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[November 26, 2012]
Michael Overall: Demographics determine voter's choice
Nov 26, 2012 (Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Now that the election is over, and we've had time to celebrate or to mourn the results, let's think for a minute about how we voted.
That might be more than some people thought about it before voting.
I don't mean which candidate we picked. That's over and done with. And, frankly, it's nobody's business.
Voting booths are like doctor's offices and confessionals and Las Vegas. What happens there should stay there.
Feelings get hurt and friendships can be lost. So don't even ask.
But let's think about how we chose which candidate to vote for.
Nate Silver, an economist who turned his blog into a gig for the New York Times, famously predicted the president's re-election with "90.9 percent certainty." Not 90.8.
But 90.9, precisely.
The decimal point raised cackles on both sides of the political spectrum, as if the fate of the republic could be decided by a calculator.
But Silver was vindicated by predicting the electoral results in 50 out of 50 states.
Four years ago, he got 49 out of 50 right.
So either he's the luckiest guesser since Nostradamus or he actually knows how we're going to vote.
And he does it by simply collecting data, putting it through an algorithm or two and letting a computer spit out the results.
Kind of like the BCS standings -- the human element counts but only so much.
At a post-election Bipartisan Policy Summit at Tulane University, Republican pollster Whit Ayres and Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg concluded that "demographics is destiny." Future campaigns will probably focus more on turnout and less on trying to persuade anybody, they said.
A couple of days before the election, a reader sent me a link to a website that claimed it could predict how I would vote with 90 percent accuracy.
That's 0.9 percent less than Silver's blog but still pretty solid.
All I had to do was answer a few simple questions.
Do I agree with the "Reflections" of Edmund Burke or the "Rights" of Thomas Paine The computer couldn't care less.
Have I ever read the Federalist Papers The computer didn't ask.
How do I weigh the demands of social justice against the value of individual liberty It doesn't matter.
The computer wanted to know my age, my income, my ethnicity, my education and my ZIP code.
It asked how often I go to church, what kind of car I drive and whether I prefer Olive Garden or Red Lobster.
Then it told me how to vote.
Never mind which candidate it picked for me, but it was wrong. I was going for the other guy.
Apparently, some of us can still make up our own minds.
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