Desmond File

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Get Out the Vote

By this time tomorrow, we'll all finally know the result of what has proven to be the longest and one of the most passionately fought U.S. presidential campaigns in memory.

In fact, my first election-related memory goes way back to 1972. I don't remember much about second grade, to be honest, but I do have a clear memory of marching around with other kids in my classroom, singing: "Nixon, Nixon, he's our man, put McGovern in the can!"

I like to think I've come a long way since second grade, but the sad fact is that much of our electoral discourse and communication remains as simplistic and silly as that little Nixon-inspired ditty from 1972. Whether it's the partisan shrieking of campaign hacks or the ruthless spin-cycling of mass-media ideologues, modern presidential campaigns can seem to more resemble a simple-minded classroom parade than a reasoned debate over the issues.

But that's changing. And it's changing because bright people are picking up powerful tools to push past the curtain of rhetoric and sloganeering to actually see what's going on.

Take the fantastic FiveThirtyEight.com Web site, which is fanatically dedicated to breaking down and tracking every poll to create a powerful, aggregate picture of the election. Nate Silver, founder of the site and a partner at sports media firm Baseball Prospectus, publishes the site on a Blogger.com template, and uses Stata Data Analysis and Statistical Software and Microsoft Excel 2007 to produce detailed results and charts.

When the Drudge Report loudly touted a poll in mid-October showing that John McCain had pulled within two points of Barack Obama -- within the poll's margin of error -- FiveThirtyEight.com offered vital context. Silver's aggregate snapshot of national polls showed no significant movement.

The point is, advancing tools and software are having a very real and visceral impact on the electoral process in the United States. From analyzing and publishing aggregate poll data, to delivering finely targeted blogs and news reports, to making available -- on demand -- countless hours of campaign-related video and content, voters today have more access to more pure electoral information today than ever before.

And much of that is a direct result of advancing development efforts in the area of Web publishing, data handling and media distribution. It's amazing to think, honestly, just how the campaigns of 2012 will look, given the current, rapid-fire advances in underlying Web dev technologies.

What innovations might we see help change the election landscape in 2012? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 11/04/2008 at 1:15 PM


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