I spent the better part of last week in my living room trying to make sense of the voting numbers and one thing became clear, I was still afraid of math. It doesn’t help that I have smart nerdy friends who kept calling to discuss probabilities based on the past opinion poll trends probably for the satisfaction of leaving me baffled. The routine things guys do like collecting available data on the English Premier League, analyzing it to produce a statistical model that can predict Arsenal’s chance of ever winning another trophy are Mandarin to me.
I am a words guy. I can plough through acres of text in search a single memorable phrase. But I can only recall three phone numbers off head and one would be my own. I still request for a piece of jotting paper every time my I.D no. is required, to be certain I have right sequence. I am not a great fan of opinion polls and statistics either. Every time some sharply dressed executive starts a power point presentation with the words, “According to the latest polls…” I tend to get very defensive. Opinion polls reduce one to the sum total of the data they avail and with that information some random guy, I have never met can claim knowledge of my wants and desires.
We live in the digital era and data is big business. Every time I use my phone, my ATM card, the internet or swipe a discount card at a supermarket till, I leave a valuable lifestyle data trail that is soaked up by the number crunchers. By examining my educational data they can tell where I shop and what marketing message I would respond to. The beer I drink will reveal what radio station I listen to and who my favourite female TV presenter is. By looking at a list of favourite ringtones, they can even predict what my political leanings would be. Data miners make a living selling these numbers which are then be used by politicians to sell their pitches, like Coke Cola sells soda.
The 2013 election was all about predictable voting blocks and two horses. What was supposed to be a reliable electronic vote tallying process got entangled in some complicated manual tabulations based on tribal alliances that only the mathematical inclined could make head or tail of. TV stations decided bring out an army of data-interpreting pundits to assist the mathematically challenged but they only managed to muddle the numbers further.
By day two of watching, the presidential contest numbers were reduced to a blur, percentages made no sense and all I was interested was in was the final result. The anxiety was drawn out; it turned to boredom that was quickly followed by a need for things to return back to normal.
As a university educated, middle class Kenyan male who loves beer and displays a healthy obsession for political intrigue, I may consider myself a unique individual but to some numbers guy behind a computer screen, I am just part of a demographic with a predictable behavioral pattern. All it takes is a single page questionnaire to foresee my voting preference. It is interesting then that we insist on calling it a secret ballot yet our voting trends are very predictable.
Image source: http://www.monitor.co.ug