The problem is that the squigglys may give thirty random strangers from Bumbleweed, Ohio just too damned much power to influence public perception. The squigglys influence the home viewers, the home viewers participate in the snap polls, the snap polls influence the pundits, the pundits influence the narrative and -- voilà! -- perceptions are entrenched.... What I'd suggest is that the CPD ask the network to refrain from including focus-group reactions in their live broadcasts of the debates. If the networks want to include the squigglys in their re-broadcasts of the debates, or perhaps on their Internet streams, I'd be all for that. But I think the viewer should be entitled to formulate her own, independent reaction to the debate, rather than having to share her television with Joe the Plumber and some guys from his neighborhood.Be sure to check out this old-school post from Mark Blumenthal on why these dial-testers are not a representative sample. Now, here's the thing: Silver's basic argument is that watching these dial-testers creates peer effects among voters -- and voting should be an independent decision of the individual. I concur. But shouldn't this logic extend to the actual voting process as well? I bring this up because of the astonishing rise in early voting. If this New York Times story by Kirk Johnson is correct (and let's concede that the story is impressionistic), then a lot of early voting is taking place collectively rather than individually:
The presidential debate had barely ended Wednesday night when Kristin Marshall had her ballot on her lap, pen in hand, ready to vote. Three friends, all supporters of Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, had their ballots, too. “Obama’s the second one down — don’t accidentally pick the first,” said Ms. Marshall, 27, a reference to the ballot placement of Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent, as her living room of Obama supporters erupted in laughter. The traditional American vote — a solitary moment behind a black curtain in a booth, civics in secret — was never thus.... The Obama campaign made a big effort this week to encourage debate-and-vote parties like the one at Ms. Marshall’s home here in Larimer County, another pivotal county with a lot of mail-balloting.... In coming up with strategies to get out the mail-in vote in Colorado, both campaigns have focused on making the mail-in voters feel part of a bigger movement. The Obama campaign’s debate-and-vote parties, for example, were intended to create a feel of civic participation. Republican efforts to hand-deliver packets create a support structure for voters who might feel put off by the lack of Election Day traditions, volunteers said. “We’re a friendly face at the door,” said Jim Kepler, a real-estate broker and Republican volunteer in Greeley who has assisted in delivering the information packets. “We’re there to help them, and they like that.”Again, call me old school, but I like the tradition of going to the polling place, because it's a unique combination of civic community and the rights of the individual. You go with your fellow citizens to a common locale, maybe you chat up a few of them before and after you vote -- but once you're in the booth, it's just you and your conscience. If you read Johnson's piece, you can see some counterarguments in favor of early voting, but they all revolve around the point that the Voting Day process can be cumbersome and problematic. But the answer to this is not to encourage early voting, it's to fix the Election Day process. There are many aspects of campaigns and elections that are social -- as they should be. But the action of voting itself should not be made by the individual. For all the good intentions that are used to justify it, I worry that early voting undercuts that individual decision. I eagerly await all the younglings to tell me that I'm clueless on this one. UPDATE: Daniel Davies weighs in against Nate Silver. I will concede that his idea of having the dialers hang around after the debate and respond to CNN's commentators would be awesome.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.