As an atheist, the news of Benedict XVI’s resignation is not of particular significance to me (though I will check to see how his resignation letter compares to Nixon’s). However, it does trigger one of the most unusual elections in the world – a Papal conclave.
The Washington Post have already published an excellent article on the machinations behind a Papal conclave, and how they have changed over time. I highly recommend you take a read. As they quote in the story:
Officially, Ratzinger’s selection was attributed to the will of God, a force not amenable to any empirical test that is in our power to conduct.
Which is really quite some claim to a mandate.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you this month’s Collins’ Courier, featuring no fewer than 26 pictures of Judith.
As seen in the window of a bookshop on Lambton Quay this morning.
One of the often missed pieces of news from the US elections last week was that Puerto Rico voted to become an official state of the United States. Of course, that does not yet mean that they are anywhere near being offered statehood, but it is work thinking about.
And of course, the most important question that it raises is: what would the flag look like with a 51st state?
The Smithsonian is running an interesting article about what an American flag with 51 stars might look like. Have a read, there are some great options out there!
Australian campaigner and political consultant Bruce Hawker has been over in the US observing their election. Given his experience, and firm grasp of the differences between the Australian and American systems, he has some interesting insights. He’s writing a series of blog posts about his trip, the first of which went up today. I found this particularly exciting:
Anything that could be measured or analysed was put under the microscope. This, he said, was the big development made by the 2012 campaign. Messina told the conference that his camp spent $100 million on technology alone. That’s what you can do when you have more than a billion dollars to spend. In fact total spending by both parties and Political Action Groups (PACs) over the last two years is estimated at $6 billion.
A few people have sent me this very thorough article from Ars Technica about the total failure of the IT platform that the Romney campaign built (and would have spent millions of dollars developing) as the main tool for their get out the vote (GOTV) effort.
Called “Orca,” the effort was supposed to give the Romney campaign its own analytics on what was happening at polling places and to help the campaign direct get-out-the-vote efforts in the key battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Colorado.
Instead, volunteers couldn’t get the system to work from the field in many states—in some cases because they had been given the wrong login information. The system crashed repeatedly. At one point, the network connection to the Romney campaign’s headquarters went down because Internet provider Comcast reportedly thought the traffic was caused by a denial of service attack.
As one Orca user described it to Ars, the entire episode was a “huge clusterfuck.”
The article goes in depth into some of the many failures of the project. Bad planning, testing, implementation and user training are all abundantly clear.
However, from my perspective, the attached video interview with Romney Communications Director Gail Gitcho (see below) is far more interesting. Given, this was a pre-election interview, and she is obviously trying to over-hype their capabilities and seem more tech-savvy than they may actually be (of course, we’ll never know how tech savvy the Romney campaign was, but the Ars Technica article is fairly damning).
I fundamentally think their GOTV strategy is wrong. They don’t get it. I’ll leave it for you to draw your own conclusions, but enjoy watching the interview…
Update: One point I forgot to mention, was that I really hope that the failure of Project Orca doesn’t become a scapegoat for the entire campaign. There was a lot that went wrong for Romney, a fair amount of which was totally outside of his control. Having worked in IT, I know what projects like this can be like, and I know how easy it will be for some to sling blame at the IT team.
The US election is always a sight to behold, and this week was no different. To be honest, you shouldn’t expect anything less from the most expensive election in human history, with over US$4b spent!
Mark Ferguson at the British website LabourList has written a list of five lessons that Labour can take from the Obama victory. While our MMP system means that we need to have a nationwide focus, and can’t simply pump all our energy into marginal areas as they do in the UK and US, I believe there are quite a few similarities between the lessons Ferguson has identified and the New Zealand situation. I highly recommend you read the full article, but for now, here are his five lessons:
1. Polling works
The first point, polling works, is never going to win an election in New Zealand, but it certainly can help. Unlike in the UK and the US where polling is used to identify marginal areas and the issues important to them, electorate level polling is a far less important tool in MMP situations.
2. GOTV works
The failure of Romney’s GOTV effort is an interesting one, and I may write about that more in depth in future. In any country where turnout is gradually decreasing, smart GOTV efforts can make all the difference. Of course, this won’t be an issue any of my Australian colleagues will take any notice of!
3. The ground war beat the air war
Here Ferguson is advocating for the effort of volunteers on the ground as opposed to fancy television ads. With our very regimented campaign broadcasting system (and the accompanying public funding), we have a far “fairer” system. Which means that by default, the “ground war” is always going to be vitally important. What form that takes is a matter for debate.
4. The debates matter (but not too much)
This should be a point that few New Zealanders would challenge. In 2002 the polling worm essentially got Peter Dunne back into Parliament with a menagerie of United Future MPs who would have never thought they actually had a future in Parliament just a month earlier. Ultimately it didn’t change the composition of the government – but it did effect the race in a noticeable way.
5. The government doesn’t always lose when the economy is in a mess
This is going to be something the Labour Party in 2014 pays attention to. We can’t simply rely on National’s economic mismanagement to get us over the line.