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Where’s The Data Behind Our Political Decision Making?

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Over the last 100 years of political campaigns, party power struggles, prosperity and recession, has the data we have to make decisions with improved?

Prompted by John Palmer’s infographic (below), One Hundred Years, Government and Economy and in heading to the polls to vote, I was in awe at how hard it is to get a full summary of who is on your ballot and where they each stand on the issues. It reminds me of talking to people, back in 2002, who were trying to sort out which TV or DVD Recorder to buy. No one could make head’s or tails of it, the information was hard to compare and you had to do a lot of searching or just trust the sales guy.


Can I get an app for that?

With all the cheap data processing power, web start-ups, mobile apps, and business focus on ROI, I found very few places to get a non-partisan picture of candidates across multiple issues.

Even when I did find information for the Governor and U.S. Congress candidates in my area, I found some candidates had incomplete or no data. And, getting information at the state or local level was even more difficult to obtain.

There has got to be a better way to compare all candidates on issues based on where they stand and data based on their record. A lot of others are looking for the data and looking to empower citizens but who has made it easy to help citizens make meaningful choices from big government to their local elected officials.

The best site I found, that was non-partisan, was www.votesmart.org. However, most were either poorly designed, lacking even more information, or were partisan.

We can do better. I believe we need a Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 joint challenge to design both a better tool and to rethink the election process so that all candidate information and data is available well before voting.

Organizations are spending money in this space, but putting it to work to capture this great public benefit should be a key component to Gov 2.0. Groups like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, NIC, Microsoft, and Palantir need to fix the basics first and empower voters with meaningful data.

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About Brian Regienczuk

  • Baronius

    I hate to be such a geek, but the data looks wrong. A lot depends on your method of adjusting for inflation, but by most measures there shouldn’t be an increase in real GDP in several years since 1974. There should be a few declining years before 1960 too, and there may be, but the graph is too small for me to tell.

  • For a larger version of the infographic,

    At the top, you can choose the size to view. The infographic may not be perfect, but it made me reflect on how much data we don’t have when we go to the polls.

  • I understand the impulse to try to get unbiased information about candidates, but somehow I think it’s a vain quest, and possibly beside the point.

    You may learn more by comparing a candidate’s self-description with what his/her opponent says, and comparing news stories with editorials on both sides. In other words, cold ‘objective’ statistics are not a complete picture. Real 3-D portraits require some human input [even if some of it is distorted].

  • Handyguy – I absolutely agree! But, I think it would help voters a lot if they had a dashboard that helped paint this picture with clearly marked data, inferred positions, and other points.

    Right now, many are still making decisions based on only one issue or other very limited pieces of information. Does our political system come down to who has the best commercial and is most “likable?” Or, do we want everyone to understand the different issues and where candidates stand?

  • Brian, your article reminds me of Mike King’s recent Blogcritics entry “Democracy or Republic? An Exploration of America’s Political System,” which argued that “people should vote on matters that they are informed about.”

    On that thread, I raised the issue of literacy tests to achieve Mike’s goal. What is your take? Assuming technology will soon deliver the “nonpartisan picture of candidates across multiple issues” that you call for, wouldn’t the next logical step require testing prospective voters to ensure they have mastered your proposed matrix?

  • Thanks for all the posts and dialogue!

    Alan — In my opinion, citizens should be free to vote no matter what their education or literacy. Providing information and visualizing it is just one tool that empowers voters and enriches the political process.

    However, the education system does need a lot of work. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Sir Ken Robinson’s video presentation. Rethinking education is a fascinating topic, not just for the USA either.

  • If “citizens should be free to vote no matter what their education or literacy,” your carefully researched and well considered ballot can be cancelled out by someone who is uninformed about candidates or issues but votes just to get off work for an hour (with pay) or in response to a pretty face or attack ad on TV. It doesn’t seem fair.

  • Alan — I disagree. Just because someone can not read, does not mean they do not have well thought out opinions on who they should vote for. They have a right to vote.

    My point is only to use the technology we have to provide easy to understand, non-partisan information that empowers citizens who choose to use it.