News by the second

Charles Tatum: I can handle big news and little news. And if there’s no news, I’ll go out and bite a dog.

Ace in the Hole (1951)

(11 Nov, 2015) Today morning was all about the Bihar election results. The whole week (you can probably go back a whole month) was a build up to this occasion. I am not much of a political person and I don’t really care to follow it. But my mom sure is a political buff and so on Sunday morning she switched on the T.V. to follow the updates. She usually doesn’t turn on the T.V. in the mornings, so when she does, it means there is something important to her. This post isn’t about the results and who won or who lost and why. It’s about the drama in the build up to the final results.

The declaration of the election results is real high octane stuff albeit created, packaged and marketed by the press and they make sure you are hooked right through the day. I am not talking about just the declaration of the results but following the results as the votes are counted. The only other time I remember such excitement and following on a Sunday morning was, if India was playing a cricket match. The parallels are not a coincidence, as vote counting is almost like keeping track of a teams’ score. The scoring is a bit different in vote counting.

As you may know, the entire state is divided into several constituencies and the elections are contested individually in each of these constituencies. In the case of Bihar, there were a total of 243 constituencies with several political parties contesting. Now the press channels keep your scoreboard ticking right through the day as to which party is winning and where. The only catch and the main reason that makes the whole thing so exciting, is that the scoreboard is constantly updated as the votes are being counted and not at the end after all the votes have been counted. Also, remember the score isn’t the total number of votes but about the winners in each constituency. So to explain how this works; follow the below steps. To keep it simple we take only two parties contesting a single constituency. Now since we are dealing with a single constituency we can only have a score of 1-0, 0-0 & 0-1.

  1. First vote: party A. Score 1-0 (total votes 1-0).
  2. Second vote: party A. Score 1-0 (total votes 2-0).
  3. Third vote: party B. Score 1-0 (total votes 2-1).
  4. Fourth vote party B. Score 0-0 (total votes 2-2).
  5. Fifth vote party B. Score 0-1 (total votes 2-3).
  6. and so on it will go till all the votes are counted.

Forget the total votes; you don’t get to see that. The score is what you see and you can see how the score swings from one side to another. That swing will continue to happen till all the votes are counted. That’s where the excitement comes from, because what you think you have in basket can easily be taken away. It is even more exciting than the cricket match. Because unlike cricket out here, every run you score is like deducting a run from your opponent and adding it to your side. This little gimmick from the press is an absolute masterstroke. It keeps you riveted through the day. So, if you saw something like 112-131 (adds up to a total of 243 constituencies) at one particular point of the day, the ratios could be very different when you follow up later. Imagine this with more number of parties.

Now the press doesn’t stop the excitement with only this scoreboard. They have all sorts of graphs ranging from scatter plots to line graphs to bar charts to heat maps. Very similar to those that you see for cricket. They also have data analysts, journalists and a plethora of other people to make sure they are filling your eyes and ears. They will try and predict the results and they don’t mind predicting a new one every hour.

If it weren’t for the over enthusiastic press you would just hear or read of the results the next day and it would probably be a simple declaration of who won and who lost. Very boring indeed. You got to hand it to these guys; to them, this is their kinda high. And anyway if it weren’t this news they may just go out and bite a dog…..

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