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In The Offing

November 4th, 2012 - 1:10 pm

Those who’ve visited Strawpoll will see the current running total displayed on the splash page. At a glance you can see who the Strawpoll participants most favor, Romney or Obmama and by how much. If you drill down into the app you can get the totals for all the candidates for whom Strawpoll votes have been cast.

One thing that can be confidently said is that Gary Johnson and James Gray are beating the duo of Roseanne Barr and Cindy Sheehan by a ratio of 60:1. Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala of the Greens are doing much better than Barr and Sheehan. They are at about 1/10th of the Libertarians. More on this later.

Right now the big news story is Obama vs Romney. And it will only grow until by Tuesday, barring the End of the World, it will be a media obsession.  Here are a collection of video clips from prominent Obama supporters from very recent interviews. Because they are so prominent Axelrod and Schultz probably have access to the best internal polling. There is a temptation to think that they ‘know’ or ‘know to a greater degree’ how their candidate stands.

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Yet having said that, we can infer from nature that even they don’t know for sure how the election will come out. Like the rest of us the future is partly veiled.

Moving slightly down the ladder a person like Andrew Sullivan might have better information than the public without enjoying the same degree of access to internal DNC estimates as Axelrod and Wasserman-Schultz. Still he will have formed some estimate of his candidate’s chances in the coming election based on relatively extensive sources.

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So what do they know? Or perhaps more accurately, how do they feel. Do they exude confidence? What does the organism say? Subconscious intuition is an interesting thing. Although nobody will actually know until the polls close who the president-elect will be many observers are probably forecasting on two discrete levels. At the conscious level they will be using the formal tools: surveys, prediction markets and forecasting models.

This is the stuff they can talk about and explain without embarrassment, because they can fall back on the mathematical machinery means, standard deviations and stratifications. But at the unconscious level they also be thinking using all aforementioned tools plus Element X; the gnawing signs and vague portents which although they do not rise to the level of formal evidence nevertheless stick in the back of their minds and constitute a ‘gut feel’.

A gut feeling is the the word we give to the unconscious synthesis which an experienced man reaches about a situation. We all know the movie scene. A group of men are moving through a dank forest when suddenly the lead scout pulls up and whispers to the sergeant. “I don’t like this sarge. It’s quiet. Too quiet.” It is not that the scout is using extrasensory perception. Simply that his trained mind has picked up a half-dozen anomalies, each meaningless in itself, but which taken together give him the willies.

On the days leading up to the attack on the Benghazi consulate many staffers had an uneasy feeling that something bad was going to happen. Policemen who had been assigned to protect them were photographing the building.  There were signs here and signs there. But none of these when put down on paper ever reached the standard of bureaucratic proof.

As one newspaper put it: “there was no actionable intelligence”.

Though we never quite say so to a large extent we pay people for their ability to detect information at this unconscious level. The most valuable of men are those who know how to play the hunch, because properly understood it is really more than just a hunch. The proper name for it is a very educated guess. It’s a judgment about things which are still inchoate but which will presently come into focus.

Dmitri Mendeleev, one of the originators of the periodic table, argued that knowledge rarely came into view all at once. “No law of nature, however general, has been established all at once; its recognition has always been preceded by many presentiments.” Any damned fool could have recognized the attack on December 7 or on September 11 as it was taking place from the bombing and destruction that was ensuing. That would be “actionable intelligence”.

The trick would be to feel the first informational tremors in the day or two preceding. But we can rarely do this because things have not yet jelled to the point where we can give it a name. That’s the Catch 22 of history: nothing is obvious until it’s obvious.

So why are Johnson and Gray beating Barr and Sheehan by a mile? Maybe because the Libertarians are the stronger subplot in the twisted skein of American politics. Barr is riding a fading horse; and I’m not even sure she remembers its name. And what about Obama and Romney? Well things are not yet so clear where those two are concerned. Of course we have our hunches — and so too do Axelrod, Wasserman Schultz and Sullivan. What are their hunches?

And in any case the election is still on Tuesday.


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