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Sunday, November 02, 2008

How Could Anyone Be Undecided?

I see this question asked on bulletin boards. Its grounding is something like, "These two candidates are miles apart! How could anyone not be able choose between them?"

Well, I really don't think they are so many miles apart, but, in any case, that distance is totally irrelevant to the issue: Place an anarcho-capitalist and a communist running against each other. Now place a hypothetical voter squarely in the European-style social democrat camp. He's about halfway between them, and may have a hard time choosing. These "How can you be undecided?" folks have confused difficulty reaching a preference for one candidate with an inability to distinguish them, as if the customer in a restaurant who is debating between having pasta and steak can't tell them apart!

12 comments:

  1. I've interviewed many voters over the past couple of weeks. Although they've known my bias, I think many of those who claim to be undecided have a particular prejudice that they are trying not to reveal. I suspect McCain will claim most of the undecided voters, because I suspect they're lying about their indecision.

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  2. Joe the Plumber claimed to be undecided, but it was reported that he was a registered Republican and voted for McCain in the primary. I still don't know how they knew for whom he voted, but his politics have become pretty clear.

    When a voter tells me he/she is undecided, I usually follow with a question like, "so what's a hot issue for you, what would change your mind." Most of the arguments have been, "well, he pals around with terrorists," or, "I just don't like his name." Yup, I heard several people say they were on the fence because of Obama's middle name.

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  3. I think Gene makes a great point, but I want to point out one more.

    I think there's a tendency to put candidates on a line. (That's how we get the right-left terminology in the first place.) For someone feebly attempting forming independent opinions such as myself, this seems silly. I really have no sense of intellectual identification with any of McCain's views. I do like many of the actual words and arguments that I hear coming out of Obama's mouth, but I still disagree with too many of his conclusions to vote for him. I don't think people can conceptualize a multi-dimensional political space in which it isn't clear how far away you are from anyone.

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  4. That's a really good post, Gene. I must confess I had bought into this, "How the heck could anybody not know by this point?? What more do you need to hear?"

    But you're absolutely right, if I thought I had to choose one or the other, I would still be unsure, because they both give me the heebie jeebies.

    However, I know that I have the ability to choose neither, and I've know the entire time that I wasn't voting for either one of them.

    I suppose if Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich had somehow been the nominees, I would have seriously entertained voting for one of them. (Meaning, Kucinich vs. McCain, or Paul vs. Obama.)

    Yeah, I think right now if Ron Paul were the Republican candidate, I would have great difficulty living up to my earlier pledge never to vote, and so in that sense I could still be vacillating this late in the game.

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  5. The pollsters display a similar confusion when they offer "Don't Know" as a catchall for those who aren't satisfied with the other answers. Every time I take a poll, I get into a prolonged argument with the pollster over the wording of the questions and the inadequate choice of answers, and wind up hanging up on them. "I refuse to answer 'Don't know,' which implies that the problem is my ignorance rather than the incompetence of the person who designed the poll. I know damned well what my opinion is, and none of the answers you provide corresponds to it."

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  6. I agree, Gene. The people who find the choice easy are not seeing the whole picture.

    I prefer Obama over McCain partly because clearly the Republicans need spanking for their mismanagement of government, but just as much the irresponsibility of Dems in Congress should not be overlooked, especially when we are poised to repeat the mistakes we made by putting Republicans in charge of both the White House and both houses of Congress.

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  7. bobvis, why is it hard to measure distance in a multidimensional space?

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  8. wabulon8:32 AM

    Oops, GC is logged in on this computer. That last wasn't GC, that was me.

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  9. wabulon,
    That is a good question. When I was writing my comment I did vaguely realize that if someone out here wanted to they could point that out. You are right that as long as you think of it in dimensional terms, you can always compute a Euclidean distance.

    I'm going to retract/expand on my prior argument. The whole idea of being able to come up with "here's how far away this guy is from me" is flawed. There is no "shortest route" algorithm in politics. If there was, there would probably be a quiz for it on the Internet! A wide variety of topics have different levels of importance to us and to the candidates. We never know which of a candidate's attributes are going to get expressed in any one candidate after the election. For example, while Bush did say that he favored Social Security reform, who knew that would be the first thing he sought to move on post-reelection? Accordingly, someone I am close to might seek to make his presidency about the very topics that I happen to disagree with him on. I think this is why libertarians are so likely to feel burned by Bush, who perhaps had some fiscally conservative ideals going into office, but chose to act on mostly his social agenda.

    I guess I am saying that any sort of mathematical/geometric view of politics is going to be limited. You can probably tell I haven't developed this idea fully, but I think others don't realize how useless there mental models really are.

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  10. Oops, GC is logged in on this computer. That last wasn't GC, that was me.

    I was gonna say, I didn't think Gene even knew how to spell "multidimensional."

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