The Electorate’s Priorities
I know that it’s silly season, so whenever I say anything remotely campaign related, it means I’m Objectively Pro (Whoever). Never mind that I’m strongly opposed to both of the major-party candidates. Never mind that I wish, somehow, that both of them could lose, badly, to anyone from a long, long list of other people.
I’m still Objectively Pro (Whoever). By virtue of opening my mouth during silly season.
So with this post, I’m going to take the fun out of reading the tea leaves for all of you. [Flips a coin.] Huh. This post is Objectively Pro Romney. Make of that what you will, but the coin flips will continue as needed.
Anyway. I’ve been trying to model voters’ real preferences based on how they vote. Yes, that’s dangerous, and yes, elections are more managed — by established politicians — than any other mass-participation process in this country, barring maybe only health care.
Let’s set aside the question of manufactured consent, huge problem though it is, and see what we can do without it. I submit that if voters’ real preferences can be discerned based on how they vote, then here they are, in order:
1. I don’t want to lose too often. Losing once in a while is inevitable, but not too often.
2. I care about current political issues, the candidates’ stances on the issues, and the candidates’ characters, background, and experiences. Not necessarily in order.
The place of priority (1) explains why when people change their party loyalty, they so often switch from Team Blue to Team Red, or vice versa. Without this priority, it’s hard to explain why the two major parties don’t just bleed away all their followers, either into the (admittedly growing) pool of independents, or into third parties.
Notably, even the (admittedly growing) pool of independents still overwhelmingly breaks down along party lines. Red-leaning independents think a lot like Team Red, and Blue-leaning independents think a lot like Team Blue. As John Sides put it, “Most independents are closet partisans.” Perhaps as priority (3), some voters want also to appear independent, which our system allows them to do even while still enjoying (1).
It’s still very hard to explain much of American politics without (1) being the highest priority for nearly everyone. But this would be an embarrassing thing to admit. Wouldn’t it? It’s almost certainly irrational when we evaluate it on a means-ends basis, because the reason for politics is surely to be found somewhere among all the stuff in (2).