Cognitive diversity and the 2008 US election

Originally posted as a comment about The Day After.

There’s an interesting thread started on Feb 8 in the One Million Strong for Barack group on Facebook, How many Political Cards Hillary has played and whats more to come? I went back and looked at it today seeing how accurate it was; here was my summary:

This is a really interesting thread to read a month later. Of the Clinton kitchen sink that got her a tie for March 4, Sandeep flagged the “representing Obama as Muslim” card, others brought up “experience” and “ready to lead on day 1”, and the “victim card” (which thanks to SNL turned the press into a poodle for a few days)

We missed a few:

– the “inaccurate leaks from conservative foreign governments” card [NAFTA-gate]
– the Rush Limbaugh card [Republican crossover voters]
– the “help from McCain” card [his timely attacks on exactly the same issue Clinton was focusing on]

I don’t think anybody else predicted these either, so on the whole, I bet the analysis in this thread was as good as just about any other analyses out there — in the press or blogosphere.

Very impressive!

In other words, the 22 group members who posted in the thread seem to have predicted things at least as well as the pundits out there — probably better than most.

It’s great example of the role of cognitive diversity, which underlies wisdom of crowds effect: diverse groups doing a better job than experts. Scott Page’s work provides a good framework for understanding of the vital role that diversity plays in a situation like this, and his recent book The Difference is a very readable discussion; Adam has a good short summary on Emergent Chaos.

The Obama campaign is benefiting hugely from its diversity and resulting wisdom of crowds; if you look at its supporters, you see rainbows in one dimension after another: race, age (including those too young to vote), religion, class, language, gender, geography (including internationally) …. It’s a huge advantage over the Clinton campaign and an even bigger one over McCain. This implies that the Obama campaign in generally will do better on their predictions and their performance. Sure enough, the February spreadsheet is an extraordinarily accurate “we’ll do at least this well” prediction, and the campaign has consistently outperformed.

Have any of the analysts, reporters, or bloggers reporting the election picked up on this yet?

And for those who wonder why I’m so enthusiastic about the One Million Strong group on Facebook: it’s the most diverse group of its size of Obama supporters working together that I know of. True, it’s online-only, so people without access to technology aren’t involved; and I’ve seen relatively few over-50s. But geography, race, language, gender, religion (Muslims, Jews, Christians including evangelicals and pro-lifers for Obama, Buddhists, secularists), field and major …

It’s pretty astonishing — and incredibly exciting to be a part of it!

Update, 3/24: Tim Leberecht’s excellent A New (Obama) Brand of Politics: Yes, We Can…Remix America! touches on some of these issues from a branding perspective.

Update, 3/27: presenting Matt Adler, now delegate to the Democratic National Connection from the 3rd Congressional District of Missouri — with the help of Facebookers. Also, details on the One Million Strong for Barack group’s contribution to getting a story covered on Wired, CSPAN, and the Nation. About that “consistently outperforming …”