What this elections really means

1 Nov

As a political scientist, I have been asked (or perhaps imagined that I was asked) repeatedly this last week to offer my opinion about tomorrow’s election. I have avoided commenting on it — I even turned down a TV interview today — because what I would say (1) flies in the face conventional wisdom about the election and (2) is not what most people really want to hear when they ask me my opinion. Still, I felt I should say something out of professional obligation and because I just reread a short article called about “Ten Things Political Scientists Know that You Don’t” that inspired me. Here is my generic, political science interpretation of the election:

This election is about the fundamental condition of the American economy. Voters will reward or penalize the incumbent party based on their impression of these conditions as conditioned by their preexisting and stable partisan identification. This is all we can accurately discern from the results because, despite what you will hear from political commentators, we have no reliable way of knowing what the American people really want. This includes opinion polls and elections, which are as much about the institutions we use to decide who wins as it is about voters’ preferences. This means no candidate or party can claim a true mandate from the people, especially when most voters only have two choices on the ballot (Republican or Democrat) and the meaning of both choices is unclear. The election shows the only way to improve governance is to hold parties more accountable for their actions in office. It also shows that a lot of the things you and the media (mainstream or otherwise) think you know about the election are entirely wrong.

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