There are any number of explanations for Tuesday’s outcomes. My own sense is that the Republicans simply can’t put together a national majority and won’t be able to any time soon. But another possibility is getting floated by the chattering classes, and that is that the Democrats are superior electoral technocrats. To wit:

From today’s NYTimes:

That was just one of several ways that Mr. Obama’s campaign operations, some unnoticed by Mr. Romney’s aides in Boston, helped save the president’s candidacy. In Chicago, the campaign recruited a team of behavioral scientists to build an extraordinarily sophisticated database packed with names of millions of undecided voters and potential supporters. The ever-expanding list let the campaign find and register new voters who fit the demographic pattern of Obama backers and methodically track their views through thousands of telephone calls every night.

That allowed the Obama campaign not only to alter the very nature of the electorate, making it younger and less white, but also to create a portrait of shifting voter allegiances. The power of this operation stunned Mr. Romney’s aides on election night, as they saw voters they never even knew existed turn out in places like Osceola County, Fla. “It’s one thing to say you are going to do it; it’s another thing to actually get out there and do it,” said Brian Jones, a senior adviser.

Or from yesterday’s Washington Post:

The Obama campaign, on the other hand, spent $126 million in 2011 — more than three times Romney’s total that year. The campaign opened field offices, began an extensive outreach effort in swing states and enriched a voter database with information unavailable in the last election.

Some of that expensive new data included viewer habits, collected by cable companies, that provided clues to voter traits and preferences. In a race where middle-class female voters were courted by both camps, the Obama campaign advertised heavily on the CBS’s sitcom“2 Broke Girls,” according to a Yahoo analysis of Federal Elections Commission data. The campaign bought detailed voter updates, issued every two weeks.

Any sort of electronic connection becomes a possible data point, the collection and analysis of which is designed to acquire and exercise power. The role of behavioral science in electoral politics ought to give one pause. At the very least, as I’ve recently opined, individuals can opt out of polls, if not the information grid altogether.

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The popular vote – as we would be hearing endlessly if the parties were reversed – was essentially 51-49, actually more like 50.5-49.5 (or would have been, had not irrelevant third party candidates drained off Republican votes, as usual).

    I confess to being baffled as to why people are drawing *any* sweeping conclusions from this election.

  2. The use of private or government cyber information miners in the electoral process is one of the more sordid aspects of our increasingly bizarre elections. Not the least of which is the professed desire of the use of shaming…in other words, trolling through a citizens internet use and then use of said information to “shame ” them with their neighbors in order to sway votes as though shame ought to have anything to do with the act of voting.

    It is Kafkaesque and a challenge to the shameless. It is also a clear demonstration that the campaigns do not wish to conduct a campaign of clear depiction of a candidates positions in relation to the opponent. No, the current mindset is clearly one of trying to win by subterfuge and bamboozlement.

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