Thursday, October 23, 2008

Polling, Projection, Premediation: The Affective Force of

Whenever I feel down about the prospects of an Obama victory, I click on Electoral Projections Done Right. The reassuring blue-and-red pie-charts showing Obama with more than 340 electoral votes, a 93% chance of an Obama victory, and a projection of as many as 57 Democratic senate seats always calm my nerves.  As I drill down the site to monitor the latest national and state-by-state polls, the super-poll tracker, the graph of simulated electoral vote distributions, and the reassuring scenario analyses, I am almost instantly reassured about the sanity of my fellow Americans. is to my mind the smartest of the various websites that correlate polling data from across the country.  And so far at least the most reassuring.  I've been meaning for a while to say something about this phenomenon, in particular about the relationship between polling, projection, and premediation.

According to Wikipedia, the first presidential electoral poll was a straw vote taken in 1824, which (incorrectly) showed Andrew Jackson defeating John Quincy Adams.  Such polls or straw votes are indicative of the nearly universal human desire to predict or foresee what will transpire in the future. But I would be reluctant to call such polls early versions of premediation, which I have tried consistently to distinguish from prediction on the basis of the more open, creative, and potential nature of premediation.

I have also tried to underscore the formal features of premediation, the way in which premediation invariably involves the remediation of the future in a mediated format meant to be indistinguishable from the remediation of the present or recent past. Thus the formal conventions through which weather maps forecast a hurricane, a blizzard, or a heat wave are very different from the way in which those meteorological events are reported as and after they occur. Insofar as polling or projection manifests itself in a media format different from that in which the election will be presented when it occurs, it is not in a strict sense premediation.     

The remarkable proliferation of polls and projections in the age of networked digital media, however, is clearly of a piece with the overall cultural orientation towards the future that the concept of premediation is meant to mark. And when those electoral projections are remediated in precisely the same graphic media formats that will be used on election day and beyond, premediation is clearly at work. Thus on CNN John King has been premediating the results of the upcoming election using precisely the same interactive mapping technologies he used for the primaries, which allow him to write on the map like John Madden using a telestrator and to zoom in to precinct level with technology identical to that of Google Maps.  

The affective power of premediation is, I would argue, undeniable.  What makes so reassuring, however, is not only the information it presents about Obama's lead in multiple state and national polls.  Indeed, I would argue that the reassuring affect that this site invariably produces in me is hardly due to the data it furnishes at all--as I already know most of this data from reading newspapers, watching cable news, and surfing the web. What makes this site so reassuring is its conventionalized map of the United States, showing a predominance of blue states in exactly the same media format as I expect it to appear on the evening of November 4, or perhaps the morning of November 5, when we learn that Barack Hussein Obama has been elected the 44th president of the United States of America.

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