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Monday, November 28, 2016

LYNN BERGMAN: A COIN FLIP ELECTION?

Why were 2016 presidential election results so close in so many states?  From my past involvement in political campaigns, I'd like to offer some empirical thinking. Perhaps the answer may lie in how voters select a candidate to vote for.

 

Ideology

The most influential element of voter decision making involves party affiliation. Voters vote for their chosen “team”. An “R” or a “D” reveals what the voter expects to receive in return for his or her vote. Voters will likely never vote for a third party in large numbers because of a general desire to vote for the “winner”. For a non-partisan choice on the ballot, a voter may seek information on the candidate that would indicate ideology. Identifiers such as “Progressive” or “Conservative” are triggers found in campaign propaganda that help voters make a no-party selection.

 

Name Recognition

Absent enough interest to determine which party most favors a voter's well being, voters look for a name they can identify with or are even familiar with. I have voted in this manner myself. When you know absolutely nothing about a candidate, you may vote for one because of the ethnicity of a name. You may even vote for the name you are most familiar with; the name you have heard or seen the most during the time frame just prior to the election.

 

Peer Association

This includes “endorsement” of the candidate by family, friends, or associates.

 

Character

Many voters vote for the candidate they believe to be a “good person”. A variation of this type of voting is to vote for the “best person”.

 

Experience

Many voters believe that having been in office to some degree pre-qualifies a candidate for their vote.

 

Gender

This is where it starts to get interesting. Men are more likely to vote for a male candidate and women are more likely to vote for a female candidate, all else being equal in their minds.

 

Race

Now it's really interesting! A variation of this, “ethnicity”, was offered above under “name recognition”. The sense of power inherent in voting for “one of our own kind” is a powerful force.

 

While there are other reasons that voters select a candidate on the ballot, the above are believed to be the most prominent reasons. So let's introduce the power of incumbency. 

 

Incumbency provides automatic ideological identification, name recognition, peer association, experience, gender and race identification. This is why incumbents are so hard to defeat when they have “kept their noses clean”.

 

So why was the presidential election of 2016 so close?

 

1. The candidates had almost equally excellent name recognition.

2. For both candidates, peer association and character were negative elements.

3. Experience, a normally positive element, was a negative for both candidates due to the anemic economy of the last eight years and, for Trump, the lack of any record of public service.

4. Neither candidate enjoyed the power of “incumbency”.

 

When voters chose ideology that matches their personal environment, select a candidate on name recognition, and when character and experience are offsetting negatives, the results can be expected to be similar to a coin flip. The more times you flip the coin, the closer the results.

 

Do I believe too many voters are almost as ignorant of what makes for good government as a five year old? Undoubtedly, yes…. sad but true… and a complete indictment of our public education system.

 

When we vote only for “stuff for ourselves” is it any wonder our grandchildren will be the ones to suffer? On the anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

 

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