Electoral Foreordination by Punditry

Don’t Let Punditry Influence Whether You Vote

Most of my life I have read the pundits and the electoral projections—and most of my life (up until 2016) the predictions they’ve offered were often pretty close to the mark. How often do electoral predictions influence the result by lulling voters into the idea that the result is foreordained and participation both ineffectual and unnecessary? In some countries (Australia and Peru, for example) citizens are legally required to vote. In the U.S. elections are determined by the votes not cast as much as they are by the votes cast. How many eligible voters either don’t bother to even register to vote—and how many don’t bother to vote once registered—because predictions of the result are perceived to be accurate, and, since that’s true, why bother? 

Colin Tiernan’s article title in the Spokesman on Thursday, “Tuesday’s primary election was historic for the Spokane County Commission. But the way the votes fell wasn’t surprising” hints at an already determined result. The thesis presented is that the five new County Commissioner District primary results were determined by the way the districts were drawn last year based on historical voting patterns. Ho-hum, the results of the top-two primary contests were predictable—and, by implication, the result of the November 8th General Election is also predictable. How many potential voters will glance at that headline and internalize the idea that their vote in November won’t really matter?

Mr. Tiernan notes that in District 5, southwest Spokane County, that Maggie Yates won 46% of the vote while Al French and Don Harmon “managed a combined 51%” as if to imply that all of Mr. Harmon’s votes will be directly transferable to Mr. French in November. Not only is that not necessarily the case, but, later on Thursday, Mr. Harmon, a Republican and former Mayor of Airway Heights, endorsed Maggie Yates, saying, “I’ve been impressed by Maggie’s campaign and feel she is the fresh voice the county needs to move forward toward bipartisan solutions”. He added, “Al French needs to move on.” French received 40% of the vote, Harmon nearly 12%, and Ms. Yates’ 46%. Perhaps the November is not predetermined after all. 

It is also worth noting that missing from Tiernan’s formulation is the inherent uncertainty of voter participation in the coming November General Election. Ballot turn-in in primary elections is notoriously low—and any number of events, campaign efforts, and bits of news, local and national, will influence who will bother to vote in November. 

The recent landslide vote in Kansas to retain a state constitutional right of a woman to make her own medical choices regarding abortion should remind us that pundits’ predictions are just another form of hot air. That’s Kansas of all places, where the pundits imagined that the Evangelical vote would dominate. Something is in the air…

I am sick and tired of seeing talking heads nod in agreement over how their tea leaves predict that Democrats will lose control of the U.S. Congress in this fall’s election. As a welcome antidote I recommend another Substack writer, Robert Hubbell, whose work (along with that of Heather Cox Richardson) I read every morning. Hubbell’s “Today’s Edition Newsletter”, like HCR’s Letters From an American, offers national news with a grain of optimism. Hubbell’s August 4 piece, “Unconventional Wisdom”, was this inspiration for today’s post. Click that link. Read. Sign up for Hubbell’s emails. Contribute. And…

Keep to the high ground,