Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Morning After

I remember an old Peanuts strip where Violet is telling Charlie Brown how her father almost bowled a perfect game the night before. What happened? "He got so excited he blew the second frame."

The story of Iowa and New Hampshire, in a nutshell. Larry Johnson, at TPMCafe, says the polls showed 17% of the voters in New Hampshire were undecided. No one, so far as I know, predicted heavy voter turnout yesterday. Heavy turnout always skews poll predictions because the polls are based on a small sample which is supposedly representative of the voters. Increase the number of voters enough, that sample becomes too small to have any predictive value. Which seems to be what happened yesterday. Add in a percentage of undecideds that probably was larger in the turnout than even in the polling, and you have the beginnings of an explanation.

It's a simpler and clearer explanation than any of the reasons which will be bandied about for the next week or so, all of which will have little to do with reality and a great deal to do with parading the insight and wisdom of the speaker/pundit espousing said theory. Paul Ricouer spent much of his life trying to show how much narrative controls human behavior, human thought, human culture. The narrative going into the New Hampshire primary was that the polling data proved Barack Obama would win again. The polling data, of course, proved no such thing; nor did it really speak. It was the intepretation of that data which determined the outcome that didn't happen, and the interpretation was a product of the reigning narrative: Obama up, Clinton down, contest decided. The fact that even the candidates believed this had been proven doesn't excuse the errors of the pundits and the chattering classes; it simply points out how much authority we give to narratives, how much we rely on them to make sense of events, especially before they happen.

Narrative is not quite all; but very often, we want it to be.

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