This Election Season, One Poll Won’t Cut It

Last week I caught myself doing something I'd never done before: I turned off the television as soon as the presidential debate was over.

I usually keep the tv on to listen to the pundits, but this time they seemed absurd — not their politics, just the idea of a handful of folks in New York drawing conclusions about national candidates. It's the same type of absurdity that's driven me to remove baseball announcers from my life. I now watch Red Sox games without sound.

Commentators and pundits have always been full of hot air, but now tools we use every day demonstrate it. Our Twitter streams and Facebook feeds are full of richer, more thoughtful opinions than the stuff on tv. When I'm watching the Red Sox, I get far more entertainment from the crowd of Red Sox fans I follow on Twitter. The same goes for politics; the range of opinions, with biases that are known to me, is far more instructive than Wolf Blitzer's telepromotease.

Over the past few months I've started reading the election projection site FiveThirtyEight.com religiously. Nate Silver, the guy who runs the site, aggregates all the polls he can get his hands on, and feeds them into a model that adjusts for their historical biases, as well as other observed influences. He then runs a simulation of the election and gives you the odds of each candidate winning.

Once you spend time on Nate's site and see the range of polls, their biases and range of factors that influence them, it becomes hard to put any stock in any single poll.

Nate's poll aggregation is very similar to what we're beginning to do on our own, less scientifically or deliberately. Using tools like Twitter Search and Facebook feed, we do our own intuitive aggregation. We see lots of different opinions, many of which come from people we know and who have known biases and perspectives. We weight all of this to form our opinions.

If you're in the business of shaping opinions, this means you can't tell people what to think anymore. People think for themselves now, and they have to be convinced.
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