This blog was supposed to be about science, not politics, so today (the day after the 2012 US presidential election) I will limit my comments to two brief points. Then hopefully I will be able to forget about politics until 2014.
(1) The election results shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s a fan of hard data, scientific analysis, and cool-headed statistics. On Monday, Nate Silver predicted an easy electoral college victory for Obama, and his predictions were spot-on. Some ballots are still uncounted, and I don’t think Florida has been called yet, but as far as I can see he got all 50 states correct. No, Nate Silver is probably not a witch; he just analyzed all the polls, and refrained from cherry-picking “one data point” to match some preconceived notion. (In my opinion, media outlets just said the race was “close” because that’s what generates buzz and revenue.) Nate Silver’s approach is moneyball all over again, but in the political arena. (Knowing Nate Silver’s history with baseball prediction makes this statement all the more pertinent.)
I have friends who doubted Obama could win because of economic indicators that traditionally make re-election improbable. There are two problems with this. One is that the Republicans have shifted so far to the right of mainstream America on social issues that a tipping point has been reached: for many, it’s no longer the economy, stupid. (See yesterday’s blog post.) But another problem is that Americans, for better or worse, don’t tend to see the economy in absolute terms but in terms of change. Objectively, the economy might have been bad; but it had been improving slowly but steadily since 2009. As Nate Silver (the not-witch) put it back in August, “The economy is bad enough as it is, but voters in past elections have judged incumbents by the amount of progress in the economy, rather than how productive it is in an absolute sense.” In physics terms, you feel the acceleration, not the velocity.
(2) Ultimately, the bigger news might be the sea change on issues such as same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana, due in large part to younger voters. If one looks at history—if one looks at social issues—one can only conclude that liberals always win in the end. Monarchies are abolished, human rights are proclaimed, governments sever ties to religion, slavery is abolished, workers are unionized, women get the vote, disenfranchised groups gain civil rights, and humanity moves forward. The writing’s on the wall. All I can say is, get used to it. Younger voters will all become tomorrow’s older voters. No doubt tomorrow’s older voters will be dead-set against suffrage for cybernetic organisms, but that’s another issue entirely.
I’m stopping now. Most of this blog is opinion, and in no way expresses the thoughts or opinions of theoretical physicists in general. No wait: maybe it does. Remember, a 2009 survey found that only 6% of scientists are Republicans. I wonder why.