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Political observation 101

in search of monsters

Watching the Iowa caucus results Monday night, I found myself overcome with excitement when CNN made its first “CNN Projection.” Regardless of the result, or even which party they were referencing, the graphic and their little tune brought back countless memories of election nights past. It could mean only one thing: after years of speculation and polling, we finally have the makings of a cold, hard delegate count.

Regardless of the fact that primaries are, in fact, a relatively new American political phenomena, the Iowa caucus represents the start of the election season, arguably the crowning achievement of the American experiment.

Many people, on both sides of the aisle, have responded to the Iowa results with dismay, some even heralding the end of traditional politics with the ascension of certain orange-haired candidate. But fear not, for Bernie and the Donald in fact represent the enduring power of the American people. Regardless of their politics, they have demonstrated that big money and establishment elites do not control the political process as much as we feared.

After two elections in which candidates raised astounding amounts of money ($730 million by Obama in 2008 and $1.1 billion by Romney in 2012), the trend seemed unstoppable towards more and more money in presidential politics. Add on the Citizens United court case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that super PACs could spend unlimited amounts of money, and the political process seemed doomed for eternity.

But last night, Cruz, Trump and Sanders demonstrated that elites may not have as much influence as we thought four years ago. Cruz managed to win a plurality of Iowa voters without the support of the Republican establishment. Trump won 24.3 percent of the vote with no establishment support and no Super PAC money and Sanders almost won a majority of votes with little establishment support, no Super PAC money and no support from Wall Street. Even though these three candidates express vastly different ideas about politics, the role of government and social issues, I feel confident in the American system that candidates can still win support the old fashioned way.

In crafting this column, I intended to demonstrate the value that raw data and information can play in informing a political opinion. As we get deep into election season, I wanted to share with you some of the sources I use for political information on a regular basis. Political involvement has remained high for the last several years, and the sense of participation is palpable with such a diverse and divisive field of candidates. Below are some of my favorite websites for keeping up with the political world.

Polling: Iowa’s results show once again that polling is at best a very imperfect measurement of a candidate’s likelihood of success. Polls depend heavily on they way in which they are conducted, and they tend to inflate leads, but nonetheless they are our only source of raw data in the absence of an actual election. Real Clear Politics combines polls from several different sources and displays them as well as an average. The Huffington Post has a similar function. Both display national and state polls for both parties as well as issue specific polls like presidential job approval and satisfaction with the economy.

Primary/Caucus results and data: Politico has some great maps and diagrams of primary results and delegate counts. With their interactive program, you can map delegate counts for the rest of the primary season, and predict nomination and general election outcomes as well. The New York Times also has election results with data from the Associated Press.

Traditional News: Everyone from candidates to pundits to the general public loves to hate on the media. It has almost become a sort of national pastime. But for all their faults, the media could be a lot worse. From a historical perspective, newspapers in the “yellow journalism” age of the early 20th century towed the party line much more than they do today. And even though Fox and MSNBC clearly favor one party, we should be thankful that we live in a society where we can hear competing views in a public discourse. My point here is that we should not discount traditional media sources just because they lean to one side or the other. What we should avoid is only listening to one side or the other. Read the Wall Street Journal, but also read the New York Times. Watch Fox, but also watch MSNBC. They all encourage their audience to think, and that should be the end goal.

Other commentary: Aside from traditional news outlets, it can at times be helpful to read longer, more articulate articles. For those, I usually turn to The Atlantic or 538. Both offer commentary that is either unbiased, or relatively equal in volume between the two sides.

On campus: Finally, there are several organizations on campus that provide political information or opportunities for debate and discussion. Duke Political Review features articles on political issues and interviews with prominent politicians. The Alexander Hamilton Society promotes debate between two sides of various issues ranging from international relations to domestic politics. American Grand Strategy brings current and former government officials to campus to discuss (either in private meetings or public talks) issues related to American foreign policy and international relations. Countless other organizations work tirelessly to promote a dialogue on campus that allows us to develop our positions and our ability to articulate them.

Brian Hopkins is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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