Saturday, November 15, 2008

There is no Center

Professor James Gimpel has convinced me - everything I learned in Political Science 101 about median voter theory is bunk. Black's classic theory, amplified through the years by greater minds, assumes that there's a mass of rational voters in the middle of the left-right political spectrum.

Poppycock, apparently.

The first tip-off should have been the persistence of the UK Lib-Dem party, whose existence creates a theoretical unstable equilibrium.

Who are these people in the so-called center?
The research suggests that those who at various times occupy this center, often described as moderates or independents, are not very knowledgeable about or interested in politics. They do not follow campaign coverage closely, are inconsistent in their policy views, and are often not able to identify what positions are liberal or conservative.

So, in essence, most of them do not hold rational positions, and therefore would not be accounted for by an economic/game theory that assumes rationality.

Sounds to me like John McCain. His policies have been all over the map from an ideological perspective.

By any reasonable measure McCain was the more centrist candidate. In conservative circles there was a brief outbreak of "McCain Derangement Syndrome" during the primaries. We hated him. I identified three candidates I preferred ahead of him for the nomination, Thompson, Romney, and Giuliani, in that order. I hesitated to support him after he had the nomination tied up. Though I never vowed to vote against him, many did so. I suspect most reneged on that threat when Obama became the Democratic nominee, but conservatives were certainly holding our noses voting for McCain.

For all the jabber about how McCain ran too far to the right, I ask, "On what issue?" All we heard for months on end was "just like Bush". Well, Bush won. Outright at least once.

Oh, and Sarah Palin?
Moving centrists toward one’s candidacy is not a process that hinges on taking the right policy stands, either. Instead, it involves the enthusiasm and social contagion that builds around exciting candidates. We know from several volumes of political-science research that less-informed voters commonly substitute someone else’s judgment for their own. That someone else is often a spouse, workmate, or neighbor knowledgeable and enthusiastic about one of the candidates. Support for a candidate spreads through social influence processes. [This was the Dowd/Rove playbook outlined in "Applebee's America", using "The Influentials" as a precursor - JC]

It is therefore no accident that Sarah Palin’s nomination gave John McCain the only lead that he had during the fall campaign. [emph. added] She was Senator McCain's only hope for closing the enthusiasm gap, but then economic crisis stalled the gains. Polls will show that Barack Obama had social contagion working in his favor to pull the incoherent center in a leftward direction.

I'll disagree on two points. First, there is a real phenomenon that we describe as candidates "moving" to the center. I maintain that these candidates are often not changing their positions so much as they are emphasizing different issues. (That said, many of Obama's statements seem to come with a short expiration date.)

Second, a candidate needs to be able to articulate a semi-coherent philosophy. It may not be terribly important what sort of philosophy that is, but it definitely needs to be sold. McCain was an abject failure on this point, owing no doubt to the utter lack of such a philosophy.

1 comment:

lovemissbailey said...

so marketing is more important than the content--and charisma is more important than character--that's what we can learn from this illuminati victory, i guess. sadly, it holds true in most, if not all, of life.