Belmont Club

A real horse race

Roger Simon reports the results of a Pajamas Media/Crosstarget poll that “shows Scott Brown, a Republican, leading Martha Coakley, a Democrat, by 15.4% in Tuesday’s special election for the open Massachusetts US Senate seat.” Intrade reports Coakley still ahead as of January 15, but look at the movement in the last few days. More importantly, look at the rise in trade volumes.



A Suffolk University poll had Brown up 4 points on January 14. Rasmussen had Coakley up by 2 — on January 12.

It seems fair to say that Scott Brown has been gaining momentum over Coakley, who until recently was the shoo-in to win. The interesting question is whether the Brown campaign has managed to reach the elusive “tipping point”, a concept described by Malcolm Gladwell.

Tipping points are “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.” Gladwell defines a tipping point as a sociological term: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” The book seeks to explain and describe the “mysterious” sociological changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do.”

According to Gladwell, tipping points are achieved by three things:

  • the emergence of critical super-connected nodes that “spread the word” in an unexpectedly rapid fashion;
  • the stickiness factor — some memorable soundbite or moment which encapsulates the entire contest in a nutshell
  • the power of context — the circumstances are right for the thing to take off.

If Brown beats Coakley to the wire, then what factors assumed the role of these three determinants?  Has the blogosphere or the alternative media collectively regarded reached the point where it can truly spread the word effectively enough to shake an entrenched PR machine? As for the memorable moment, the “it’s not the Kennedy seat, it’s the people’s seat” soundbite is a prime candidate for providing the stickiness factor. And as to the power of context, the voters of Massachusetts may have been ripe for a change. Opportunity after being away for nearly four decades knocked and Scott Brown was nearest the door.

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

Whatever betide between now and Tuesday the Senatorial contest in Massachusetts will be worth watching. It’s a real horse race. And it ain’t over yet.

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