Undecided voters are not what you think.
Undecided voters are not deliberative and thoughtful people trying mightily to make a hard choice. But they are also not ignorant goons who can’t be bothered to learn the first thing about politics.
There is a fairly large cohort of people out there for whom "politics" as a concept just doesn’t interest them. And public policy functionally doesn't affect them beyond a trip to the DMV and (maybe) paying their taxes. As much as activists and politicians try to convince people otherwise, politics is… a nuisance to be overcome, and a fundamental fact of life not dissimilar to a rainy day. It’s not a “real” interest, and should take up as little head-space as humanly possible.
This is where I usually segway into something about “40 years of anti - government propaganda has consequences”. But it’s more than that. The trappings of modern life - from modern tech, to the 40 hour work week, to sports, entertainment, and the lottery, are all configured in such a way as to make something else - anything else - the focus of our attention.
It’s also not controversial to say that broad economic stability is the key to ending societal ills from terrorism to teen pregnancy. And we have a great deal of stability - even given 10% unemployment, an absurd healthcare system, and with a non - existent social safety net. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is being met by a majority of the US population, and as a result of that, we can focus our energy on other things.
And why would one want to spend that coveted extra energy on something icky like politics?
|This shit is confusing.
That question (sort of) dovetails nicely into a question that I’ve had for years now - why in the world do Democrats absolutely lose their minds every two years trying to turn people out to vote? We know that there are certain demographics that don’t vote in the numbers that they should, and that engaging them is critical, and that Republican voters tend to be older and vote more consistently.
Fine - all of that.
But there has to be a bigger reason for the voting fanaticism when polls consistently show 70-80% approval for more progressive policies. Just on the merits of something seemingly simple like what people want their government to do, Democrats should win in a walk, even given demographics, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the electoral college.
So while it’s very tempting to say that there’s just a toxic mix of ignorance and apathy out there that makes people uniquely susceptible to a message of “low taxes, small government”. And that message drives fence sitters and goofy third party voters (more on them later) towards indecision, it’s a far more of a practical disconnect between people and politics. An economist would simply describe them as “rational actors”, there’s simply no reason for them to engage with issues or with politics in general.
While our collective empathy deficit is probably the biggest hurdle to that engagement, it doesn’t really jibe when the question at hand is such a rational one. The argument becomes one of moral scolding when the real reason behind their undecided position is simply one of bandwidth and emotional energy. And while I’m not so pious to believe that moral and ethical scolding aren’t called for on a lot of fronts, to the disengaged, it’s not a convincing argument. Something different is needed, and it involves a more radical re - imagining of how disaffected civilians can engage with their government in a democratic republic.
“I’ve got mine, and screw you” might as well be on the coat-of-arms, but dilute that down with enough apathy and it becomes “I’ve got mine, and… I just don’t have the energy to care about yours”. That’s the real enemy. And if one looks at the myriad issues that orbit that apathy, it's clear that while their thinking may be simple, the forces pulling on them are anything but.