If Trump Wins, Data Loses


Gage Skidmore | Flickr

Donald Trump won the primaries by thumbing his nose at political convention, including the idea — personified by the folks who steered President Obama’s two winning campaigns — that data science can be used to optimize a presidential campaign. If Trump wins tonight, that upset would also spell a profound defeat for this data-driven mindset (Backchannel).

For one thing, the polls and prediction sites run by numbers nerds all tell us that Trump’s headed for defeat. But proving them wrong is only the beginning of the challenge to a scientific, evidence-driven worldview that a Trump victory would represent.

On a deeper level, Trump has built his entire campaign around a refusal to engage with the norms of organization-building and data collection that leaders today in every realm — from business to government to nonprofits — take for granted. He said: I don’t need polls to ask people what they think. I don’t need ads or policy papers to tell people what I think. I don’t need to do the hard work of building a state-by-state team to get out the vote or to put ears on the street to take the pulse of the electorate. I can just be me! And that should be enough.

Everything we’ve learned about the use of data and the value of information that bubbles up from the bottom, Trump has rejected. Tonight we’ll learn whether he was right, or foolish.

Infrastructure: How Much Do the Parties Really Agree On?

Miraculously, both Republicans and Democrats and their candidates this year seem to agree that the U.S. needs to spend more on rebuilding its infrastructure — roads, bridges, rails, and so on. Interest rates are low and the more we spend today to fix things the less we’ll need to spend in the future.

The consensus, alas, may be an illusion (Five Thirty Eight). For one thing, Republicans want to cut spending elsewhere to pay for the work, while Democrats want to borrow the money. For another, political leaders like splashy new projects while policy wonks favor more prosaic but essential maintenance spending.

Politicians also promote short-term work that goose job numbers, while economists prefer long-term investing that boosts productivity. Since Congress has trouble agreeing even that the sky is up, we may get a lot less infrastructure than we think.

Seattle Weighs a Gigantic New Transit System

Seattle has dreadful traffic. Today the region will decide whether to approve ST3, an ambitious mass transit plan aimed at doing something about its daily gridlock. It’s one of the largest such projects in U.S. history (The Ringer). But will it work?

The usual skeptics oppose ST3 for the usual reasons (too expensive, government will screw it up, etc.). But there’s a novel argument against the plan: What about self-driving cars?

The ST3 vote also marks the first time a tech-forward community faces this intriguing question. Does the rise of the autonomous vehicle means the fall of the old-school transit system? No one knows for sure. But Seattle is uniquely positioned to understand the dangers of over-investing in transportation dead ends: The monorail it built in the ’60s is now forlorn and riderless, a municipal white elephant.

How Activist CEOs Could Be More Effective

Increasingly, businesses understand that their customers and employees expect them to behave as responsible citizens. But Duke economist Aaron Chatterji argues that too many corporate social responsibility undertakings are copycat efforts (Strategy & Business). Instead of duplicating one another’s projects for social good, Chatterji says, companies should think about doing good in their areas of expertise rather than just randomly donating to good causes; collaborating more with other companies or working through trade groups; and incubating projects that can then be handed off to government to scale up.

Chatterji studied the impact of activist CEOs and found that the old steer-clear-of-controversy wisdom no longer holds. Tim Cook’s stand for same-sex couple rights only enhanced Apple’s luster. Of course, engaging with social issues can also backfire, but today, executives really don’t have much choice.

This Guy Knows Why Every Vote Counts

On stage at the Web 2.0 conference in 2008, Al Gore explained the value of a few hundred votes that could have changed history. Elections really do have consequences, writes NewCo editor-in-chief John Battelle (NewCo Shift), explaining why we’re endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.

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