explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
During election season (particularly in U.S. presidential elections, and especially in election night coverate, it is common for the media to make comments like the ones set out in the title of this comic. Randall is demonstrating the problem with making such statements, many of which simply come down to coincidence.
Each panel of this comic refers to one of the 56 presidential elections in U.S. history. The panels depict a pre-election commentator noting a quality or condition that has never occured to a candidate, until one of the candidates in that election broke the streak. In other words, one can always find at least one unique thing about a candidate who has gone on to win (or in some cases, lose) or the circumstances under which they won (or lost) that is unique from all previous winners (or losers). In some panels, the circumstances are rather trivial (likely because it was difficult to find something unique about that candidate's win or loss), but the point being made in the comic is, to an extent valid. (Note, however, that some panels are farcical, as the situations could not have occured before - e.g. in 1800, no challenger had ever beaten an incumbant; 1800 was the first time there ever WAS a challenger to an incumbant. Washington ran unopposed for his second term. For 1864, Lincoln was the first president with a beard. They could not have previously occured.)
Ultimately, the point Randall is trying to make is that pundits can always find something that has never happened before in an election, and they purport to suggest that these things are related to the candidate's win or loss. Randall considers this a logical flaw. A common one is, as noted in several panels, candidates can't win without winning certain states. The question, however, is one of "cause or effect". Did Republicans (pre-2000) only win elections because they won Vermont? Or is it just an effect that a Republican who is popular enough to win the election always won Vermont because it is a fairly republican state. As the comic proves, it's only matter of time until all "rules" get broken.
Given that there have only been 56 elections, there are always going to be things that haven't happened yet. If you go out looking for them, you're sure to find some. There is no magic about why these events haven't happened. In most cases, it is merely coincidence. It is flawed logic to presume a candidate will win because 56 others have won under the same circumstances, when you've gone out of your way to find situations that do apply to all previous candidates. Until 2008, all winners had been white.
The title-text refers to the fact that Twitter was founded in 2006. Obama won in 2008, so it is true that no white person mentioned on Twitter has ever gone on to won the presidency (although certainly some former presidents, all of whom were white, have subsequently been mentioned on twitter).
There appears to be an error in the 1800 panel of the comic, as Jefferson (not Adams) was the first challenger to beat an incumbent, when Jefferson beat then-president Adams in 1800.
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- The problem with statements like
- "No <party> candidate has won the election without <state>"
- "No president has been reelected under <circumstances>"
I don't understand what he means by Alternative Tickets in the last frame.
- It does not say 'Alternative', it says Alliterative, meaning that both names starts with the same sound/letter. Romney/Ryan --Pmakholm (talk) 16:04, 18 October 2012 (UTC)
My research tells me that Jefferson won 1800. Error on Randall's part? Davidy22 (talk) 08:52, 17 October 2012 (UTC)
I'm a bit confused by 1792 vs. 1804: The latter is "No incumbent has beaten a challenger", but didn't Washington face any challenger when he was re-elected in 1792? Jolindbe (talk) 14:19, 17 October 2012 (UTC)
- He ran unopposed --Buggz (talk) 14:33, 17 October 2012 (UTC)
- As far as I understand it, he had four opponents, but got all the votes. Then, the electoral college voted on whom to be the vice president among the remaining candidates. But it seems unlikely to get 100% of the popular votes, do I misinterpret the wiki page? Jolindbe (talk) 17:45, 17 October 2012 (UTC)
- Well, back then, the electoral college didn't take their votes from the people. They just decided, so they decided to give Washington the presidency. 220.127.116.11 18:55, 17 October 2012 (UTC)
"1904: No one under 45 has become president. ... Roosevelt did."
Sort of. Theodore Roosevelt (Oct 1858–1919) was under 45 when he became president, in 1901. But by the time of the 1904 election he was 46.
18.104.22.168 18:48, 17 October 2012 (UTC)
- Correct. Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest President to date, but Kennedy was the youngest yet elected. 22.214.171.124 20:09, 17 October 2012 (UTC)
The image needs to be updated. I'm not sure how to do that myself. 126.96.36.199 23:56, 17 October 2012 (UTC)
Uploaded corrected image, changed tense on comments. Reload/refresh to check the 1800 frame should now show Jefferson... --B. P. (talk) 01:36, 18 October 2012 (UTC)
And how can people be from Virginia AND Massachusett? I think he meant OR.188.8.131.52 11:39, 18 October 2012 (UTC)
I take it the entire comic will not go up under "Transcripts"? Bobidou23 (talk) 22:03, 18 October 2012 (UTC)
- It will, but no one's been bothered the transcribe it all yet.Davidy22 (talk) 23:01, 18 October 2012 (UTC)
Although Buchanan/Breckinridge won in 1856, Stevenson/Sparkman were defeated by Eisenhower/Nixon in 1952.
He's wrong about the other 'precedent' for 2012 as well. Other first name with a K losers:
- 1924, Frank T. Johns (Socialist Labor)
- 1932, Frank S. Regan (Prohibition)
- 1936, Frank Knox (Republican)
- 1948, Tucker P. Smith (Socialist)
- 1980, Patrick J. Lucey (Independent)
- 1996, Patrick Choate (Reform)
- 2004, Chuck Baldwin (Constitution)
- 2008, Chuck Baldwin (Constitution)
--184.108.40.206 10:43, 20 October 2012 (UTC)
Good point about small party candidates, but Tucker P. Smith was the Socialist vice presidential candidate in 1948; the presidential candidate was Norman Thomas.
--220.127.116.11 13:51, 24 October 2012 (UTC)
Should the errors be included in the article explanation, or should they just be discussed here in the chat box? I'm of the opinion that anything that doesn't go towards explaining the comic should go here in the discussion. I would lean towards keeping error nitpicking confined to the discussion page. Davidy22 (talk) 13:19, 18 October 2012 (UTC)
- I think errors should be put down in a trivia/errors section. Or, if a flame war is starting, move it onto the talk page. lcarsos (talk) 23:44, 22 October 2012 (UTC)
I put back my original comment on the 2012 streaks; some anonymous person had previously written 'whether he thinks "st" and "sp" sounds are different enough to count as alliteration', but first of all, an alliteration requires the (first) sound(s)/letter(s) of two words to be the same (not different), and second, if Randall would consider Stevenson/Sparkman not to be alliterative (as their second letters differ), he would undoubtedly think the same about Romney/Ryan.--Jay (talk) 14:11, 29 October 2012 (UTC)
- Yeah, I noticed that edit, but thought there was a "not" in there, which would have made it make sense. Ah well. lcarsos (talk) 16:50, 29 October 2012 (UTC)
- Not quite true, Jay - St/Sp is two different consonant blends, which are much more intertwined than a consonant and its following vowel, as in Ro/Ry. The question is do they sound alike, not the literal letters used. - jerodast (talk) 17:06, 3 December 2012 (UTC)
Re: 1996 - surely 'William' (12 pts not including 50 pts for using all seven letters) beats 'Robert' - (8 pts)? 18.104.22.168 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Just finished the transcript. I didn't check for typos, since there was a lot of typing. It would be great if someone else would look over it. 22.214.171.124 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- Looks great! I've removed a lot of the whitespace which (I think) makes it easier to read, and doesn't require quite as much scrolling. I haven't gone through and spell checked everything either, but if someone finds anything they can fix it. lcarsos (talk) 23:44, 22 October 2012 (UTC)