Processing the 2016 Election Without the Talking Heads

David Byrne | The Talking Heads

I often get asked from Twitter eggs and friends alike what the best way is to stay informed about an increasingly frantic presidential election. Part of the reason for this breakneck pace is the creation of a “hot take” culture that is extremely prevalent on both cable news and social media.

While both can be excellent sources for breaking news, the analysis you receive from these mediums can only be appropriately described as panicked and not fully cooked. This ephemera doesn’t serve the moderately informed viewer very well, except to see that some people are very angry.

The internet does have a number of fantastic places for real political analysis and news amidst the noise. While there are some mainstream publications like FiveThirtyEight and Vox that do a good job of being informative, balanced, and even-keeled — I’d like to draw attention to my personal favorite off-ramps on the American political information superhighway.

Polling

The truest adage of polling is that more is always better. Each polling firm has their own house biases that tend to maintain throughout the polling period. Whether leans Republican (Rasmussen) or Democratic (Public Policy Polling), has a large enough sample size, or even the period of time the poll was taken over all have effects on the output of the poll.

FiveThirtyEight has excellent pollster ratings for knowing who is reputable, but picking out individual polls is an exercise in futility. Poll snapshots of the race are most effective when taken holistically with all reputable polls being weighted together.

We can never achieve perfect objectivity, rationality, or accuracy in our beliefs. Instead, we can strive to be less subjective, less irrational, and less wrong.
(Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise)

My preferred polling aggregator right now is the delightfully retro Princeton Election Consortium. Run by Sam Wang, a neuroscientist (!) at Princeton, the PEC was one of the first groups to aggregate presidential polls in this manner. An important distinction that Wang (and Silver, later in the race) makes over national polls is that the state polls are categorized geographically with weight given to their electoral vote. Because presidential elections use the Electoral College, this is far more important than the national popular polls.

This means that Wang can also generate nifty charts like the above that make political science nerds like myself get unreasonably excited. A map of the expected electoral vote outcome is way more interesting than a single poll showing Clinton up by +4 nationally.

If resources like these are accurate, it makes election night somewhat of a snooze fest a couple days prior. (And yes, I know that it’s only June.) And Wang’s method is almost unbelievably accurate. Wang’s statistical analysis in 2012 correctly predicted the presidential results in 49 of 50 states, 10 out of 10 swing Senate races, and was within a couple seats of nailing the House too.

Not bad I guess…

The Horse Race

Not pictured: CNN B-Panel offstage

While I enjoy CNN’s increasingly expanding and vapid political panel discussions as pure entertainment, they aren’t the most effective way of getting a snapshot of the day-to-day race. There are a couple daily sources that I recommend for political junkies, along with your daily dose of Twitter noise.

Memeorandum

A spinoff of the far more well-known Techmeme, Memeorandum is a fantastic way to get a broad picture of the most essential stories in politics at a quick glance. Again, with a 90s throwback interface, Memeorandum has a couple editors pulling the key stories of the day, along with the hot takes that spawn from the primary source.

Memeorandum Homepage

This allows for an excellent balance of the hard news from outlets like the Associated Press and the New York Times, along with the predictably slanted spinoffs from your ThinkProgresses and Breitbarts. The text will get larger the more important and the more links a topic gets, so a quick glance will tell you right away what you need to be reading. I find this a great tool to finding a great political analysis outside of what you might already be checking.

POLITICO Playbook

The POLITICO Playbook has been a key companion to the coffee and lobbyist-purchased bagel for the Washington elite since Mike Allen started writing the daily digest 12 years ago. (Allen, who has written 3,285 consecutive Playbooks will ironically be leaving POLITICO in July.) While I’m sure if you’re reading this you have already written me off as a $HILL, if you actually want to know what people in Washington are thinking and talking about, Playbook is what you want to subscribe to.

POLITICO Playbook | June 21, 2016

The Playbook is a scattershot view of what’s driving the DC conversation. It features breaking news, behind the scenes gossip, birthdays, sneak peaks — a glimpse of what is being whispered behind the Dirksen office building. Give the Playbook your email, and get ready to read DATA DU JOUR and TOP TWEETS every day at 5 am like I do.

Political Science

Finally, as someone with a degree in Political Science, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least attempt to point people towards a more academic view of politics. Following polls and the daily campaign are obviously important and useful, but gaining a knowledge of how the American political system operates is also invaluable in getting a holistic view of the country and it’s politics.

My favorite political science resource online is still The Monkey Cage, a political blog run by John Sides at the Washington Post. Sides, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, provides excellent direction on stories involving voting and elections. His focus on the importance of fundamentals in determining presidential election outcomes have influenced many in the data journalism field, and he still provides fantastic analysis at the Post.

While this list is obviously incomplete, hopefully this provides you some more resources in watching this insane presidential race. Me? I’ll be on the CNN panel on panels tonight at 2 am. See you there.