LJ 2009-01-16 13:48:00
I’ve been considering politics, in kind of abstract terms.. It seems to me that in so many instances, politicians do just enough to get elected, but no more. Like, I get that Obama won a landslide in terms of electoral college votes, but in terms of the popular vote it was split so closely..
So Obama got about 19% more votes than McCain, which is pretty good.. Because Bush only got 0% and 5% more than his two opponents, Clinton managed 20% more than Dole but only 13% more than Bush Sr, who himself got 16% more than Dukakis, and so it goes..
Now okay, so if your opponent gets 50m and you get 60m, you’ve got 20% over him and that’s a pretty big margin, but it’s not really much of a landslide, considering everything..
But as soon as you take it into an abstract system, and just generally try to work it based on a rip-off of the laws of physics, it starts to make sense. So you imagine some n-dimensional space in which each dimension represents a range of views on a particular stance, of which there are n. Every person exists as a point in that space, with an additional coefficient per dimension that relates to the flexibility that the person has with regard to that particular issue, a weighting if you like.
At the same time, each politician offers a particular set of policies, which can be measured against each issue, and again can be plotted in this n-dimensional space. Effectively, each politician then becomes a centre of gravity, or the centroid of a cluster analysis that would assign potential voters to each candidate, or indeed to no candidate in the event that they find themselves too distant from any viable option.
The whole left/right spectrum is, of course, an over-simplification of the real situation. So is the two-axis version. But they’re both reasonable approximations to what’s actually going on anyway. Nobody can imagine n-dimensional space properly – people draw three dimensional images on two dimensional canvases and nobody complains that it’s an over-simplification.
In this country, every party is becoming unnecessarily centrist. It’s because we don’t really have the sort of apathetic extremists that the US had during the Clinton years – those far right evangelical Christians that Bush was able to appeal to, they don’t exist here. There’s no mileage in any politicians going more extreme in order to win sizeable fringe votes, the opportunity just isn’t there.
So you’re measuring everything on a simplified scale of 0-10. Your two parties start off at 2 and 8. That is to say, your leftist party at 2 captures the votes of everyone from 0,1,2,3,4 and your right-wing party captures 6,7,8,9,10. Your fives are undecided.
So your left-wing party figures hey, a move to the centre will work.. So they move up to 3. Now they’ll win 0,1,2,3,4,5. Meanwhile your right-wing party now only has 6,7,8,9,10. They lose. So they move to the centre. They move to six. Now they’ve got 5,6,7,8,9 – they lose voters at 10, because they’re cynical and feel like the party no longer represents them. But now the left wing party only has 0,1,2,3,4. Everything is back to being level again, it’s a really close election.. The winner is going to think “if I can hold voters at both 4 and 5, then I can’t lose the next election”, so they move closer to the centre again..
Meanwhile the voters at 0,1,9,10, well they lose faith in their party, because it’s betrayed them and become The Enemy, so their votes aren’t even out there any more. The party that’s screwed them over once is never going to get their vote again, so a move back to more extreme positions isn’t going to do them any good. Everybody just spirals towards the centre, while changing priorities and views among the electorate do just about enough to keep everyone in motion, even if they’re not really moving..
Increasingly, as time goes on, I can’t imagine that large margins of victory will crop up all too often.. The party playing catch-up only needs to move far enough over to the other side to capture 51% of the vote. Why go any further? It’s all just a delicate equilibrium, in which everybody tries to just overbalance the see-saw in their favour, but no more.
Politics is all about playing the averages…