THE BLOG
11/08/2012 11:40 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2013

Just the Story, Ma'am

It was a typical election-day experience in lower Manhattan: still in line after two hours when a rumor starts that there is an alternate voting site for Sandy victims a block away with no lines. Unbelievably it turns out to be true, and after filling out my ballot I put it in a special envelope on which I need to attest that I am a real person due to a typo on my registration card. The envelope containing my vote is placed in an empty bin in a dark corner of the room, where its chance of being counted is less than the chance that Mike Bloomberg appears in a Mountain Dew commercial. But why should I care if my vote is not tallied? Hoards of readers will surely recall that I've previously concluded that there is not much to choose from between the two main candidates, both centrist technocrats with modest leadership skills, and an affinity for high-waisted Costco jeans.

Untold numbers of readers will also recall that after Romney treated Obama like a baby treats a diaper (© Adam Smith) in the first debate I did a little research and found that debates don't typically change elections and that there was considerable evidence that this one hadn't changed either. But the TV was telling us otherwise, that the race was now too close to call. Liberal friends emailed with sweaty, kale-stained hands asking worriedly if it was true. Conservative friends popped out of raquet clubs and truck stops to crow that the nation was finally wising up. I didn't understand any of this, particularly the joy in the Republican camp -- weren't these the same people that preferred anyone, including someone married to Marcus Bachmann, to Mitt? And didn't they mind that in order to get in to the game Romney had to espouse moderate views? But mostly I didn't understand it because Romney was still very likely to lose, why did everyone think otherwise?

Fox News, MSNBC and any mainstream media entity is in business to make money, and businesses make money by giving people what they want. We want processed meat patties instead of apples, we want first-person shooter games instead of Proust, and we want stories rather than facts. We were told the race was close, and that polls showing Romney with little chance of winning were wrong because the surveys had more Democrats than Republicans in their sample. Well, did you know Dems outnumber Republicans by eight percentage points in the voting public?

We were told the polls were wrong because no one uses land lines any more. Did you know that online pollster YouGov, no stranger to accurate election forecasting, had Obama consistently ahead by 2 percent nationally (and nailed the final outcome)?
We were told that the Iowa election market which had Obama at 70 percent was wrong because it is illiquid. Did you know UK bookmakers Ladbrokes and William Hill, two of the biggest in the world, had Obama at 1:5 and 1:6 (approximately 80 percent and 90 percent chance of winning) respectively?

An election is one of the few subjects pundits opine on en masse for which there is an unambiguous outcome. Will we remember their accuracy the next time they express a fervent opinion on a subject for which there will be no definitive answer? When they say that Obama is a socialist, or that $2 trillion is better spent on bombs than on bridges, or that climate change is a myth perpetrated by scientists, or that Bain capital sucks value from the economy, or that Mitt Romney pays no taxes, will we believe them? You bet we will, because we prefer stories to facts, fantasy to real life, and in doing so we get the government we deserve.

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