The mainstream media has constructed a storyline that the 2012 election is all about the economy and jobs, but what if it isn’t?
Today’s news that the unemployment rate has ticked up to 8.2% has brought about the usual media howls about how this is total and comprehensive doom for Obama. Mitt Romney put out his usual daily statement about the president being a failure, and Republicans blamed Democrats, while Democrats blamed Republicans, but beneath all of this back and forth is an unproven premise that this election is all about the economy and jobs.
The problem is that this election probably won’t be about the economy and jobs, and the whole ball of wax is based on something that doesn’t exist. All of this chaos and courtship is designed to target a myth which dates back to the founding of our nation, the myth of the rational voter.
Thomas Jefferson wrote of the virtues of an informed electorate, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.”
Back in Jefferson’s day with voting limited to a very small group of white men, it was easy to have an informed electorate, but over time our politics have changed. In the modern era, an informed electorate is a bad thing that must be avoided. We now have an entire political party (Republican) who rejects information and intellectualism in favor of an ideological and religious belief system.
Republicans win elections not by informing voters, but by confusing them. Facts are drowned out by a constant thunderstorm of deceptive thirty and sixty second campaign ads that are intended to confuse voters and turn facts into questions. What exists today is a system that is designed to keep the electorate uninformed.
The premise of the rational voter is that people have access to facts and information. They weigh the facts and information, and they make a rational choice to vote for a candidate based on those facts.
What really happens is that voters are confused by a myriad of conflicting ads, and lacking the information they need to make the rational choice, they go with their gut and vote for the candidate that they like the best. In reality, voters are more likely to be swayed by the fact that Mitt Romney has the personality of a used car salesman than a one tenth increase in unemployment is often overlooked by the political chattering class. (After all it is only June, and they need something to talk about until the fall.)
Voters don’t behave rationally. Poor people vote Republican even when doing so goes against their rational self interest. George W. Bush won reelection in 2004 despite the fact that the nation had already soured on his war, more war, and perpetual war policies. Voters often make their decisions based on emotional and ideological reasons.
The question that most often determines the outcome of a presidential election isn’t am I better off than I was four years ago, but do I want this person coming into my living every day for at least the next four years?
The reality is that voters aren’t strictly rational. This is why the Romney campaign is hoping that they throw enough negative ads on the air to take away Obama’s personal popularity, and in the end the Obama campaign is hoping that the president’s popularity and the personal goodwill he has generated will carry him to reelection.
The media and the campaigns will continue to cackle and crank out the messages on the issues and false story lines, but in the end voters will elect the next president based on a simple question.
Which candidate do I like best?