500: Election

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Election
Someday I'll be rich enough to hire Nate Silver to help make all my life decisions. 'Should I sleep with her?' 'Well, I'm showing a 35% chance it will end badly.'
Title text: Someday I'll be rich enough to hire Nate Silver to help make all my life decisions. 'Should I sleep with her?' 'Well, I'm showing a 35% chance it will end badly.'

[edit] Explanation

This comic was published the day after the 2008 presidential election in the US. Cueball has been closely following the election for over a year and a half, and he seems to be relieved that it's over. Now that the election has passed, he does not have to follow the many different opinion polls, number-crunching analyses, and news clips about people like Joe the Plumber that he has kept close track of during the election season. As soon as he says this, however, he starts to search for information on the 2012 election, suggesting that his political obsession has not at all passed.

A list of the elements Cueball had been thinking about:

  • Opinion Polls: These are simply surveys of voters' opinions on various issues and who they plan to vote for. They tend to be the primary source for predicting the outcome of elections as they can be created well in advance.
  • Exit Polls: These are surveys conducted with people who have just voted. They are useful as they provide data at the very last minute, so that no other unforeseen circumstances can affect people's decisions (and undecided is no longer an option). However they are not available until the last minute, and can be more biased than opinion polls.
  • Margins of Error: As censuses are expensive and ultimately pointless given that the election is effectively a big census, with did not vote as an option, pundits (or "talking-heads) use surveys, which involves just interviewing a hopefully representative random sample of voters. This however means that the surveys results are not likely to be quite the same as an equivalent census, a margin of error reflects how much variation could likely be expected due to the fact that a sample was used they do not cover issues such a sample being unrepresentative.
  • Attack Ads: Attack ads are a form of political campaigning where rather than emphasizing their own qualifications and attributes a candidate or a group affiliated with the candidate tries to convince voters that their opponents are unsuitable for the office.
  • Game-Changers: Game-Changers are big events that lead to significant changes in polls. As they can have significant effects on the outcome they are particularly interesting for people who follow politics.
  • Tracking Polls: A tracking poll is a poll repeated at intervals and averaged. For example, a monthly tracking poll uses the data from the past month and discards older data.
  • Swing States: In the United States several states have significant support for one party, and hence due to the fact that the electoral college gives all of a states vote to a single candidate, small changes in votes do not change the party which has the majority of the vote, and hence does not change who receives that state's electoral college votes. Other states, which have near equal support for the candidate are referred to as swing states, and are particularly interesting for pundits, as relatively small changes in votes can have significant effects on the end result.
  • Swing Votes: Swing votes are similar to swing states, expect that they refer to groups of people. If there is a significant social group a large segment of which could possibly vote for either side, they are of particular interest for pundits.
  • Bradley Effect: The Bradley Effect is a theory that in elections containing a minority candidate, polls will often tend to overstate their level of support. It is theorized that this is due to people not wanting to appear racist whilst being surveyed, so some people who support a non-minority candidate may either claim to be undecided or planning to vote for the minority candidate. However as voting is private, at that point they may reveal their true preference. The effect is named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite having appeared to have a significant lead in the opinion polls. This effect was particularly interesting for pundits in the 2008 US Presidential Election because of the running of Barack Obama, the first African American presidential candidate. As there was no precedent for this at this level, some pundits were concerned about how much of his lead in the polls might be due to this effect.
  • <name> the <occupation>: A significant event in the 2008 US Presidential Election was a question proposed to the then Democratic nominee Barack Obama by Joe the Plumber. This promoted a variety of hit backs and counter hits. Cueball is referring to the tendency of the media at the time to refer to many critics of the two candidates using the snowclone "<name> the <occupation>", where <name> is replaced by the person's first name and <occupation> by their occupation.

The title text is about statistician Nate Silver, who correctly predicted the outcomes of 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 election on his blog. It jokes that having him predict the outcomes of life decisions would make choosing the best thing to do very easy. So if Cueball ask Nate - "Should I sleep with her?" Then Nate could give him a forecast like this: "Well, I'm showing a 35% chance it will end badly."

[edit] Transcript

[Cueball sits at his computer desk, staring at his computer.]
Cueball: It's over.
Cueball: After twenty months it's finally over.
Cueball: I don't have to be an election junkie anymore.
[Closeup of Cueball's face and screen.]
Cueball: I don't have to care about opinion polls, exit polls, margins of error, attack ads, game-changers, tracking polls, swing states, swing votes, the Bradley effect, or <name> the <occupation>.
Cueball: I'm free.
[Cueball staring at his computer screen, full shot.]
[Cueball types on his computer.]
Tap Tap
[On screen:]
Google '2012 polling statistics'
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