This Chris Hayes report of the mind of the undecided voter (via Peter Suderman’s bloggingheads with Ezra Klein) is amazing to me. Voter irrationality I understand, even when it infuriates me, and voter ignorance is frequently a given, but the completely apolitical thinking of undecided voters just baffles me.
These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief—not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.
To the extent that many voters are like these undecided voters, this could explain many things. It could help to explain why largely issue-driven protest candidacies always fail: the people to whom the protest candidate (i.e., the embodiment of the anti-establishment, the opponent of the failed system, etc.) should be the most attractive are the very kinds of people who don’t even think in terms of “issues.” When someone like Ron Paul runs an entirely policy-driven, sometimes obscure policy-driven, campaign he does not reach these people, to whom foreign policy is truly and completely foreign. It helps explain how McCain succeeds with voters, while those informed on and actually concerned about his policy views rule him out as unacceptable. He talks about himself as he does in this ad and bases his candidacy on his biography.
This reminds of some of the basic insights of Applebee’s America, according to which, “People are desperate to connect with one another and be part of a cause greater than themselves.” That last part of the sentence is virtually McCain’s campaign slogan. He talks about a “cause greater than ourselves” all the time, and evidently people love it. If voters crave authenticity, it does make you wonder what Michiganders were doing electing Mitt Romney, but nationally it seems to be the case that many voters are responding to McCain and Huckabee with the baffling irrationality of the undecided voter’s mentality.
Cross-posted at Eunomia