I just got to Thursday night’s Daily Show on Tivo, and one of the featured segments involved Samantha Bee and Jason Jones expressing their frustration at a focus group of undecided voters. How could they not see the difference between the candidates? How could they not know who they like better after 20 months of campaigning? It’s like they’re stupid or something!
It was funny, but it was also unfair. I know who I’m voting for in this election, but as a sometimes undecided voter, and a somewhat ambivalent voter even now, I feel the urge to defend those of us who have trouble deciding the way the pollsters want us to.
First of all, the talking heads, the bloggers, the punditocracy—this stuff is their job. Paying attention to the candidates for 20 months, that’s their purpose in life. Me, I’ve got shit to do. If I wasn’t writing Windypundit, I would have only a vague idea of who the candidates are and what they stand for, and I certainly wouldn’t know anything about Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.
Second, who’s president isn’t terribly important to most people’s lives. If John Kerry had been president for the last four years, it would not have made a practical difference to me in my personal life. Other things loom much larger: My father’s declining health, the well-paying project I’m working on for one of my clients, upgrading the computer hardware and software I use every day. These are the things that are directly important to me. These things affect my life far more than the occupant of the White House.
Third, voting isn’t very important. The polls are very clear: If I cast my vote for President, Barack Obama will win in this state. If I stay home and do billable work, Barack Obama will win in this state. From a strictly selfish point of view, there’s no point in voting. I take an interest and vote because I’m fascinated by the process, but I can hardly blame someone who sees no need to vote.
Fourth, the campaign coverage doesn’t say much about the issues I consider most important. For me, the most important single issue—far more important to me than immigration, the economy, or the war in Iraq—is the war on drugs. Any major candidate who pledged to stop the war on drugs would get my respect, my vote, and my material support. Everything else is a distant second. I’m sure most undecided voters have other issues that concern them but which aren’t being addressed by the candidates.
Fifth, the media coverage doesn’t help us understand the candidates very much. They report that the candidates are trading punches over their economic plans, for example, but they don’t describe and analyze the plans. The campaign sites aren’t very helpful either. John McCain says he’s in favor of the American economy. So is Barack Obama. This is not helpful.
So, there’s nothing wrong with being undecided. However…
A few years ago, the FAA was considering letting Chicago’s O’Hare airport land planes on conflicting runways. This would improve the volume of landings and reduce congestion in the air. On the other hand, there are some safety concerns about having planes scheduled to fly intersecting paths.
One of the local newspapers conducted an informal poll of readers, asking whether this was a good idea or a bad idea. I didn’t answer the poll question because I have no clue. Questions of airport flight operations are best left to people who understand a lot more about aviation than I do. Some decisions should be left to the experts.
I think the same reasoning applies to political elections: If you haven’t been paying attention, or you can’t make up your mind, don’t vote. There’s nothing wrong with leaving the decision to people who know more than you. This is why I hire lawyers to handle legal problems, and this is why people hire me to handle computer problems.
There’s no shame in not having paid attention to presidential politics these last two years. It’s a complicated subject, and the reward for paying attention is vanishingly small. But then don’t fall for the propaganda that you have to go out and vote anyway. People who pressure you to make decisions you aren’t ready to make are not your friends. They’re trying to manipulate you. Don’ t let them.