Political scientists make me happy
Political scientists believe a few things about elections, some of which I think are pretty encouraging. And this John Sides post is a good opportunity to talk about them.
First, campaigns don't matter as much as we think. I take that as a good thing: Democracy shouldn't be overly reliant on whose political consultants are better at spinning the truth into advertisements and attack mailers.
Second, "elections writ large depend more on performance than on policy -- that is, they depend more on how things are going (for which the incumbent party is on the hook) than on specific policies, bills, legislation, etc." That's a bit unfair to incumbents, who aren't totally responsible for conditions, but it's nevertheless a fairly decent way for voters to make decisions.
Third is that voters don't approach elections with strong views on policy issues. Instead, they look to the political leaders they already trust to tell them what their views should be. If President Romney had proposed ObamaCare before a mostly Republican Congress, it would've gotten an easy majority of Republicans -- both in Congress and in the country -- and almost zero Democrats. Party affiliation drives policy opinions, and not the other way around.
The political science take on elections is sometimes accused of being nihilistic, as if doubting the importance of campaigns is like quoting Nietzsche and dressing in black. In fact, it's fairly optimistic: Elections are driven by the real state of the country, not the money candidates spend to advertise to voters. You could say that it would be better if people made their judgments based on the policy Congress was passing to change conditions rather than the conditions themselves, but when you really look into how people decide which policies they support, it's actually not clear that a more policy-centric process would be an improvement. Conditions are what voters know best, and so it's good that they rely on them.
August 17, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: Political Science
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