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Feb 05, 2004: The Center Cannot Hold

Social networks guru Valdis Krebs recently updated his network map of political book purchases. The blue cluster (co-purchased lefty books) and the red cluster (righty books) remind me of "blue states" and "red states" so well-known from the 2000 US presidential election electoral map.

It'd be interesting to see if these book purchases really do correlate with recent political geography. If such analysis was possible, perhaps we could also learn where those "swing" voters live. So maybe Jeff Bezos could start selling yet another product: data analysis for political campaigns. (Hmmm, what on earth would we be a good label for that Amazon tab?)

Of course, as Valdis points out, there aren't many books that transcend both clusters, appealing to both sets of readers. Each book is apparently preaching to the converted. If that's true, Valdis' work would reinforce what many pundits are saying right now: energize your base, and ignore the swing voters, because there just aren't many to worry about right now.

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Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Feb 5, 2004)

Krebs' experiment is very interesting, but its utility for real-life politicicians is limited. After all, the vast majority of the electorate doesn't buy political books.

Which isn't to say that Amazon couldn't sell demographic data to campaigners. I'm sure many retailers do. Our purchases don't have to be overtly "political" to tell marketers and campaigners a lot about our probable voting habits. To consider only some crude stereotypes, I'd wager that Whole Foods shoppers go for Dean and perhaps Kucinich in large numbers, while Neimann Marcus shoppers and cigarette smokers lean toward Bush.

Nor, unfortunately, is this information used only to decide how to spend ad money in a political campaign. Increasingly, the campaigns are merely an afterthought to a system stacked in advance for one party or the other. Consider the recent block-by-block gerrymandering of Texas and other states as described by Jeffrey Toobin in his 12/7/2003 New Yorker article, The Great Election Grab. He doesn't explicitly mention consumer purchases as an input to the redistricting process but the software used -- Caliper's Maptitude for Redistricting -- uses `party registration, voting patterns, ethnic makeup from census data, property-tax records, roads, railways, old district lines. “There’s only one limit to the kind of information you can use in redistricting—its availability."'

Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Feb 5, 2004)

I see my plain HTML-style links didn't take.

Here's the Toobin article: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?031208fa_fact

And here's Maptitude for Redistricting: http://www.caliper.com/Redistricting/state_edition.htm

Comment: Valdis (Feb 5, 2004)

Thanks for the nice write-up Lou! Prentiss, thanks for the well thought out follow-up!

You are absoultely right Prentiss that the vast majority of the electorate does not buy political books. But what if those that do are *opinion leaders*? An opinion leader is someone whose influence spreads further than their immediate circle of friends & family.

In the recent book, "The Influentials", *reading* is described as the main hobby of the influential individual! Hmmm...

Comment: John Baird (Feb 9, 2004)

A couple more red/blue maps. Not as wild as the maps you referenced Lou, but still interesting.

http://www.massinc.org/Commonwealth/new_map_exclusive/beyond_red_blue.html

http://www.mob-rule.com/counties/electoral.html
(watch out this map is a scroll monster)

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