Information and elections

by Henry Farrell on October 27, 2008

Reading Maria’s post below reminded me that I’ve meant to write a brief post about two ways in which there is much more information available about the current US elections than previously. The first is the availability of high quality polling information and analysis thereof. Here, somewhat rightwing sites (“Real Clear Politics”: ), who-the-hell-knows sites (“Pollster”: ) and definitely leftwing sites (“538”: ) provide much _much_ better information (or so it seems to me) than was available to the average politically obsessed punter four years ago, especially through the aggregation of state-level and national polls. And the fact that they lean in different directions and have different models/means of aggregating poll numbers means that you can more easily discount for ideological wishful thinking of the one or the other side than you could previously. This does, at least to some extent, help guard against the kinds of selectivity based on cherry-picked polls that lead many people (including me) to think that John Kerry was going to win in 2004. Second – there is much better information available to an _international audience._ In particular, there is a lot more good televisual content available via YouTube and the various TV stations’ own websites than there was four years ago. I suspect (but can’t prove of course) that this makes people in different countries feel more directly connected to the current US election than they have to previous ones – they’re able to observe it in a more visceral way, see speeches that would never get reported on their national TV stations etc. I don’t know whether either of these is having a broader political effect – but I do know that they are making US politics more fun for a wider swathe of people across the globe than they were previously.



Naadir Jeewa 10.27.08 at 9:05 pm

It certainly is more fun for the rest of us. We’re having an election night party in East London.

Will be following Fox News for the laughs…


Davy 10.27.08 at 9:39 pm

I think with the world in such dire straits people are also heavily invested in seeing whether or not the U.S. is going to shape up and regain some of its leadership position.


David in NY 10.27.08 at 9:40 pm

Hope it’s over between 11 p.m. and midnight your time Naadir, as the polls close in Indiana, Florida and Virginia. If Obama takes any of these, McCain’s goose is cooked, as we say.


Emma 10.27.08 at 10:18 pm

The other effect is to make it quite clear how hopeless the mainstream media coverage of US elections is, in other countries. Where once I would have relied on the Sydney Morning Herald to find out what was happening, now I can see that the Herald’s coverage is partial, inept and following an obvious script, just as if the reporters were hanging out in Washington bars with other reporters. I can do more research on the web in 5 mins than the US politics correspondent seems to have done. Which is disappointing.
I’m taking the day off on Wednesday, Australian time, to watch the results.


Andrew 10.28.08 at 1:52 am

Yeah we’re doing a Fox News drinking game at my election party in Tokyo. It’s going to be pretty ridiculous, because most of the predictions are going to be coming in pretty early in the morning, 9, 10, 11. We’ll likely all be completely pissed by noon.

I guess in London you’ll be up pretty late to get those West Coast states.


Matt McIrvin 10.28.08 at 5:59 am

RealClearPolitics,, and Sam Wang’s site were all already running in 2004, as were some other aggregators. I think they all nailed the final electoral map pretty closely except for Wisconsin, which was generally called for Bush (Kerry took it by a hair). Wang made the mistake of tweaking his maps with the assumption that undecideds would break strongly for Kerry, but he also posted untweaked maps, and he learned his lesson from the experience.

For some reason, sites of this sort seem to be getting a lot more mainstream attention now.


Ben Alpers 10.28.08 at 6:38 am

Couple thoughts…

1) I know that this is probably a losing battle, but is a definitely Democratic website. There’s nothing remotely “leftwing” about Nate Silver.

2) Unlike fivethirthyeight and, RealClearPolitics does not publish any set of standards explaining how they select and weigh polls. This has led to charges of cherrypicking from rival sites.


Maracel 10.28.08 at 6:29 pm

As a Californian I expect it will pretty much be over by 4:30 pm west coast time. Pennsylvania, Virginia will probably call early, followed by Ohio and Florida. If these states don’t call early, then it will be a closer election than expected. Out here we’re all holding our breath.


Anita Hendersen 10.28.08 at 10:57 pm

Ha, I remember in 2004 on election day one of the Crooked Timber bloggers confidently stating that Kerry would win. I was amazed that anyone would think that so late in the campaign when it was apparent Bush was in for re-election.

To your point, yes, the wealth of polling data and analysis on the web is much better than it was in previous elections, providing much fun for stat geeks and political junkies. The internet is awesome.


Mike Titelbaum 10.29.08 at 1:15 am

Not only are we having an election party here in Canberra, Australia, but many non-Americans I know are almost as obsessed with the election (scanning news and polling sites constantly) as I am!

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