Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Big 2012 US Election PAS Thread

389 Responses

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  • Kracklite, in reply to Bevan Shortridge,

    He's still writing SF I see...

    Now now, let's avoid the cliches. Good SF relies on reasonable and consistent extrapolation from known facts using known principles (with the odd bit of artistic licence such as FTL).

    I think that he's using the historiological approach of the counterfactual, which similar to, but nonetheless distinct from hard SF, proposes an alternative to a known fact and extrapolates from that alteration. In this case, he's taking the assumption that Obama is evil incarnate with infinite powers and competence (the unifying characteristic of all conspiracy theorists is that they assume conspirators to be far more competent than history has shown anyone else to be). I expect further thought experiments from him based on the premise that Zeta Reticulians caused the explosion of the Hindenburg and the Mickey Mouse Club had access to time travel technology (suppressed by the Illuminati of course) which enabled them to cause the downfall of the Roman Empire.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Kracklite,

    Heh! Of course! I am now enlightened as to his, um, his, um - um?
    (Srsly, I dont watch writers I enjoy, in whatever genre, having major meltdowns, very publicly. This was all a bit ugly - and sad. But -enjoyed your esposition-)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    To describe the Obama win as anything other than the expected result at any time this year would have been false.

    Expected result and forgone conclusion are not the same thing.

    I agree that Obama’s re-election was certainly expected.

    If I roll two dice, I expect I will roll something less than 11. But rolling a 10 or a 9 or an 8 or something lower is not a foregone conclusion. There is a smallish, but very real chance I will roll an 11 or a 12. And on Nate Silver’s numbers, he was telling everyone he thought the same about the presidential race: confident Obama would win, but not certain. Just like me and those dice.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3195 posts Report Reply

  • John Armstrong, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    the states they have vastly more knowledge at their fingertips

    But is the accuracy of the polls even the main issue? I agree with Bart that inaccurate polling is the worst case scenario, but I repeat my earlier point that foregrounding how people are likely to vote in political coverage, ahead of analysis of policies can't be a good thing, regardless of whether those polls are accurate or not. Can it?

    for a lot of people to vote for a candidate they can live with that might actually win needs knowledge of what the rest of the voting population is indicating.

    I'm really not sure what you mean here. If you are saying that in a system where one of two parties is always going to win, it's better to have some influence on the actual outcome, rather than vote for some unelectable third party, maybe that's fair enough. But in the context of a proportionally elected parliament, surely having people vote in alignment with their actual beliefs is preferable to them just trying to back the winning horse?

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2007 • 132 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    There are a whole bunch of psych studies

    There are all kinds of individual level psych studies showing you can affect people in the short term in all kinds of ways, I'm thinking more of acutal evidence at a population level with the real world of competing influences. A bit of googling suggests having poll information in a first past the post American election affects a statistically insignificant proportion of voters (it affects a small proportion of undecided voters (and the truely undecided are a small proportion of the voting population)).

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1443 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to John Armstrong,

    maybe that’s fair enough. But in the context of a proportionally elected parliament

    Yes, and in a proportionately elected parliament, the information about other people's opinions is less useful. However, in New Zealand we do not have pure proportionality, and if I may highlight the plight of the ACT voter (or indeed anyone not supporting National/ Labour/ Greens). If there are so few people willing to declare support for the tiny party that they are nowhere near the threshold, then my vote may be better served (in the calculus of ideological purity versus pragmatic gains) by voting for a major party. On the other hand, if my party of choice* is nudging the threshold, this fact would seem to be a strong motivator. There are even more value to polls for voters in tactical voting around geographic seats (particularly where there are coattails flow on MP effects).

    *I wish to make it clear ACT is not the party of my choice.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1443 posts Report Reply

  • Cady Adam, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    I agree, the result of an election is mostly unpredictable. Mostly there are only speculations which are in support of a party.

    [Edited to remove spam: Emma]

    Since Nov 2012 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Bevan Shortridge,

    I often wonder what the impact is of staggered closing times for the polling places? That states are being projected for a candidate in the east while people might still be deciding whether to bother going to vote in the west. I assume it's been studied, what effect that might have on a candidate's chances if the projections begin to show them losing and losing badly?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • G in J,

    It's incredible that there are 49,000 people who would actually vote for Roseanne Barr.

    Osaka • Since Dec 2011 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I repeat my earlier point that foregrounding how people are likely to vote in political coverage, ahead of analysis of policies can't be a good thing, regardless of whether those polls are accurate or not. Can it?

    Not sure about this one. There are electoral systems in the world where people actually physically line up behind the candidates, and they can see where everyone is. This seems crazy to us, but it does seem to work out OK. I guess it's kind of like taking a high power of a Markov chain - if there's an equilibrium it can be found that way. When there's only a few steps of information people can switch choices back and forwards and it's got much more of a musical chairs aspect to it. When you actually know which way it's all going, then there's no point trying to game it, vote tactically, etc. You know all the info about how everyone's going to vote, and you make your choice based on that.

    Put it this way, at least this way, no one gets a big surprise about how things panned out, and wishes they voted differently to support an outcome that they could have influenced if only they'd known. Everything is known, and you pick where you feel most comfortable. That's democracy in action too.

    But I said I wasn't sure, and I'm still not, because it is possible that there is no equilibrium state and the outcomes will wildly fluctuate around, depending on the information given, and this could put huge unaccountable power into the hands of pollsters.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10522 posts Report Reply

  • John Armstrong, in reply to BenWilson,

    Everything is known, and you pick where you feel most comfortable. That's democracy in action too.

    But people only have so much time and energy to absorb information. With so much media content focusing on poll results, it surely must be less likely that the electorate is well informed about policy.

    But I should shut up about this: I'm getting repetitive. I am appreciating the thoughts it's provoking in others, though.

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2007 • 132 posts Report Reply

  • Miche Campbell, in reply to Islander,

    Donald Trump has a massive case of Michael Jackson Syndrome -- too much money and nobody in his life to tell him "No, Donald."

    Dunedin • Since Feb 2011 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • Miche Campbell, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    But they're bloody good things to have in place for when you're no longer in a war economy. Don't refuse half a loaf, mate.

    Dunedin • Since Feb 2011 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • John Armstrong,

    Russell, have any of your media-watching shows examined the influence or propriety of polling (as opposed to examining its accuracy)?

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2007 • 132 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to Bevan Shortridge,

    That states are being projected for a candidate in the east while people might still be deciding whether to bother going to vote in the west.

    A (very) quick bit of digging into the results suggests that it is not as much of a difference as people worry about (and they do worry about it). Possibly because U.S. elections are mega-elections by NZ standards where you decide everything from ballot initiatives (normally many per an election, California being known for them) through state government (including many jobs that NZ would think of as civil service ones). To save on costs of running elections a lot of places also run their local elections at the same time. Election forms can stretch to many pages. While the Presidental election is the headline act, most of what people are voting on is local.
    That said Hawaii is known as the state that doesn't vote, but a certain amount of that seems to be about entrenched power within the state rather than the President being already decided. When the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is eventually triggered, I would expect it to have little effect on Hawaii's turnout, though they could be far more significant in a truly close election.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1443 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to John Armstrong,

    With so much media content focusing on poll results, it surely must be less likely that the electorate is well informed about policy.

    I guess that depends on what is being polled. Getting poll results on why people support a view is very interesting, can highlight what the common conceptions are, and the misconceptions. It might stimulate more debate.

    Put it this way - I'm always interested to hear an argument, but knowing how many people are supporting various points is not irrelevant. You can save wasting a lot of time, if the point you're trying to prove isn't what's the blocker for people agreeing with you.

    I guess it depends what is meant by engagement, to some extent. Turning up to put a mark on the ballot is only part of it - participation in your democracy also involves discussing it with people around you, and the more factual information you have, the better for the discussion.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10522 posts Report Reply

  • Miche Campbell, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I want to keep my few remaining marbles right where they are, thanks.

    Dunedin • Since Feb 2011 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to David Hood,

    though they could be far more significant in a truly close election.

    Yup, that's kind of what I was saying. Hawaii might seem powerless and disengaged because the result is often known before a lot of them get a chance to vote. But on the day that it isn't, it could be Hawaii deciding the President. The Hawaiians knowing that it's not close might disengage them, but knowing that it is close might do the exact opposite. In some ways they're actually lucky - they don't have to waste their time, unless it would matter.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10522 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Danielle,

    Can I just note that even in the most “insane” states, one of every three people you see is voting for the Democratic Party?

    I'd also like to suggest a general usage note. Todd 'Legitimate Rape' Aiken and Richard 'being impregnated by your incestuous rapist is a gift from God' Mourdock are not suffering from a mental illness. They're coldly rational rape apologists who are totally responsible for their own misogyny, callous ideology and general ignorance. (No, Todd, lady parts can't magically detect "legitimate" rape-semen and prevent conception. Actual scientists and health care professionals who study this shit say so.)

    Please keep that non-trivial distinction clear.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12363 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to John Armstrong,

    But people only have so much time and energy to absorb information. With so much media content focusing on poll results, it surely must be less likely that the electorate is well informed about policy

    I'm actually kind of hopeful here, for reasons I think showed in the U.S. campaign. I would tend to say that Romney pitched his message a the level of the media soundbite, but so many people are now used to the ability to follow up detail on the internet that the inconsistencies in his "budget" were well known pretty quickly. In this respect I think both Labour and, even more so, the Greens did well in providing readily accessible policy detail at the last election via the internet, and it is a trend I hope continues and flourishes.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1443 posts Report Reply

  • John Armstrong, in reply to BenWilson,

    I guess that depends on what is being polled.

    Yes, I agree completely. I am thinking mainly about polls for things like preferred Prime Minister or current voting preference, which perhaps don't add much to anyone's understanding of the policy platforms that the prime Minister or the various parties are standing on.

    Having said this, I am far from certain about this and currently have that funny feeling that I am making an argument that will fall to bits pretty quickly under the right kind of pressure. I've been trying to conduct a thought experiment whereby I am standing over the ballot box with no knowledge of the respective parties' current relative support, but have a full working knowledge of their policies. How would I feel? Probably quite purposeful, but also a bit isolated.

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2007 • 132 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    ++1

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to John Armstrong,

    I am thinking mainly about polls for things like preferred Prime Minister or current voting preference, which perhaps don’t add much to anyone’s understanding of the policy platforms that the prime Minister or the various parties are standing on.

    In the reading I have been doing this evening, it has been suggested that polls convey an element of the wisdom of the crowds- people are aware that their knowledge is imperfect, and and a bunch of people supporting something suggests there may a a reason for them doing so. Now that reason might be that people are judging the preferred Prime Minister by that he looks nice to them on TV, but it does show that there is a consensus about something.
    This could either lead to people wanting to take the next step in answering the why question (why do a lot of people support x) and filling in their known imperfect knowledge, or it could lead to judgements about the people who support x if one is certain in ones knowledge on a matter.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1443 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Danielle,

    Can I just note that even in the most “insane” states, one of every three people you see is voting for the Democratic Party?

    Hence: "Keep Austin Weird"

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to David Hood,

    In the reading I have been doing this evening

    Can I just say how much I fucking love it when y'all go and seek evidence on a question and digest it for the rest of us? I like to think it's the soul of the discussions here. Thanks.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

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