I believe it was Jim Geraghty that coined the headline of this post, but it keeps turning around in my mind. Tam highlights a particularly vacuous campaign video appearing this season in Indiana. The worst part about an election like this is that the partisans, on both sides, have already made up their minds. Studies have shown that partisans are generally the best informed voters, when it comes to the issues, no matter what side you’re on. The rest of this silly season is bringing the folks, who barely pay attention, over to your side so you can actually win the election. Whether anyone likes it or not, you need these people to actually win.
So you get politicians making these vacuous ads, because they want the low-information voters* to like and identify with them — I’m a great politician, you see. I care about our troops, and you care about our troops too, so don’t you think I’m a great guy to vote for? I not only care about our troops in general, but out troops from your very specific tribe!Â How wonderful! — Â The low-information voter won’t know much in November, but politicians will be hoping ads like this strike an emotional chord, and stick strongly in the memories of people who barely pay attention. This is how elections are won and lost, unfortunately, when partisans can’t decisively win on the strength of their base. That’s the case for neither party today.
In parliamentary systems, partisans are more free to be loyal to parties that most closely match their beliefs, and leave the coalition building to the politicians in the government. In our system, coalition building happens outside the apparatus of government, and compromises are forged in civil society. Some argue the former is better, but I tend to think the latter is. I’d much rather trust civic entities to make compromises than state entities. But the unfortunate side effect of forging coalitions in civil society is having to persuade the low-information voter that your guy is really their guy, and the result are ads like Tam highlights. I wish I knew how to fix that problem, without putting more power in the hands of politicians, but I don’t really have a good answer.
* Before libertarians get offended that I’m suggesting they are low information voters, rather than partisans, they are not. Libertarians are among the most partisan and informed around. But not enough people don the wookie suit to be a real factor in elections. You have many people who are libertarianish, but Â a strong ideology that doesn’t involve a deity is a rare breed, whether your deity is God or Government. Winning the unwashed masses will take some degree of pragmatism.