Election Day Perspective: 6 Things to Keep in Mind

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Brief thoughts on the popular vote, the media, the stakes, and more

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1) If one candidate wins the electoral vote but loses the popular vote, that doesn't tell us how the election would've turned out under a popular-vote system. Under a different set of rules, both campaigns would have made different decisions about rhetoric, what issues to focus on, where to spend time campaigning, where to buy ads, where to invest resources in ground organization, etc. Should we change to a popular-vote system? Maybe. It's legitimate to argue as much -- but saying after the fact that the popular vote confers legitimacy this year makes no sense. 

2) News organizations that "call" a state minutes before competitors haven't achieved a scoop worth touting. As Jay Rosen puts it, "The extreme opposite of an enterprise scoop is the ego scoop. This is where the news would have come out anyway -- typically because it was announced or would have been announced--but some reporter managed to get ahead of the field and break it before anyone else. From the user's point of view, there is zero significance to who got it first. This kind of scoop is essentially meaningless, but try telling that to the reporter who feels he or she has one .... Journalists who are defending an ego scoop are engaged in an intramural competition that has nothing to do with public service, and everything to do with bragging rights."

3) Many of the most dire predictions about what a Romney or Obama victory will mean are hyperbole. America will muddle through, same as always, and the new president can be significantly constrained in two years time if the people decide it is wise to hobble him, even in the realm of foreign policy (if the people elect a more activist version of Congress). Unfortunately, many of the most problematic policies in America will continue regardless of today's victor.

4) Change can and should be effected in many ways besides electoral politics. If people put as much energy into charity, volunteerism, mentoring, entrepreneurship, and creating non-governmental solutions as they do into politics, our elections would matter a whole lot less.   

5) Within politics, a letter-writing campaign targeting your congressional representative and senator would mean far more than your vote did. Participating in your local Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, or Green Party organization would give you still more influence over American politics.

6) Says Alan Jacobs, "As the election has drawn nearer, I have seen (we all have seen) more and more articles, blog posts, and comments premised on the assumption that the writer's political enemies really are enemies -- wicked people bent on the destruction of all that is good and right in the world. As for me, I don't think people who disagree with me -- about abortion, politics, religion, literature, whatever -- are, on balance, any more wicked than I am. I just think that on the points where we disagree they happen to be wrong. That shouldn't be such a difficult distinction to keep in mind."

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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