Election Eve in America, or I’ll never see the day…

Well, it’s once again election eve in America. The importance of election day as a single day of civic duty has been mitigated somewhat by new laws that allow early voting. In many places, the election has been on us for weeks now already. I’ve voted absentee from time to time, but whenever it has been in any way feasible, I make an effort to vote on the day itself. It’s just one of those quirky ways that the traditionalist in me makes itself known, I suppose.

I overhead someone today commenting that they were glad that it was about to be over. “Not even close,” I thought to myself. Even if there aren’t month long recounts, challenges in the courts, and general electoral dysfunction, we’re simply setting stage for four years of of political infighting as vicious as any we’ve seen in living memory. The extreme left won’t be happy until we’ve dug ourselves into a Socialist Worker’s Paradise. The extreme right, in the same vein, hasn’t shown any indication of giving up the fight to reset our clocks to 1856. There are a litany of means and methods determined minority on either side can forestall any movement within the creaking machinery of government. Now if that determined minority exists on both flanks, well, the stage is set for things to get awfully interesting… or awfully frustrating depending on how objective you’re willing to be as an outside observer.

Throw away the polls. Ignore the prognosticators. The only thing that anyone knows for sure is that when the last of tomorrow’s presidential votes is tabulated the party that’s left on the outside looking in while resist mightily at every step. That’s the nature of the beast we’ve created – and as long as we as an electorate steadfastly refuse to accept any more than two major political parties it’s the beast we’re stuck with.

The good news is that there aren’t likely to be tanks in the streets tomorrow night. Cities probably aren’t going to burn. The bad news is that we’re going to finish the night even more divided than ever. The pol who figures out a way to crack the code on that is going to roll into office with a mandate like no other… but I’m not holding my breath on seeing that day.

Inside the margins…

It feels like it happened back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but there was a time that I was an aspiring political scientist. The research methods class we had to take for the major spent what felt like an inordinate amount of time talking about polling, bias, and sampling error. It didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time and I remember learning that most reputable polls have a margin of error “sweet spot” of +/- 2-4%.

Since I tend to watch and listen to more news than the average Nielson family, I’ve been noticing something slightly disturbing about the polls that both sides are using to claim imminent victory – some of them have a margin of error of +/- 9-12%. That doesn’t seem like a big deal… unless you’re locked in a race where the candidates are consistently within a handful of percentage points of one another. One of the polls I saw Sunday night had the presidential candidates within five percentage points of one another, but had a margin of error of 11%. Sure that was in the fine print and no one is really supposed to pay attention to that kind of thing, but there it was right at the bottom of the chart. 11%. In case you’re having trouble keeping up, just know that 11% allows for a polling error big enough to drive a train through.

So what’s my point? Absolutely nothing, other than with 40-odd days to go this election is way, way too close to call. Well, that and the fact that just because you see something on television doesn’t make it true. Before you decide to accept something the news readers tell you, don’t forget to check their sources and do a little of your own research. You’d be surprised what you can find out without going to too much trouble… and really that’s not too much to expect when we’re electing a leader of the free world.