In Obama’s cave

In Book VII of the Republic Plato’s Socrates presents the Allegory of the Cave. In the Allegory of the Cave, Socrates portrays men mistaking the shadows on the wall for the real deal. The philosopher emerges from the cave to see the forms casting those shadows.

Team Obama inverted the allegory. They called the den of their data analysts the Cave, but the men of the Cave had a handle on the political reality of 2012. The rest of us contended with shadows, in some cases shadows thrown up by the men of the Cave themselves.

Joshua Green has previously reported on the science behind those Obama campaign emails. Using rigorous trial-and-error methodology, the men of the Cave perfected the science of the campaign’s fundraising emails. If there is such a thing as political science, they were practicing it. In this inversion of the Allegory of the Cave, however, the philosophers lead the rest of us astray, or at least enough of us to win the election.

Green now returns to give us another view from inside Obama’s Cave. Green provides a chart based on Cave data showing how the Obama campaign’s swing state model performed against the Gallup poll over the last several months of the 2012 campaign, based on a nightly survey of 10,000 people. Green comments:

Gallup indicates that the selection of Paul Ryan as running mate hurt Mitt Romney, but Obama’s model really doesn’t; Gallup suggests, incredibly, that the “47 Percent” flap hurt Obama and moved the race back in Romney’s direction; and, biggest of all, Gallup shows a huge drop for Obama—really, an outright collapse—after the debacle of the first debate. At the time, Obama’s staffers were claiming to the press that, yes, their internal numbers showed the president’s weak showing had hurt his support, but that the fall was brief and quickly stabilized right about where his level of support had been all along. As a reporter, you never know if you’re just being spun when campaigns tell you this, because even if they really were collapsing the way Gallup suggests, they’d probably lie about it and say everything was fine, so as not to feed the panic. Based on th[e] data, though, the Obama campaign looks to have been telling the truth.

With Green, I think the data are of interest regardless of issues that one might raise and I want to post the chart without further comment. Here it is:

UPDATE: I’m afraid my account of the Allegory of the Cave is not exactly fine tuned. A philosophy professor writes that when corrected, the idea of inversion doesn’t work:

It’s not that the Forms outside the cave cast the shadow on the wall inside the cave. Those shadows are produced by one group of individuals in the cave who hold up artifacts in front of the light of a fire in the cave. The other group of individuals, the prisoners, are facing the wall upon which the shadows are projected, and their heads are shackled so they cannot turn around. The artifacts are meant to be contrasted with the what is real (the forms), and the fire, which the shadows and the artifacts depend on to be seen, is to be contrasted with the sun, which provides the condition for seeing the forms. The philosopher is neither the prisoner who only knows the shadows or the individual projecting these shadows.

I’m afraid I need to return to the text. In the meantime, I regret my confusion on this point.

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