Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Are Elections Won? Or Are They Lost?

In today's era, or perhaps in any era, how often does a challenger to an incumbent truly winan election? Controlling for an unexpected skeleton dancing out of a closet, how often does the challenger truly persuade the electorate that "The incumbent is good, but you should elect me because I'm better?"

Isn't it actually the case that where an incumbent loses an election, and even more the case when there is a statewide or national movement toward one party over another, that the incumbent politician or party is perceived as having somehow proved himself unfit to govern? And it's not so much that the challenger is necessarily better, but that the challenger is the only other realistic option?

I'm not trying to indict democracy or gerrymandering. I'm just having a hard time thinking of a political campaign where an incumbent lost, let alone where a party lost control of Congress or a Parliament, despite being viewed as effective on election day. Isn't this why negative campaigning is so effective? Why it is now preferred to have a Karl Rove secretly open his bag of dirty tricks rather than actually debating the issues?


  1. That's part of it, but the fact that the "average voter" is, if not dumb, at best ignorant also plays a role.

    When was the last time you saw someone convinced that a viewpoint that they didn't start the discussion with was right, and that the views they started the discussion with were wrong? Heck, when was the last time you saw someone who was even willing to concede that the other side had made a valid point?

    How often (in person or on the net) have you made a valid point and had it be completely missed because the person you were speaking with was to ignorant of the issues to understand what you were saying?

    Negative campaignging works because it appeals to the lowest common denominator and it requires (benefits from) absolutely no knowledge on the part of the target audience in order for it to be effective.

    Which approach works better in the real world? Telling the electorate that your opponent's policies result in short term decreases in the number of offenses committed but fail to provide adequate opportunities at rehabilitation, or calling him a racist? Turn it around, which argument wins in California, explaining that the "tough sentencing laws" are resulting in a huge drain in resources that could be better spent in other ways, or calling your opponent "soft on crime"?


  2. I would respond to that, but obviously I am not going to change your mind. Besides, you're probably a soft-on-crime racist. ;-)


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