Election 2012: Are stats taking the fun out of it?

Have statistics taken all of the fun out of the U.S. election? Advanced analytics and the electoral college combine to make the outcome less about popularity and more about focused messages and ad spends. It makes it science more than politics.

Today is the third and final debate of the 2012 Presidential Election. Mitt Romney and Barak Obama will meet at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. They’ll have their last chance to make their case on national television, but that won’t be their goal. They’ll both be appealing to an extremely small segment of American voters…extremely small.

Electoral politics

Growing up in France, there were two things that were significantly different than what I see in this U.S. election. First, we had nowhere near the statistical analysis, and secondly, it wouldn’t have mattered as much, anyway, as we elect presidents by simple majority (after the runoffs).

Not to give lessons in the electoral college, but I’ve had to learn all about this topic to be able to understand my first American election as a full-time resident. Because many states don’t statistically matter (one of the candidates is assured of victory), the election comes down to just a few ‘swing states’. But because populations vary within those states, the attention and money goes to the places, counties and cities, that statistically show up as critical to win and open to influence.

Needles in haystacks

It seems odd that the leadership of the most powerful country in the world comes down to a small percentage of people in villages and cities in just a handful of states like Ohio. Needles in haystacks.

This isn’t criticism. It is just so different from the popular vote method that is used in France and elsewhere. Popular vote has a simplicity that makes the statistical part much less important.

While the election can go either way, the precision of analytics mixed with the circumstances of the electoral college system mean that we’ll know with pretty strong certainty as the next two weeks unfold. And we can see it happen real-time, as the NY Times Five Thirty Eight section showed the President lose .6 statistically-predicted electoral votes yesterday. Where’s the fun in that level of detail?

Back home

We’ll watch the stats align to the results as the days unfold. Back home in France, even polls aren’t released until the result is known and no polls are shown in the 48 hours before the election. Here in the U.S. it certainly won’t be a French-style finish where anything can happen right up until the classic announcement, at precisely 8pm Central Europe Time, “And the President of the French Republic is ____________.” It has a huge buildup and ends up a very memorable moment.

I guess I’ll get used to the statistical approach.

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Categories: Data Analytics / Big Data

Author:Jeanne Roué-Taylor

I'm fascinated by disruptive technology and its impact on our world. I manage sales operations for an excellent startup with a unique team of highly experienced data scientists.

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One Comment on “Election 2012: Are stats taking the fun out of it?”

  1. October 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Watching the debate tonight, I had to wonder what the analytics will say by tomorrow morning. I’m not sure that’s the best thing for our democracy. I think people should vote the way they feel about the candidates without having too much of a perception of who’s likely to win.

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