With the first 2016 Presidential debate tonight, the two virtually tied candidates will attempt to make a difference. Now the media and political wonks have been debating, pontificating, espousing, arguing, explaining, and blathering about why the two leading candidates are within the ‘margin of error’ of each other. But just because the ‘analysts’, ‘spokes-persons’, and ‘experts’ have their rationales and interpretations that doesn’t mean that any of them are correct or understand why the race is so close.
Is it possible that there are explanations that aren’t being presented by all those in the ‘know’?
Well, let’s see if there might be any rationales that are less dependent upon the those who are ‘there to help inform us’ about what’s happening.
An Informed Electorate:
The polls’ sampling of the public/voters measures their choice in a candidate that they are willing to indicate that they will vote for at the time of the polling. Now that tells us what their responses were, if they made a choice; but in itself doesn’t provide a why that choice. So a ‘dead-heat’ race is caused not by who they picked (except statistically) but by the ‘why’ they are divided equally.
Now if Jefferson’s “well-informed electorate” is as necessary to our democracy as he thought, and which I support, then might not the current poll results reflect upon the state of the electorate’s well-informed condition? What state of the ‘well-informed’ electorate would likely result in tied candidates? Logically any state that has the two candidates in equivalent “informed” states. Note: These need not be ‘well-informed’ states, just equivalent. A ‘tie’ may mean that voters are not informed at all about either candidate; that would most likely result in a tie. But ‘not informed at all’ can’t be precisely true because the public believes many things about each candidate; and thus they have an informed status other than ‘not informed’. Of course, the public is a statistical population and there will be some proportion of the public that may be close to a state of ‘not informed at all’. These voters would thus add some weight to an equal result when grouped with the rest of those polled.
For those voters that are ‘informed’, the salient question is how ‘well-informed’ are they? If they are informed primarily on who is the Democrat and who is the Republican, then all that is required for a tie is that half the peopled polled are Democrats and half are Republicans. So is that it? Is being ‘informed’ just having a team in the “big” game? Not sure that is what Jefferson meant.
What about the case where voters are a little more informed than just the candidate’s party? What if the public had a view of the ‘trustworthiness’ of each candidate? Well if the public perception was that both candidates were equally trustworthy then the voters would either be flipping the ‘trustworthy’ coin or they then go with another factor (like Party). Again we can easily see a tie resulting. Note: the equality of ‘trustworthiness’ doesn’t have to be favorable, it can be very unfavorable for each candidate as it is in the current circumstance.
So the problem with seeing a tie in the polls, is that it may indicate that the public is well-informed about each candidate, or that they are not well-informed about each candidate, or that the level and quality of well-informed on the two candidates is basically equal even if it turns out that the public is well-informed about one and not well-informed about the other.
Let’s hope that the public will be well-informed about the candidates; but more importantly that what they are well-informed about is factual, substantive, and salient to why a voter should choose a candidate. A tied situation may not be a good indication of whether the public is meeting a necessary condition for sustaining a democracy.
Testing The Null Hypothesis:
On the statistical side of a ‘tied’ poll, the basic conclusion is that there is ‘no difference’ between the two conditions: Which candidate you will vote for. So if the public view of the candidates is that they are essentially the same, then you expect a tie. The statistics indicate that there results, no matter how much of a slight difference one candidate has, it is within the ‘margin of error’ so no difference. This explanation requires only that what the voters know about the candidates is insufficient to create a difference.
This view of the two candidates being the ‘same’ does not seem to have much merit since it is difficult to see the two candidates’ “performing” and conclude that they are viewed the ‘same’.
This does raise the question about why the public doesn’t see a difference between the two candidates in terms of their Party’s views and ideologies, or stances on substantive issues, or campaigns’ solutions. Getting a tie when these facets of the election are considered either means that the population is divided equally independent of these factors, or that these factors are not different (or not relevant) to the voters’ decisions.
The tied results are telling us something, but I don’t know if we know what until there is more data that shows clear differences. If it’s just that one issue wins one group and another issue wins another group, then neither candidate/party has found a new and specific issue that is effective in moving one group from side A to side B.
The public is divided fairly evenly in part because there isn’t any position that makes a compelling difference to the majority of the voters, which may well mean that in fact the public doesn’t see any difference between the candidates in any manner that truly should matter in their choice.
It’s Not the Election, It’s the Dream:
The ‘dead-heat’ may be an indication of no inspirational, aspirational, or unifying message/vision engendered by the two campaigns. I don’t doubt that there are lots of die-hard supporters for one candidate/party/ideology or the other; but the current environment is not demonstrating a superior vision to the public. It’s not even clear that either campaign is offering a compelling vision that “changes voters’ minds”. If the messages, policies, and vision of a candidate result in an even split in the polls is that indicating that they are essentially equivalent that neither has a better idea, answer, solution, or method for handling the nation’s problems and issues than the other?
The public may be telling us that the two Parties are collectively out-of-touch. They are both seen as inferior choices with no vision that deals with the public’s issues, needs and dreams. We may well have a tie because the public is the forgotten dimension of the election.
Them Versus Us, Versus We:
The Democrats and Republicans are not the only groups. We know this but it isn’t clear that it isn’t the Republicans or Democrats that decide elections. They are already assumed to be statistically baked-in as going with the Party’s candidate. They are a given and don’t make a difference unless they don’t show up. There are other groups that determine the outcome of our elections. The Independents, those unaligned to a political party, are the major constituency that decides our elections. There are some other political parties that make some contribution to elections, but how decisive they are subject to the degree to which their votes can be garnered by the Democrat or Republican sides.
The Independents are of course not anywhere near as uniform and consistent in which Party they will vote for. There is a Republican-leaning sub-group, a Democratic-leaning sub-group, a more truly independent non-leaning sub-group, and a set of sub-groups that have other orientations including those who are less politically inclined and reliable as voters. This election will be more influenced by how successfully Independents are swayed to pick the next President. With tied polling results the question of is there a difference between the two candidates is seemingly indicating that regardless of the differences that are ‘talked’ about for Trump and Clinton, they are not resulting in the public treating them as being someone who matters in making a ‘difference’ to what the voters want in their choice for President.
Maybe the biggest factor in this election is or will be those voters who want to ‘smash’ the current political environment. The choice may be how to get rid of those politicians that have failed the public. Half the voters think it’s go with a non-politician and half think it’s go with a politician who has a lot of experience. A tie may just be a measure of how angry voters are with the present situation and who they are choosing to blame.
Why Are We Tied?:
We are tied because there is nothing that either side is presenting that makes a meaningful difference to the public. Flip a coin and come down on one or the other. What coin you flipped may be biased by some factor or other, but at the end of the day half the coins will come up heads and half tails. Do this with a large population and sample and unless there is something that makes a difference you are going to get a tie. If you choose the politician/non-politician coin, you still get 50-50. If you flip the Republican/Democrat coin you still get 50-50. Toss a man/woman coin and you get another tie. Even when you use a Trustworth-Clinton / Trustworth-Trump coin (no matter how low the trustworth level is) and we do not get a leader, we get a ‘dead-heat’.