The Spectacle Blog

The ‘Vuja De’ Election

By on 8.2.08 | 6:07PM

One of my pet peeves is "experts" who try to analyze elections on the basis of trends, i.e., "In seven out of the past nine elections ...." etc. For example:

Forecasting models based on past elections predict Obama to get something like 53% of the two-party vote. . . . In short: macro conditions for the Republicans are not so bad as all that: Obama is a legitimate favorite but there's no reason to expect that there would be a landslide. Things are going about how one might suspect based on historical patterns of the economy, incumbency, and presidential elections.
Yeah, I know: What's past is prologue, those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it, yadda yadda. But one of the lessons of history is that sometimes "trends" don't forecast events. Unpredictable things happen, and to suppose that past trends can be projected flawlessly into the future as "forecasting models" is to ignore the potential influence of indvidual actors and unforeseen events.

The late comedian George Carlin once coined the term "vuja de" -- the opposite of deja vu. "Vuja de" is when you get the eerie feeling that nothing like this has ever happened before. This is the first election since 1952 when neither major party has an incumbent president or incumbent vice president as its presidential nominee. I can't even think of the last election to pit two incumbent senators against each other. Also John McCain will be 72 on Election Day, while his opponent . . . well, as Barack Obama likes to remind us, he doesn't look like the guys on the currency. Plus, Obama got the nomination by defeating the only former First Lady ever to run for president, in the closest primary campaign since Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976.

In short, there are many reasons to suspect that this will be an unpredictable election, in which the "forecasting models" aren't really helpful. It's the "vuja de" election.

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