One thing that is difficult for a political junkie like myself is to suppress a feeling of disdain for people who don’t follow politics and yet want to give you their political opinions. In election season, you will periodically see reporting on undecided voters like this piece in the Washington Post. It’s very formulaic. A reporter goes out and finds three of four or five average citizens who are planning to vote but are having a difficult time figuring out whom to support. The reporter supplies some basic biographical information (a grandmother who looks after a ton of grandkids, a salesmen struggling in a weak economy, a guy who is underemployed but dreams of going to medical school in the Caribbean), and then they provide some of their confused reasoning about the candidates.
These kinds of pieces always suffer from a sample size problem. If you only use 3-5 people, you can wind up with odd results that make it seem, e.g., that Rick Santorum will be the winner of the Iowa Caucuses. This creates a bias problem, but the articles are really intended to just provide a snapshot of a small corner of the electorate. In this case, it’s the portion of the electorate that is both conservative enough to reject President Obama out of hand, and politically disengaged enough to be surprised to learn about things like Newt Gingrich’s record.
They’ll vote in the Iowa Caucuses, and they’re taking an active interest in the campaign, but they don’t bring much accumulated political knowledge to the table. In other words, they can be easily influenced by the news story of the day, or by opinion leaders they respect, or by political advertising.
What the Washington Post piece seeks to demonstrate is that these types of voters are having trouble settling on a candidate. What’s different this year is that the same thing is happening even to more sophisticated and well-informed conservatives. Most of them are with Romney, but only by default and after a process of elimination. Everyone, it seems, wants to support someone else.
The truth is, though, that these voters (both the informed and semi-informed) really should keep applying their scalpel because they’ll eventually eliminate Romney, too, and realize that the only responsible choice is to reelect the president. They’ll get to that point if they examine their assumptions about the president, which are almost uniformly false. Even where they have Obama pegged correctly, they’re wrong about the Republicans. If they’re concerned about the national debt, for example, and don’t want the U.S. to become like Greece and default on its debts, the last thing they should do is vote for the party of Reagan and Bush. But hope springs eternal with these folks, and next time will be different. Next time, the GOP will eschew tax cuts for the rich, cut spending, and balance the budget. Except, they won’t. They’ve shown who they are now for thirty years, and they’re only getting more psychotic and less evidence-based.
It’s a sad spectacle to watch the GOP base voter try to use their reasoning faculties, but I have hope for them. Some of them, anyway, are going to figure this thing out.
First line so perfectly captures my thinking that I’m still shaking my head and smiling about it. Wish I had the optimism from which the last line derives. We shall see.