Against the Horse Race

In the run-up to the 2008 election, virtually all of my friends became devotees of Nate Silver's analysis. A number of people thought the popularity of this site said something positive about American civic engagement, but I was aghast, and not just because I find Silver's tone off-putting and social science simplistic (although I do). It seemed to me to perfectly encapsulate the us-them, tribal nature of politics to be worrying about war gaming the Electoral College.

I bring this up nine months after the fact because over at Cato Unbound, Clay Shirky (in the midst of an argument for newspaper subsidies that I disagree with, but that's a story for another day), made this statement:

I am an avid New York Times reader, and love the work of both Gretchen Morgenson, a financial reporter, and Eric Asimov, a restaurant reviewer. I am also a politics junkie, and was glued to Nate Silver’s, which tracked electoral votes in the 2008 presidential election. Subsidizing newspapers would help Asimov but not Silver, a perverse outcome if the goal is civic value. The ideal would instead be a subsidy that aids Morgenson and Silver but not Asimov, not because his work isn’t terrific, but because the behavior of the nations’ banks and the outcome of its elections are critical public issues, but the quality of that new restaurant in the East Village isn’t.

Am I the only one who finds the popularity of horse-race style election coverage negative and bad for society, certainly not something to be subsidized?

To be sure, I don't care if some people find political races thrilling, in the same way I find the ACC standings interesting. But I wish people wouldn't confuse caring about issues with caring about elections.

My second post ever here was in praise of not caring about politics. I still believe that if we took 90% of our time spent thinking about and discussing politics and applied it productively in our own lives, the world would be a better place. And if we took 90% of our politics time and spent it thinking about and debating issues rather than looking at logit regressions to predict Lancaster County's Democratic party vote share, that would be a plus too.

Share this

So True

I couldn't agree more. It's maddening. There isn't a broadcast outlet that covers issues any more. It's all horse race.