Politics Daily #18 – When Stats Become The It Thing In Politics


In a recent article on the Huffington Post, Bill James, the Godfather behind analyzing statistics in a unique way that helped Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s achieve success in “Moneyball”, discusses the potential effectiveness of using mass data-gathering and numbers-crunching, a method famously known as ‘sabermetrics’, in politics.

The two main things that James suggests are: being nice to the opposing candidate, and; running on a platform not expected by the other side.

James argues that a candidate can take weapons away from his opponent simply by being nice to him, as the opponent would look like an ass if he chooses to attack him.  While this might be true, there has been a fairly solid record of negative attack ads working in American Presidential politics history (remember the Swift-Boat Veterans?), although perhaps there is a difference for voters between watching negative TV ads and hearing the candidates say negative things themselves.

The ability to attack a political opponent without looking like an ass is a fine art, of course, as only the best of the best, such as Bill Clinton, can do so with ease.  The article highlights the fact that Clinton was noted as not having gone after Mitt Romney.  This act of non-action precisely provides Clinton the ability to say “this guy’s (Romney) good, but my guy’s better” and campaign with class and integrity.

The second thing is more pertinent to the timing in which the method is used, and to what extent the issue resonates with voters come November.  In a sense, the method is as simple as the campaign having gone through data research and latching onto an issue and say “lets go with that.”  The one raised in the article by Jonah Keri, in getting out the Latino vote, strikes an important note on the Democratic campaign.  Getting more people to cast their ballots for the first time will always help the Democrats more than the Republicans.

Interestingly enough, as if the Obama administration had read what Bill James has to say, right after I finished reading the article on Huffpost, I received a news alert on my phone from the New York Times titled: “U.S. Will Give Immunity to Some Young Illegal Migrants.”

Check out the article detailing the news on the Huffpost here, and the New York Times here.