Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dialed In

I have to admit I have a guilty appreciation for the real-time "audience reaction" monitor that CNN has been running on the bottom of the screen during the debates. They get 25 or so uncommitted people in a room to watch the debate, give them each a dial and tell them to move it left (bad) or right (good) depending on how they feel or think about what is being said at that moment. The composite results are displayed by gender – green for men, orange for women – on lines that move up and down in relation to the effect the speaker is having.

So, when Barack Obama was talking Tuesday night, the lines usually went up. With McCain talking, the lines stayed flat (these people are too nice – they never dial under 50%). Obama, up. McCain, flat. All night long. There were times when Obama’s orange line hit the top and stayed there for more than a minute. A couple of times, McCain’s line crept up to 75% (again, too nice), but then went crashing when he went after Obama on anything at all. The upward swing of the Obama line and the horizontal path of McCain’s were like watching a live, moving version of the last two weeks of national polling.

As far as statistical usefulness, the CNN line-graph stunt probably means nothing; an unscientific sample of an amorphous group making subjective judgements about carefully-coached rhetoric and stagecraft. As a respected member of the sub-prime commentariat, it is (or should be) beneath me to let myself get tickled by such ludicrous gimmicks. Alas, I cannot resist. Especially when the lines, the trends and the entire election are headed in the right direction.

After all, some of this is just for our entertainment, not necessarily for our education. I think the application of the pop-psych technology might lead to some other interesting applications. How about...
  • Give the dials to 100 local fans during the next Packer game. See the lines go down on that Seattle kick-off return. Rodgers scrambles out of the pocket and finds Jennings downfield? Cool. If the lines go really south during a timeout, look over on CBS and see the replay of the touchdown Favre just threw for the Jets.
  • Hand out dials to all twelve people who RSS Esenberg’s blog. Next time he posts another one making excuses for the pathetic Sarah Palin or trying to justify McCain's dishonorable last-minute smear job on Obama, watch the 45-degree diagonal swoop down to zero in record time as the professor loses more respect, self- and otherwise. Hey, Rick, you still want people to take you seriously after the election, right? Just checking.
  • Give the judges in the Courthouse one of them things so I can see how I'm doing during sentencing arguments.
  • Finally, hook up 100 right-wing nuts and chain them in front of their TVs (tuned to MSNBC, natch) to watch the election returns on November 4th. Watch the lines crater when the Senate goes 60 Dems (not counting Lieberman, who they should ceremoniously bounce from the caucus that night). See them spiral downward as they lose 30, then 35, then 40 seats in the House. By the end of the night, they will have sunk so low...they see the inevitable call for Obama before the polls even close in California. Something strange happens. All over town, one after another of the right-wingers decide maybe a glimmer of hope in their dark world isn’t so bad. Without consulting with each other, they all turn their dials to the right as one. Inexplicably, the line edges slowly, but assuredly....UP.

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