NDN Blog

Will the Wisdom of the Crowds compete with Polling?

There was a very interesting political experiment initiated before the election by a group in the San Francisco bay area to tap what has been labeled “the wisdom of the crowds,” after the bestseller by James Surowiecki.

Well in advance of the election, Predict06 asked the general web community to make educated predictions about who would win any of the US House and Senate seats that truly were in play. It started out tilting towards the Republicans because some conservative bloggers and online groups first began to take part. But as the progressive blogosphere and netroots types learned about it, the predictions evened up. On the eve of the election, it was looking pretty interesting…..

The results? A full 84,501 predictions were made and the predicted results were amazingly close to the actual results. The predicted Senate was 50/50. The actual Senate, 51 Dems to 49 Republicans. The predicted House: 231 Dems to 204 Republicans, with the D’s picking up 28 seats The actual was: 229 to 196, with the D’s taking 30.

You have to wonder whether this experiment could be refined in successive cycles to evolve into a pretty accurate tool that might compete with the current generation of public opinion polling. At the very least, this is a tool that is worth playing around with. Check it out:

Peter Leyden

Mulling the Impact of Tech Tools on the election

I’m in an all-day meeting in San Francisco at Working Assets where progressives from around the country are comparing notes on what tools worked in the 2006 campaign. (New fellow Michael Kieschnick is the head of Working Assets and running the show.) Many of them are nuts and bolts tools that helped voters register, or identified progressive voters and got out the vote, but many groups tried to experiment on new media tools too.

I was at the first of a series of RootsCamp conferences this weekend in San Francisco too. This was a gathering of Netroots and blogger types who are leveraging a “new tool” of sorts in the form of a new kind of “unconference” called “barcamps.” These are self-organizing conferences that came out of the Silicon Valley tech scene, and are described here. But they have been adopted for political purposes by the Netroots crowd in the form of rootscamp. The regional barcamps will culminate in a big gathering in DC on Dec. 2-3 where Simon and I will be speaking too.

In the meantime, many places are compiling their own lists of what worked best in this cycle. Just today the Personal Technology Forum came up with a list that is worth perusing. The Forum’s executive director, Micah L. Sifry, is going to be driving yet another all-day post-election gathering in San Francisco this Friday that I will be attending too.

The lessons of best practices as well as disasters are coming together in various ways and the New Politics Institute hopes to do our own gathering in DC in early December that will lay out what we are finding. Stay tuned.

Peter Leyden

Millennials Rising: The Youth vote is with us again, and again

The San Francisco Chronicle had a front page story today on “Growing Youth Turnout is Good News for Dems.” I’m biased because I anchor the piece at the end, but I do think this is a great quick analysis of the growing strategic importance of the Millennial Generation on progressive politics.

Much of it was based on a bipartisan exit poll of 500 18-to-29-year-olds done by GOP pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake for Young Voter Strategies in Washington, D.C. This poll and others quoted lump young adults as everyone under age 30, though the New Politics Institute and other analysts consider the up-and-coming Millennial generation (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) to be age 26 and under. Still it’s a close alignment.

Some key findings: two million more young people voted Tuesday than in the 2002 midterm elections. This generation is civic-minded and gung-ho about getting involved in politics.

It’s not just turnout but how they voted and which party they identify with:

“According to CNN exit polls, 60 percent of voters under 30 cast ballots for Democrats. Seventy-eight percent of young people who vote for the same party in three elections in a row are likely to remain a member of that party through adulthood, said pollster Goeas.

"We lost (the youth vote) in 2004 by 11 percent," Goeas said of Republicans. Now, with that number doubling this year, according to early exit polls, Goeas worried that a generation of the electorate is growing up as reliable Democrats.

According to the bipartisan Goeas-Lake exit polls, 40 percent of young voters said they identify with Democrats, 30 percent with Republicans and 23 percent with independents. However, half reported that they voted for Democrats, and 35 percent said they cast ballots for Republicans.”

This is truly good news for progressives because this Millennial Generation is no ordinary generation – it is massive in size, a full 75 million people, and it rivals the size of the baby boom. If the Boomers had split this dramatically, the last 25 years of conservative ascendancy would not have happened.

The piece also made the point that this high turnout was not all about the new tools, though it started to make a difference. My quote at the end of the piece addresses this:

"The 2006 election was an experimental one for new media," said Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a liberal San Francisco think tank that focuses on the intersection of new media tools and politics. "But even if it wasn't fully integrated into campaigns, what things like YouTube did was energize and excite young people about politics."

Peter Leyden


California is the Future: what really happened in the election on the west coast

I’ve been taking in the largely east coast analysis of what happened in the historic election of last night. But from my perch out in San Francisco, I thought I’d give a quick analysis of what happened in California that may have implications for the rest of the country too.

I have always maintained that California is the future. I know that can rub people the wrong way, but it’s a useful rule of thumb when trying to forecast how many different trends in many different fields might play out across America. Look to California first. The same case can be made in politics. California often foreshadows larger trends that make their way into American politics over the long haul.

I’m not the only one who uses that frame. A couple days ago I even quoted Republican strategist Ed Rollins from a newspaper article: “California has always been a trendsetter,'' Rollins said. “Politically, it's always two to six years ahead of the rest of the country.''

If that’s the case, or even often the case, then what happened this election that politicos should pay attention to?

# First up, Arnold. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger whomped Democrat Phil Angelides in a landslide victory with almost a 17 point spread. Why? Because Arnold is becoming a form of Republican that we have not seen in a long, long time: a progressive Republican.

I wrote a whole post on this before the election, but the results bear it out. Californians clearly responded to his shift to the left, which started with his state of the state speech in January where he laid out a hugely ambitious and largely progressive agenda that he and the overwhelmingly progressive Democratic legislature largely delivered throughout this year. By working with progressive Democrats on progressive issues like landmark legislation to aggressively solve global warming, Californians rewarded him with their vote. Even in the very progressive San Francisco Bay area he was getting 50 percent of the vote in many counties.

Just last fall those same Californians had soundly defeated all four of Arnold’s clearly conservative ballot initiatives in the special election that he called. So Californians don’t just like Arnie, they like progressive Arnie. It’s crystal clear from the opposite results of two elections only one year apart.

This is very important for the future of American politics because Arnold is about the only Republican success story of this cycle and many people are going to study his formula very closely. He is blazing a trail for the next wave of Republicans who will flee the conservative formula like rats from a sinking ship.

# Aside from Arnold, the rest of California’s elected officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, and progressive Democrats at that. This election held true to a progressive trend that has been inexorably evolving since roughly 1992. (Before that time, California went for Republican presidents in the six previous cycles, and the state was not nearly as “blue.”)

In Tuesday’s election all the top statewide races went to Democrats, save one, the Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner, who was a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and moderate Republican running against a damaged Democrat who was dogged by accepting illegal contributions, among other things. US Senator Diane Feinstein had a bigger landslide than Arnold at about 25 percent. And Dems won for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, and Attorney General.

# The US Congressional delegation stayed overwhelmingly Democrat, with Dems bringing down or seriously challenging even conservative Republicans who had been entrenched in their red state-ish districts inland. The notorious Richard Pombo, the seven-term member of the House leadership, fell to a political newcomer.

That Congressional delegation will be led by San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the first female speaker of the house. (Where would you look to see the manifestation of her politics?) And Ellen Tauscher, another representative from the Bay area, will head the more centrist but still generally progressive New Democrat Coalition in the new House too.

# Both California’s state houses stayed lopsidedly in control of progressive Democrats. The key leaders are from progressive bastions of the state: Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is from Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro tem Don Perata is from Oakland. These houses have been the ones serving up the progressive proposals of the last legislative cycle – not Schwarzenegger. Arnold has been glomming onto the bills and signing them, or trying to one-up their initiatives, which have been big and bold.

# Californians approved $40 billion in public works spending this election, which will some from a series of bonds that had to be approved at the ballot box. All but one did. These bonds will go to finance roads and levees and schools and low income housing. This is the kind of public investment that is reminiscent of past eras of progressivism. Big, bold, and needed.

# That said, a series of proposed tax increases were voted down by Californians. The most high profile example was a proposition that would have taxed oil production in the state and invested the money, as much as $4 billion, in alterative energy research and development. This measure was defeated, partly because of $100 million spent on television advertising by the oil companies that would have been taxed. Another proposition was to put another $2.60 tax on a pack of cigarettes. Voters struck that down too, perhaps because it was overreaching.

(There is some learning to be done about how 21st century progressivism will work in the wake of decades of conservative brainwashing about never allowing new taxes.)

# The more progressive viewpoint prevailed on four other stateside propositions, including one on parental notification for abortion, and putting restrictions on the public's right of eminent domain. In other words, conservative attempts to push their agenda through state initiatives were beaten back by the California electorate.

What does all this add up to? In the coming weeks, all eyes are going to look to the Democrats of the US House and Senate to put forth their progressive agenda that will replace the discredited conservative one. Many Democrats, not to mention average Americans, are worried that progressives don’t have an alternative agenda.

In fact, there has been a progressive experiment going on in that test-bed of the future, the state of California. There are a lot of progressive ideas about what to do about global warming, and health care, and the minimum wage, etc. There are many fully-baked policies and legislation about how to move those ideas into law. And there are a lot of precedents about how a progressive majority might conduct itself in power in the early 21st century. It’s a long way from perfect, but it’s more than just a start.

It is a glimpse of a possible future, right here in California. Tune in and check it out.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

The Critical Arnold Frame: What does the one big Republican success story truly mean?

There is one Republican who is poised to do exceedingly well on Tuesday – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. We’ll see what plays out, but if it goes as expected, Arnold will win big over the Democrat.

It is very important to be clear on what this means. From my perspective, it’s because Arnold represents a creature we have not seen in a long time – a progressive Republican.

He started out as a mushy moderate in the 2003 Recall Election that started him out. He then tacked hard to the right and championed a conservative agenda in the 2005 special election for initiatives – where he got clobbered. But in the last year he has now tacked to the other side and become a champion for a range of progressive policies that originated with the progressive Democrats that run the state legislature.

The success of this formula, particularly in the context of a repudiation of conservative Republican politicians and policies, will have a big impact on the next wave of Republicanism to evolve in the coming years.

The San Francisco Chronicle had a front page story this morning that comes closest to articulating this framework, though reporter Carla Marinucci still dances around the edges. Here’s how she leads off the story:

If the Republican Party, as predicted, takes a serious swamping Tuesday across the country, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may look not only like a prescient politician who rode the wave -- but like one who's now poised to generate one himself.

Even before Tuesday's vote is tallied, "Arnold has become the New Republican -- someone who talks fiscal conservatism and put together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans," said GOP strategist Ed Rollins. "Certainly, he can become a very significant role model."

Should he win re-election -- and polls put him in a commanding lead -- Schwarzenegger's bounce back from unpopularity a year ago will show how California "has always been a trendsetter,'' Rollins said. Politically, "it's always two to six years ahead of the rest of the country.''

Rollins gets the new wave part, but muddles the mix of what Arnold represents. Marinucci then gets everyone else’s take on what Arnold means and the story goes into a “he said, she said” balanced piece that can tie newspaper stories up in knots.

But the general thrust of the piece is pointing to Arnold as a sign of new wave Republicans. And that much is true.

However, the piece begs the question about where the really interesting story now lies. Not in Republicans who are desperately taking Democrats’ progressive ideas to appeal to the electorate, but on the front edge of that progressive movement.

The real story of the next couple years is going to be how progressives drive the new agenda that needs to fill the gaping void the conservatives are leaving. As the Chronicle story puts it in the end with a quote from Democratic strategist Chris Lehane:

The political question isn't "does Arnold provide a road map to the future,'' Lehane said, but now that Schwarzenegger has "tacked to the left and taken many of their ideas, are Democrats going to create a new vision for the party and seize the opportunity?''

Indeed, that is the question now.

Peter Leyden

The Political Backstory: More Trauma in Traditional Media, this time, Newspapers

I know we are putting out all political news all the time, but it bears pointing out another striking story this week on the trauma of traditional media, the bread and butter of politics of the past. I commented last week on the severe trauma in broadcast television companies, particularly NBC. But this week the news was just as severe, if not more so, for traditional newspapers.

The New York Times had a very good overarching story on how ALL major newspapers in the country (save three strange exceptions) significantly lost circulation in the last six months, in what is proving to be an inexorable slide. Even in the best papers:

The Los Angeles Times lost 8 percent of its daily circulation and 6 percent on Sunday. The Boston Globe, owned by The New York Times Company, lost 6.7 percent of its daily circulation and almost 10 percent on Sunday.”

As we have pointed out repeatedly at the New Politics Institute, you can track this decline right alongside the appearance of personal computers and the growth in the internet. In fact, the Times points out that the peak of daily newspaper circulation came in 1984, which happens to be the year the IBM PC made its appearance. Since then, newspaper have lost 20 million subscriptions, a full one-third of the peak. From the NYT:

“Circulation for about half the nation's dailies had dropped to 43.7 million, down 2.8 percent, for the six months ending in September, compared with the same period last year. Daily circulation for all of the nation's papers reached its peak in 1984, at 63.3 million.”

The good news is that those papers that are shifting their strategy around the internet are seeing substantial success, though not enough yet to make up for the broadsheet revenue losses. However, you can see the seeds of a rebirth:

“The newspaper association said that for the third quarter of this year, 57 million people visited a newspaper Web site, an increase of 24 percent over the period a year ago. And revenues from online advertisers are growing.”

Politics has been conducted for the 20th century on the backs of two major media: newspapers and broadcast television. The 21st century will be very different. We are seeing irrefutable signs of it all around us.

Peter Leyden

More Writing on the Wall: Google buys a startup of collaborative wikis

We can see now that Google is going big time into social software, the area that rival search engine Yahoo! had been leading in. Google just announced that they are buying Jotspot, a leading company helping popularize wikis, or software that allows many, many people to write and edit on the same document.

Wikis have yet to go mainstream, but they are proving to be very useful among more techie crowds. It allows people from all over the world to easily work on common projects, such as an attempt to create a bottom-up encyclopedia, or wikipedia.

Google’s purchase will give a boost to popularize the tools. Jotspot itself was known for making wikis much more user friendly, by adopting many of the conventions that people are used to in word processing programs like Microsoft Word. The two together will help spread the word.

Not long ago a good rule of thumb was that Google relied more on advanced technology in their offerings, while Yahoo! focused more on user input and social software. Yahoo made some early purchases, like that of Flickr, the photo-sharing company, that started to stake out that turf. But now Google is jumping on the bandwagon with its recent acquisition of YouTube and now Jotspot. The trend is becoming clear….

Peter Leyden

Controversy around Using Search for Politics

The New York Times had a story today on “A New Campaign Tactic: Manipulating Google Data” which comes right off two themes the New Politics institute has been promoting recently in our Tools Campaign. There have also been a spate of other stories recently on what some call “Google-Bombing,” the practice of using search optimization techniques to get certain websites or articles on the web to get returned higher in search queries at search engines like Google. Two of the stories featured NPI’s work: MSNBC had one called “Political Bloggers Coordinate Google Bombs,” and another site had “Web strategists tout candidate use of search ads.”

The two themes NPI has promoted are: using search optimization techniques to ensure that progressive candidates get their messages as high as possible in search queries, and buying search ads. As the stories point out, buying search ads is probably the quickest, cheapest, and most effective thing that progressives candidates could do in the last weeks before the election. Spread the word – a these stories are doing.

Peter Leyden

New Politics Institute

More and More Data on the unusually civic-minded Millennial Generation

A big USA Today story lays out more data that show that the young Millennial Generation is unusually civic-minded and socially conscious. They also are embracing issues that tend to be considered progressive:

A graphic shows the top 10 causes on their minds: education, poverty, environment, health, drug and alcohol prevention, human rights, equal rights, disaster relief, AIDS, and hunger.

No sign of bans on gay marriage.

The newspaper piece is also part of a big effort at PBS to build a better understanding of what they call Generation Next, which is what we call the Millennial Generation. The Online NewsHour has put up a bunch of material that fills in context for understanding this group, including a timeline for their lifetimes, which includes the march of technology. It’s a nice reminder of how much tech and media change has come within their lifetimes.

The New Politics Institute has been promoting a deeper understanding of this important constituency for the past year. You can see a fun 5 minute viral video we created that gives the top-line analysis of why these young people are so politically important.

Peter Leyden

Schwarzenegger showing the "best of the best" in political communications

The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice story this weekend on how Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was blending top Hollywood talent with top national political talent to create what the  state Republican Chair called "the next generation of communication in politics." There is some truth to what he says, though what Schwarzenegger's team is doing is not rocket science. And other Democratic candidates also are pushing the front lines of what can be done with new media and new communications strategies.

Schwarzenegger's performance is  particularly striking when contrasted to the campaign performance of his Democratic challenger, Phil Angelides, who has not adopted many new practices. In fact, state Controller Steve Westly, who challenged Phil in the brutal primary, used many of the new techniques too.

The use of new tools and new media and communications practices is something that the New Politics Institute is closely tracking. Neither party has a monopoly on innovation at this point and it pays to watch what is happening on both sides.

Peter Leyden

Syndicate content