Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dissecting Influence in the 2012 Election

 Facing Facts About the Electorate

The Jeffersonian image of an "informed electorate" may bring ideas about education, media and even the adolescent values promoted during childhood upbringing.  One way or another, by the time a voter registration card enters the purses and wallets of Americans, a general body of knowledge and information has amassed in the minds which will, in turn, execute the ballot which accompanies it.

Further, we really can "dissect" the "knowledge" and "information" mentioned before into broad, general categories.  Both represent conceptual fulcrums for the arguments during pivoting political contests.  Knowledge, we may presume, is comprised of structural features which define our Republic -- its history, its organization, its operating mechanisms and, perhaps, even some sort of individual concept of its general philosophy.

Information, on the other hand, is naturally more contemporary.  The contents of this category are conclusions based on applications of the "knowledge" to the immediate challenges and opportunities which are presenting themselves to the Republic.  The voter faces the responsibility of merging the knowledge and information into a more or less coherent model from which reasonable ballot choices can follow.

When all the available components of both knowledge and information have been applied to the immediate moment as well as they can be, a voter among an "informed electorate" is prepared to cast his ballot.

More than enough has been written about the "nuts and bolts" comprising the current political arguments.  Predictably, this present election contest has presented its fair share -- perhaps even more than its normal ration -- of deception, fear mongering, over simplification and outright lies.  Selecting one or another of the most egregious cases of these things has become common fare for what is passing as political discourse.

Discussions of concepts and fundamental issues have largely been set aside in favor of this ever increasing outrage and bluster.  Although ideally this current, agitated  state might be the product of strongly held, thoughtful, political positions of an "informed electorate," MeanMesa grows more and more suspicious that this is no longer the case.

If discussions of opposing politics are no longer simple expressions of the conflict between actual, alternative political positions, what are they?  Posing an answer to this question is the theme of this MeanMesa post.

So, How Do "Political Interests" 
Swing the Electorate These Days?

To simplify this analysis, we can imagine that a typical voter has the equivalent of an almost empty TupperWare container somewhere in his mind.  The "almost empty" part must be stipulated because there will always be a few random things down in the bottom -- a "talking point" or two which seemed especially valuable the eleventh time he heard them, the "no passing stripe" Senator Dry Gulch finally got painted on the highway in front of Aunt Mildred's house or the $5 co-pay reduction on 6 or the 293 billing schedules on his crappy health insurance plan.

As we follow the TupperWare analogy, a political campaign is designed to gradually fill that container with a tid bit here and a tid bit there, a few dangling innuendos, a couple of pregnant, unanswered questions, a few generic promises and a good helping of barely accurate, angrily slung, theoretically possible, mud and character assassination directed at the "other guy."

Day by day, debate by debate, advertisement by advertisement, the TupperWare is gradually filled to capacity with all sorts of things.  Some voters reach the "full" line early in the campaign and then essentially stop adding anything new. Some voters, realizing that their TupperWare is practically empty a few days before the vote, desperately scamper around attempting to add whatever is available so they, too, can stroll into the polling place with their own,  acceptably full, TupperWare.

"Pay Day" comes when that TupperWare container finds its way to a voting booth, the lid is removed and a "catch as catch can" hand full of its contents is removed.  Of course, this vote is then determined by what can be found in the contents of that hand.   Campaigns become so expensive because everything is decided by what comes up with that hand.  For any particular campaign the more "good stuff" the better the election result.

Although this may seem to be a bit caustic as analogies go, we must remember that the voting process has traditionally been somewhat more thoughtful.  We can also note that the sheer volume of persuasive material confronting voters -- each instance with the hope of joining the "contents" of the TupperWare -- has increased exponentially.

When Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for President, the TupperWare containers were essentially filled only by attending speeches, reading newspapers or speaking to one's neighbors.  The messages of a campaign were prepared far more cautiously because, perhaps, the TupperWare could not quite so easily filled when it came time to cast a ballot.

Taking an Equally Cold Look at Voter Demographics

While demographic divisions are usually based on "projective issues" these days -- issues which are both easier to measure and even easier to manipulate as they are exploited for votes -- there may be another interesting metric to consider.  So, what does this possibly mean?

"Projective issues" have to do with the world which is external to the voter.  For example, they certainly include the obvious matters of evangelical beliefs, skin color, economic status and defined or undefined ideological models.  However, the "other, interesting metric" can be a measurement of, you guessed it, the quality of all those additions to the contents of the TupperWare.

In fact, we should also add the state of the voter's information when he reaches the polls to our measurement.  To see this, we must consider the sources of what he has added to his TupperWare along with the reasons he might have been inclined to select those sources.  MeanMesa offers the following little diagram.

In terms of the "state" of the voter, we see that there are, in fact, rather definable categories, each on representing a corresponding percentage of the total voters, but each one also reflecting the specific impact of that category on the election outcome.  Interestingly, the number of voters in a certain categories does not the determine the direct outcome of the ballots cast.  Some categories influence the election not much at all while other categories influence the outcome a great deal, and that influence is not a simple, direct function of the numbers of votes cast by voters in each category.

We can take a look at a few, specific examples,

The "State," Numbers and Influence
 of a Few 2012 Voter Categories

In an attempt to "clear away the fog" a bit, MeanMesa opens the doors to the campaign back offices of the campaigns.  Of course, MeanMesa is not invited to actually visit the boiler room sessions where tactics are discussed, so we'll just have to make do with a few speculations as to what we might have found there. We'll just clip a few of the elements in the diagram for examples.

The first example category:

The "artificially agitated and controlled information" category represents voters who listen exclusively to openly biased information sources.  The information in these TupperWares is actually quite controlled with an endless, repetitive flow of the same kind of issue oriented content.  Because no contradicting content is ever encountered, the credibility of what is received gains an almost unassailable "truth quotient."

We see that the snippets of the red and blue lines from the diagram are almost coincident.  This suggests that the numbers of these voters and the corresponding influence on the election outcome are essentially the same.  The closer the red and blue lines fall for a specific category, the closer the model is to the theoretical "one man, one vote" idea.

In terms of campaigns this is basically a static, dependable block of votes which can be expected to cast ballots in keeping with the very controlled political messaging received.  Further, because there are no "competing messages" in the controlled information, credibility is high and so is dependability.  This category of voters will behave quite predictably in the ballot booth.  

Voters who always listen exclusively to FOX every day, for example, are in this category.  Although profoundly under informed, the voting profiles resulting from such a sole source are rigidly established.  These voters will not "surprise" any observer with unexpected results.  One of the "not particularly factual" things these voters are led to believe is that they comprise a majority in the electorate.

The second example category:

Here we see that the blue line representing the number of voters in this category is significantly higher than in the previous example.  We also notice that the influence [red line] of these voters on the election outcome is slightly higher than the "one man, one vote" idea would suggest from their numbers.

This voting block "fills their TupperWare" from the chaotic information presented on commercial media sources.  We say "chaotic" because, pursuing a commercial interest to appear objective, the commercial media very deliberately hashes what might at first appear to be conflicting positions into a single pot of soup. The priority of "appearing objective" quickly over tops the priority of "actually reporting," resulting in an irritating, yet largely incomprehensible hodge podge of unresolved and unresolvable positions.

Fifty years ago, any major media source worth its oats would eventually have endorsed a candidate as an election approached.  Can anyone imagine one of the modern commercial networks doing something similar?  They have long ago forsaken that brave yet breathtaking moment when they speak editorially about their choice.  Now, these media consider their responsibility met when they continue the flow of perplexing questions not answered and decisions not made right up to the last minute.

This category is the realm of the undecided voter, the fickle independent and the not entirely certain party members.  The infectious fear the networks have for endorsing a losing candidate -- quite beyond any opinion or particular consideration of a candidate's suitability or desirability -- makes the artificial chaos of "reasoned suspicion and indecision" seem the only remaining refuge.  The network fear extends further, too.  Because the tangible reporting is so weak, the media fear the "ratings killing" prospect of "having missed something important."

Predictably, so do the voters who rely on this perpetually unreconciled source of -- by design -- constantly conflicted information.

The third example category:

While this part of the diagram presents the phrase "absorb everything" while describing the political "wonks," there may be some confusion.  We have to assume that "no one can absorb everything."  Perhaps we should say "absorb enough."  When voters in this category enter the ballot booth, they are basically confident that their decision is based on almost everything they needed to know before making an important decision.

This voting block is not criticizing themselves for failing to make an effort to know enough.  Unlike the denizens of the first example category, positions held by these voters have survived the test of conflicting evidence.  Also unlike the first category, voters in this "state" have a "considered uncertainty" -- an unavoidable but acceptable companion to most such reasoned decisions.

We see that the [red] "influence" line is far above the corresponding [blue] "percentage of voters" line for this category.  This is because these voters, equipped with the questions they have resolved about their decision, can influence other voters.  They can be persuasive because their thoughts already contain the resolved product of considering the alternatives to the decision they have made.

The final category in this example shows a tremendous disparity between the actual population of such voters and the influence they wield in the election outcome.  Voters in this category have a firmly resolved voting decision, and they are willing to act in ways which will promote that decision to an electoral result.  Although a small percentage of the total voting population, the influence of these active voters in the election outcomes is large.

A small voting population.  

A disproportionally large influence on election outcomes.

The Parties in 2012

The advantage of the Democratic Party in the coming election is in the number of voters of the last two categories, especially in respect to the willingness of these voters to actively participate in the campaign.  The advantage of the Republican Party is with the concentration of "agitated" and "media reliant" voter blocks  -- voters less inclined to actively promote candidates but with unassailable background information sets.  We can visualize this disparity when we look at this Venn diagram.

The politically active voters are "force multipliers" for Democratic candidates and their campaigns.  The agitated and media reliant voters are, generally, far less active.  They may fervently support their candidates and even reliably vote for them, but they are not as inclined to, for instance, canvass door to door.

Remember, however, this Venn is a diagram shows the distribution of influence -- not votes.  As of now, the Democratic candidates have this advantage.

If YOU would like to influence the 2012 election outcomes, take heed.

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