27 August 2004

Election predictor

This is quite interesting, as it uses each day’s new poll data to predict an electoral college score.

My own profession has pretty bad record at this sort of thing.  At the last electoral-year meeting of APSA,
all the models predicted a win for Gore (which you can argue actually
did happen, if you’d like), but th margins of victory were all over the
place.  There’s a panel on this again this year.

In this week’s New Yorker, Louis Menand has an excellent piece on political science approaches
to the question of “how people vote.”  You may be surprised or
dismayed to read what we know, especially those of you (many of the
readers of this blog, from what I can surmise) who fit into the
“ideologue” category (which is not at all what you would think if you
listen to our modern political discourse).

…This absence of “real opinions” is not from lack of brains; it’s
from lack of interest. “The typical citizen drops down to a lower level
of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field,” the
economic theorist Joseph Schumpeter wrote, in 1942. “He argues and
analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within
the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again. His
thinking is associative and affective.” And Fiorina quotes a passage
from the political scientist Robert Putnam: “Most men are not political
animals. The world of public affairs is not their world. It is alien to
them—possibly benevolent, more probably threatening, but nearly always
alien. Most men are not interested in politics. Most do not participate
in politics.”

Man may not be a political animal, but he is certainly a social
animal. Voters do respond to the cues of commentators and campaigners,
but only when they can match those cues up with the buzz of their own
social group. Individual voters are not rational calculators of
self-interest (nobody truly is), and may not be very consistent users
of heuristic shortcuts, either. But they are not just random particles
bouncing off the walls of the voting booth. Voters go into the booth
carrying the imprint of the hopes and fears, the prejudices and
assumptions of their family, their friends, and their neighbors. For
most people, voting may be more meaningful and more understandable as a
social act than as a political act.

That it is hard to persuade some people with ideological arguments
does not mean that those people cannot be persuaded, but the things
that help to convince them are likely to make ideologues sick—things
like which candidate is more optimistic. For many liberals, it may have
been dismaying to listen to John Kerry and John Edwards, in their
speeches at the Democratic National Convention, utter impassioned
bromides about how “the sun is rising” and “our best days are still to
come.” But that is what a very large number of voters want to hear. If
they believe it, then Kerry and Edwards will get their votes. The ideas
won’t matter, and neither will the color of the buttons.

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3 Responses to “Election predictor”

  1. Transparent Eye Says:

    In good times, the average person is content to ignore politics and let the elite make the decisions. When everyone has politics on the mind, it’s generally a sign of a crisis. This year seems more politicized than usual.

  2. Terry Says:

    Nah, I think it’s because they are stupid.

  3. Terry Says:

    Nah, I think it’s because they are stupid.