An interesting post by Chris Hayes on what goes through the minds of undecided voters. One telling excerpt:
Undecided voters aren’t as rational as you think. Members of the political class may disparage undecided voters, but we at least tend to impute to them a basic rationality. We’re giving them too much credit. I met voters who told me they were voting for Bush, but who named their most important issue as the environment. One man told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he thought that with Cheney, an oilman, on the ticket, the administration would finally be able to make us independent from foreign oil. A colleague spoke to a voter who had been a big Howard Dean fan, but had switched to supporting Bush after Dean lost the nomination. After half an hour in the man’s house, she still couldn’t make sense of his decision. Then there was the woman who called our office a few weeks before the election to tell us that though she had signed up to volunteer for Kerry she had now decided to back Bush. Why? Because the president supported stem cell research. The office became quiet as we all stopped what we were doing to listen to one of our fellow organizers try, nobly, to disabuse her of this notion. Despite having the facts on her side, the organizer didn’t have much luck.
I remember back in the ’90’s talking to a woman who was between jobs at the time, and consequently without health insurance of any sort. She was worried about her situation, but took some solace in the fact that “at least Hillary’s plan never got passed.” Say what you will about the original Clinton health care proposal, I don’t think that “gives uninsured people even less insurance” would be a valid criticism.
The lesson I would draw from these stories is not to pat ourselves on the back for being well-informed while the unwashed masses are so clueless. It’s that we have built a system where people who don’t pay that much attention to politics are easy targets for disinformation. Why would anyone believe that Bush was the candidate to back if you support stem cell research? Well, because he and his supporters are happy to tell you that he supports stem cell research. It might not be “true” in any reasonable sense, but if you are generally predisposed to favor Republicans and you’re not following the details, it’s easy enough to believe. And there’s nothing especially partisan about the strategy; Democrats will obviously try to speak of themselves as being on the right side of every issue as well.
It’s an old story, but I blame the media. A few decades ago when a small number of TV/radio/newspaper outlets were the source of almost all information about politics and governance, one could make the argument that presenting some information and not passing judgment was the right thing to do. (One could also make the argument that such a strategy is simply impossible, but that’s not for right now.) In a world with thousands of such sources, the best thing that the largest news outlets could do is to not simply present all sides dispassionately, but make it clear who is right (factually speaking) and who is wrong. When someone claims that cutting taxes always increases revenue, let us know what the evidence is. In a world where information of some sort is everywhere, the important service is not to simply provide more, it’s to separate the wheat from the chaff.