2016 Senate Elections, a Recap

Last year, over at NathanSproul.com, I wrote a series on “Senate Races to Watch.” Now that the elections are way behind us, I offer a recap of who won.

Nathan Sproul – Senate Race To Watch in Ohio from Nathan Sproul on Vimeo.

The winner: Rob Portman

Nathan Sproul – Senate Race To Watch in Nevada from Nathan Sproul on Vimeo.

The winner: Catherine Cortez Masto

Nathan Sproul – Senate Race To Watch in Illinois from Nathan Sproul on Vimeo.

The winner: Tammy Duckworth

Nathan Sproul – Senate Race To Watch In Florida from Nathan Sproul on Vimeo.

The winner: Marco Rubio

Republished from NathanSproul.org.

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Technology Created Social Media Bubbles. Can it Burst Them Too?

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When social media was first popularized, not long after the rise of the Internet itself, it seemed like a great equalizer. In the physical world, you barely rub shoulders with people that look and think different from you–online, there are endless possibilities to expose one’s self to new lines of thought. The ability to connect with people spanning nations and continents, in theory, could broaden the horizons of everyone with a router. So why doesn’t it?

Theory is always rosier than practice, and in practice, social media has become a bubble more insular than we could have imagined. Rather than pushing boundaries, our social feeds generally serve to validate our pre-existing outlooks. This happens without our even knowing it, and because it’s so comfortable, it slid under the radar for a while.

Of course, the makers of Facebook and Google probably weren’t intending to create echo chambers over the course of their sites’ evolution. Social media bubbles came with good intentions: technology got smart enough to learn what users like, and thus, serve more of it to them. It works like this: you input your information, your interests, your friends, and begin to follow and like pages that appeal to you. Algorithms take note of these factors and filter your feed to reinforce your ideal world.

To a great extent, this is practical. If the computer knows you’re married, it’s not going to target engagement ring ads at you; if you’re 60+, Buzzfeed probably isn’t for you. Algorithms help match people with pages, services, and brands that will be useful to them specifically. In doing so, it blocks out the things they don’t like: public figures, news articles, and sponsored advertisements, for example. From a business perspective, content is wasted if the wrong demographic consumes it.

The real problem emerges when it comes to politics, diversity of thought, and news, all of which are interconnected. Social media bubbles first came into spotlight after the Brexit, when Britain voted to separate from the EU to the surprise of many. After Donald Trump’s unprecedented victory here in the US, it became even clearer that social media bubbles polarize voters. This explains why most left-of-center voters thought the president-elect didn’t have a chance–even the pundits! Democrats were only getting one half of the conversation, just as Republicans were. This fact served to polarize each side and create an inflated sense of confidence in one’s outlook, also known as confirmation bias.

It’s hard to imagine what social media would look like without these bubbles, especially since they are self-perpetuating. But if technology could create polarizing content filters, certainly it could also offer a solution. For those of us willing to get uncomfortable, manual fixes do exist. On Facebook, liking pages and news sources with opposing politics can be the first step. In order to see more content, you’ll have to like things you disagree with — so you may want to change your settings to make your ‘likes’ private, if you’re worried you’ll give off the wrong impression.

Perhaps the utilization of “like” in order to follow something is one of Facebook’s biggest flaws when it comes to filter bubbles. It’s counter-intuitive–and maybe a little embarrassing–for a self-proclaimed conservative to ‘like’ Hillary Clinton on Facebook. But isn’t it important to know what you’re opposing inside and out, if you want to be truly informed? Shouldn’t there be a way to do this without having it publicly define your taste?

To take things to the next level, a service developed by MIT burst the filter bubble by taking the conversation offline. The app matches you with a platonic lunch date that you are likely to get along with personally, but differ with ideologically, socioeconomically or demographically. The app’s creators realized that the key to stimulation and interest is not always comfort–sometimes it can and should be the exact opposite.

Along with Mounia Lalmas and Daniel Quercia, both at Yahoo Labs, Eduardo Graells-Garrido at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona created another solution: a recommendation engine that points ideologically opposed Twitter users at one another based on non-political preferences.

Perhaps social media websites will take these methods into consideration by developing algorithms that expose and humanize opposing viewpoints, or maybe we’ll have to take it into our own hands. Whatever the case, realizing that there is a bubble is kind of like realizing there is a Matrix. Once we know we’re in it, our ability to escape it is that much more likely.

Originally published on nathansproul.com

Nathan Sproul Presents GOP Up-and-Comers: Mia Love

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After being named one of the 25 most influential women of the GOP in 2013 by Newsweek, Mia Love is doing her best to become a household name in American politics. And, with a track record of historic moments and success at various levels, she appears to be succeeding.

Love, who is currently a member of the U.S. House from Utah, was born to Haitian parents in Brooklyn, New York in 1975, two years after her parents left Haiti in an attempt to escape harsh political repression. Love’s parents hoped to provide for their daughter a better experience and upbringing than their home country could offer. Eighteen years later, Love excelled through school and was offered a partial college scholarship to the University of Hartford.

Love got her start in politics when she was named to the Saratoga Springs City Council in Utah in 2003. Almost immediately, she turned around what had been a faltering and flailing economy, pointing it in the right direction and eventually helping the city secure the highest possible bond rating. Just a few years later, she was elected Mayor, and shortly after decided to run for congress.

After losing her first bid for congress in 2012 by mere fractions of a percentage point, Love ran again in 2014, this time winning the Republican nomination and eventually the spot in the House for Utah’s 4th district. By winning, Love became the first ever African American Republican female in congress. She hasn’t stopped making splashes in the GOP since.

“It’s really nice when you feel like you’re working hard to move the needle and somebody isn’t just giving you something,” Love told Deseret News. “You’re really having to chase and earn that vote.”

Despite criticism from Doug Owens, her Democratic opponent in the 2014 election whom she beat by about 4,000 votes, Love has continued to make motions to improve the communities in Utah. In 2016, Love made a tangible impact when she passed her first bill through congress, which helped raise the limit on the size of community banks, effectively making more credit available to the community.

Love will face off against Owens again in the 2016 election, seeking to retain her position in congress where she will undoubtedly continue to gain traction within the GOP and make history for the state of Utah.

Originally published on nathansproul.com

Nathan Sproul Presents GOP Up-and-Comers: Brian Sandoval

nathan-sproul-on-brian-sandoval

In most walks of life, being labeled as an “up and comer” at age 53 might seem a bit questionable. Fifty-three is, after all, closer to the average age of retirement in the United States than it is to the age one would normally associate with a rising star.

But Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval is bucking that trend, quickly becoming a person to watch in the GOP as his influence continues to augment year after year.

Sandoval’s background is impressive, to say the least.

His start came in 1998 as a member of the Nevada Assembly, where he sponsored 14 bills that later became laws. Sandoval also served as a district judge before running for Governor of Nevada in 2010, which he won, sweeping every county in the state. His 2014 reelection was won with similar ease, winning 90% of the Republican vote in the primary, then 70% in the general election.

Sandoval has been wildly successful in almost everything he’s attempted in the world of politics. When justice Antonin Scalia passed away suddenly earlier this year, Sandoval was floated as a possible replacement in the Supreme Court. This consideration speaks volumes to the likeability of Sandoval as a politician, regardless of what side of the political spectrum one falls on. With his relatively moderate stance and good public standing, many suspected that Sandoval represented the best chance that President Barack Obama had to have his SCOTUS selection confirmed. And while Obama eventually chose Merrick Garland, the consideration of Sandoval from a Democratic president speaks volumes to Sandoval’s likeability and overall success in the positions he’s held.

The consideration for Supreme Court nomination thrust Sandoval into the national spotlight somewhat abruptly. While some politicians fight for their time in the limelight, Sandoval actively avoids it. That strategy has seemingly paid off; he is an almost universally-liked member of the GOP. His 62% approval rating as reported by Morning Consultant was 8th best in the country.  When budgetary concerns arose in 2011, he rejected a pay raise and offered to cut back his own salary if necessary.

Sandoval was named as one of seven political “rising stars to watch” in 2016 by NBC. Though he was not, as some anticipated, chosen as the Vice President nominee for the GOP, Sandoval’s potential for political prosperity remains almost limitless.

Originally published on nathansproul.com