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September 23, 2017

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US elections herald new world order of smartpolitics

B arack Obama may be the biggest political victor of the 2012 U.S. elections, but in the long term the true winners of the historic polls may be people like statistician Nate Silver and Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina, and the new world order they represent. Let's for now call it smartpolitics. "Smart" here is not a reference to intelligence but rather smartphones.

Firstly, the status quo didn't win the elections. While nothing apparently changes in Washington after the voting — Obama stays in the White House, the Republicans keep the House of Representatives and the Democrats retain the Senate — the political momentum has completely changed. The tactics of political brinkmanship that served the Republicans well in the past few years can no longer work. The GOP now needs to try to work with the president, especially on issues such as tax and immigration, or risks alienation in a changing America where its traditional support base is shrinking demographically.

The 2012 elections, however, were not merely a showdown between the donkey and the elephant. They were also a match between the old world order of big money, intuition-based leadership and top-down management against the new one of social networking, data-based decisions and crowdsourcing.

Nate Silver, a self-professed geek and the author a popular blog (now owned by the New York Times), is unquestionably the winner of this election season for predicting a major electoral vote win for Obama against most pundits' forecasts that the presidential poll result would be a toss-up. The number-cruncher was ridiculed for denying popular judgment and for being biased but he has had the final laugh. He correctly predicted the presidential election results for all 50 states. By making famous pundits look like the antiquated scouts in the movie "Moneyball," Silver heralds the new norm of data-based and scientific political analysis at the expense of the gut-feeling approach of political punditry.

But perhaps nothing reflects the defeat of the old order in the 2012 elections better than Karl Rove's election-night meltdown on Fox News. The influential Republican guru managing a multimillion dollar war chest challenged live on TV the Republican-leaning cable channel's (correct) call of Ohio for Obama. Pundits were quick to point out that in addition to hoping for a repeat of 2000 (when Rove's candidate George W. Bush won the presidential election after some channels called it for his opponent), Rove was simply in denial of the fact that he had spent US$325 million of wealthy donors' money for nothing.

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