The ultimate election reading list


As we begin to wade through a gigantic mess of primaries, lately I haven’t felt like I’ve had a great grasp of what’s going on. It is, after all, looking like a strange election year. In case any of you are feeling antsy as well—or at least want some facts you can pull out at dinner parties—here’s some information we’ve put together. Following the presidential race is a bit like watching hyperbolically vicious high school students vie for the title of prom king or queen. Things will be said. Grudges may or may not be held until the reunion twenty years later. Except, the election isteensy bit million times more important than prom, and it probably won’t have the same ending as Mean Girls. Even if it did, I’m guessing that wouldn’t jive with the framers of the Constitution. Here’s what we’ve been reading (fun, funny, frightening, and for real) about the election.



The Basics

Let’s take a look at the candidates. On the side of the Democrats we’re seeing an intense race between Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. You’ve probably gotten the gist of it: Sanders is all about the everyday American but has been charged with a potential inability to get things done. Clinton is much more experienced, but she has flip-flopped too many times. On the Republican side of the aisle, the list of candidates is a bit longer: we’ve got businessman Donald Trump, Texas senator Ted Cruz, Florida senator Marco Rubio, Ohio governor John Kasich, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Hewlett Packard CEO and McCain adviser Carly Fiorina, and former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore. Given the number of candidates, this one’s a little harder to get the gist of: you’ve probably heard about Trump’s racist remarks, about Cruz’s and Rubio’s ultra-conservatism; you’ve probably heard that Jeb Bush has had some sad campaign results so far, and that Kasich is the more moderate of the candidates.

A lot of these sentiments come across in sound bites and snippets from the media, so please stay tuned for a more detailed post on the candidates’ political stances in the days to come.  For now you can turn to a collection of PBS articles aimed to lay out the beliefs of each candidate. You should note that the pieces are from summer 2015 and that some of the candidates covered are no longer campaigning. And be sure to check out the candidates’ websites, which can be reached by clicking on each candidate’s name. Even though they are designed to promote the candidate, they’ll provide you with overviews of where the politicians stand on key issues. Also stay tuned for profiles of third-party candidates.


Tortoises and hares: who’s who in the races

The first primary votes were cast on February 1, in the Iowa caucus. The New York Times gives us the results: a virtual tie between Sanders and Clinton and, among the Republicans, Cruz won with 27.6% of the vote, while Trump and Rubio took second and third, respectively; Trump at 24.3% and Rubio at a close 23.1%.

Today, Sanders and Trump saw victories in their respective parties in the New Hampshire primaries.

Statistician Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight predicted the probability of each candidate placing first, second, etc., in the primary. As of 7:15 PM on Monday, FiveThirtyEight  forecasted that Sanders was more than 99% likely to win the Democratic round in New Hampshire. The site also predicted that Trump was most likely to win the G.O.P. primary, but that either Rubio or Kasich could come in second or third, with Cruz and Bush close behind. FiveThirtyEight also gave forecasted results for other upcoming primaries, including the not-so-far-off races in Nevada and South Carolina. And it’s probably worth checking out their breakdown of which representatives are endorsing which candidates, which shows Clinton with a substantial leg up on Sanders and Rubio leading the Republicans.

Baffled by Trump’s spot in the game? You’re not alone. The New Yorker has a piece exploring the Trump’s place in the primaries. It speculates about his methods and forms of success and pays special attention to his relationship with the G.O.P… A rather jarring article from the New York Times  argues that Trump supporters tend to be concentrated in areas riddled with higher degrees of racism than the rest of the U.S…


Let’s talk about polls

Going back to the numbers for a second: How does FiveThirtyEight  make its predictions? Silver’s developed a fascinating system for deriving his numbers (explained here, by Silver himself), one which involves weighting and averaging polls. In describing the system Silver points out two interesting details regarding primary elections: that voter opinion is far more erratic than it is during a regular election, and because of the rapid shifts in opinion, a poll’s timeliness is often more valuable than the quality of the pollster. The site has also “graded” different pollsters in an effort to assess accuracy, and those ratings, along with the logic behind them, can be found here. For another interesting read, check out writer Jill Lepore’s piece in The New Yorker entitled “Are Polls Ruining Democracy?”  Lepore discusses problems with poll reliability and other poll-related issues.


In Recent Events …


You’re having fun sifting through the avalanche of information we’re throwing at you, right? Here’s the best part—the nitty gritty drama or, exactly what the rumor mill would churn up in a high school. So grab your popcorn, take a seat, and enjoy the show:

  • The past week saw two debates, one for the D.N.C.’s candidates and one for the G.O.P.’s.
  • The Democratic debate was fairly civil, with a large part of the discussion centering around who was actually “progressive.” Sanders did accuse Clinton for accepting money from Wall Street to finance her campaign. NPR has the story in a nutshell.
  • The Republican debate was, well, not so civil. The Washington Post gives us the “highlights” of the debate in a brief video, which show, among other things, Trump shushing Bush, Christie bashing Rubio over his debate strategies, and Trump announcing that as president he would bring back waterboarding “and a hell of a lot worse.” Politico article investigates who won and who lost the debate, and while the results suggest that Chris Christie had a marginal win, they also indicate that Rubio was overwhelmingly considered the loser of the debate.
  • According to Time, on February 8th Clinton pointed her finger at Sanders saying that he, too, had used Wall Street money, if indirectly.
  • And then there’s this story. According to The Washington Post, a couple of Cruz supporters in New Hampshire constructed a fake missile, the “Cruz missile,” to demonstrate Cruz’s military plans were he elected to office.


What’s the media got to do with it?

There’s a lot of info out there, so be aware of what you absorb. In his book, When Politicians Attack: Party Cohesion in the Media, Tim Groeling points out that the public receives a very small amount of news directly from politicians. In other words, politicians’ statements are “filtered” through the media. He also argues that two major aspects of a story journalists assess to determine if it’s newsworthy are the extents to which it is novel or controversial. He concludes that stories containing unusual or surprising events (novel) and stories where politicians clash or offend (conflict) are disproportionately likely to be reported. Therefore, stories that feature Trump’s racist remarks or Clinton’s criticism of Sanders are more likely to fill up your newsfeed.

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