Category Archives: John McCain

What McCain and Obama hostility means for Amtrak

Tim Siedell, the design guru behind the Bad Banana Blog, shared this “vote with your gum” poster that strikes a chord as Americans come to grips with who won and who lost. What we like about it is the pure form of collecting anger — pick what’s wrong, please. Very few organizations have a simple complaint-discovery system in place.

If you think about it, almost all marketing systems are designed to track responses — but not avoidances. How do you uncover the people who hate you and may pass that message on to others?

A few years ago we got a phone survey from Amtrak, after taking the Acela express train from New Haven to Washington D.C. on a regular basis. The research firm asked questions on food, comfort, prices, then ended the call. We gave Amtrak high marks in every category. What the survey forgot to ask was about the conductors, whom we found the rudest of almost any customer-facing personnel in the universe. You see, Amtrak has a simple business process problem — it expects passengers to close the overhead bins after putting luggage in them, but passengers are trained by airplanes to have flight attendants walk the aisles and close the bins for them. So instead of understanding this confusion, Amtrak conductors loudly chastise the train full of adults to snap to attention and close the bins — rudely.

As the train lurches forward, you can see business professionals and parents looking at each other in surprise — wow, those conductors sound hostile.

Amtrak, like many organizations, could use a simple tool to figure out who hates what, and perhaps it’s something simple it could fix. A little complaint discovery goes a long way.

McCain wins! And Obama wins! With Schrödinger’s cat.

Tomorrow both John McCain and Barack Obama will be victorious. Because for every possible world, another world is possible.

You see, we have this little problem in physics. When you measure small things, they move really fast — think you vs. bees — and the really tiny things such as photons (subatomic particles of light) act super strange. They can be in two places at once.

This little mind trip is called quantum mechanics, and it starts with a classic experiment. Head down to a physics lab and set up a light gun to shoot one itty-bitty particle of light (a single photon) at a time through a series of slits. The particle should hit the film on the other side randomly. But as you shoot a series of single photons through, first one, then another, each wavers on its way, as if a second photon in an alternate universe were acting on it at exactly the same time. Shoot a series and you get a classic wavelike interference pattern. Physicists believe the particle actually takes both paths at once — and only lands when you, the observer, observe it forcing the universe to land on one option.

You catch that? The universe is constantly splitting into options, and it only settles down when you pin your eye on it to measure where it is. Uh-huh. You really did go out with that hot guy/girl in high school, and if you can’t remember it, you’re just stuck in the wrong universe.

Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger pointed out the silliness of this subatomic duality with a thought experiment now called Schrödinger’s cat. In this, a subatomic particle could decay or not with equal odds, and its decay is tied to a vial of poison inside a box with a cat. If the particle moves the wrong way, the cat dies. But because subatomic particles do two things at once, the cat is both dead and alive inside the box at the same time — until you open and observe it. We think Schrödinger may have been smoking when he thought that one up.

We note all this because the U.S. electorate has become obsessed with polls lately, and the poll numbers have been all over the map. Obama is up, but McCain is closing fast. Early voters account for 30% of the electorate, leaning Democratic, but voters on Election Day may lean Republican. The strangest thing is both Obama or McCain could fairly win the election depending on the day the vote is taken (McCain would have won easily days after the RNC convention), and the randomness of Nov. 4 falling where it does seems a strange way to pick the future of our land. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics holds that both outcomes are true.

So it’s President McCain. And President Obama. In a world where you left high school at age 16 to become a famous rock star with that hot girl/guy in tow. Sleep tight, Americans, and see which universe you wake up in.

The power of finding and forwarding any video clip

Darryl Ohrt over at Brandflakes notes YouTube has launched a new feature allowing you to link to any point within a video. At first glance, this seems like just a clever new web trick of the week.

But consider the implications: Free-flowing video search will soon become video broadcast, where anyone can forward almost any video moment in history. Sure, there is demand for this. On the consumer side, there is huge pressure for music and video content to move to the free; MTV just launched MTVMusic, a service similar to Hulu with lots of free content. On the journalism side, FoxNews and CNN are this week scouring for stories on Obama and McCain, often resorting to seven-year-old clips to find new “news.” Everyone wants instant recall.

We’re not sure if instant retrieval of every clip is a good idea. Remember that bachelor party? Or the night on the town in college? Or the first letter-to-the-editor you wrote 20 years ago? Now imagine if those instances of youthful indiscretion were captured in video and could be pulled up at a moment’s notice. Kind of makes you feel sorry for anyone running for President.

Why political attack ads no longer scare you

The Wall Street Journal noted last week that 2008 may have more negative ads than any U.S. presidential contest in history, and yet few consumers seem to care. Why? The first rule of negative campaigning, WSJ suggests, is it must be about an issue that already worries voters. Both Obama and McCain have gone negative; Obama has tied McCain to the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s, and McCain (and Palin famously) have accused Obama of palling around with old terrorists.

Voters are scared, all right — about losing life savings and their jobs. In the limited attention span that Americans have for politics, they want to know who will solve their fears. Bringing up old radicals or scandals from decades ago just won’t stick, when the worrying rungs in our mental ladders are already full. The attack ads appear to have backfired most for McCain, who has been running more of them and still falling in the polls.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

The McCain tax-cut video

The latest TV spot from John McCain takes a different approach than Obama’s tax-cut calculator. Instead of any specific numbers, McCain lists several broad actions to stimulate the economy: cut taxes, reduce government spending, drill for oil in America, rebuild consumer savings, and create new jobs. It’s noteworthy that the background images evoke the White House.

The approach avoids specifics (as in Obama’s “95 percent of Americans” claim) to convey a simple, presidential brand. We’d say this will score well among business owners and conservative blue-collar types looking for a traditional presidential figure. With prediction markets giving Obama an 87.5% chance of winning the election, McCain has returned to his core.

The Obama tax-cut calculator

One of our first English teachers in high school said “show, don’t tell.” Obama is doing just this with a tax-cut calculator promoted on his main web site that allows U.S. voters to determine exactly how much they’d save under his tax plan vs. McCain’s. Nice use of numbers to try to overcome political arguments, and perhaps an approach your own business should emulate online if you’re selling anything in a down economy.

We couldn’t find a similar calculator on McCain’s site but did find videos outlining his own economic policy benefits with the vibe of a business presentation. Different audiences, different tactics.

Obama now advertising on Xbox 360

Advertising on video games is officially here. Barack Obama is placing ads on Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation racing games that appear in realistic environments such as billboards over the virtual roadways. EA spokeswoman Holly Rockwood reports the ads were sold by Massive, a gaming agency owned by Microsoft, and that both Obama and John McCain camps were approached but only Barack bit.

Game counsels such as the Xbox are tied into the web and allow some targeting innovations, such as using the gamers’ geographic location to post messages that could potentially say “go down the street to pick up your voter registration forms.” At first glance this skews toward youth … but consider that the average age of videogamers is now 33 and John McCain may be missing an opportunity.

Via Brier Dudley.

Prediction markets push McCain further down

Sen. McCain, meet artificial intelligence.

We’re researching a larger piece about prediction markets and it occurs to us that they provide a form of collective intelligence. Such markets — where thousands of people place bets on the outcome of the future — have remarkable accuracy. The Iowa Electronic Markets have predicted the outcome of the past presidential elections since 1988 with only 1.33% variance from aggregate results.

As of midnight last night, McCain’s odds of “winning it all” fell to 23.5% on the IEM exchange. The red line in the graph above shows the declining GOP fortune, tied to the economic tailspin. Bets are on the final mile of this election will get virulent.

Speaking of falling markets, McCain’s odds are now 29.5%

If you haven’t read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, all you need to know is that groups of people can be pretty accurate in their guesses. Ask a room of 100 people how many marbles are in a jar and every individual will miss, but average all the collective estimates and you’ll be right on the money.

One huge impartial group is guessing McCain’s odds of winning the presidency are now less than 30%.

The Iowa Electronic Markets is a prediction market experiment in which thousands of real people bet small sums of money on the outcomes of things such as the U.S. presidential election — and for years has achieved remarkable success. The idea is similar to betting on a horse race; the demand of people picking winners sets a price for the two horses, and those “odds” come extremely close to the actual outcome … since the group intelligence of all betters ends up predicting the real odds.

The IEM expresses odds in cents on the dollar, similar to percentage. After the bailout debacle yesterday, McCain’s odds in the “winner takes all” betting pool fell 17% from a recent high of 47 cents on Sept. 12 to 29.5 cents at midnight last night — or a 29.5% predicted chance of winning the election vs. Obama’s 70.3%. It’s noteworthy that these bets are not political opinions; they are the wisdom of people trying to make a profit by predicting the real outcome, which makes the guesses extremely accurate. Also note that this is not a guess on what percent of the voters will go for each candidate (which is much closer), but a “winner takes all” prediction on who, Obama or McCain, will win the entire election.

Crazy times. A lot could happen. Play this forward and you know that both Obama’s and McCain’s camps, who watch this type of thing, will be preparing bold chess moves to try to secure/dislodge the momentum. But bookmark IEM if you want to keep an eye on what the free market thinks about the U.S. political process.