As the election-related coverage dies down, what are the notable take-aways from election 2012? What trends, whether they be in the electoral process, voter turnout and campaigning, or voting technology and media, should we observe? Many signs point to the fact that more and more, politics is becoming a numbers game.
Here are five facts about the election you might have overlooked amidst all the punditry and politics.
1) The past three presidents (Clinton, Bush, and Obama) have all won two elections each.
The last time this happened were presidents Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Is this just an isolated occurrence, or an indication of an increased incumbency advantage for the president? Also noteworthy in this election is that little changed in the House or Senate with respect to balance of power. Does this foreshadow an increased incumbency advantage in Congress, too?
2) This race cost about $6 billion, a $700 million increase from 2008.
Beyond the narrow questions of Citizens United, a broad national discussion must be had regarding possible legal efforts toward capping campaign spending. Despite the exorbitant amounts of money, the candidates only campaigned in 10 states. We can share a sigh of relief that America didn’t experience another Florida circa 2000, but we need to have a serious discussion about our electoral system. It’s a horse-and-buggy system for an internet age.
3) The Obama campaign circa 2008 used innovative tools to identify and target potential voters, as it likely did in 2012.
Speaking of the internet, in 2008 the Obama campaign was able to collect vital information on thousands of potential voters, donors, and volunteers through complex, ground-breaking technology. The campaign was able to accurately identify how different groups of people communicated, being able to literally draw lines on the map and message groups specifically both on the internet and on foot. The campaign knew exactly how much money to spend in any given area and to what end that expenditure would lead. There’s no reason to think this year’s campaign was any less sophisticated.
While I don't mean to suggest that Silver's methods are flawless, I do think that the accuracy with which we has been able to understand the past two elections has been impressive. The prospect that our preferences are predictable given certain inputs is important. Politics has been de-mystifying for decades now, and I think the past decade has seen rapid improvement in understand how we work. Politics is indeed becoming a science, not an art.
5) Our better technology and understanding of elections are wonderful.
They allows us to fundamentally understand how we as humans work in society — what drives us, what motivates us, what makes us change our minds or dig in our heals. While we must remain humble and understand how much we don’t know, technology is improving our ability to understand humankind as the political animal that we are. What was above the doorway to the Oracle of Delphi? Know Thyself.
But what is occurring is that we are failing to change our laws to stay up to date with current realities and understandings. Our Constitutional system is designed to allow for patchwork problem-solving — lest we act too brashly. But this allows law to lag behind reality, which at times becomes problematic. The U.S. Constitution (and our election laws generally) is not a sacred. It was meant to be changed and altered.
In these endeavors, let us be measured, but let us be bold.