When I was in university, I did some volunteering for the political party I most admired. I put signs on my lawn. I called. I handed out leaflets. I knocked on doors. I felt engaged. But something happened over the years. Year after year, I lost interest in Canadian politics. And I'm not alone. Voter turnout in Canada declined terribly since a pretty good number 1988 (75.3%) with only a slight improvement in the last election (61.4%). Still, considering how quiet Canadians are about politics compared to our southern neighbors (57.5% of population voted this last election), it's not awful. But I have noticed a general apathy amongst the newest voters that is troublesome. In fact, it's their disengagement that is leading to the majority of the decline in voter turnout. My son, who will be 20 in March, hasn't voted in a Canadian election (though he could have) and is much more engaged in US politics than he is in his own Canadian politics.
But I completely understand where he's coming from. I was glued to the web from the Primaries in this most recent US election. Part of it had to do with my previous involvement in the 2008 election (I volunteered and donated to Obama's campaign while living in San Francisco), but that wasn't it. I was also completely enrapt with the whole circus of it.
Some of that circus was painful to observe. I wasn't a fan of the political ads and smear campaigns. But I did love the passion that practically oozed from the voters. And the passion I was most enrapt with was from the nerds. And the king of those nerds was Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight.
Of course Harper Reed, Josh Thayer, Mark Trammell and the rest of the Obama nerd core were pretty amazing to watch, but I had FiveThirtyEight consistently open in a tab for months leading up to the election and I may have been more engaged there than I was in Facebook. And of course, there were the debates on YouTube and the exciting election hashtags on Twitter and the neverending stream of self-appointed pundits on Facebook, but nothing made me feel as good or as concerned as the graphs on FiveThirtyEight.
I love data and have heard multiple explanations of what is behind this simple chart, but I'm still enthralled by it. It's math. It's logical. It's straight forward. But wow, it's stunning and magical.
And what is the most stunning and magical part about it is the story behind the project. Nate was a baseball stats nerd (I used to think that sounded really boring, but then I read Moneyball and watched the movie, and realized there was nothing boring about it) who turned his formulas to politics when he got interested in the 2008 election. He built an application and a website and, ultimately, a huge following of people like me who relied on his math to give us some insight into the election.
He wasn't paid to do this. He wasn't employed by any campaign. He just got interested and built something really really amazing that he probably had no idea would blow up so much. Of course HE was fascinated by it, but did he know where it would lead? He didn't buy Google Adwords or run a Facebook campaign or put banners on sites all over the web. News about this amazingly geeky and potentially accurate site just spread through the networks organically. And now he is king of nerds.
This is why I love the web. And democratization. Because people build stuff out of passion. And I love US politics because it makes people so passionate they want to do this. And nerds are SUCH great builders of interesting stuff out of their passion.
We are still just over 2 years away from another Canadian election. This is plenty of time to build the type of passion for our politics that we could birth our own Nate Silvers. And hint. Hint. ThreeZeroEight.org is available (.com is being squatted by a reseller). Just in case you read this and think, "Hey! I love Canadian politics and I could totally do this!"
Because I'm going to stop being apathetic myself. This is an amazing country that we have LOTS to be proud of. And rejoice over. And vote to maintain and grow. And hell, maybe I'll crack open my old statistics text books and try to figure this stuff out myself. Because Canadian politics needs more nerds.
There IS a FiveThirtyEight for Canada...I'm not sure why I failed to look up the full number:
Followed! It looks super promising. You can also follow Éric on Twitter.
[cover image: Nerd by Bayat on Flickr]