The 2012 election is notable for several reasons beyond the re-election of Barack Obama, including pro-civil liberty ballot measure results regarding marriage and marijuana. But in keeping with the recent theme here, the election results should be seen as another data point representing the on-going digitization of virtually all of our industries.
I wrote recently about the digitization of biology; the same trend is going to overtake the “punditry” industry. The election’s validation of rigorous, data-driven pundits like Nate Silver and the Princeton Election Consortium, and prediction markets like Intrade should mean that this is the last major election cycle where the narrative can compete with the data.
At 8 am on election day, for example, Intrade had Obama as the favorite to win Ohio (~68%), Virginia (~56%), and Colorado (60%); the site’s traders did misprice Florida, where it had Romney as a 2-to-1 favorite. Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight did even better, going 50-for-50 in terms of states.
Of course, if you had listened to the prevailing wisdom among old-guard pundits, this would have been a surprise. Based on Romney’s lead in national polls and the intuitive sense that Romney had “momentum,” the pundit class saw Romney with a significant lead. It’s not even worth cataloging the list of columnists and commentators who had Romney winning in a landslide, but here’s a representative sample from Peggy Noonan of the WSJ:
I think it’s this: a Romney win. […]
There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.
Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us? Maybe that’s the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us.
What will be interesting is the feedback loop. As Adam Serwer asked, will republicans hold conservative media to account for what amounts to systematic deception over the past several months? The beautiful thing about data is that it’s non-partisan. There’s no reason that democrats should have a monopoly on political numeracy, but that is what happened.
The same trends evident in the political media are also evident in the campaigns; Sasha Issenberg has made the case that democrats have internalized election science in a way that republicans have yet to do so. For what it’s worth, it is inevitable that republicans will catch up.
It’s worth wondering which industries are next to “digitize.” Healthcare is happening. Education has a lot of momentum. The legal industry is farther off, but it will happen. What else?