Wednesday, October 27, 2004
I’ll now play the part of the hapless self-doubter attempting to save face and toss out a few counter-arguments to my own positions. Pollsters have been around a long time and their methodology isn’t always as suspect as we think — while one poll within the margin of error might be suspect, several dozen independent polls within the margin of error every day for months is actually pretty credible. Much to my surprise, there’s been no evidence thus far of an October Surprise. Perhaps in this election the candidates have already thrown everything including the kitchen sink, and anything that could leak has leaked. And it’s entirely possible that Ohio and Florida voters will matter far less to the final outcome than the lawyers representing them.
Perhaps things aren’t even as polarized as we are sometimes made to believe — no, wait, we are that polarized as a whole, but at least some individuals aren’t so bad about it. The Tampa Tribune is not endorsing any candidate, and neither is the libertarian-esque DetroitNews.Com [hat tip: Jacob]. Moderate liberal-ish writer Christopher Hitchens slightly endorses Bush in the ultra-liberal magazine The Nation, while moderate conservative-ish pundit Andrew Sullivan somberly endorses Kerry in the neoliberal magazine The New Republic. And by the way, I recognize some might argue that since both of these respected pundits are middle-of-the-road hawks, I’m being unbalanced by not really offering any anti-war endorsements. I respectfully disagree — the anti-war cause has no major candidate in this race, and if you’re voting for Kerry because you’re anti-war then I think you stopped paying attention to the issues sometime prior to the last election.
But these opinions all come from commentators or news sources, and don’t capture the mood of the average voter. It has been said that by and large people ultimately vote in their self-interest. This hypothesis makes sense for really rich voters getting tax breaks or really poor voters that could get additional direct assistance, many of whom are essentially voting their pocketbooks. But what about, for example, a median income voter who gets a negligible tax break if any, lives in a fairly decent school district, goes to church occasionally but really isn’t all that religious, and votes mainly out of a sense of civic duty? Isn’t this a far more common description? What affects their lives? What’s in their self-interest? What drives them to such partisanship?
Well, I don’t know, but naturally I have a thought about it. I think their self-interest revolves around what they have to put up with. They might be voting against a candidate as much for how much they dislike watching him on the evening news as for his stance on issues, or perhaps they are even voting not against a candidate but against his annoying supporters. Is it conceivable that for many of these people the only way the election impacts their lives is through conversations and interactions with others, and that their self-interest lies in making sure the candidate of the people they dislike the most loses? How many people do you know whose self-interest is to ensure that the people who are constantly annoying them — those crazy Bible-thumping Bushies or those rabid peacenik Kerryites — don’t have any reason to gloat?
So the moral of this post is basically this: what do we know really? I mean, we develop all these cool political theories, but political science, like economics, is a social science at heart. And as with all social sciences, we are forced to concede that these theories depend entirely on human rationality, conveniently ignoring for the purposes of statistical analysis that this phrase is in fact an oxymoron.