I admit it. I am an addict. I check polls first thing in the morning and last thing at night. During the day "alerts" steam into my phone promising me new results -- new numbers. And they pull me back to my addition. Once started, I can waste hours mulling over this poll or that one, reading trend data, news stories and ready to write my own. Often when I am not sleeping at night I am writing talking points for candidates. Don't talk about government regulations, no one wants to be regulated. Instead talk about government assurances-- assurances that our food is safe, our bridges are strong, and houses will last. Don't talk bout taxes or tax breaks, talk about collective investments in our future. The virtual spin room haunts my nights.
Can I blame technology for this addiction? Access is an addict's paradise and acess seems unlimited.
1) My daily Fix: Talking Points Memo's (TPM) Poll Tracker. They push national election poll data, swing states, key voters polls to me in a handy phone app. And the new polls stream in all day. They use regression analysis to integrate polls over time and create smooth trend lines which provide a way to see how the positions of different groups of voters shift over time. And I can go deeper and deeper into whatever race I want making my own judgements based on current developments in the race.
2) My obsession continues... grabbing my ipad I pull up the 270towin app. and create my own electorial college map. What a sense of power! I can see what will happen if this or that swing state goes red or blue. I can see where the battles are tightening and I engage in compulsive strategizing about where I would send the candidates and to whom they should be speaking as well as what pitch they should be making.
3) It won't be long till I compare my 270towin map with the Huffington Post electoral college map. Their optimism about the outcomes provide a more partisan view of the poll data which can help when I get too stressed. Their use of a cartogram visulaizes the electoral college. Undecided independents and citizens of Ohio an Iowa get way too much attention. And staying undecided with an overdose of information seeks media attention.
4) At my desk... the New York Times Fivethiryeight site buries me in data and news stories. Sometimes the stories don't match with what I am tracking. One poll in a different direction can start a flurry of stories about what is happening.
5) For another partisan view, I open TWELECT a phone app. This site analyzes the positive and negative tweets coming in at 10,000 tweets an hour. A trend line records which presidental candidate is getting more positive tweets. Scanning the random collection of tweets of Americans makes me think about John Dewey's book Education and Democracy and worry that both are at risk.
6) Prediction Markets provides an alternative to polls. I check intrade prediction market to see how much shares are selling for. I haven't traded because something deep inside me says that this would be too much... an addiction to data is one thing but adding gambling to it -- well I can't do it. But I want to know how people are voting with money.
The rush from all this information....
What do I accomplished with all this access, all this data, and what I accept as highly obsessive behavior? Is it a complete waste of time? I have to admit that having this technology at my fingertips gives me sense of power. I do not hang on the words of newscasters. Instead I watch for their spin. I think I have access to the same information. But of course I am trusting mathematicians and that pollsters as a group are getting reasonable data. And at this moment... poll tracker servers are down and I need my fix-- which is why I am reflecting on my addiction.
Reflecting on tweets, and all the technology we have to share our ideas, why are the ideas shared so devoid of meaningful commentary. Instead of open, meaningful debate over issues, I fear we have we have created American Idol President contests where micro analysis of gestures have taken the place of thoughtful analysis of policies.
Perhaps the best thing about this addiction is that my supply of information will dry up in two weeks. After a period of withdrawal, I look forward to more balance in life and hopefully some campaign reform legislation. These megacampaigns are too stressful for everyone.