Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Three Things Not To Freak Out Over For The Upcoming Election

1. Don't get caught up with Congressional pay and perks

I have spoken about this in the past, but it bears repeating: pretty much everything you hear about how much Senators and congressmen get paid, and the “perks” that they get, are misleading or outright lies. While it’s true that they get a decent salary and pretty good expense accounts, you have to remember that these are professional individuals who are probably making much, much less than they could in the private sector, and that it does, in fact, cost a lot of money to 1) live in DC; 2) maintain two homes; and 3) give up significant portions of your time traveling not only to and from your home state but also to the thousands of functions you are obligated to go to.

People generally think of Congress as a whole as a collection of crooks, and yet they keep getting re-elected. Voters aren't stupid; they legitimately like their own representative, because generally speaking most representatives do a pretty good job at basic constituent service. 

No one really wants our representatives to get rich—they are civic citizens, after all—and we don't want people to be in it for the money. But we want people to be able to make a decent living. We have to provide enough wages to attract intelligent and capable individuals to run for office, and despite what people think being a representative is a fairly demanding and thankless job--think about where you work, and how it would be if about 49% of your co-workers and customers hated you and spent all their time actively trying to get you to fail. Don't get me wrong--I fully realize that individuals go in to this career knowing that this is how it will be, and they certainly get the benefits and prestige of being a Senator. But I will never understand the populist drive to make the job as undesirable and unappealing as possible. 

In the end, it may make us feel good cranking about congressional pay raises, but it makes up such a miniscule part of our spending as to be silly—less than a fraction of a penny for each taxpayer is spend on salaries.

2. Don't be an asshole to undecided voters

I have heard it in the past, but especially this season, that “undecided voters” are particularly stupid or illogical. I can’t really comprehend this.

Is it so bad that about 5% of our voting base might see both sides of our political landscape? Is it a horrible thing that not everyone is a kneejerk partisan who made up their mind four years ago and isn’t interested in researching their opponent? Can people not genuinely be torn between opposing viewpoints?

We cannot in our political culture complain about “partisanship” and “why can’t the parties just work together” or “our government is dysfunctional,” and then make fun of people who are most likely moderates and are weighing their options between the two candidates. Different people arrive at that decision in different ways. Maybe there's only one or two specific issues they are concerned about, and neither party has a lock on that issue. Or maybe there are character traits about one specific individual that override the party platform--someone may value a candidate's ability to make quick, sound judgements over their position on, say, illegal immigration. Or any number of reasons.

Basically, if you are calling someone stupid because they haven’t immediately supported your own preferred candidate, that says a lot more about yourself than that person.

3. Don't flip out if the electoral vote winner doesn't win the most popular votes

This one, at least, I can understand—it seems rankly undemocratic that the person who gets the most votes doesn’t actually become our President. It hasn’t happened often, but it has, and of course most famously happened in 2000. But hear me out: it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Of course, you may disagree with the concept of the electoral college to begin with, but that doesn’t matter; the electoral college is how the President will be decided in 2012, like it or not, not the popular vote.

In the end, however, the popular vote totals do not necessarily reflect the “true” popular vote.

Why? Because both candidates are campaigning based on the electoral college, not on the popular vote. Obama and Romney are fighting for votes in about nine different states, and with the exception of Florida are ignoring the most populated states (New York, California, Illinois, Texas, etc.) in favor of small and mid-sized states. Romney could probably squeeze, say, 50,000 more popular votes by campaigning in upstate New York and Obama could do the same in Texas, but they won’t—they’ll focus on gaining 5,000 votes in Iowa instead.

So this brings up two points: Firstly, we don’t know how many people who don’t live in swing states just stayed home on election day even though they would have voted had it mattered.

Secondly, people may have voted for one candidate over the other had the candidates focused their message to them. Perhaps had more individuals in Kentucky or West Virginia changed their mind because of a candidate’s position on coal mining, the popular vote would have been different. Maybe Obama’s popular vote would be more if North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, etc. know what his ranching and farming policies truly were. The candidates don’t necessarily have to change their positions--it’s just a waste of energy and money to sell their positions to voters if it won’t affect the outcome. If the popular vote selected the president, they would have changed the locations where they campaigned and what issues they emphasized.

Basically, candidates create their campaign strategy--who they target and the numbers of people they target--based on the electoral college, not the popular vote. Thus, you can't look at the popular vote and apply it to how the electoral college turned out--they are two different things.

Now, this may be a bit indefensible—voters who can’t be bothered to vote or don’t research their candidates are just lazy and maybe they shouldn’t be counted—but it’s also reality. And, to be fair, it doesn't make sense for someone in Utah to do a whole lot of research on either candidate, since their state is going for Romney (same for New Yorkers for Obama, and so on.) And thus the reality is that while the popular vote is usually a pretty good indicator, it is invariably not a true value of how many people really want to vote for a candidate for President.

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