Notes on Swing Voting

Current events in US politics have had me thinking.  There’s a huge fear that a lack of satisfaction in Obama may well provide an opportunity for the extreme right.  It is true that the chances of an radical group coming to power increase drastically in times of crisis, but we must not view the situation as on first glance.

One of the great advantages of a two party system is that those who lean left, can vote for the left-leaning party and those who lean right, vice verse.  There’s no worry that, as in a three party system like the UK, a vote for the Lib Dems might be “wasted” and instead benefit the Conservatives (of course, this is one reason we wanted STV/AV).  The cost of this however is a lack of choice – if the left-leaning party is in fact too centerist for you as a voter, you’re between a rock and a hard place.

Many are saying that disappointment with Obama is likely to cause a mass movement of vote towards the Republicans.  I would argue this will only happen in select cases.  A lot of the disappointment with Obama comes from the left – people who believed Obama would strongly push through social reform and things like healthcare.  In this case, Obama has been too centerist (by American standards, which is distinctly right of the European spectrum).  I severely doubt however, that these people will be voting Republican – however bad a job they consider Obama to be doing, they can only imagine that the Republicans would do far worse.

I many ways, this makes a centerist targetting by the Democrats a sensible course of action.  Unless the Democratic party crosses over and becomes more right-leaning than the Republicans, it will always attract the vote of the left.  They might consider it far too right-wing for their liking, but it will always be preferable to the Republicans.  If we imagine the spectrum of voters from left to right, it is in fact advantageous for the Democrats to position themselves as close as possible to the Republicans, or at least the centre – for that way, they will will lie between the most people and the Republicans.   If, instead, they were to position themselves to the left, even be that where their core voters lie, they would lose out on the swing voters, the people who ultimately decide the result.

Now consider again the current fielding of Republican candidates.  By playing a Religious-Right hand, the Republican party has indeed got its party faithful cheering wildly.  Unfortunately for them, those people were always going to vote for them anyway.  The people who go to Palin and Bachman rallies were never going to vote Democrat.  So when we consider the fearful prospect of these people getting into power, we must remember that although they have their supporters shouting louder, as they edge towards the extreme, they only alienate the centerist swing voters.

One thing I would expect, if the Republicans have any sense, is a toning down, once their Presidential candidate is picked.  The party core will see that as betrayal, but at that point they no longer matter – the swing voters do.  The party core are the people you appeal to in order to get nominated, not elected.

With all luck however, the American public will see though any such charade and remember the Republican candidates for their extreme statements now.  They will, I hope, remember that although Obama is far from perfect, he is a far better choice than the alternative.  Maybe they will even see that many of Obama’s “failings” are purely down to the blockade to change the Republicans have created.

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