reading the veepstakes tea leaves

Reading the VP Tea Leaves: Wikipedia Edition

Reading tea leaves
See what we did there, with the spoon? Photo: Photo: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

For hundreds of years, various cultures around the world have practiced the art of tasseography, in which the pattern of leaves at the bottom of a tea cup (or coffee grounds on the bottom of a coffee cup) are interpreted to predict fortunes. In politics, “reading the tea leaves” refers to the quest — usually the media’s — to find clues to some significant future event. Over the coming days, many metaphorical tea leaves will be read in an effort to divine Mitt Romney’s choice of a running mate, because this is really the only thing going in the race right now. We will track this political tasseography as it happens, for as long as it happens. Our first installment: Wikipedia edits.

What Are We Scrutinizing?: Wikipedia edits

Why They Might Mean Something: In 2008, according to Tech President, “Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia page was updated at least 68 times the day before John McCain announced her selection, with another 54 changes made in the five previous days previous,” noticeably more edits than any other of the leading contenders received. A similar pattern was noticed on Joe Biden’s Wikipedia page. Presumably, members of the McCain and Obama campaigns were trying to make Palin’s/Biden’s entries as electorally pleasing as possible before including them on their respective tickets. So far, the current crop of potential Romney running mates haven’t seen a similar spike in edits on their Wikipedia entries, but as Tech President points out, most the changes to Biden’s and Palin’s entries came in the 24 hours before their selection.

Why They Might Mean Nothing: There are plenty of other reasons that the Wikipedia pages of Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, or whoever, might see a huge uptick in edits. All of these guys are in the news just about every day. And the total quantity of edits might not tell us much. Politico’s Dylan Byers took stock of the edits on Marco Rubio’s page today, and reports that they “were almost all driven by one user’s insistence that Rubio was not the ‘crown prince’ of the Tea party.” That persistent Wikipedia user could be a Romney associate, or it could be just some guy.