Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Elections and Thier Meaning (or Lack Thereof)

Well Jeff sort of beat me to an election roundup already, but that’s not really what I want to write about. I’ve stayed mercifully silent about the whole Lieberman-Lemont Connecticut Senate race basically because I didn’t find it all that interesting. Now that the results are in, I couldn’t be more pissed off. No, not because Lieberman lost, as I said, I’m not at all vested in the outcome, but rather because of the national brew-ha-ha that the race, and its results have caused.

I swear to god (ironic given my previous expressions of devout atheism) that if I hear one more pundit, Republican, Democrat, Independent, or Martian say that Ned Lemont’s victory in Connecticut last night means that the so-called “left-wing” of the Democratic party has firmly taken national control, I’m going to throw something at my computer/TV/radio. It was a single primary in a single state for crying out loud! I know all the numbers, only something like 4 incumbent Senators have lost primaries in the last 25 years or so, but give me a break, it was still one primary election in one state. Moreover, the results only contained about 350,000 votes (which, of course, amounts well less than 1% of the 50 million plus people who voted for John Kerry in 2004). Back off. More importantly, get a clue.

So here are my beefs. First, let’s get something straight, Connecticut voters speak for the people of the state of Connecticut ONLY! In fact, these voters, because it was a primary, speak for an even smaller group of people; namely, registered Democrats in Connecticut. The voters who voted for Lemont over Lieberman didn’t speak for Republicans, non-registered Democrats, or even Independents. They spoke only for that sub-set of the entire electorate. Their preferences cannot be aggregated across the country. They do not, in any way, shape or form, speak for any other Democrats outside of Connecticut, just like other Democrats don’t represent or speak for Democrats in Connecticut. This was not a Presidential primary, where momentum, media attention, and most importantly fund raising in state B is closely connected with success or failure in the primary of state A. These candidates have no place else to go, no other voters get to judge them, and, as such, the power and meaning of any results is severely limited, notwithstanding what the media and pundits would have you believe.

Voting, like individual preferences for economic goods and services, cannot be aggregated. By this I mean that the sum of individual preferences for anything cannot be tallied up to be reflective of a whole group of people. Voters in Connecticut preferred Lemont over Lieberman, fine, that doesn’t mean anything for voters in Maryland, California, Alaska, Rhode Island, Mississippi or anywhere else. You can’t make those kinds of claims, they don’t withstand scrutiny. We’ve all heard of the “median voter theory,” which simply put holds that politicians cater most directly to those voters right in the middle as they are likely to swing the election results one way or the other. Makes sense right, especially given that we know that the electorate is roughly 30-40% Republican, 30-40% Democrat and 20-30% Independent (or undecided, depending on your take), so median voter theory says that you focus on the 20-30% who are independent/undecided because as they go so go the results. Well here’s the kicker, median voters are different in every election. They represent different factions depending on geography, economic status, and the issues that are central to the race. The median Democratic primary voter in Connecticut is going to want different things than the median voter in the Connecticut general election, and the median voter in just about every other election that you can think of naming. About the only thing that last night’s results tell us is that the median voter in the Connecticut Democratic Party is further to the left, and apparently more anti-war, than Joe Lieberman. That’s it, end of story. Gee, didn’t we already know that little fact. Last night tells us absolutely nothing about voters in any other election anywhere in the US. It doesn’t mean all Democrats are loony anti-war nut jobs (though many are), it doesn’t signal the purging of moderates from the Democratic Party (except for the one who lost), and it doesn’t signal a takeover of the party by any fringe group of bloggers who happen to have devoted far too much time, effort, and energy to a small blue (deep blue) state’s primary election (trust me, I’m sure their own take on their influence will be highly overstated).

I have no idea if Ned Lemont will make a good United States Senator or not. I don’t live in Connecticut so I don’t really care all that much. From a national perspective, Connecticut is a very, very blue state, just like much of New England, so replacing Lieberman likely isn’t going to make much of a difference. Lemont will caucus with the Democrats, likely be a solid vote on major party legislation, and generally tow the party line. I don’t think he’ll be a Clinton or Obama in terms of fundraising, but few are. So look, please do me a favor, let’s can the national predictions based on one result in one primary. After November and we see where we all stand we can talk about trends and patterns, but not until then, thank you.


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