I have many thoughts and feelings about the US elections. Superficial ones:
- Really I didn’t find any good coverage or analysis on the Internet or on TV. PBS pollsters were a little more analytical, and ABC pundits were a little more knowledgeable, but all in all, watching the election unfold on TV was incredibly mind-numbingly boring. That wasn’t totally expected. The networks had been burned once, and now they are erring on the side of caution. The problem is that the information and analysis delivered by TV could just as easily be delivered by a blog or website, with less demand for the viewer’s attention. On the other hand, blogger’s coverage (or metacoverage) was unbelievably spotty. By 11:00 PM CST it appeared that Ohio would be the center of the controversy, and yet nobody on the networks and nobody on the blogs had useful information or analysis about Ohio. The questions I had: a)how long were the lines? b)what is Ohio’s procedure for counting provisional votes?, c)what evidence had been amassing for legal challenges and d)with the Ohio-specific legal issues that were shuffled aside during voting day, what were legal analysts thinking? No media anywhere was covering this issue in real-time. More specifically, very few bloggers or online communities (many of whom were based in the East Coast) were saying anything interesting. Tapped Weblog went to bed at 10:00PM. Talking Points Memo at about 2 in the morning. Even CNN’s interesting experimental weblog actually fell short of what it could have been. (The notable exception was Reason Magazine’s Hit & Run ).
- Despite my vow to read Lucian’s Satires instead of watching the unfolding election, I ended up spending way too much time clicking F5 or clicking TV channels to see the same results repeated ad nauseum. In retrospect, I would have been better off going to a movie, and coming home at 11:00 or so. At least I could say I had an enjoyable evening.
- The Internet and the Weather Channel have radically changed our tolerance levels for irrelevant news. One pet peeve I have about local radio is all the traffic reports and weather forecasts (about 10-15 minutes every hour during drive time) which are totally irrelevant to me 99% of the time. If I had a watch or a panel on my car which could give to me the basics, there would no longer be a need for these weather/traffic reports to drone on. If I want to know the weather forecast, I check the internet instead of turning on the TV or reading a daily newspaper.
- Political operatives from both sides are mostly irrelevant in TV coverage. They rarely have useful insights into the totals and often seem dedicated to giving their spin or talking points rather than offering interesting information to the public. That said, they have more candor on election night than on any other night.
- Two questions need to be answered: why are pollsters so often wrong about the outcome? And why are state-to-state elections so close? The pollsters were way wrong about Florida, and even Ohio seemed to be leaning Democratic in the last few days. Admittedly, there was lots of polling going on, and polls are accurate in the sense that weather forecasts are accurate: in the aggregate they are reliable, but when examined individually, they don’t seem to have much predictive value. In the contentious states, the two parties spent considerable time and money running advertising, registering voters and getting out the vote. In the end though, the votes and the enthusiasm seemed to cancel each other out. Are we always going to see the swing states veering towards an even-split? And is this safe for our democracy? In the 1860 election, the compromises and the splitting of the ticket caused the election to be unusually close (and led to a civil war). IBID for 1960 and 2000. On the other hand, the popular vote was not as close. Bush won by a comfortable margin of the popular vote because it was …irrelevant. If the US elected presidents on the basis of popular vote, I wonder if the outcome would have been different. Do these down-to-the-wire outcomes make it easier to form consensus for new leadership? Or do they create unnecessary divisiveness?
- This may be an obvious point, but Kerry ran an excellent campaign. No missteps, he won the debates, he had great fundraising (including support from billionaires). He had a relatively easy primary, and a popular vice-president. He had brilliant propagandists (Jon Stewart and Michael Moore) browbeating voters, the widespread support of economists and scientists and internationalists. He had an outstanding war record and a certain amount of gravitas which George W. Bush lacked. He had economic externalities which should have normally contributed to a feeling of disaffection with the incumbent. An ugly war, high oil prices, a sluggish recovery. Finally, we had a vigilant press determined to uncover the scandals behind Halliburton, Abu Graib and the Niger/Yellow Cake. All this should have pointed to an easy victory. And yet the voters did not buy into that. Why?