Reading articles like this (hat tip) before my coffee has fully started me on my day of sunny optimism leads me to wail and moan my neighbors who don’t take their citizenship duties seriously. Which is unfair of me, I suppose, since it’s far from guaranteed that everyone is going to find politics as interesting as I do. But still, the fate of the world often rests far too often on the shoulders of low information voters, and that pisses me off.
But neither McCain nor Obama can be considered a generic candidate, because both enjoy strong appeal among independent voters. This is particularly the case for McCain, who has largely managed to avoid the stigma attached to the tarnished Republican brand. In a recent poll conducted for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, only 31% of voters had a favorable view of the Republican Party, compared with 48% who held a negative one. But McCain’s numbers were nearly the reverse: 42% viewed him positively, against 30% unfavorably.
How has McCain done it? It has mostly to do with his reputation as a moderate. In that same NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 21% of voters said they viewed McCain as “very conservative,” while 34% pegged him as a moderate. As long as he maintains his moderate brand, McCain will seem acceptable to some large number of independent voters and some smaller number of Democrats.
But you know what? I think that it should be possible for a low information voter to watch an hour of election coverage and know the basics—like that McCain is a right wing radical and Obama is a centrist Democrat—so that they can vote according to their beliefs. The media owns the blame on this more than people who don’t dig around for information. They have a responsibility to get that basic information out and many of them are failing miserably, especially in the TV media. If you’re clued into the fact that the media is really serving you poorly, then you do have an obligation to waste a lot of your time getting better informed, but why would people know the extent of it?
The fact of the matter is that people are basically trusting, and really, it’s not wrong to be that way. Life would come to a screeching halt if most people didn’t trust most of the time, unless they have real evidence that something’s amiss. You commit dozens, possibly hundreds of acts of trust in a single day. Today, I will trust that my boyfriend will go about his business without sneaking off to see a prostitute. And that my friends will call when they say they will. And that a check I have coming to me is a good check. And that the drivers around me will try to drive safely. And that the people serving me food didn’t inject some contagious disease in it. And that some guy standing in line behind me isn’t going to grab my ass. That my hairdresser will give me the haircut I ask for. That commenters will read this post and generally leave a well-considered comment that adds to the discussion. And, all except for a few miscreants that fuck up the last one (and a few that drive like maniacs), my instinct to just automatically trust people will be rewarded in their behavior.
So, it’s not on the general public to not trust—it’s on the media not to exploit their trust like they do, by convincing them to vote for yet another two-bit right wing maniac masquerading as a reasonable person.