Over the last year two major Hollywood movies that touch upon the use of big data and sophisticated data analysis hit the big screen. Which, of course, is two more than the mean (or was that the median). Moneyball shows how crunching numbers helps win baseball games and Margin Call shows how crunching numbers helps ruin financial firms. It’s kind of fun to see Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey stare at spreadsheets and nod approvingly while being explained some statistical subtleties. But watching someone stare at somebody else’s spreadsheets quickly becomes tiresome … which probably explains why Regressing with the Stars, Dotchart Master, and America’s Next Multilevel Model haven’t yet taken over reality TV.
So I was really disappointed to see that a third 2011 movie – The Ides of March – misses a golden opportunity to show the use of big data and sophisticated analysis for winning elections. The movie revolves around the primary presidential campaign of George Clooney (pardon, Governor Mike Morris) and the dirty politics behind the scenes. But for Hollywood in 2011, electioneering is still a game of horse-trading, media spinning and good-ol’ stabs in the back. All these things about election campaigns are probably true, but I was disappointed that there were no fancy graphs plotting approval ratings and prediction market quotes, no real-time election forecasts (or nowcasts) at which George Clooney to stare and nod approvingly, no GIS-supported campaign targeting, not even focus groups, twits, facebook pages, not to speak of google circles. Now, I have never been involved in an election campaign but I would have guessed that some of what political scientists are doing to analyze election outcomes and the effects of various elements of election campaigns has filtered through to campaign managers. But according to The Ides of March, electioneering is still stuck in the 1990-s. Someone get Hollywood a subscription to Political Analysis.
In fact, the only difference between The Ides of March and The War Room – the 1993 documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign – is that the actors in The Ides of March wear less hideous suits. And the intern is blond (just joking). Now when I think about it, the documentary The War Room actually packs more drama and suspense than the scripted The Ides of March. Which in fact is true about the documentary Inside Job vis-a-vis Margin Call as well.
P.S. My recent movie ratings can be found here.