Data narratives framing elections are problematic

Anderson edited”Leverage effect: a political, economic and societal framework(Springer, 2014), taught at five universities, and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016.

The midterm elections, which of course are not over, confirmed once again that the polls used to predict who will most likely win an election, while valuable, are not so valuable .

Social scientists and journalists trying to use data and focus groups to predict the outcome of an election or hundreds should receive less attention before an election. There was no “red wave”. The Senate remained in Democratic hands. The House will likely go to the Republicans, but that’s not a certainty. What seems clear is that the Republicans will have a narrow majority if they take control.

The political class must stop paying so much attention to what social scientists, journalists and party leaders are predicting. The public apparently paid no attention. Voters are bombarded with faulty predictions and, in some cases, overcome them.

There is a better way.


In the future, the public would benefit from more normative (value-based) arguments as to why one candidate over another, or one party over another, should be followed. The arguments for why you should vote for one candidate or why you shouldn’t vote for another are both normative and non-factual.

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The key is that these normative arguments, rather than preconceived notions, dominate voters’ attention. For example, there is a preconceived idea that in a midterm election, the party that is not represented in the White House should win seats in Congress.

Moreover, it is not just a matter of how much polling and how much normative argument we have. The question is what role these considerations play in the campaigns and in the posture of the party in general.

In today’s political environment, polls and party forecasts frame elections, and arguments for and against candidates play out within that framework. In other words, the framework provides a narrative that shapes how voters perceive arguments for and against candidates.

What we need instead is a normative framework animated by values ​​associated with either the party perspective or the candidate perspective.

Within these normative frameworks, we need facts to be used by parties and candidates to support their arguments. Facts about crime, poverty, climate control, childcare needs, inflation, taxes, deteriorating infrastructure, scandals, and more.

So we have things completely upside down now. Factual arguments, especially predictions (that argue for what will in fact be the case), frame our elections. And valuable arguments for what voters should choose arise in these frameworks.

But we need the opposite: normative arguments for party perspective and/or candidate perspective must frame elections, and within that, factual arguments are needed to support value positions. General narratives should be about values ​​and what parties stand for and what candidates stand for, not predictions based on polling data or lessons journalists have learned over the years.

Values ​​backed by facts must guide our elections. Then, voters will decide for themselves who to vote for and they will be able to weigh the candidates’ arguments and examine the factual evidence they present to support their political positions and visions.

This does not mean that value positions are based solely on facts. They are not. And the facts are always disputed, which is the reality. But the predictions of social scientists, journalists and party leaders should be given less prominence and not be used to frame our elections.

There are 435 congressional elections and more than 30 senate elections every two years, not to mention all state and local elections. Every race is different.

But there shouldn’t be an overarching framework driven by highly unreliable predictions of how things are likely to turn out. Instead, there should be frames driven by forceful arguments about how things should be.

If we reverse the role played by values ​​and facts in our elections, it would make all the difference. How to achieve this is another question, but it is important to set a goal worth fighting for.

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