republican party needs to change their positions on various issues. While one should always be ready to reexamine one’s positions, you also won’t win by making yourself like the other party. That applies no matter what party you are. If the Republican Party changes its position on abortion, for example, is there any possibility they will pick up enough votes in the center to make up for the ones they lose on the right? I don’t see it. I could suggest issues on which the Republican Party should change as well, but by making themselves more acceptable to me personally, I expect they would shed many other voters.
8) I’d love to see some education going on. The Democrats ran away from the one major piece of legislation they passed while they controlled both houses of congress. Conservatives will say this is because they were ashamed of it. I’d say it falls somewhere between cowardice and bad politics. They should have gotten out there and explained and defended the ACA from the time it was passed until the election. I’m betting that would have improved their results. The Republicans should have gone out there with a more detailed budget proposal and then defended it. You think it would mean they’d lose? Well, just look at what did happen!
9) Money is important, but it doesn’t guarantee success.
I’m going to enjoy watching politics for the next couple of years.