Saturday, April 07, 2007


Sifu Tweety writes (a week ago, but hey, I'm slow and lazy) about the dubious value of 'electability' in choosing candidates:
What you are trying to do, when you are trying to decide if somebody running for President is “electable,” is figure out the aggregate thought process of hundreds of millions of complete strangers....What are they looking for in a candidate?...You are trying to estimate - just based on your own instincts - how each of these highly subjective, personal categories will average out across vast multitudes of voters you know absolutely nothing about. It is exactly as impossible as consistently predicting the movement of the market, and for exactly the same reasons...You could listen to pollsters, and consultants, and analysts, but those people are wrong most of the time, too.
Case in point: 2004 primary voters tried to vote for the most 'electable' candidate. That went well, didn't it?

He suggests a simpler way to choose:
May I humbly suggest an easier way? The things that make a candidate “electable” are the exact same things that make them an appealling candidate to you, personally. Rather than try and divine the contents of a million scattered consciousnesses, why not refer back to the one brain you have instant, 24 hour access to, and see what it likes. Pick who you trust, who you believe in....The absolute best thing we as Democratic primary voters can do is pick who we judge to be the best candidate. Not the most electable. The one who we think will do the best job of being President.

I think this is very right, with two qualifications.

The first is that, speaking strictly for myself (although I think I'm not the only one), the qualities I find appealing are often the exact opposite of what most other people find appealing. I have a weakness for eggheads; I'd have voted for Adlai Stevenson (my parents did). I thought Mondale was genuinely appealing. More to the point, someone with whose policy positions I agree 100% would almost certainly go down to flaming ignominious defeat. (And forget about the 'voters will support somebody who stands for something even if they disagree' dodge; the problem is that most voters see progressive policies as pandering in themselves, so a politician who embraces them is seen not as standing up for what's right but merely as another panderer.)

The point here being, sure, go with your own response...but temper it with what you know about your own idiosyncratic biases.

The second caveat is that there are objective factors influencing whether a candidate is genuinely electable. If you really like a candidate but their organization is clearly a mess, or they blow through $50 million and you can't tell what they spent it on, or they hire Bob Shrum...well, that might well give you pause. Conversely, if you're lukewarm about a candidate but really impressed by their campaign effort, that might be reason to give them another look. These things will be factors in the general, so to the extent they're apparent now they're well worth considering.

On the whole, though, Sifu Tweety is right: trying to second-guess the voters is a mug's game. Just figure out what you think, and go from there.

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