Clay Shirky on the Corante site Many2Many, "a group weblog on social software", has been saying some very penetrating things about what happened to the seemingly unstoppable Dean machine. (Remember when it was unstoppable, last fall?) He's not criticizing Dean's positions, or even speculating on why those positions didn't appeal to the Democratic primary voters. Rather, he's trying to understand why Dean seemed to be riding so high for so long, only to collapse when the votes started to be counted. Why did the polls and the media get it so wrong?
His first column on this topic, Exiting Deanspace, said a lot of interesting things, and got a lot of attention. His most recent column, Polls, Votes, and Public Signaling, tries to understand why a majority of voters were saying a month before the Iowa caucuses that they preferred Dean, only to vote for someone else when the ballot met the box.
His hypothesis is that voters are not answering polls
naively, but crafting their answers with a conscious intention of influencing
public opinion and the political process. The colored balls the professor of
statistics draws out of the jar are changing their own colors, trying to skew
the professor's results:
The question pollsters want respondents to hear is "If you were to regard this poll question as your vote, who do you favor?" It may be that decades ago, in an age where polls were rare and respect for authority was reflexive, respondents tried their best to answer that question. Today, however, is different. Today respondents hear "Knowing that this question is not binding, and that it will be a signal to people who want to make decisions based on your answer, and understanding that if you say 'Not sure' you are largely nullifying your ability to send such a signal, who are you going to tell me you favor?"
So Clay Shirky is hypothesizing that we have all become post-modernists. Not only the candidates, their managers, their press flacks and their staff are trying to manipulate the public's perception and reify the candidate's constructed media image, but the public itself is manipulating right back, trying to game the system, and project its own desires into information space.
What kind of world is it going to be when everybody is trying to be Ohtori Akio? I don't know whether to be ecstatic or horrified.
I think I'll split the difference and be nervously interested.
P.S. reene, is this what you were referring to in your comments on yesterday's post?
Write-write: Working on story story "Tragedies and Statistics." (Um, the title doesn't have anything to do with the discussion of statistics in this post.)
犬舎 == kensha == doghouse
|Bottom radical is 'mouth/opening/entrance' (口). Top radical is a version of 'margin' (余), which also can mean 'easily'. This character originally meant 'place where one can breath (through one's mouth) easily', i.e., one's own house. Henshall suggests taking the top element as a 'roof' and the middle element as 'ground' (土), as a mnemonic: 'Quarters with roof and entrance below ground.'|