Archive

Posts Tagged ‘2012 election results’

On Race and Elections

November 8, 2012 3 comments

I lost a friend on Tuesday (and no, it wasn’t America). To be fair, it was more of an acquaintance; I barely knew her. But we’ve been in touch on a superficial level for quite some time–facebook friends, IMs, text messages. She often checked in on me while I was deployed, and just last week I frequently checked in on her while she was stranded in a flooding, powerless house in New Jersey. Our communications were more frequent than they were deep, though, and we almost never actually saw each other. Still, I considered her a friend on some level and planned to visit her soon. That was before election day.

I have to start out by explaining that I really hate when race is brought into conversations. I know that it is still more of an issue than many in America want to admit, but I also feel that it is less of an issue than many people allow it to become. I think that frequently, race is brought up in conversations where it has little or no place–such as recent assertions in the sports world that the “only” grounds for comparison between rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and 2nd-year quarterback Cam Newton is that they are both black. The fact that the two both accomplished a statistical feat that hadn’t been done since the 1940s obviously is no basis for comparison. But I digress. The point is that I don’t like it when race is made to be a central factor on topics around which I think race is probably only a fringe factor. And that’s why I’m so reluctant to say that this election–and elections in general these days–really are a racial issue.

That brings me back to my friend–well, the girl who was my friend. The morning of the election, she wanted to talk about how I was voting. She’s a registered Republican, so I knew that she would be disappointed with my choice. But I had absolutely no idea what was coming next. It started with quips such as “Obama only won because he’s black.” I believe strongly that the only way to draw people out of a bubble of ignorance is to engage them–and to do so tactfully and peacefully no matter your disagreement. The next hour of my life challenged that notion of tact and restraint to the core.

I was informed that Obama “bussed the monkeys and apes out of the ghettos” in 2008. I was told that the only people who vote for Obama are “ghetto trash, white trash, the Spanish, and the Jews.” I personally was told that I was “nasty” because a girl I dated in high school was half-black. And of course, I was fed the line “I have plenty of black friends.” I attempted at great length to get to the root of how she could say such things and then work with and socialize with black people. I tried to find out if she ever shared any of these views. She told me that she knows that she is racist, she doesn’t care, and that “plenty of people” feel that way–they just don’t admit it.

We’ve all seen the racist anti-Obama Twitter feeds (do NOT follow that link unless you want to see very offensive, NSFW language), but this was the first time I have ever experienced such things first-hand; things said not just to draw attention to yourself or to be “funny” on the faceless internet, but as a core belief unshakably being hurled at me by someone I actually know. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever been to being speechless. And the story ended when, before I regrouped, she ended our “facebook friendship” out of contempt that I am not a racist. This last step fully blew my mind. I had just lost a friend–one that I would have cut from my life anyway–because she decided that she could not carry on a relationship of any kind with someone so tolerant.

Alright, I know. This is all anecdotal. I am in no way asserting that this is the dominant rationale of people voting against Obama. There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to vote for Obama. But a friend of mine currently in Europe informed me that in Ireland, the election is being covered largely on the basis of race. And then the aforementioned conversation happened. And then I watched the election results and reactions. More and more, I could not avoid hearing about and thinking about race–but in a wholly different context than outright racism. The dominant discussion about electoral math has now become one of demographics. And while women had their day in the sun during the election, the Hispanic vote and the “minority vote” are winning the conversation about the future, most famously summed up by Bill O’Reilly’s statement that “the white establishment is now the minority.

What shocks me about these conversations is how taken for granted it is that racial voting blocs will remain in tact. The idea that Obama might help usher in the beginning of a post-racial society–even by the most conservative estimates of what that phrase means–are all but a joke now. Lost in the conversation is an effort to level the field to an extent that ethnicity ceases to be an electoral fault line. Conversations about “getting the Hispanic vote” seem to revolve around how best to pander and which issues are most welcoming of the group–as a whole. It all leads me to believe that in regards to race relations–both structural and social–we not only aren’t moving ahead but may even be taking a step back.

A very wise, close friend of mine often reminds me that it was only one generation ago that segregation and civil rights and race riots were the norm; that expecting the nation to heal from these fissures this quickly might have been too much. Maybe it’s not surprising when they bubble to the surface again from time to time. But my reaction to that (my hope, maybe) was always that it should be expected to subside within another generation as the last remnants of such a divisive era move on leaving behind a more tolerant, less wounded society. Given the discourse surrounding the election, I worry that we may be keeping alive these strong divisions for another generation. It’s rare to hear me say this, but… I hope I’m wrong.

Advertisements

An Open Letter to Fox News Viewers/Readers

November 7, 2012 4 comments

Hello readers,

This is not intended to be a post preaching to the choir. If you are here to laugh at Fox News, then I don’t need you to keep reading. There are many people who I know and love that actually do get the bulk of their news from watching Fox News, reading their website, reading Breitbart.com, listening to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz, and other similar methods (but no differing). If this sounds like you, please keep reading. I’d like to talk to you. This is not about the content of the election or the issues espoused by different candidates, but about the information you received. Most of you seem relatively surprised with the results of Tuesday’s election. Many of you professed a great deal of confidence in Governor Romney’s chances on Tuesday night. This troubles me greatly, and I think it opens up an opportunity to understand just how cut off from reality reaffirming media bubbles can become.

You see, this election was not much of a surprise. In fact, according to those who paid a great deal of attention to what was going on in state polls and early voting, the election went almost exactly as expected. Take this quote from The New Yorker’s John Cassidy Tuesday morning:

The vast majority of pundits, academics, and forecasters agree that Obama will win. Indeed, there is a broad consensus about his likely margin of victory in the electoral college: 303 to 235. In addition to myself, a number of prognosticators have settled on these figures. They include the Democratic strategist Joe Trippi; the Slate blogger Matt Yglesias; the Huffpo’s Pollster tracking model; the Web site PredictWise, the consulting firm CabPolitical. Most other forecasts are grouped around the 303-235 projection. Early Tuesday morning, Nate Silver’s 538 model was predicting Obama 315, Romney 223; Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium had it at Obama 309, Romney 229. Larry Sabato and his colleagues at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics were predicting that Obama would do slightly less well but still win. Their figures for the electoral college: Obama 290, Romney 248.

(the whole article is worth a read)

I’ll note that Sam Wang and Nate Silver’s projections stem from expected value models, which are averages of different possible outcomes, not state-by-state projections added up. Looking state-by-state, Nate Silver got everything correct right down to Florida being too close to call with a slight Obama lean. What you see here is a consensus prediction around the exact outcome that occurred. By nearly every detailed, analytical prediction, the only source of disagreement was generally around Virginia and Florida’s results. In addition to human projections, betting sites and market forecasts such as Betfair and Intrade gave Obama strong odds as the favorite.

This information is not meant as a means of gloating. This is just some evidence that the information available regarding this race led to a very easily-predicted outcome. Even as a novice non-pollster, I read enough to feel very confident in the outcome of the election. When I posted a reactionary blog post at 11:23 Tuesday night–just eight minutes after the earliest call of the race (NBC followed shortly after by Fox News)–it wasn’t because I am a very fast typist, and it wasn’t because I wrote a reaction post for either result. It was because I was so sure of the outcome that I planned ahead for it, accused by some of my more worrisome or superstitious friends as possibly jinxing the whole thing.

The reason I want to be clear that this outcome was predictable is that you should by now be wondering why you didn’t see this coming. Why were you fairly sure that Romney would emerge victorious? I think we know the answer. The answer is that Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, and Ben Shapiro told you that Romney was heading for a win–some said a landslide. Unskewedpolls.com explained that the polls (which proved right) were inherently biased and presented its own, very different results (which proved wrong). Any prognosticator or pundit who projected an Obama win–or even a toss-up–on the airwaves that you watched or listened to or in the articles you read were instantly countered with hard theories about why those predictions would prove incorrect. Every poll they chose to report was an optimistic, right-leaning poll while ignoring that it was often a statistical outlier. You were inundated with information about this election that pointed to a Romney win–and maybe even a big one.

And that brings us here. In the information age, you can pick and choose where you get your information. There is more knowledge and data available than ever before. The sources that you have chosen were wrong. They weren’t even close. Many, many other sources got this right. The correct sources were ignored or discredited in your world. This leaves me wondering: is there any such thing as information accountability? Is there a reward for getting things right? A punishment for getting things wrong?

The truth is that the election is not the only issue in which this happens. However, the election provides the clearest opportunity to point out the discrepancy between what you’re being told and what is actually happening. This discrepancy is real. This is not an attack from the “lame stream media.” If you found yourself caught by surprise–both by the Obama victory and by the relatively easy margin of the electoral victory–then you now have the evidence right in front of your face. If I found out that all of the news I had been receiving for the past several weeks was completely tainted by an ideological desire to promote a false version of reality rather than reporting the information that was readily available about the true situation, I would cease to use that source. I’m left wondering, will you?

Gingrich has already admitted that “the whole group of us” got it wrong. Was it a coincidence? I leave you with this admission from Byron Allen of WPA Opinion Research, and a final thought:

As a researcher, I’m sad to admit that I let my hopes overtake the data.  The facts, based on well-conducted survey research, always pointed to an Obama win.  But many Republicans, me included, tried to find a way to argue that the data didn’t mean what it said on its face and that Romney would still win.

(emphasis added)

The election coverage by the right-wing media outlets was deliberately misleading and was proven incorrect. In a world with information at your fingertips, don’t make the same mistake again. Look for different sources. Yours are failing you.

Sincerely,

Max