Saturday, November 04, 2006

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Undecided? How is that possible?

NPR continued its series on some of the up-for-grabs races in next week's election with an item on Morning Edition on Thursday about both parties' "get out the vote" campaigns in Iowa. Reporter David Greene talked with Republican canvasser Sandy Moses, and followed her around while she made some of her door-to-door calls.

At about 3 minutes into the audio you can hear Ms Moses talk with a woman who says she won't be voting:

To be honest, I don't vote. I just... Whatever happens, happens.
I find that odd enough, that people — so many people — abdicate their power to have a say in who governs them. "Whatever happens, happens." It doesn't get more laissez-faire than that. Ms Moses goes on to tell the woman that her vote is important, and it is.

Yes, your one, tiny little drop of a vote is diluted by the ocean of other votes cast. Sure, no election will be decided outright by one vote: there'd be endless recounts if that should appear. Still, elections are decided by just a few votes (remember that in some local elections, for school board or town council, there are often only a couple thousand votes cast in total). If 1000 more people had voted in Florida in the 2000 presidential election, it could have changed our country for the next eight years and beyond. Yes, your vote is important!

But shortly after that you can hear them talk with Iowa resident Ryan Gallovin, who says that he'll probably vote Republican. Mr Greene wasn't sure about Mr Gallovin's conviction, and went back to talk with him later:

Greene: You sounded kind of vague in your answer when you...
Gallovin: Yeah, because I'm not sure which way I'm going to vote.

He's not sure? He's undecided? How is that possible at this stage of the campaign? We know what each party stands for. We know on what sides the candidates stand. And our politics are so strongly polarized in recent years that it seems mind-boggling that anyone who's thought about it more than fleetingly — and it does sound like Mr Gallovin has thought about it — could possibly not know how he intends to vote.

And what could help him decide? What will possibly happen between now and Tuesday, what new information can he possibly get in less than a week, that would settle the matter for him. Will he go to the polls and flip a coin? Will it depend upon the last bumper sticker he happens to see on his way to his polling place, or who hands him a flyer when he gets his morning coffee at the doughnut shop? Or, more likely, will he just use a default strategy? "I usually vote Republican," he'll say, "and I can't decide what to do so I'll do that."

Of course, that last is what many of us will be doing anyway, for one party or the other. I hate thinking that way, preferring to consider each candidate individually, rather than by party, but, as I said, things have become so polarized that it really has boiled down to that. Of all the damage the Bush administration has done domestically, the polarization, the removal of most opportunity to compromise for the good of the country is perhaps the worst.

Anyway, even deciding to use a party-line vote is still a decision. How, at this point, can anyone be undecided?

3 comments:

The Ridger, FCD said...

"Of course, that last is what many of us will be doing anyway, for one party or the other. I hate thinking that way, preferring to consider each candidate individually, rather than by party"

In the best of all possible worlds - or even just a somewhat better one - I would agree with you. But voting for a moderate Republican because you like him is irresponsible this time around. Even someone like Chafee voted for DeLay and supported Bush. Taking Congress away from Bush is a necessity this time.

So maybe you're right that it's a shame, but as someone once said, you vote in the election you've got ... or something like that.

Paul said...

I think that we all, when speaking to someone who is complaining about the government, should immediately ask them, "did you vote in that election?" If the answer is no, then our very next statement should be, "shut the fuck up!"

scouter573 said...

It is shockingly easy to be undecided. For someone trained to follow arguments, there's plenty of fodder out there from reliable sources. But for the average citizen, the one who didn't get that class on critical thinking, the one that didn't get years of science or engineering training, there are plenty of sources out there - and few of them make any sense. I look around at the candidates and the propositions on the ballot in my state, and it is nearly impossible to find an understandable, unbiased analysis of the sides. Each side, sadly including many that I support, pitches an incomplete and biased version of the truth. There's actually some candidate out there that is accusing his opponent of voting for an unpopular bill -- without mentioning that he voted for it, too! As an average citizen, which side am I to believe? The only reasonable choice is: neither. Frankly, who has the time to do deep analysis of each issue and each candidate, even assuming good data is available? Very few. One approach is to fall back to party loyalty - just vote a party ticket. That's how Ney and Cunningham got reelected. Arguably a more honest approach is to remain undecided.