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.

Barack Makes Me Proud

For weeks, I’ve been meaning to explain all the reasons I’m voting for Barack on Tuesday.

In the end, there’s only one thing to say: He makes me proud.
Proud to live in a country where the people can change things,
where anybody can be president,
where success is based on merit,
where people who are honest and transparent do well,
where there is hope, and optimism.

A lot of this is not true yet, but Barack gives me hope that it all can be.

Here are a few other thoughts on Barack from people I respect (Larry Lessig, Fred Wilson,
Antonio Rodridquez, & Baratunde Thurston), and some of my favorite YouBama videos.

The Globe on Flaherty: Unsigned, Unhelpful

This is why I’ve stopped reading unsigned editorials.

The upcoming special State Senate election in Middlesex, Essex and Suffolk counties is an interesting, close race. Voters
have a tough decision, mainly between an effective, experienced
candidate with several DUIs (Anthony Galluccio) and a well-spoken,
DUI-free prosecutor who seems thin on issues other than crime (Tim
Flaherty
).

The Globe parachutes into the race this morning with a few paragraphs
that read like a coloring book — they pick a template and fill in some
color.

They endorse Flaherty because he has "the right mix of energy,
agility, and experience to serve the district." They suggest his
background will be useful in sections of the district with serious
drug problems and in areas "where major [real estate] developments are
now in play."

Maybe, but in both of the debates that I went to, Galluccio was the only
one able to speak deeply and intelligently about real estate development and
community approaches to fighting crime. Flaherty mostly harped on his
experience as a prosecutor and assorted cliches that everybody voting
next Tuesday agrees on.

I get the impression that the Globe editorial was written by somebody
who hasn’t followed the race. They read a few articles, had a few of
the candidates stop by the office, then picked one because an editorial
had to be written.

I could easily be wrong. It’s possible the piece was written by
somebody who knows the race intimately — somebody who has a far better
sense of the candidates than I do and sees a side of Flaherty that I
haven’t.

But since the piece is unsigned, and lacks any context or voice,
there’s no way to tell. So I’ll probably end up voting for Galluccio.

Steven Levitt on Barack Obama

"If he has the same effect on others as he does on me, you are looking at a future president."

Wow. That’s a strong endorsement from a seemingly apolitical economist.

I’m certainly on the Barack bandwagon, although I was struck by Maureen Dowd’s comment a few weeks back that, "He’s intriguingly imperfect: His ears stick out, he smokes, and he’s
written about wrestling with pot, booze and ”maybe a little blow” as
a young man."