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What to expect on Election Night? Nothing! Why it’s best to have no expectations at all

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

— Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (A Scandal In Bohemia)

Tomorrow evening is Election Night 2018, the zenith of the 2018 midterm election cycle. The cycle doesn’t truly end until all the ballots are counted and the results are certified, so it’s a mistake to characterize tomorrow as the end or the finale of a grueling election — it’s really the beginning of the end as opposed to the end.

The mass media, impatient for data to breathlessly report, is speculating (as usual) about what tomorrow night’s results could look like. This, in my view, is a very counterproductive exercise, particularly after the events of November 9th, 2016.

I salute every pundit out there who has courageously refused to offer or make a prediction about the results when prompted by a television anchor or radio host.

Here is the truth: no one knows what is going to happen tomorrow.

No strategist, no candidate, no prognosticator, and no pollster can see into the future. Anyone who claims to be a seer or a knower of events yet to transpire is not to be trusted, period. And public opinion surveys, while unquestionably useful, only give us an idea of where the electorate might be, not what will happen when an election is actually held. We have no definitive data until results start rolling in, and it is simply not a good idea to theorize before data is available.

Right now, we can draw some conclusions about turnout because we have definitive data from an election in progress. We know how many ballots have been returned in states like Washington and Oregon, for example, because county elections officials are regularly reporting those statistics. What we don’t have is data telling us how many voters voted for which candidates. That will become available starting tomorrow. Until we’ve got it, we’re all best served by having no expectations at all.

This is easier said than done, of course. We humans don’t like uncertainty; in fact, bad news has been demonstrated in research studies to be more palatable than uncertainty. But trying to fill the void of uncertainty with expectations is just not a good idea. It won’t move our country forward and it won’t make you feel better.

If you do not have to work at a day job tomorrow or can afford to take the day off, pick a campaign that you want to help and donate your time to that campaign.

Instead of watching cable news, obsessively checking Nate Silver’s blog on FiveThirtyEight, and scrolling through your news feed on Facebook, try getting a good night’s sleep and reserving your waking hours for productive activities.

For example:

  1. Eating a healthy breakfast (and grabbing lunch when midday rolls around)
  2. Meditating for at least a few minutes (put all screens out of reach!)
  3. Going for a walk, bike ride, or swim to get your blood circulating
  4. Contacting voters to ask if they voted (by phonebanking, texting, etc.)
  5. Sign waving with a campaign
  6. Providing rides to the polls or bringing a friend’s ballot to a drop box
  7. Helping people who are waiting in line to vote (if you’re not in the NW)

Notice these suggested activities have two themes: (1) Self care and (2) GOTV.

Give yourself time to think and to do useful work that you want to do. Recognize any feelings of anxiety, but don’t stew over those feelings. Own your time.

Don’t worry about Election Night — it’ll arrive soon enough. Take deep breaths, focus on work that will make a positive difference, and do that work.

Again, own your time. You don’t want to wake up on November 7th wishing you had done more for a campaign you care about. Facebook and Instagram can wait. The Internet will still be there when you’re done getting out the vote and taking care of yourself. Cable news and sites like FiveThirtyEight can spare your attention during these critical hours before the polls/drop boxes close.

If you walk your precinct and check up on your neighbors by going to their doors, you can do suggestions #3 and #4 simultaneously.

Remember, the true activist is a doer, not an observer. Our democracy is at stake in this election. Participate — don’t spectate. Getting out the vote will counteract any feelings of anxiety you have and leave you feeling satisfied instead.


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