November 09, 2012

It's the Geophysics, stupid!

Elections are over. SuperPAC's bidding wars for the oval office have ended, marking the beginning of the new electoral cycle. The sheer cost of this year's election and its result prompts many questions. Will the Republicans have to rethink their stance and diversify their reliance on a shrinking white male voter population? Is the personalization of corporations' influence on elections a pernicious one?


Some people might be tempted to rationalize the astronomical figure by downplaying it. "America spends more on Halloween candy than on political campaigns." That may be true, but what about the fact that campaign spending has grown 12.4 times faster than overall US population in the last 12 years? People still decided whom to vote for in 2000 with $6/per person spent by political campaigning. This time around they spent $13.34/per person. It is clear that the current election model, coupled with the mediatization of  politics, provides incentives for each party to outspend each other with the specific intention to occupy a bigger mind share in the increasingly fleeting attention span of the voter. Political pundits' claims that Sandy helped Obama prove that political campaigning is all about moving the perception needle just enough, and at the right time. Spending one-upmanship is the name of the game.

But what if all this money was absolutely inconsequential in determining who will occupy the oval office every 4 years? What if the intention of vote is determined by a set of deeper, structural factors that have nothing to do with mudslinging or how much money is raised? Well, it turns out, this could very well be the case. By applying the principles of geophysics, Allan Lichtman has been able to predict every presidential outcome with months --in some cases years-- in advance since 1984. He has discovered that unseating the incumbent party follows the same pattern as an earthquake. At its most basic level, you either have geological (political) stability, in which case the incumbent party retains power, or upheaval, in which case a change of power ensues. It is so simplistic it deserves entertaining the idea. To determine "geological" stability (and therefore a victory of the incumbent party) he asks 13 questions --"keys", in his parlance. Six or more negative answers to these questions, and the incumbent party loses the White House. "Is the country in recession?", "Was there a foreign policy disaster?" You get the idea. (for a list of the 13 questions and the answers that predicted Obama's 2012 win a year ago, go here).

If the oval office is decided by political tectonic variables way before election day, why spend campaign money then? The answer is: just in case the other party gains an advantage by spending. Or put in a Game Theory Matrix:


Spend as much as you can
Don’t spend at all
Spend as much as you can
Campaigns cancel each other.
(“Tectonic Variables” determine victor)
Spender wins
Don’t spend at all
Spender wins
Campaigns cancel each other.
(“Tectonic Variables” determine victor)

Unfortunately, the Utopian possibility of  having both parties take the 13-key questionnaire one year before election day and say "Let's agree not to harass Ohio this time" is null, obviously. The incentives to outspend the other party are not erased by the fact that simple common sense could potentially allow anyone to predict who is going to win the election one year in advance --especially not when donations buy political favors. I just wished they were. So much disappointment averted. So much money saved. So many political Facebook posts not published...