A few election morning thoughts
Newsletter'ing as a coping mechanism
Ranjan here. While everyone worries and tweets about mindfulness and alcohol, I'm going to practice my own form of self-care and force myself to write a quick newsletter on what I’m thinking about the election.
First up, I think Joe Biden will win and we'll know the results tonight.
It terrifies me to write those words above, and I'm spending today nervous enough to want to buy a Juul. However, I just read this great piece from Charlie Warzel and loved the idea that being "defensively pessimistic" is not the healthy choice.
So here goes - this was the most boring Presidential campaign in modern history. Other than an early blip where Elizabeth Warren took the lead (and then Zuck called her an 'existential threat' and she quickly faded), and then a bit of volatility around that chaotic Iowa primary, Joe Biden comfortably led the Democratic Primary the entire time.
The Presidential campaign has been even more stable:
Let’s keep in mind, this stability was against the backdrop of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Yes, I understand these are national numbers and the race will come down to those 8 key states - but most of those have slowly trended away from Trump since the pandemic began.
If the GOP candidate were not Donald Trump we all may have fallen asleep by now.
Don't get me wrong: the future of our democracy and economy and society is on the line, and butterflies are currently devouring my stomach. But this race will most likely end up as it always was going to, the same as the Democratic Primary. Joe Biden is a very un-interesting candidate, but in our current national predicament, that was the most important thing to be.
I recently wrote about the bias away from the boring, and the 2020 race captured it perfectly. After 2016 every pollster is heavily incentivized to over-correct to a Trump chance. Every traditional media organization needs to make things competitive. Social media platforms keep feeding the chaos beast. Trump's reality TV id is grounded in the artificial manufacture of drama.
A boring race serves no one. After the last election, everything is incentivized to move away from a Biden victory. In fact, the media infrastructure should’ve been focused on genuinely interesting legislative races, but it’s just harder to process those at a national level. Trump getting COVID is just so simple.
But don't get me wrong - I am not remotely complacent. I was one of those people that got lazy in the last two elections (after being fairly active in the 2000s). The past year made me forgive P Diddy for that hilarious "Vote or Die" campaign because I really do feel that urgency this time around.
But while Pickup Truck Caravans are terrifying, but they're a fraction of the population, no different than a rioter. In the end, America is objectively in a really bad place, and that means the incumbent will lose [famous last words].
Nate Silver and Voter Suppression:
My prediction above is mostly based on polling, with a sprinkling of anec-data (my Northeastern Republican friends are all way less interested this year). I buy into the Nate Silver argument that the polls were not wrong in 2016. It was our collective reception to them that was.
However, it's fair to say voter models will have a greater challenge in predicting anything this year. Which made this Baratunde Thurston piece interesting for me. He argues that Nate Silver effectively engages in voter suppression:
The idea that election forecasting can have the perverse effect of instilling false confidence and discouraging people from voting is not a radical idea. I saw it happen repeatedly in 2016. I voted but didn't really do much otherwise, driven by that feeling of inevitability. People who spent hours complaining about Trump didn’t take the time to check their registration.
And what value do election forecasts serve the general public? For internal campaign operations, they're gold, but for the rest of us, do they serve any purpose? They exist exclusively to serve horse race coverage, one of the key contributors to our democratic degradation. Forecasts don't provide any information n on the positions or plans of a candidate. In 2016, tens of millions of voters became amateur statisticians, misinterpreting the most basic of probabilistic representations, the same way we've since become epidemiologists.
Seriously - why do reputable news organizations bother including election forecasts?
See you on the other side
Even though So it’s good so many people ignored the forecasts. Everyone over-corrected in the other direction. People were shown Biden with an 89% chance, yet still stood in line for hours, weeks in advance. It's the exact opposite of 2016.
If you've made it this far, thank you for allowing me to try to write down a few thoughts about today. Now that I've newsletter'ed, I will most likely be eating fried chicken this evening while turning on CNN with my parents’ cable password for the first time in months.
As a lifelong Boston sports fan, we always take curses and jinxes seriously. But, this year, rather than being defensively pessimistic, I'm going to try a bit of reasoned optimism, and I figure, if things turn out differently, I'll have plenty else to worry about other than writing a stupid prediction.
Note 1: Making a prediction like this made me curious to look up when John McAfee was supposed to eat his own dick. For the uninitiated, he had tweeted, and then tweeted again, that if Bitcoin was not at $1 million by the end of 2020, he’d eat his own dick on TV:
But I’m now learning that at the beginning of 2020, McAfee reneged on the promise and explained that eating his own dick was just a ruse to onboard new bitcoin users to accelerate the pace of the technology's adoption.
That whole sequence of events might capture 2020 better than anything else imaginable.
How about forecasting being important to help us make our own informed decisions where to send our support? Knowing that pushing in Iowa where there's a shot to flip a Senate seat is more important than sending money to Kentucky for the pipe dream of beating McConnell, as I had to talk my mom out of? Forecasting and data helped me get her to send money to NC state candidates instead of Adam Schiff. The idea that a populace with less information will be more motivated seems truly baffling to me.
The knowing last night didn't work. Even knowing today is problematic. Yes, the race may be called, but it's possible that is but a false summit. It's a muddle.