The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

Election Math

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How to Make Politics Less Annoying and More Interesting

I live a sheltered life. I cannot recall seeing a single political campaign ad this year. This is no mystery. I live in New York, and the election here is a foregone conclusion: We will vote for Obama. Only when we have a Democratic primary, are we subjected to political advertising blitzes.

I know that it’s very bad that campaigns are awash in money — $2 billion by many guesses. The pundits on TV and the in the papers tell us that it’s bad all the time, and I believe it. I know there’s a deluge of money thrown around by each side to slander the other. My wife told me after she returned from a few days in Pennsylvania, where she was stupified by the flood of luridly negative political ads on television. Imagine living there with the phone calls, the mail, the email. Of course, Pennsylvania is in play.

But I’m here to tell you, I have a solution. It’s viable thanks to the Supreme Court, the tax laws, and the desire of the superrich to reduce their taxes at any cost. No one can know how much money is actually pouring in. For one thing, election reporting laws lag behind events by a month or two, so that on Election Day, we will not know who’s making all the heat. Then, there’s dark money completely hidden in a perfectly legal way. An article in Propublica that explains it in detail.

Here’s my logic: If big money interests are going to buy the election, why not put everything on the table and let them buy it outright. Let them use all their marketing geniuses and pollsters and data miners to good use, to identify the few voters who matter and give them voting vouchers.

I put my arithmetical skills to work, and calculated that each truly swing voter could get a check of $1,828 in such a voting voucher.

I won’t go through all the numbers because I know people don’t have much patience for that kind of thing, but skipping all the details, here’s the method:

  1. Take a look at those colored election maps (like the one in the Huffington Post). They’re all over the news. This one shows that Pennsylvania is up for grabs, leaning toward Obama now, but in play, and that New York is not. So the campaigns already skip New York, and throw their money into Pennsylvania.
  2. We can reduce the number of people who deserve voting vouchers by eliminating those people in the pale states (neither bright blue, nor bright red) who just won’t vote no matter what. To figure this out, we look at past turnouts, and we can see that up to half the voting age people don’t vote, not even for president.
  3. We know we can forget all about those rabid partisans who populate the comment sections and political blogs on the Web. You think you can hide behind your phony names, patrickhenry, nightrider, and the rest of you? Forget it. The campaigns can use their cash to figure out who you are. Your ISP knows who you are. And then, just think of everything your credit card company, Google and Facebook know about you and routinely sell to their customers. Google even reads your mail if you have a gmail account in order to show more “relevant” ad; wouldn’t you rather get a relevant check?
  4. We do need further identify targets in the no-mans-land of people who will vote but aren’t foregone conclusions. Here’s where the marketing geniuses really shine. If you listen to their rap, their sophisticated statistics tell them what you’re going to do before you know it. These are the truly confused people on the fence, who are postponing their decisions until they push the voting booth curtains aside. A lightweight estimate of their numbers comes from pollsters who tell us that 37% of the public identifies themselves as unaffiliated, independent voters. That estimate comes from an AP story in Politics Daily.
  5. Finally, we can narrow down the targets by focusing on the best payouts. This is an idea that anyone who bets on football or took a course in elementary statistics is familiar with. Florida is the best example. In the last 20 years, Florida keeps flipping one way or another, and always by a very small proportion of the voting public — usually something like 2%, and in the big year, 2000, Florida turned on a few hundred votes. Florida also has a whopping 29 electoral votes, and as such it’s worth a fistful of other pale states on the election maps. In other words, all pale states are not equal.

This is a sweet picture. Instead of all those television ads, those billboards, those robocallers, those mailings, that email spam. Forget all about that stuff, and think of the excitement about sitting around and waiting for a glimpse of a young campaign volunteer striding up to your door with your envelope. It’s better than most of those Lotto games. It deserves to be on Bravo!

Now if direct vouchers to each campaign’s friendly voters strikes you as something immoral or illegal, I suggest you read America’s favorite philosopher Ayn Rand, whose morality boils down to anything goes. (Of course, she’s a conservative Republican icon, so the Democrats would do well to dig up some other forgotten writer.)

There are a few caveats. All of this is in some way based on pollsters, focus groups and the gangs of political fixers. They are now involved in a world of the right makeup and wardrobe for the candidates and the sound bites and trial balloons they float among the press. Now political consultants will have to compete on the science of mind reading, and may the better team pass out bigger vouchers.

But there is tremendous opportunity. The $2 billion guess about fund raising doesn’t include all the potential dark money that Propublica is talking about. The more of that, the bigger those vouchers. It’s the ultimate privatization of government: You have a vote, they have the cash, let’s make a deal.


Written by theunbiasedeye

August 28, 2012 at 11:21 am

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