Is there such a thing as too much information?
Probably. Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it the Paradox of Choice: the more choices we have, the less happy we are.
And yet, who makes the decision about what you know and when? Most people don’t really want someone else making that choice for them.
This is especially true when it comes to politics, where transparency is king. In a high-emotion election like this, it’s easy to become obsessed with real-time info and poll-data analysis on sites like FiveThirtyEight. Gone are the days of voting and waking up the next morning to find out who won — though that’s probably a healthier way to go mentally.
A dwindling tradition
In the past, the amount election return information released on voting day has been contentious issue. Particularly after the 1980 election, when some thought early polling data kept people on the West Coast from voting, there has been an unwritten media rule about sharing that sensitive information. In a country with several major timezones, millions of voters, and ongoing concerns about getting out the vote, a choice was made: “… the networks promised not to use their exit polls to project the race in a given state until polls had closed there. In the years that followed, other news organizations that had not been subject to the same political pressure — radio stations, newspapers, wire services, cable networks and websites — nonetheless accepted it as a controlling precedent,” writes Sasha Issenberg on Slate.com.
But now media companies are bucking that unwritten rule. In the interest of feeding the public’s desire for information (and increasing page views), and calling malarky on the paternalistic idea that we can’t handle the information, real-time election results will be at least part of the story on Election Day.
It’s there if you want to know
The info is already out there: people in the campaigns — including candidates and super PACs — have the play-by-play information that’s hidden from regular voters. How do they get it? According to Slate, it’s a “… combination of analytics and active tracking of turnout across preselected precincts to produce rolling projections of how many votes they have won as the ballots are cast. They have found this method to be uncannily accurate at matching the ultimate vote count.”
So the information is out there, and the veil is being lifted. Votecastr “… plans real-time projections of presidential and Senate races in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It plans to publish a map and tables of its projected results on Slate, the online newsmagazine,” according to the New York Times.
With as many as one-third of voters casting their ballots early, and little proof that more information changes voting habits, get ready for “election return night” to turn into “election return morning, noon, and night.”
I guess we’ll see how that turns out, and if more is truly better.