Lessons for anthropology from the U.S. elections

The interpreters (the pundits) were all over the place. The nerds (statisticians like Nate Silver and Sam Wang) came through with amazingly accurate predictions. Nate Silver's new The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don't should be on everyone's reading list. 

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Comment by John McCreery on November 14, 2012 at 4:32am

It certainly has drastic effects on advertising revenue. 'Nuf said?

Comment by Francine Barone on November 13, 2012 at 8:25pm

IMO, the problem was not only misleading stats (asking older white males who they voted for), but outrageously preposterous spin by news outlets. I don't have any data on this, but I suspect that continually calling an election "too close to call" has drastic effects on voting patterns.

Comment by John McCreery on November 8, 2012 at 3:12am

Dear M,

One or the other of us has managed to get things totally backwards. In this case, the statisticians, working with detailed poll data reached the right conclusion. The pundits, often people deeply involved in politics for decades, mostly got things terribly wrong. The underlying reason is a pretty simple one. Quite encouraging, actually, since it demonstrates that while racism is far from dead in the USA, it is far from being as almighty as some of our more apocalyptic theories might suggest it is.

Comment by M Izabel on November 7, 2012 at 10:14pm

Hi, John.

Is it because statistical numbers lack deep qualitative foundations?  I think election polling by phone in America is problematic.  Poor American families don't always have landline phones.  A welfare check is not enough to pay for both cell and landline phones.  Blacks don't entertain unfamiliar calls out of paranoia. Are they from creditors or police?  Older white folks are eager to answer their phones and chat with anyone courteous and nice.  Aren't they the usual victims of telephone scams?  Latinos are just too busy working and not available for phone chats with Gringos.  Is language also a barrier?  Asians are just too shy to talk to strangers.  Is their passive and secretive behavior the reason why their political voice in America is weak?  I wonder if there's a grain of truth in these generalizations I heard from several people who questioned the veracity and soundness of US presidential polls.



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