A Serious Election: Why this time, things will be different
by phil on Thursday Oct 16, 2008 2:39 AM
So I want to float a theory about the way people vote. My theory is that Obama is doing well in the polls because of the Economic Crisis's impact on voter seriousness.
To make this theory work, I have to make some hard assumptions—assumptions you couldn't get away with in academia. One assumption is that there is such a thing as a right candidate in actuality. The right candidate is simply the "better candidate." For the sake of argument, let's assume that "better candidate" means better for all, or to make it more concrete, the candidate that is most likely to win a second term and leave with the higher approval rating upon leaving office.
So assuming there is a right candidate, to what extent do voters care about picking him or her? They don't. They're whimsical. They pick who they like the most, or whoever they're affiliated with party-wise, etc.
But I think there is a relevant amount of interest in rightness, and that interest is elastic.
Another assumption I have to make is that "we" were right all-along, and rightly surprised that John McCain was doing so well in the polls a month or so ago. And that somehow the recent poll numbers that boost Obama reflect the truth: that Barack Obama is the right candidate.
While I know there's a natural instant reaction in you that says, "well, that's just ridiculous, liberal, elitist hubris." Maybe, but I think the issue about "rightness" is pertinent, because a lot of smart people are scratching their heads over how we elected George W. Bush not once, but twice! And wherever smart people are scratching their heads, there you will find interesting theories.
Given how low Bush's poll numbers are now, it's hard to make the argument that John Kerry or Al Gore would be exiting with lower poll numbers. So America made the wrong choice. One potential objection is that voters had imperfect foresight. But I believe there was plenty of information to identify Bush as the wrong candidate, and Americans simply chose not to seek that information.
My theory is that Obama is doing well in the polls because of the Economic Crisis's impact on voter seriousness. Voters are starting to grasp that there are actual consequences to their vote, and so they're more interested in the rightness of the candidate.
The economy is something that can get people to think about how their vote will affect them. Most other issues do not. In 2004, the War in Iraq did not affect most Americans in a perceivable way. In 2000, economic times were good, and so Americans couldn't conceive of a president screwing that up. So instead they voted on really petty or irrelevant matters, such as whether their candidate appeared like the common man, or is handsome. Some could argue that Americans voted on values in 2000 and 2004, but Al Gore notably distanced himself from Clinton because of his indiscretions, and John Kerry was an actual war hero. Bush was an actual privileged war-avoider and reformed drunk.
One of my friends who used to be a diehard Ron Paul zealot, is now really worried about the economy, and is behaving like, "the hell with ideology, who is going to fix this thing!"
I think in 2000 and 2004, voters mainly voted on the candidate they liked. In 2008, I believe that circumstances require that voters do what's right.
After all, as Winston Churchill said, "America can always be counted on to do the right thing, after it has exhausted all other possibilities."