Thursday, February 7, 2008

2-7-08: Herd Mentality and Voting

I've noticed something interesting regarding the popularity of candidates. A lot of pundits talk about how certain candidates build support by winning certain primaries. John McCain is a perfect example. He was left "for dead" in the summer, had to pull himself up from the bottom, and is now the overwhelming front-runner for the Republican nomination. How exactly did he do this? Well, it all started with New Hampshire.

I'd imagine a lot of it has to do with good campaigning, but how does that apply in this situation? McCain had very little means for quite a while, but pulled off a win in New Hampshire. Perhaps it was leftover McCain supporters from years ago, who voted for him back in 2000. Perhaps people didn't trust Romney. Who knows? But, it was the start of something that's like a phoenix rising from the ashes. McCain has come back strongly.

But how does the "herd mentality" fit into this? I asked my buddy Scott at lunch yesterday how many undecided voters he thought finally voted for a candidate based on poll numbers and/or perceived popularity? I asked this because I thought, and I have no statistics to back this up (just my limited observations), that the most significant changes in support occur after primaries and not debates. Let's say you're a Romney supporter from Texas, and you've seen a bunch of debates and still favor Romney. You've seen, for yourself, how he fits in with other candidates. Let's say you've done your research into voting records and whatnot. Super Tuesday comes along, and you're an observer since Texas' Republican Primary isn't until March 4th. McCain wins many delegates quite convincingly, and let's say he continues to gain more candidates during the following caucuses and primaries. Romney keeps falling farther and farther back in the race, but keeps on going. Do you change your mind based on "electability"?

That's a bad example, because that's the case of a "decided" voter. A better example is the undecided voter. Would popularity be the best tie-breaker? If McCain's lead grows, would that outweigh whatever differences you dislike about him as opposed to other candidates? I suppose if you don't really care for any one candidate, it would make sense to use it. But… does that help or hurt the effectiveness of the system? With the "winner-take-all" mentality of so many Republican primaries, I think it's more important than ever to vote based on the issues. Indiscriminate, "popularity" based voting is completely legal within the system, but I don't see how it helps. However, I'm not saying it's the most common method of voting by undecided primary voters. I just don't agree with it.

The other interesting part of this topic, at least it's interesting to me, is how it relates to economics. A lot of great thinkers have said that decisions are made "at the margin," which basically means that if you had $1 (or a small amount of money), what would you spend it on? That's how decisions ought to be made. At the same time, that $1 could be seen of as a vote. Your vote does count in the system, but realistically one vote matters little. A mob mentality rules in these cases. But does that apply to how a modern super-economy like America's works? I'm sure people buy brand name items for the reputation, but is that always the case? If something is popular, but is too expensive for you or wouldn't fit your needs like a different model within the same category, would you buy the popular item? What if it's something nobody would know about, like a pair of underwear bought online?

Now, a vote is worth more than $1. But, should a different mentality be applied?

No comments: