james debate
james debate

Thursday 29 December 2022

debbie debbies end of year awards 2022 best films music

You all know the drill by now. Break out your finest evening wear and your dancing shoes, because tonight we are all going to the big show with VIP tickets. It's the Debbie Awards, the traditional end of year showstopper that celebrates the good, the bad, and the downright dazzling of the year gone by. 

2022 was a year of highs and lows. Family health scares, war, national mourning, but on the other hand weddings, babies (not mine), family health recoveries, and more memories forged together as the world continued to reopen and return to normal. 2022 was a year of great scientific and technological accomplishment, a year of renewed creative output, and a return of spectacle as live events moved from online streams back into the real world. So get comfy, break out the bubbles, let's settle in for the night and get into this.

Without further ado, let the curtain fall upon 2022 as we begin our definitive review of the past 12 months:

2022 Debbie Awards

Cinema & TV

1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year 
Winner: The Orville (Hulu/Disney+)
Runner Up: Stranger Things (Netflix)

best tv show 2022 seth macfarlane orville star trek disney hulu

The return of The Orville has been a long time in the making. Originally slated for release in 2020, the show's third season has been beset by delays as a result of the pandemic and a switch in production from Fox to Hulu/Disney. But after three rough years, it's back and it's fair to say that the wait has been worth it. Backed by the considerable financial heft of Disney and free from the commercial considerations that come with cable TV, this new season is the most narratively ambitious and creatively daring to date. Everything about The Orville season 3 is bigger and better than ever and the result is some of the most thought provoking and entertaining sci-fi we've seen in years.

2022 also marked a strong return for old Ephemeric favourite Stranger Things. Don't be fooled by the fact that this is the first entry in the series not to win a Debbie, this is the strongest season of the Duffer Brothers' joyous horror nostalgia-fest since the first one. A thrilling 9 episode arc that raises the stakes, meaningfully expands the world of Hawkins, and perfectly sets up the series for its final curtain next year.

2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year 
Winner: Severance (AppleTV+)
Runner Up: This is Going to Hurt (BBC)

best new tv show 2022 severance apple ben stiller adam scott this is going to hurt bbc adam kay ben whishaw

Increasingly, this is becoming one of the most competitive categories of Debbie, with the streaming era's considerable expansion in both the quality and quantity of TV showing no signs of abatement. This year saw Apple continue their remarkable run of quality with Severance, a dark comedy/psychological thriller from Ben Stiller, of all people. Severance is a brilliantly audacious satire of corporate greed that in equal parts allures with its mystery and entertains with its charming absurdity.

This was a very difficult runner up to pick, with many worthy series excluded, but ultimately I'm going with This is Going to Hurt. This is the BBC's adaptation of the disturbing, yet hilarious memoir by former doctor Adam Kay (who you may also recognise as one half of the music-comedy duo Amateur Transplants, creator of the London Underground song). The TV series is fittingly uncompromising. Perhaps one of television's best ever depictions of life as a doctor.

3. The Debbie for Film of the Year 
Winner: The Banshees of Inisherin
Runner Up: Living

best film 2022 banshees of inisherin martin mcdonagh brendan gleeson colin farrel living bill nighy kazuo ishiguro

Martin McDonagh is a writer/director with a very specific brand attached to his name. Acclaimed though his work may be, one can generally expect pitch black comedy combined with pronounced, sometimes cartoonish, violence. His latest, The Banshees of Inisherin, is a tale of two feuding friends on a quiet, fictional Irish isle, loosely allegorical of the Irish civil war. This film marks something of a departure from the McDonagh trope, being that it is neither particularly violent nor as riotously funny as some of his other work. It might also be his best film to date. Blessed with sharp writing that blends just enough humour with tragedy, stunning performances throughout (both leads could easily lay a claim to Oscars this year), and probably the most spectacular visual work of any McDonagh film to date. It may be a bit of a slow burn, but it is a film most worthy of your time.

Coming in second this year is a film that I suspect will fly under the radar of many this year, Living. The newest film from Oliver Hermanus, penned by award winning author Kazuo Ishiguro, adapted from a Kurosawa film which was itself adapted from a Tolstoy novella. So there's a lot of pedigree here. It's difficult to describe what makes this film as special as it is. The story of a man coming to terms with terminal illness is, on the surface, intolerably sad, but the way the story is told is charming and strangely humorous to the point that it never feels like a drag, the entire production anchored by an all time great Bill Nighy performance.

4. The Debbie for Variety Show Host of the Year 
Winner: David Letterman, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction

david letterman next guest needs no introduction netflix zelensky late show talk show host of the year 2022

The elder statesman of talk show hosts returns. David Letterman has been doing his select series of Netflix interviews on and off for a few years now, but with its fourth season My Next Guest Needs No Introduction has delivered some of its best material yet. A special interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in particular, caps off an impressive series of in depth and uncompromising discussions.

5. The Debbie for Rising Star of the Year 
Winner: Paul Mescal

paul mescal normal people aftersun breakthrough star of the year 2022

Not the flashiest actor in the film industry, but one who has been quietly working, putting together an increasingly impressive filmography, in addition to a strong career on the stage. These last few years, in particular, have seen a remarkable rise to prominence for Paul Mescal. Many will recognise Mescal from the recent TV adaptation of Normal People, for which Mescal received both BAFTA and Emmy nominations last year. 2022 will have seen his name reach an even wider audience, starring in one of the year's best films Aftersun, as well as the sleeper indie hit God's Creatures. One imagines his agent will be very busy reviewing offers in 2023.

6. The Debbie for Web-Show of the Year 
Winner: Tifo Football

debbies youtube webshow video blog channel of the year tifo qatar world cup 2022

Tifo Football is not a new series. The video-content arm of The Athletic (itself arguably the sport's best publication) has put out a steady stream of entertaining football-related videos, typically to explain the finer points of football tactics, history, as well as analysis of specific teams, players and strategies. In 2022, the channel took a notable step further into the more in depth analytical format, culminating in a fantastic series explaining the history of the Qatar World Cup in the run up to this year's tournament. This is top tier content and that series in particular is essential viewing for anyone seeking a greater understanding of why Qatar 2022 was such a big deal.

Music, Art & Theatre

7. The Debbie for Theatrical Production of the Year 
Winner: The 47th (the Old Vic)
Runner Up: Jerusalem (Apollo Theatre)

47 47th old vic trump mike bartlett king charles best theatre 2022

It's been a strong year for the stage as theatres resume regular operations and the various cancelled productions of 2020/21 make their long-awaited release. Mike Bartlett is a playwright best known for 2017's King Charles III, a (remarkably prescient) imagining of the day when then Prince Charles would ascend to the throne, and the Shakespearean power struggle that would ensue, written appropriately in blank verse and old English. With his new play, The 47th, Bartlett has pulled the same trick, but this time in imagining a hypothetical second Trump run for the White House. This too is written in the classical style, but whereas King Charles III used this in a fairly straight-faced telling of a Shakespearean-style drama, The 47th uses this to great comedic effect. The result is a satire for the ages, anchored by one of the best yet depictions of Trump himself by Bertie Carvel.

In second place we have an old production, but one that has made a comeback in 2022. Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem originally graced the stage back in 2009 and received widespread acclaim, in particular, for the performance of Mark Rylance. 2022 saw a revival of the production, with Rylance returning to the role after more than a decade. Fortunately the touch hasn't been lost in the interim and this is unmissable theatre. A second chance for those who did not catch it the first time.

8. The Debbie for Album of the Year 
Winner: Once Twice Melody - Beach House
Runners Up: Blue Rev - Alvvays, The Car - Arctic Monkeys

beach house once twice melody alvvays blue rev car arctic monkeys best album 2022

Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House win 2022 in music with their grandest work to date, Once Twice Melody. Known for their easy listening style and lush, intimate soundscapes, their latest is bold, epic and "big" from the very first track. The music retains their trademark dreamy, ambient style but with an added drive that allows the music to sink its teeth into the listener in a way that their earlier work rarely did. The duo of title track Once Twice Melody and Superstar is an opening salvo that any band would envy, and it follows quickly with Runaway, Over and Over, and possibly the most impressive track on the album, New Romance. It's a work of greater ambition that we've seen to date and one that establishes them firmly among the upper echelons of musicians working today. 

Another band hitting new heights in 2022 is Canadian indie pop group Alvvays (not to be confused with the similarly v'd Chvrches). This melody-focused group plays like a mix of classic Canadian indie pop with a touch of British rock. Their latest release, Blue Rev, is being viewed as something of a benchmark in the scene. An uplifting record of fun and energising tracks that each stand out as memorable in their own right, from the gauzy bedroom pop Pharmacist, to the jangly, Murakami-inspired After the Earthquake, and the delightfully animated (by ConcernedApe, creator of Stardew Valley, no less) Many Mirrors. This album is just hit after hit, a great record.

For our second runner up, we have the latest from Sheffield rockers Arctic Monkeys, The Car. This album continues Arctic Monkeys' recent evolution into more retro-tinged lounge rock, heavily influenced by the likes of Burt Bacharach, Steely Dan, and, in particular, David Bowie. Alex Turner's songwriting is as sharp as ever. Perhaps not quite as lyrically focused as their last album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, but with a more consistent musical flow and some memorable tracks, including the wonderfully cinematic There'd Better Be a Mirrorball, the funk-laden Thin White Duke-era Bowie-tinged I Ain't Quite Where I think I Am, and the almost mystical mid-album crooner Body Paint.

9. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year 
Winner: Angels & Queens Part I - Gabriels
Runner Up: Quiet the Room - Skullcrusher

angels queens part gabriels toledo how ends quiet room skullcrusher best debut album 2022

2022 has also been a very strong year for new musical artists. For the first time in a long while I really struggled to decide on an eventual winner between a handful of very impressive debuts. Ultimately, I had to go with Angels & Queens Part I, the debut LP from California trio Gabriels. Soul revivalists with an edge, a frontman with a dazzling voice, and consistently strong songwriting that is as comfortable dabbling in the realms of funk and jazz. It's impressive how fresh this sounds, despite its deep ties to nostalgia and history, with key tracks like Angels & Queens and If You Only Knew.

For the runner up position, we have the very inaptly named Skullcrusher and her debut album Quiet the Room. Despite how the name sounds, Skullcrusher is, in fact, a musician with a talent for crafting delicate, multi-instrumental folk songs. For the past two years she has impressed with a series of EP releases and her debut does not disappoint. The standout track here is Whatever Fits Together, a gorgeous and otherworldly slice of melancholy. 

10. The Debbie for Song of the Year 
Winner: Zenith - Kavinsky
Runners Up: New Romance - Beach House, Wo Bisch du Hut z Nacht - Patent Ochsner

zenith kavinsky drive nightcall beach house new romance patent ochsner best song 2022

After years of radio silence, it feels strange to say that we have a new album from French DJ Kavinsky, yet here we are. His follow up album may not be the cultural touchstone of its predecessor, but it is still very impressive work. The pinnacle of the record has got to be second single Zenith, a veritable masterpiece of atmospheric composition with its vintage, cinematic instrumentals and melancholic vocals. Kavinsky is just great. He takes Blade Runner, Terminator, and everything dark and stormy about the 1980s and distils it into its pure musical essence. If ever a song could be described as sounding like a late night glass of fine scotch, it's this.

For our first runner up, we have the standout track from our album of the year winner, Beach House. New Romance is an immaculately formed slice of indie pop. A nostalgic backdrop of synth strings against driving piano keys bring to life a wistful, angsty ode to the confusion of young romance. It is a standout from what is already a top collection of songs.

And lastly we have (I believe) a first for the Debbie Awards, a top three placing for a song not sung in the English language. Patent Ochsner is Switzerland's greatest musical export. This year the band released two new tracks, one of which is pretty special. I'll admit, the finer points of Swiss German are lost on me, but musically, Wo bisch du hut z Nacht is a classic. Starting off as jazzy, low-fi affair before swelling into a Paul McCartney-esque piano anthem. Music doesn't only come from the UK or America, and this is one of the year's standout tracks.

11. The Debbie for Live Concert of the Year 
Winner: First Aid Kit

first aid kit best live performance concert 2021

There are few things that so appropriately celebrate the fact that we can go out and do things together again than live concerts. You can watch someone perform online all you like, but it's never going to be the same as seeing it in person. First Aid Kit are a band very much worth making that extra effort to see in person. The Swedish indie-folk duo are excellent songwriters in general, and in 2022 released another very strong album in Palomino. But their live performance elevates the music to the next level. Up close and personal, you can feel the detail in the music in a way that isn't as easily accessible from a studio recording. Those luscious, iconic, vocal harmonies resonate like never before. The two sisters also have great personality and chemistry on stage, which does much to bring their work to life in an entirely new way.

12. The Debbie for Art Exhibition of the Year 
Winner: The Bushwick Collective

bushwick collective graffiti best art exhibition 2022

For this Debbie I'm thinking a little bit outside of the box. Partly because I haven't seen any museum exhibition this year that really blew me away, partly because The Bushwick Collective is really pretty damn awesome. Located, surprisingly, in Bushwick, New York, the Collective is effectively an open-air gallery covering an entire neighbourhood, featuring extraordinary building-sized murals, graffiti and other artwork. It really is a sight to behold, and as a living, breathing artistic space the work is constantly evolving. Last year marked the 10 year anniversary of the collective, so there has never been a better time to visit.

13. The Debbie for Book of the Year 
Winner: Sea of Tranquility - Emily St. John Mandel

sea of tranquility emily st john mandel station eleven glass hotel best novel book 2022

Emily St. John Mandel is on a roll at the moment, with acclaimed novels The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven out in the last few years, one of which has been turned into a hit TV series, the other of which is about to be. In 2022, Mandel released her latest novel, Sea of Tranquility, and it's a pretty exceptional read. An intelligent, but page-turning adventure, written with wit and a cinematic sense of fun. Sea of Tranquility takes readers across time and space that nimbly balances its ambitious scope with intimate character-focused storytelling. It's impressive how far out there Mandel is able to go with some of her concepts without ever alienating the reader or feeling like its getting into too niche a genre, but here she gets the balance just right. The highlight of 2022's reading list and a novel that's hard not to enjoy.

Business & Technology

14. The Debbie for Scientific/Technological Breakthrough of the Year 
Winner: NIF achieves net energy gain fusion reaction

nif ignition fusion energy power breakthrough nuclear james webb space telescope best important technological breakthrough 2022

It's easy to be skeptical when the media publishes a story about some "breakthrough" with headlines of typically breathless hyperbole, particularly when it concerns that holiest of grails, fusion energy. But in this case, the hype is warranted. After decades of work, false dawns, and a target that's always just tantalisingly out of reach, in 2022 the National Ignition Facility in Livermore California finally achieved the unachievable, a fusion reaction with a net gain in energy. 

For those who don't appreciate the background here, fusion energy is the energy that is produced when two lighter atoms fuse to form a heavier atom, releasing energy in the process. Hypothetically, a fusion reaction can produce more energy than is required to trigger the reaction. This is the process which drives the sun and stars, the generators of most of the universe's energy and matter. To be clear, this is not a promise of unlimited energy, nothing is unlimited. But its fuel source, deuterium, is so plentiful that it could potentially provide all the clean energy mankind will need for billions of years. Not unlimited, but in practical terms it may as well be. By managing to generate a net gain of energy, the NIF has demonstrated for the first time that the fusion energy process can be feasibly recreated here on Earth. After so many years of hope, that dream of energy abundance may finally be within our grasp, and it will absolutely change the world.

15. The Debbie for Videogame Console of the Year
Winner: Playdate

playdate lucas pope obra dinn papers please best console for gaming 2022

The gaming industry as a whole tends to obsess over technology, whether it was the bit-count back in the day, or processing power today. But time and time again we see that the best gaming experiences tend to come from good design rather than simple horsepower. When I first heard about the Playdate, I was skeptical. This is an unashamedly nostalgic 1-bit handheld system with the main hook being that once every two weeks it will download a new game, giving its owner a constantly changing library of experiences. But it's hard not to be won over by this charming piece of hardware. The build quality is excellent, for a start. The new "crank" control mechanic is used in innovative ways. The fortnightly "surprise" new game is a delightful treat. But above all, the games themselves are generally pretty clever, with some of the industry's best indie designers putting out content (most prominently, Lucas Pope of Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn fame). This really is a delight, perfect for travelers and commuters, but also fully recommended for anyone who wants to play something a little bit different.

16. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year 
Winner: Pentiment (PC, Xbox)
Runners Up: Strange Horticulture (PC, MacOS, Switch)
Honourable Mention: Unpacking (PC, MacOS, Linux, Switch, Xbox, Playstation)

pentiment obsidian strange horticulture high on life pc console game of the year 2022

As a quick foreword: this really has been a weird year for gaming. For whatever reason, it's clear that this industry is taking longer than most to recover from the pandemic, and the result is that most of the year's biggest releases (an astonishing 12 out of 15 of this year's Hot List) have seen delays into 2023. For this reason, I expected this award to be a difficult one to decide. However, in spite of the difficulties, 2022 did turn out to be an excellent year for indie games, as well as games that aren't really indie but feel like they are. 

Representing the latter, we have this year's best game, Pentiment. Pentiment is the latest from masters of world-building RPGs, Obsidian, essentially a detective game set across three acts in 16th Century Bavaria. The gameplay is fairly simplistic, explore, talk to people, make decisions, but the level of autonomy that players are offered in determining their own character and driving forward the plot result in an experience with far greater depth than one might expect. The writing is also as stellar as one would expect from Obsidian, crafting a world full of interesting characters, social dynamics, and religious tensions that is enthralling to discover. But of course, no summary of Pentiment can be complete without a mention of the visuals, which draw on medieval and renaissance art styles to create a gameworld unlike anything you will have seen before, full of little details like different typefaces and painting styles to reflect each character's personality and place in society. A wonderful game that would be a worthy winner in any year.

2022 was a very strong year for indie games. One which stood out in particular, and which claims this year's first runner up prize, is Strange Horticulture. This is a marvel of clever game design, effectively a plant-shop detective adventure. Players run the titular plant nursery in a fantastical Victorian setting, collecting an array of unidentified plants and herbs that must be identified through a combination of environmental clues, the player's own observations, and an incomplete horticultural compendium. There are some exploration mechanics and an overarching plot (that I found to be mainly a distraction), but the real meat of the game is in this detective mechanic, and it is surprisingly riveting. The combination of having gameplay driven by a player's own investigative ability, along with the absolutely charming visuals, artwork and setting, makes for a cosy experience that is quite magical.

I would also like to make a quick honourable mention to Unpacking, a game which came out in 2021 and so is ineligible for this year's awards. I was late to discover this game, but if I had, it would almost certainly have been a big contender for last year's prize. On the surface, this just looks like your typical cozy game, unpacking items from boxes and placing them around a pleasingly drawn isometric home. What I did not expect, and what does not become apparent until later into the game, is the remarkable, nuanced storytelling that runs through the experience. The items your protagonist takes with them from each home to the next (and the items they don't), the items that are already there when they move in, these things all tell a story. The subtlety of the storytelling is nothing short of ingenious, and I've never seen anything quite like it.

17. The Debbie for Company of the Year
Winner: Labster

labster startup company of the year 2022

I am fortunate that, through my line of work as well as my own personal interests and reading, I am able to come across incredible examples of innovation. Business ideas that are not only great businesses, but also with the capacity to affect a positive change on the world. Labster is one of the most exciting names in EdTech, a platform that provides accurate virtual simulations to allow students to engage in risk free experimentation and learning, using storylines and game elements. Originally founded in 2012, this company has been a regular fixture of tech conferences and industry writers. 2022 has seen them become one of the fastest growing companies in the sector and the recipient of numerous accolades and write ups as the concept continues to take off.


18. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year 
Winner: Karim Benzema - Real Madrid

karim benzema real madrid best footballer player in the world football 2022

This was not as simple a contest to decide as it may seem. Is Karim Benzema the best player in the world right now? Probably not. I have become a vocal critic of what football's biggest individual prize, the Ballon D'Or, has turned into in recent years. Historically a prize for whichever player has had the standout year, determined by personal accomplishments, quality, as well as club and international honours. During the Messi/Ronaldo era, however, it turned into a subjective "who is the best player in the world right now" prize, regardless of that player's actual accomplishments. Messi and Ronaldo were wonderful players and deserved many of the Ballon D'Ors that they claimed, but no one can say with a straight face that Franck Ribery shouldn't have won in 2013 when he was the lynchpin of an all-conquering Bayern side, or Virgil Van Dijk in 2019 when he carried a Liverpool side to European glory. For Messi's incredible talent, I would even argue that there were years during the Pep Barcelona era where Andrés Iniesta or Xavi would have been more deserving of the prize. 

The point I am making here is this: is Karim Benzema the best player in the world in 2022? No. He's up there, but you can't pretend that he's better than Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappé right now. What Benzema has done, however, is achieve a great year personally, leading the line at one of the world's biggest clubs, in a year where they were crowned champions of Spain and Europe as a whole. Their time will come, but 2022 was Benzema's year, the player who has stood out the most as having had an exceptional year in the game.

19. The Debbie for Under-21 Footballer of the Year 
Winner: Erling Haaland - Manchester City

erling haaland manchester city best young footballer player in the world 2022

However, while he may not be claiming the big prize this year, Erling Haaland did start the year still aged just 21. That is a thought that should terrify fans of any other club in the world, as well as make him eligible for the U21 Footballer of the Year prize. Haaland is without doubt one of the best footballers on the planet right now, an unstoppable force of strength, speed, and precision. He has been unstoppable since signing for Manchester City and if he continues in this fashion he will surely be claiming the top individual prize in the near future.

20. The Debbie for Football Manager of the Year 
Winner: Carlo Ancelotti - Real Madird

best football manager in the world 2022 carlo ancelotti real madrid

If there had previously been any doubt as to Carlo Ancelotti's place in football history, that is surely no longer the case. Ancelotti is one of history's best football managers. His longevity at the apex of the game is second to none, having won his first Champions League title as a manager in 2002 and his most recent 20 years later in 2022. His four Champions League titles won as a manager (not even including the two he won as a player) make him the most decorated manager in the history of the sport's most prestigious club competition. A serial winner pretty much wherever he goes (hard luck, Everton) and still potentially with many years left.

21. The Debbie for Football Club of the Year 
Winner: Bayern Munich

football club of the year 2022 bayern munich

Here's a piece of trivia for you. Which one major football club managed to maintain a profit during the Covid years? The answer is German superclub Bayern Munich. On the pitch, it's a great time to be following Die Bayern. Considered by many to be the favourites for this year's Champions League, the young and forward thinking manager Julian Nagelsmann leads a side that mixes the top tier, seasoned experience of players like Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, and Sadio Mané with the exciting young talents of (I have to point this out, it's basically a meme at this point) Chelsea academy product Jamal Musiala, Alphonso Davies, and Matthijs de Ligt. But it's off the pitch where Bayern Munich continues to shine as a model of a well run football club. A financial powerhouse of the game, even without the eye-watering TV deals English and Spanish clubs enjoy. Purveyors of consistently shrewd dealings in the commercial and transfer markets. Best of all, the 50 plus 1 ownership rule in Germany makes Bayern the world's most successful fan-owned club.

Current Events

22. The Debbie for Politician of the Year 
Winner: Raphael Warnock

raphael warnock politician of the year 2022

I am aware that my political punditry tends to have an American bias. I came very close this year to awarding this prize to a European politician instead, but the more I thought about it, the more difficulty I had in not giving this prize to Raphael Warnock. No one in the history of democracy has had to work as hard to win their seat as Warnock. The Georgia Senator has been up for election an astonishing and record breaking four times in two years, first in the mid-term special election for his seat in 2020, then for the official end of term election in 2022, requiring a run-off election in both years. The fact that he managed to win all these races, in a historically conservative state no less, is quite the feat of endurance and messaging. He now enters a full six-year term, but hopefully will find time for a bit of rest first.

23. The Debbie for Scandal of the Year 
Winner: The catastrophic self-destruction of Liz Truss

liz truss boris johnson tory conservative sleaze covid party scandal secret revealed budget

Also a contender for best comedy routine of 2022. This year we were blessed with a veritable smorgasbord of scandals from which to choose. From sports cheats, to the ongoing criminal case against Donald Trump, from FTX, to whatever the heck is going on at Twitter right now. Hell we even had a UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, resign in disgrace. So what could possibly top that? How about a UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss, resigning in disgrace after just 49 days, the shortest premiership in the history of the United Kingdom. What could possibly have caused a major and apparently serious political party to oust their leader mere weeks after electing her? It all started with a budget so disastrous it nearly caused a collapse of the UK economy, followed by an embarrassing reversal and numerous sackings just a few days later. This chaos was not the steady hand Britain needed in the wake of the Boris crisis. But through all of these missteps, it was Truss's complete lack of leadership, her inability to communicate to markets, voters, and political leaders, that sealed her fate. It was clear before she even held office that Truss was not suited to the big job. The Conservative Party's plan must have been to find someone inoffensive and bland to weather the Boris storm and it backfired in a historic and humiliating fashion.

24. The Debbie for Cause of the Year
Winner: Humanitarian relief in Ukraine

vaccine misinformation  disinformation fake news propaganda trump putin bill gates  fauci biden most important issue 2021

The idea of all-out war in Europe would have been unthinkable a few years ago. It's easy (although still morally unjustifiable) to tune out of news stories regarding conflict in far flung corners of the world, but this is right on our doorstep. It's a developed country with Starbucks and Apple. A tourism hub. Many of us will know people directly or indirectly affected by the conflict, friends and colleagues who have had to leave the country, or worse, know someone still left behind. The idea of this becoming a war-torn land, with all the innocent suffering and atrocities we have seen in the past few months is, again, unthinkable. We must not allow ourselves to grow numb to it. 

So what can you do? Consider sending humanitarian aid, or donating money. Heck, even something as simple as raising awareness with a post on social media can help. Demand political action through petitions, demonstrations, and most of all, your vote. Of course, there's only so much the average person can do here, but through collective action we can put pressure on those who are in a position of power to do something.

25. The Debbie for Person of the Year 
Winner: Volodymyr Zelensky

volodymyr zelensky zelenskyy ukraine person of the year 2022

There was only ever going to be one winner of this year's prize. They say the moment makes the man, and that certainly is the case when it comes to a former comedian turned novelty political candidate, Volodymyr Zelensky. Prior to the invasion, the impression one had of Zelensky was that of a well-intentioned man sorely out of his depth, whether it was an apparent naive optimism with regards to Russian aggression, or the way in which he himself embroiled as a passenger in the Trump bribery scandal. But Zelensky has proven himself a man of far greater political nous than we could ever have expected and a war-time leader capable of leading from the front with incredible courage and grace. Rather than naivete, his Russia strategy has shown itself to be one of reassuring calm and quiet focus. For a man who faces a very real threat on his life and that of his family on a daily basis, he has managed to remain firm and galvanise both his nation and the world at large in the face of tyranny. It's such a remarkable story that it could almost be the plotline of a movie, let's just hope this one has a happy ending.

Social & Lifestyle

26. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year 
Winner: The Princess of Shoreditch
Runner Up: Olmsted

princess of shoreditch london olmsted brooklyn best restaurant 2022

I award this year's best restaurant Debbie with a tinge of sadness. The standout eatery of 2022 (and there have been a lot) is London's own The Princess of Shoreditch, the renowned gastro pub in the heart of, surprisingly, Shoreditch. This is English cuisine of the very highest calibre. Featuring both a formal set menu and casual à la carte, these dishes are all impeccably presented and delicious, with the chef imprinting their personality through clever and innovative twists on classics. I say a tinge of sadness, because this is all the production of the prodigious Ruth Hansom, who at just age 24 is one of the UK's most exciting chefs. Sadly, Hansom is leaving the Princess of Shoreditch to pursue new endeavours. One can only hope the Princess of Shoreditch can find a suitable replacement, but these will be difficult shoes to fill.

For the runner up prize, we hop across the Atlantic to Brooklyn, New York. Olmsted is a rare slice of originality in the realm of high end cuisine and one of the more unique dining experiences you can have today. Seated outside in the restaurant's garden, surrounded by assorted clutter: inhabited chicken coops, home-grown produce and herbs, and for some reason a Captain America shield. Olmsted brings to mind a real-world version of Oobah Butler's notorious The Shed at Dulwich. For a restaurant that has been adorned with praise from the culinary world, this feels very much like a casual family-run establishment. The food itself is both delicious and unexpected in their ingredients and presentation. Delectable crab rangoons served in a takeaway box. A divine, buttery carrot/pancake salad. Homemade bread with olive oil jam. It's a restaurant that oozes with idiosyncrasy, a highly memorable one.

27. The Debbie for New Restaurant of the Year 
Winner: Contento

contento harlem new york best new restaurant 2022

Remaining on the wrong side of the pond, this blog's pick for the best new restaurant of the year goes to Contento. Located in the New York neighbourhood of Harlem, a part of town that a few years ago you probably wouldn't have wanted to visit that now is on the brink of gentrification, Contento is worth the trip up north. Contento has made headlines for its wheelchair accessibility and social sustainability, but ultimately it's the immense quality of the food that makes this a memorable place. A Peruvian restaurant with a New York twist, the menu includes staples like yuca, ceviche, and various arroz. But then you also have short rib with udon noodles and a pleasingly cheesy "quinotto". 

28. The Debbie for Club/Bar of the Year 
Winner: Síbín

sibin london trafalgar square great scotland yard hotel whisky scotch best bar club nightclub 2022

Tucked away behind a false door in a nondescript hotel near Trafalgar Square, Síbín is easy to miss, but for those who know where to look, you will find a haven for whisky lovers. The breadth of their selection is impressive, as well as their cocktail and mocktail offerings for those so inclined, but it is the knowledge of the bar staff that make this a truly premier experience for enthusiasts.

29. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Berlin, Germany

berlin germany best holiday destination 2022

I have traveled to many of the European hotspots during my life, but for whatever reason Berlin is a city that has managed to evade my travel list. In 2022, this changed and I am glad to have finally made the acquaintance of the German capital. Berlin is known as a cultural hub for its art, theatre and music, with an eclectic vibe owing to its distinct historical eras. This is borne out through the starkly contrasting architecture of the city's different neighbourhoods, a mix of post-war brutalism and ornate classical construction, which despite its differences all somehow manages to form part of a cohesive and unique identity.

30. The Debbie for Wine of the Year 
Winner: Champagne Roger Brun Cuvée des Sires, Millésime 2013
champagne roger brun cuvee sires millesime 2013 best wine 2022

2022's wine of the year belongs to Roger Brun, a small family-run winery near Ay. Run by Philippe Brun, known locally as a personnage célèbre and something of an eccentric, whose individualism comes across in the bold complexion of the house's champagne. The cuvée des sires is a highly sought after cuvée made with first press juice from 2/3 pinot noir and 1/3 chardonnay, vinified in oak. A delicious and smooth wine with just enough of a punch, notes of vanilla, peaches and sweet spices.

31. The Debbie for Tipple of the Year 
Winner: Malfy Gin Con Arancia

best tipple liquor alcohol 2022 malfy gin blood orange arancia

And finally our award for best tipple, a non-wine alcoholic beverage in which you would be wise to partake, goes to Malfy Gin con Arancia. This is the blood orange flavoured gin from Piedmontese distillery Malfy, an Italian brand quickly gaining a global prominence for their stylish branding, bright colours and delicious flavours. That their gin is itself of a very high quality is essential, but it's the exquisite flavoured gins that stand out, with just the right amount of fruitiness to add a bit of life to the drink without tasting overly sweet or tacky.

Well there you have it, another year in the books. Here's to 2023 being a year of peace, good health, and further progress. See you there!

Friday 23 December 2022

The tradition continues. 12 months, 12 books. You can consider this the warm up act for the much broader Debbie Awards coming in a few days' time. For now, it is The Ephemeric 2022 Book Review, a curated list by your faithful blog-enthusiast of whatever the heck I happened to feel like reading over the past year, old and new.

one book every month year challenge 2021 ephemeric

January - "Ghostwritten" by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is not for everyone. His work tends to be ambitious, densely packed, and experimental in form. For some, the challenging nature of his writing can come as a frustration, but those with enough patience are rewarded with a remarkable literary experience. 

Mitchell's first novel, Ghostwritten, is twenty years old now, but remains as bold and incomparable today as it was upon release. A sprawling series of loosely linked episodic stories that takes the reader from the subways of Tokyo, to the Irish Isles, rural Mongolia and the nightlife of London. Topics range as widely as jazz music, bioterrorism, offshore banking, and artificial intelligence, to only scratch the surface. As remarkable as its audacity, is the ability of Mitchell to strike such a different voice and tone in each chapter. With most novels you can generally tell what a writer is thinking and where they are going, with Mitchell you have an author of such baffling unpredictability that he may as well be speaking another language.

February - "The Anomaly" by Hervé Le Tellier

Hervé Le Tellier's novel sold more than a million copies when it released in its native French, back in 2020. In 2022, the long-awaited English translation was published, becoming one of the year's most anticipated reads. An Air France flight encounter some massive turbulence on its way to New York. It lands, the passengers go about their lives for some time, some get married, some die, others hit significant life milestones. Three months later, the flight lands again, an exact duplicate of the previous flight, populated by exact duplicates of its passengers, who are none the wiser that they have lost three months of time, nor that their exact doppelgangers are already landed and living their lives as normal. 

The Anomaly reads like a high concept TV series, each chapter following a different character, only revealing itself to the reader in drip-feed as we follow the passengers of this flight, the events of their lives, and their reaction to the mysterious titular anomaly. It makes for a highly enjoyable and addictive read, so long as you don't overthink it. The central mystery itself is ultimately somewhat underwhelming, undermined by an eventual reliance on silly pop-science hooks and a lack of any real resolution. The characters' stories themselves are highly engaging, but feel uneven, with some clearly more substantial than others and several stories that seem peter out and remain unfinished. Ultimately, this is a novel that wants you to dwell on its themes rather than its plotline. If you can accept that then this is very much worth reading.

March - "How High We Go in the Dark" by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Sequoia Nagamatsu's debut novel was certainly one of the most hotly tipped for this year. An ambitious series of loosely connected stories set after a global pandemic reshapes society, taking place over centuries of time. The intent is to show how different people and humanity as a whole respond to such epochal occurrences, clearly inspired by recent real world events. Unfortunately, while I was very much looking forward to this, its execution is somewhat mixed.

How High We Go in the Dark is ambitious, certainly, but the stories are of variable quality. Some offer clever insights into human nature, such as the explosion of funerary and other ancillary services in the commercialisation of death. Others are optimistic, focusing on humanity's knack for solutions such as with the development of new technologies to enhance our biology or travel to other planets. Others are just bizarre, one story focused on a man's disturbing relationship with a talking pig-mutant comes to mind. It's mostly pretty good, but far too often, the interesting stories are too short and the forgettable ones too long. Far too often, the writer confuses "bleakness" for "depth and complexity". This is an interesting novel, but one gets the feeling that its hype comes more from having a topical concept than from actually being a fully realised and well executed piece of fiction. 

April - "House of Suns" by Alistair Reynolds

Taking a break from new releases, we have Alistair Reynolds' 2008 novel House of Suns. This one has been on my reading list for a long time, commonly recommended to me as one of the 21st Century's great science fiction novels. In 2022, I finally got caught up.

It certainly didn't disappoint. House of Suns is a vast space opera set in the far future where society is built around sprawling lineages of clones, known as shatterlings. House of Suns focuses on the story of two such shatterlings as they seek to uncover a conspiracy to commit murder against their entire lineage. What follows is a dazzling series of sci-fi concepts, all wrapped around a pretty damn engaging mystery novel. This is a long piece of work and requires some commitment, but for fans of ambitious science fiction, it is definitely worthwhile.

May - "Bullet Train" by Kotaro Isaka

Picking up on one of last year's picks that I never managed to find time for. Bullet Train is the Japanese mega-hit, translated into English last year and adapted into a Brad Pitt-starring Hollywood film this year.

It's exactly what you expect it to be. It's assassins on a train trying to kill each other. It's daft, it's funny, it's a little longer than it should be, but it keeps you turning the page. This is the one for those who want to read something without thinking too hard and have a good time.

June - "Sea of Tranquility" by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel is on a roll at the moment, with acclaimed novels The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven out in the last few years, one of which has been turned into a hit TV series, the other of which is about to be. In 2022, Mandel released her latest novel, Sea of Tranquility.

I won't go too deep into the plot for fear of spoilers, but this novel was a delight. A clever, witty adventure across time and space that nimbly balances its ambitious scope with intimate character-focused storytelling. It's impressive how far out there Mandel is able to go with some of her concepts without ever alienating the reader or feeling like its getting into too niche a genre. My only criticism is with the ending. For a novel that is masterfully paced throughout, the latter act of the story seems strangely abrupt. It's also very short for such an ambitious story at just 255 pages. The result is a novel that feels like it's building up to something it never quite reaches. After it does such a good job easing readers into the plot for the first 150 pages, I can't help but feel that there was more that could have been said once we got there.

July - "Perfect Golden Circle" by Benjamin Myers

Something light and breezy for a perfect summer read. Perfect Golden Circle is a folksy and nostalgic tale of two idiosyncratic hobbyists creating crop circles in the 1980s. It reminded me of an old BBC show, the Detectorists, itself a light and breezy series about two blokes mucking about in a field that strikes a very similar tone and scope to this novel.

Are they seeking fame? Fortune? Just doing it for the sake of it? Could be all of the above, but that isn't really the point of this novel. There is no grand plotline here, no run from the police, no rival cropcirclers. It's about the two men and their circles, their experiences, their friendship with one another. It's about the countryside, the folklore, the quirky locals. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Perfect Golden Circle is an extremely gentle read, effortlessly charming and hard not to enjoy. But at the same time, it is narratively slight, more about the journey than the destination. It's actually fairly impressive that it manages to work in spite of this.

August - "Stargazer" by Adam J. Rodriguez & Midjourney

My graphic novel for the year. Stargazer is a fairly routine sci-fi story on the surface: a group of soldiers fighting in Vietnam encounter a mysterious anomaly that forever changes their lives. What makes Stargazer more than just the sum of its parts, and the reason I chose it for this month, is how this graphic novel was created.

Stargazer may well be the first graphic novel where all of the artwork is entirely AI generated. Not a single frame of this novel was drawn by human hand, it was all created out of nothing by the AI platform Midjourney. This technology has come a long way in recent years, as many of you who frequent Twitter or Reddit will have seen. For an entire novel's worth of art to have been created by AI, with this level of consistency and quality, is a fine demonstration of just how impressive these tools can be.

September - "Yerba Buena" by Nina LaCour

This is the debut adult fiction novel from award winning YA author Nina LaCour. A story told over decades of two women and their troubled childhoods, who meet each other one day at the titular restaurant Yerba Buena, and romance blossoms.

This isn't a bad novel by any means, I just feel like it wasn't written for me. Much of the novel revolves around the upbringing each character faces in their childhood, which honestly struck me as quite niche and unrelatable. I'm sure some of these stories will be quite meaningful for some readers, but for me it just felt far-fetched and exaggerated. There's also an issue with the fact that the story bifurcates into two stories, one of which is clearly more interesting and filled with drama than the other. I found that whenever the focus switched to the one, I was really just waiting to switch back to the other. Not a bad novel, but ultimately a fairly by-the-numbers character drama.

October - "The Premonitions Bureau" by Sam Knight

Such an unusual book. The Premonitions Bureau is part sci-fi, part non-fiction, part history book. This debut novel is based on the true story of John Barker, the man tasked with running the Government's Premonitions Bureau to investigate the credibility of people claiming to have had psychic premonitions in the wake of the Aberfan disaster of 1966.

What follows is a "so crazy you can't believe it's true" account of Barker's research, the alleged psychics he met with and their stories. The novel fluctuates somewhat unusually between a descriptive historical account and a narrative depiction of these events, but while it is an odd duck of a text it somehow works. In fact this approach often feels essential, with Knight opting not to make his work any kind of evaluation of the subject matter, but rather to present the documented facts objectively for the reader to digest. Of course there are no psychic powers in real life, but some of the stories, the claims, the coincidences, are just so unlikely and so baffling, that you'll be intrigued and entertained nonetheless.

November - "Carrie Soto is Back" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I very much have to admire the work ethic of Taylor Jenkins Reid, who has now had three novels published in the space of three years, all of which have been pretty good, one of which is an all time classic.

Her latest, Carrie Soto is Back, expands the backstory of a small side character from her last novel, Malibu Rising. Carrie Soto's blink or you'll miss it appearance in that novel was fairly nondescript. You learn that she was a great tennis player and that she has a rotten temper, and that's about it. Carrie Soto is Back expands the character greatly. We follow Carrie on her rise from early childhood to becoming a legend of the sport, her retirement, and her attempt at an unlikely comeback. At its core, this is a story about unbridled ambition and the personal cost of greatness. While it may not be as remarkable a piece of fiction as some of Reid's other work, it is a very expertly crafted tale and one that will stick with me.

December - "Illuminations" by Alan Moore

And finally we have the first published work of Alan Moore to release in seven years, Illuminations. Best known for his work in graphic novels, including Watchmen, V For Vendetta, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, to call Moore a legend of the genre would be an understatement. His work has garnered both critical and commercial acclaim, earning a litany of accolades over the years.

Illuminations is not a graphic novel, but a first-ever series of short stories from Moore, spanning his decades-long career. Moore's writing has a reputation for intellectual complexity and psychological nuance, and this collection, to be frank, is every bit as weird as you'd expect. Surreal, enigmatic, mind-reeling. Each of these stories is wildly different from one another and probably from anything else you've read. Moore is nothing if not a true original, and that holds just as well in his fictional prose as it does in his illustrations. 

So there it is. Twelve months in books. Can I keep it going another year? You bet, because reading is awesome.

Sunday 20 November 2022

Last week, America went to the polls and elected a new Congress. This blog most recently posted on the subject with our final forecast. Now that the dust has settled (aside from a few straggler House seats and a Georgia runoff) it's time to step back and take stock of what happened. Were we surprised? What will the consequences be over the next few years? Most importantly, what does this all tell us about the direction the country is headed?

2022 us midterm congress election house senate trump democrat democratic victory republican defeat historic shock

It's safe to say that this was not the midterm election the Republican party expected.

As I noted in my midterm election preview, midterm elections tend to heavily favour the opposition party. In that preview I discussed a few of the reasons why this is the case. Whatever the reason, they tend to win, and they tend to win by a lot. The average opposition party gain in a midterm election is some 30 seats in the House and 4 seats in the Senate. In recent elections the gains have been even more severe: Democrats gained more than 40 House seats in 2018, Republicans gained 60 in 2010.

There is such a strong correlation between midterm election success and being in the opposition party that it has almost become a cardinal rule of US electoral theory. In the modern era, the only times this principle has not held have been under exceptional circumstances: 9/11 and the Clinton impeachment.

This year in particular had all the makings of an ideal storm of high inflation, mediocre Presidential approval ratings and narrow incumbent margins. It should have been a bloodbath. For this reason, all the talk in the build up to election night was not so much over who would win, but by how much the Republican party would win. The phrases "red wave" or "red tsunami" were thrown around a lot.

But this is not what happened. The Democrats have held their majority in the Senate and appear set to even increase their majority. The Republicans did take a majority in the House, but by the barest of margins with gains likely to be in the single digits, resulting in potentially the smallest House majority of all time. They went into election night with their majority considered a mere formality. In the end, they are likely to have gained 6-8 seats in the House and lost 1 seat in the Senate.

This really can't be stressed enough. This was a catastrophic election for Republicans. Despite a turnout advantage and a seemingly ideal electoral climate, they barely managed a tie. This was a historic electoral achievement for President Biden and the Democrats, and 2022 will go down in the history books as one of those asterisk elections, the one that years from now people will look back at and ask if the next election could be "another 2022".

So the question now is: how did this happen, why didn't anyone see it coming, and what does it mean going forward?

Why did the GOP underperform?
Analysts will be poring over this one for years, trying to figure out how the Republicans performed so badly. Democratic turnout was as tepid as one would have expected in a midterm election, but independents broke unexpectedly for Democrats. Why?

A key early observation is the fact that the Trumpist "MAGA" candidates all fared very poorly. All across the nation, election deniers and far right extremists lost the close, toss up races. In the big contests, they fared particularly dismally. Nowhere is this more clear than in Arizona. A traditionally red state, Arizona was swept by Democrats, winning a key Senate race as well as the Governor's mansion. On the losing end? MAGA darling Kari Lake, a TV personality who in the run up to the election had been tipped as a future star and potential Vice Presidential candidate for Trump's 2024 run. 

On the other hand, Republicans fared better in states where Trump and his brand of politics were kept at arm's length, most notably in Florida under the banner of Trump rival Governor Ron DeSantis. Indeed, the Sunshine State was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak spate of results for the GOP. Whatever else the data shows, it is clear that those closely associated with Trump fared worse than those that kept their distance.

An interesting datapoint is that Democrats appear to have overperformed most in the competitive battleground states, while their performances in the less competitive states falls more in line with pre-election expectations. This suggests that their campaign messaging has been particularly effective, a stark rejoinder to the commonly held wisdom that Democrats have lagged their rivals in this regard.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, of all people, summed it up perfectly when he said that Republicans lost the election because voters saw them as causing "too much chaos". I think he's hit the nail on the head here, but it's not the only factor.

A significant factor in the GOP's underperformance that should not be ignored is the redistricting process of the last two years. As I discussed in my pre-election preview, Republicans have had a significant structural advantage in recent midterm elections due to an election rigging process called gerrymandering (see that post for further explanation). Under the old districting, it was estimated that Democrats needed to win nationally by around 5% just to break even in the House. This is essentially what happened in 2020 when they won by that margin and held only a small majority. Under the new districts, that structural advantage has narrowed considerably and may even have vanished entirely. 

But just as other "asterisk" elections tended to be precipitated by significant events (9/11, impeachment), we also need to consider the exceptional occurrences that may have swung this election in Democrats' favour. 

Most notable among this has to be January 6. On January 6 2021, Donald Trump attempted to overthrow a democratically elected US Government by staging a desperate and ultimately deadly insurrection in Washington DC. This may well be the single most traumatic blow to the American psyche since 9/11. America was attacked on this day and for the first time since the Civil War, that attack came from within. For the first time in modern history, the very principle of American democracy was under threat. Hundreds of criminal charges have been filed in connection with that day, including multiple charges of insurrection. It's also been the subject of a major House investigation and now a Federal Special Prosecutor investigation. If anything can be said to be a significant, election swinging event, it's this.

The common wisdom leading up to the election was that the shock of this event had already worn off. That the American public, somehow, wasn't interested or didn't care about this assault on democracy. The media was full of premature hot-takes that Democrats should have spent more time focusing on kitchen sink type issues, that their grander arguments on ideals and principles would not reach the average voter. This has proven to be well wide of the mark. Voters did, of course, care about this horrific and shocking moment in American history, and it appears to have significantly poisoned the Republican brand. A reminder to take media punditry with a pinch of salt, the people running the campaigns usually have better data than they do.

Remarkably, this was not the only such event in the build up to this election. In summer 2022, the Supreme Court voted to overturn the decades-standing precedent that a woman is entitled to bodily autonomy, the case of Roe v Wade. It sparked widespread outrage all over the country, but as with January 6 the common wisdom was that the anger had worn off by election night, that voters were apathetic and unconcerned.  Again, this was clearly wrong. The anger has persisted through to election night and it has cost Republicans big.

As I said, this is a question that will be talked about for years to come. But when all is said and done, the reasons for GOP underperformance in 2022 are likely to be a combination of poor candidate quality, losing their gerrymandered advantage, and the two opposition-rallying events of Jan 6 and Roe v Wade.

Why didn't anyone predict this?
While the GOP's disappointing electoral performance will rightly remain the big story of the 2022 election, an equally worthy story is the fact that all the experts, all the forecasters and analysts did not see it coming. 

The media was unanimous in the build up to the election. This was going to be a red wave, a historic and massive victory for the Republican Party. Fivethirtyeight forecast an almost 90% chance of Republicans winning the House and a 60% chance of winning the Senate. RealClearPolitics predicted they would gain 50 seats in the House and sweep the competitive Senate races for a whopping 4 seat gain. Media all over the world were certain of this outcome regardless of their political persuasion, from the far right propagandists of Fox News to left leaning outlets such as the Guardian. They all missed it.

But not everyone missed it. On this very blog, a week before the election, I predicted that Democrats would hold the Senate at a time when few others were doing so. I also called the House race a toss up at a time when just about everyone else viewed it as a landslide, and predicted a much smaller than expected GOP majority. At the time of writing, I have correctly predicted every single Senate race that has been called. I'm not a professional by any means. So how did I, an admitted amateur, see what the professionals did not? It wasn't hope, it wasn't wishful thinking, it was there in the data, clear as day.

As I noted in my preview, the numbers really weren't that good for Republicans. Democrats were fundraising at a high level, special elections were breaking for Democrats by margins far above their expected baseline. These are very bullish signs for a party's electoral chances. Most importantly though, the polls were not good for Republicans, despite what the experts said.

For most of the summer, polls consistently predicted a close race with perhaps a narrow Democratic advantage, much to everyone's surprise. For the reputable, high quality pollsters, this was the consistent and clear picture coming from the data and it should have been a big red flag for Republicans. Then a month before the election, the polls suddenly swung in Republicans' favour. Analysts interpreted this as some late, unexplained shift in the race. There was just one problem: it was entirely fictional. 

Let's not beat around the bush. There are pollsters out there that are not serious polling firms. They are propagandists whose intent is to try and drive momentum towards their preferred side. They do it every year and yet, somehow, people keep paying attention to them. Get ready, because I will name and shame.

Look at the polls during that period of the race. Look at the actual pollsters. You will see time and time again it was the same few pollsters showing this late movement towards Republicans: Rasmussen, Trafalgar, Co-Efficient and InsiderAdvantage. None of the other pollster showed this movement. None of the gold standard, reputable pollsters saw anything other than consistently favourable Democratic prospects. 

Now look at the 2020 polls. You will see those exact same pollsters predicting a Trump victory. 2018, the exact same thing. These few pollsters do this every election cycle, and it's time we stop taking them at face value. 

Rasmussen is commonly considered as the gold standard of partisan right wing pollsters. One only needs to look at their shamelessly partisan press releases, typically full of Republican party talking points and attacks on the liberal media, to see the type of operation they're running. Their data has always been suspect, not only for its consistent partisan lean, but for its unusual movement and trends that are generally not reflected in other polls. In particular they have been frequently suspected by poll-watchers of pushing right-leaning numbers, and then shifting dramatically to the left with their final polls so that they can point to a respectable final prediction. Ultimately though, the data they produce is just flat out wrong. In 2018 they predicted Republicans to win the popular vote, in a year where they lost by a landslide margin. In 2020 they were equally wide of the mark. In 2022, they predicted a landslide Republican popular vote margin in a year where they are just barely breaking even. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with pollster having a particular "house effect" or partisan lean. So long as the methodology is consistent and honest, they can still provide useful data. But what really sets off red flags with Rasmussen is the fact that they refuse to acknowledge themselves as a partisan affiliated pollster, despite their obvious political lean. If they're dishonest about that, why would anyone trust the numbers they produce? It's time we stop paying attention to these guys.

Potentially even worse than Rasmussen is Trafalgar. Trafalgar has the ignominy of having called every single battleground state wrong in 2022. Even worse, they called several states that were nowhere even close to a battleground, wrong. They predicted Republican victories in Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire and Washington. They lost those races by double digits. To call Trafalgar's numbers suspicious would be an understatement. Trafalgar consistently come up with polls showing very narrow Republican leads in every race, regardless of state. States that look nothing alike electorally, which end up with results that differ from one another often by double digits, and Trafalgar invariably finds Republicans leading all of them by the same 1% margin? It stinks to high heaven, even more so when the pollster reveals nearly nothing about their methodology. Trafalgar's methodology is secretive, their results are incoherent and make zero sense in context, and their track record is abysmal. They are not a serious pollster and it's time to stop taking them seriously.

These are what I would consider the "big two", but there are others that are worth mentioning. Co-Efficient is a Republican affiliated pollster who made headlines for predicting a Republican victory in New York, one of the bluest states in the country. During October they furiously spammed the polling averages with an absurd volume of polls, all of which boasted similarly outlandish predictions of Republican victory in blue strongholds, none of which panned out. Then there is InsiderAdvantage, a pollster run by noted Republican propagandist and TV host Sean Hannity. Needless to say, his polls were not accurate. That didn't stop them from having an outsized effect on the polling averages though.  

I can criticise these pollsters all day, but for what? Ultimately the key point here is that these were the only pollsters showing this mythical red wave. The reputable pollsters showed nothing of the sort, but their results were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of polls that these right wing organisations churned out to "flood the zone" and manipulate the averages. They were the ones pundits and forecasters were relying on for their predictions. It was obvious that these guys were just trying to game the system, so why did the "experts" fall for it? That's a really good question.

A big part of the problem this year was the lack of high quality polls. For whatever reason, the traditional pollsters were largely MIA, while these right wing pollsters flooded the zone with their propaganda. This meant that the polling averages and electoral forecasts were generally dominated by these junk pollsters. What little high quality polling data we did have painted a very different picture, but for whatever reason the analysts ignored this, and allowed the junk polls to influence their forecasts.

I suspect a big reason for this is all the anti-polling discourse that has become fashionable in recent years. I have written frequently about how this is mostly hype: the polls weren't actually that bad in 2016 or 2020 they were just poorly interpreted, and the polls in 2018 were pretty much dead on. Nevertheless, it appears even the experts have been influenced by that hype, and the 2022 coverage has been characterised by an inherent distrust of the polls. With this in mind, it's not surprising that fewer people were commissioning polls from the mainstream pollsters, and that a disproportionate number of the polls that were commissioned were commissioned for political purposes. 

At a time when we have been (unfairly) conditioned to mistrust polls, it is not surprising that many fell back on fundamentals and historical precedent for the basis of their predictions. The problem with 2022 is that they relied on this too much, while failing to properly evaluate the data that was out there.

A special mention also needs to be made of RealClearPolitics. RCP is, ostensibly, a polling and political news aggregator, non-partisan in nature. That's all a facade though. Their political bias and fickle methodology has been widely criticised in the past. In particular they have a tendency to pick polls that favour Republicans, then ignore those same polls if the results get worse for them, and they arbitrarily set cut off dates for polling averages depending on what gives Republicans the best result. RCP has been pretty bad for years now and, much like Rasmussen, getting worse with every election cycle. 2022 marks a new low for the organisation, with a final forecast that was embarrassingly wide of the mark, predicting Republican victories in states that were never competitive and lost by wide margins. 

If there is one thing we can all take away from the 2022 election, it is that there is no reason whatsoever to listen to anything that comes from RealClearPolitics, Rasmussen, Trafalgar or their ilk ever again. They are not serious organisations and should not be treated as such. It is time we all recognise this.

There is no denying it. 2022 was a very bad year for the pundits and forecasters. They ignored the high quality data (which in fairness was lacking in quantity), allowed themselves to be swayed by trash data. They listened to the polls that supported their preconceptions and expectations and disregarded anything that didn't. The data was there. I pointed it out in my preview. They just ignored it for some reason. 

What does this mean going forward?
There's no sugarcoating it. Republicans are in big trouble. If they couldn't win in the highly favourable electoral climate of 2022, what hope do they have in 2024, a year that will almost certainly be more favourable for Democrats?

The answer is "not much". Not unless something changes. If Republicans go into 2024 still championing the crazies and conspiracy theorists, they will lose big. The question is whether they will learn the right lessons from this setback.

More immediate is the question of how Government will function these next two years. With split control of Congress it appears unlikely that much of anything will get done. The new Republican House majority has indicated that they intend to prioritise political theatre, fake investigations of Democrats and their families. First they will need to actually agree on a House Speaker, however, and with their tiny majority there's very real doubt about whether they will be able to do so. There has even been serious talk of a compromise candidate between Democrats and moderate Republicans. 

Additionally, with such a small majority, can we even be sure they will hold that advantage until the next election? Every single retirement, every death, every defection and special election going forward is going to be a matter of national import, potentially one that could swing Congressional control. We will see what happens, but this could get into some pretty murky, unprecedented waters.

In particular, this election was a disaster for Donald Trump. For the first time since his political ascent, his domination of the Republican Party appears to be in doubt. His allies and chosen candidates all fared miserably, while his political rivals did well. Many elected officials, news organisations (Murdoch in particular) and, indeed, voters, appear to be breaking with him, having finally had enough. Post election polls now have Ron DeSantis as frontrunner for the GOP nomination, with large numbers of Republican voters not wanted Trump to run at all. It will be very interesting to see what happens next. It is clear that many Republicans will no longer back him, but at the same time his diehard basis is very loyal. Whether anyone can find a way to unite this fracturing political party ahead of 2024 will be the big question.

Perhaps the most significant takeaway from the 2022 elections (in terms of electoral politics) will be the apparent end to the GOP's semi-permanent gerrymandered advantage in the House. Between 2010 and 2020 it really was the case that the House was essentially out of reach for Democrats, even in years where they were winning by wide margins. Following redistricting, those days appear to be gone. Democrats have managed to essentially tie the House race despite having little if any national advantage in the polls. It could be a fluke, but right now it appears that their gains in redistricting may have been even greater than initially thought. The result could be that the House elections are much more competitive in the years to come.

Finally, there's the question of the polls and forecasters. We need to be very clear on this. The polls in 2022 were generally quite good, but there was a lot of junk data out there muddying the waters, and the "experts" did a very poor job in critically evaluating between them. Sadly, I fear people will take the wrong message from this election and distrust all polls, rather than discerning specifically those that deserve to be distrusted. We need to do what we can to make the general public more data-literate, and start calling out the con-artists in political media for what they are.

So there it is, 2022 election is done, and the first battle lines have been drawn for 2024. This is an election that will be remembered as a historic accomplishment, as well as a potential turning point in the politics of the nation.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home