Since we are now in the same calendar year as the next U.S. Presidential election, I’m finally motivated to say something about it that isn’t another harangue against the fruitless quest for a Presidential science debate. I’m pretty sure the best that group will be able to get is a questionnaire completed by the two major party candidates.
What I think is true for this election, as it was likely true for at least the last two Presidential elections, is that the technology issues that matter to the campaigns are not about how their candidates might govern, but about how they might get their support more efficiently. This list of issues highlighted by New Scientist magazine helps demonstrate my point. I’m not as persuaded about the campaign salience of either climate change or drug prices (the first is too entrenched to see much engagement between the parties, and the second is arguably dwarfed by the entire health care system as a topic of concern). But the other three topics – the reliability of polling, technology tools for mobilizing voters, and demographic changes – all highlight how technologies (and the associated science) are more important to the success of a campaign.
What does this mean for those interested in getting candidates interested in science and technology policy issues? I don’t know if this means anything new. For me the value of science and/or technology issues for campaigns has rarely been for their own sake, but in how they can play into other campaign issues that matter more to the candidates. While the anti-science cudgel has been wielded strenuously over the last 12 years or more, I don’t think it carries the impact that its wielders believe it does. Now more than ever it seems more likely to mobilize those that already had reasons to support a particular candidate and not useful in engaging either the mythical undecided voter or those who would otherwise support a candidate if not for a particular science or technology issue.