A Prediction about Presidential Predictions

Tomorrow is Election Day, so get out there and vote. Barring any major polling malfunctions, by the end of the day we’ll finally have an answer to the question of who will reside in The White House for the next four years. Almost as interestingly, tomorrow could also mark a definitive change in the way we look at Presidential campaigns, potentially for decades. In particular: if Nate Silver’s ongoing, deeply statistical analysis of the race at Fivethirtyeight turns out to be an accurate predictor of the final outcome, it may alter political punditry for a long, long time.

If you’re not familiar with Silver’s work, it’s probably a reasonable if gross characterization to say that he is a kind of ‘meta-pollster.’ Each day, he surveys the most recent state and national polls, aggregating their results using a sophisticated — but proprietary — statistical model that accounts for such factors as polling methodology, past accuracy and tendency to favor one party or another. The result is what some believe to be an exceedingly accurate picture of who is ‘winning’ at any given stage of the campaign — and, of course, a prediction of who will actually win at the close of Election Day.

Silver began doing this work in the lead-up to November 2008, and produced eye-popping results. His model correctly predicted the winner of forty-nine of the fifty states in the presidential election, and all thirty-five of the senate races held that year.

Whether that was pure luck or not is the question that will be answered when the results of tomorrow’s election are in. If his predictions are largely accurate, it will go a long way towards validating Silver’s approach. It’s my feeling too that if that happens there’s no going back; in at least the next few election cycles, you can expect to see much more attention paid to this sort of statistical evaluation of a campaign’s progress.

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Do I Have to Draw You a Map

MapsSetting aside this awful feeling for a moment: here are a few of my favorite electoral maps — from an information design perspective, not from an electoral math perspective — from this Election Day just past. It’s mildly interesting how the various news outlets and independent sources each tackled the challenge of visually assessing how the country voted. I say “mildly” because as a design problem, the electoral college is almost banal in its limitations. There are only so many ways you can show this data.

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Game, Set, Match

Not many of my friends seems to want to talk about the Kerry/Edwards loss in any great detail, and it makes me wonder if I’m the only one taking it as hard as I am. To be honest, I’m devastated, and furious and overcome with melancholy, and I’m not sure what to do with myself. It fills me with dread to consider what George W. Bush will do with a second term; I get physically ill when I consider the long-term damage that might be done by forty-eight more months of his diplomatic myopia, his economic irresponsibility, his craven Attorney General, and his retrograde Supreme Court appointees. It’s going to take some true grit not to succumb to complete despair over the next few days.

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Got Out the Vote

Vote KerryIn spite of all the tension coursing through me today, and in spite of all my previous bad-mouthing of John Kerry’s campaign performance in late summer, I think that I’m cautiously optimistic about his chances for winning this election today. I know there are something like thirty-three ways that the various electoral lots can add up to another bitter tie between Bush and Kerry, but I just don’t see that happening somehow. In my gut, I think there will be a relatively decisive victory, whether it’s for one side or the other. This is fueled in part by the early reports of immense voter turnout and the leaked mid-afternoon exit polls I’ve seen — crack for those of us who can’t bear the suspense. I’ll heed the cautions that early exit polls are tremendously unreliable, and I have little doubt that Bush supporters can still manage a clear late-inning victory, but right now, I’m just going to throw aside my rational self. I’ve been waiting four years to cast a ballot for a Democratic challenger and against George W. Bush; so I’m just going to enjoy the lingering sensation of that act for at least a few more hours.

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Ceci N’est Pas Un Opinion

DebateMuch to my dismay, news outlets and politically-oriented weblogs are continuing to devote time, words and breath to the fact that John Kerry mentioned Mary Cheney, vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter — who happens to be a lesbian — in the course of last night’s debate. You can find all of the details elsewhere, so I’m not going to detail them here. In my opinion, it’s much ado about nothing — Kerry’s reference was both respectful and relevant — and the brewing furor is yet another example of trumped-up indignation on the part of conservatives (however, I admit that even some of my pinko friends found it somewhat inappropriate).

As it happens, this incident is a good illustration of one of the reasons I find it so frustrating and stressful to watch the presidential debates, especially when George W. Bush is a participant.

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Stress Testing

Presidential DebateIt’s a really, really stressful night to watch television if you follow either the Major League Baseball postseason — both leagues are in the first two games of their championship series tonight — or the race for the White House — Bush and Kerry are in the midst of their third and last debate. I keep going back and forth between these the debate and the Yankees/Red Sox game, and it’s like maddening. I can’t look away though. Anyway, as a friend of mine joked yesterday, “I hope the Yankees beat George Bush.”

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Bedtime Stories for Democrats

John KerryIn advance of tomorrow night’s first Presidential debate between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry, there’s a lot of talk going on right now about the reputation that the senator from Massachusetts has for ‘strong finishes.’ An article in today’s New York Times details Kerry’s history of coming to life in the final stretches his campaigns, most notably in his bid for re-election to the Senate in 1996 and in his unexpected resurgence against Howard Dean in the Democratic primaries earlier this year. If it happens, I’ll be delighted — I’ll be ecstatic — but at this point, in spite of the fact that I continue to pump modest amounts of money into the Democratic effort for a November victory (and so should you!), these tales strike me as bedtime stories whispered into the ears of frightful Democrats as they — as we — pray into the night.

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I Keep Going, and Going, and Going…

The ups and downs of this election are really wreaking havoc with my emotional health, and I’m almost at the point where I can no longer afford to devote this much attention reading a dozen weblogs and a dozen news sites every day. It’s the same way I feel about high-stakes sporting events: it takes a tremendous strain out of me to get too invested in something over which I have very little, if any, control. This weekend, at least, I’ll get a little bit of a break, as I’m heading out to the airport right now for a trip to see some of my family in Oakland, California. Internet access will be intermiitent, so there will be few if any posts until I’m back on Monday night or Tuesday morning — and maybe few if any chances to follow the race.

PowerBookGoing off on kind of a wild tangent: I’m on the train right now, and when I popped open my PowerBook and booted it up, I was reminded of a question to which I’ve long wanted to know the answer. That is, when embarking on a trip with a laptop, does it save more energy to shut down before unplugging and leaving home and then booting up, say, two hours later while on the road? Or, instead, is it more energy efficient to put the laptop to sleep first, and then simply wake it later while on the road? I would assume that booting up off the battery is more energy consuming than keeping a laptop in sleep mode for two hours, right? See, I’m already starting to focus on less weighty issues…

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Putting the Dubya in AWOL

AWOLI watched Dan Rather’s 60 Minutes II piece on the renewed questionability of George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard this evening with great interest. Two quick things occurred to me: first, that it’s highly unlikely that the network would have allowed Dan Rather — who is synonymous with the credibility of their news organization, for better or worse — to lend his imprimatur to this report without being pretty confident that they were right on the facts. This is an important point, because CBS is notoriously weak-willed, having caved into Republican pressure on everything from a harmless Reagan made-for-TV movie to commercials from MoveOn.org. It means something when a lapdog like the Eye bites back.

The second thing I considered was that, hey, maybe the reason George W. Bush didn’t show up for duty is that he came across one of these discs in his mailbox back in 1969. Could be.

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