Turn Off the Election Coverage

Sometimes what political science tells us is that we should pay less attention to politics. It’s easy to get caught up in the horse race aspect of the presidential election, especially since the news media has an incentive to exaggerate the importance of every gaffe and every piece of preliminary economic news. But the evidence is that what happens four months ahead of a presidential election doesn’t matter very much.


Right now President Obama has a moderate lead over Mitt Romney in the polls. The election is likely to be close, but the smart money considers Obama the favorite in spite of a bad economy. That's because Obama can afford to lose a few swing states this year, but Romney’s margin of error is thinner. Traders at the political futures market Intrade give Obama a 55% chance of getting reelected. And Nate Silver’s election model currently gives Obama a 66% chance of winning.

Outside of those rough estimates, there’s not much we can say. It certainly sounded bad when Obama said “the private sector is doing fine” at a press conference in June. But for all the commentary that statement generated, it is unlikely to lose him many swing votes. Likewise, it made good copy that Romney was booed at the NAACP convention for saying he would repeal Obamacare. Romney’s suggestion that supporters of Obamacare simply want “free stuff” probably tells us something about his attitude and his campaign strategy. But the incident is unlikely to have much effect on Romney’s chance of getting elected.

The fact is that most of what happens over the summer will be forgotten by November. The evidence is that voters are mostly swayed by what happens in the month or two before the election. Ronald Reagan famously asked voters in 1980 to consider whether they were better off than they were four years before. But work by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels found that voters mostly worry about whether they are better off than they were six months before the election. Likewise, political operatives like to believe that their campaign ads determine elections, but  the evidence is that campaign ads generally do not have much effect more than a week before an election. Even the substantial “bounce” that presidential campaigns get from their party conventions appears to fade after about a month.

As John Sides says, three factors probably do matter right now: the broad economic trends, the overall level of campaign spending, and campaign efforts to mobilize their supporters. Everything else may make for good reading, but probably won’t make much difference on election day.

Follow me on Twitter: @rdeneufville

President Obama image from Pete Souza

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

10 books to check out from Jordan Peterson's 'Great Books' list

The Canadian professor has an extensive collection posted on his site.

Jordan Peterson with Carl Jung and the cover art of Jaak Panksepp's 'Affective Neuroscience' (Image: Chris Williamson/Getty Images/Big Think)
Personal Growth
  • Peterson's Great Books list features classics by Orwell, Jung, Huxley, and Dostoevsky.
  • Categories include literature, neuroscience, religion, and systems analysis.
  • Having recently left Patreon for "freedom of speech" reasons, Peterson is taking direct donations through Paypal (and Bitcoin).
Keep reading Show less

Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

Image source: Ernst Haeckel
Surprising Science
  • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
  • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
  • Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
Keep reading Show less

Should you invest in China's stock market? Know this one thing first.

Despite incredible economic growth, it is not necessarily an investor's paradise.

Videos
  • China's stock market is just 27 years old. It's economy has grown 30x over that time.
  • Imagine if you had invested early and gotten in on the ground floor.
  • Actually, you would have lost money. Here's how that's possible.