No Idea What They Are Talking About

>> Thursday, October 8, 2009

When i read most articles about voters, their motivations, rationales, etc i want to smash my head against a brick wall. Today featured a string of blog posts by respected bloggers steve benen, digby, matt yglesias about exactly who and what independent voters are. These bloggers have gotten where they are today because they tend to write intelligently about things that they know and what they say is accurate. This is in stark contrast to the "reporters" and other media professionals who profess to cover politics.

Digby wrote a reflection that nicely illustrates the ignorance at work

I was listening to all the gasbags drone on all day yesterday about how the "independents" are all unhappy with Obama and are probably going to vote for the Republicans again when just a couple of years ago they were all unhappy with Bush and voted with the Democrats. This was interpreted as a signal that Obama needs to tack right immediately to recapture them.

Does that make sense? Isn't the answer more logically that independents just habitually dislike whoever is in power and think that both parties are incompetent? Why else would they identify as independents in the first place?

I realize that the villagers think there is some sort of "median" moderate voter who believes that the answer to all of our problems lies somewhere between the positions of the two parties. But that's not necessarily the independent's position. They don't like either party true, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they yearn to split the difference. In fact, I suspect that a large number of them are apolitical people who don't really understand politics at all and simply reject whoever is in power when things aren't going well, without regard to party. (In fact, there is great social utility in rejecting party politics and proclaiming yourself unhappy with the whole set-up. Who can't relate to that on some level?) Many independents ideologically fall far enough outside the two parties that they can't consider themselves members of either --- libertarians, greens etc.

The number of independents out there is quite large and all national politicians need to reach them in elections in order to win. But the knee jerk assumption that they are always more moderate than everyone else is probably wrong. They might just be more cranky, more cynical, more uninformed, more skeptical or more impatient. There are a lot of reasons why someone might be an independent in American politics but I suspect that ideology is at the bottom of the list.

It is embarrassing that the media in this country who cover politics daily have such little understanding about voters and their behavior. There is such a lack of sophistication in the coverage. There is a long history of voter theory in political science dedicated to figuring out why people vote the way that they do, how they form their opinions, etc. Yet discussions meant to inform the public and help them gain a better understanding of politics and how things are likely to work takes advantage of non of it.

When was the last time you saw V.O. Key referenced? Or Morris Fiorina? Its not like the basic texts are hard to find. Head over to this site for some summaries of the seminal theories of voting behavior. I would love to see direct references to these works in the predictions made by the pundits and other blatherers on tv. I would tolerate the taking of positions that showed even a minimal familiarity or understanding of the work. The deepest that any of the experts who routinely tell us why one thing is good for obama or this thing is bad is thomas franks' whats the matter with kansas. Though i doubt they have read bartels reply.

Is it too much to ask that the people who are paid to analyze voting and what is likely to affect it to exhibit a basic understanding of it? Digby's comments on independents are not surprising. The media describes things in terms of left and right. short hand for conservative and liberal, democrat and republican. The truth is that things are more complicated and messy than simple two dimensional axis. most people do not have developed coherent ideologies. they are all over the map.

About half said a major reason for their independence is that they agree with Democrats on some issues and Republicans on others, and that they are not comfortable with either party. Four in 10 said not wanting to put a label on their political views is a principal reason for calling themselves independents. Fifteen percent said they are independent because they are simply not very interested in politics.

As benen, yglesias, atrios, digby, all point out, describing independently registered voters or people without a party as being moderate centrists is lazy and its wrong. Being wrong on the scale that the village is damages political discourse, policy making, and society itself. Politicians change their behavior based on the incorrect assumptions of the media. With the failure of the village to provide even basically correct interpretation of voter behavior i am not surprised that papers are going under.


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