“At this point in the campaign, we’re just trying to influence the fools.” That’s what an issues consultant told me long ago, when I was working on political policy in another state. Is that where we are now in the current election?
His point was that the voters who base their votes on study and analysis had already made up their minds. The remaining undecided voters were “too dumb to scratch fire off their heads.” That’s why last minute political messages are so stupid. And, in my experience, early ads aren’t much better.
I’ve been getting mailers every day, probably because I changed my registration from Democrat to independent. Most of the messages seem to be directed toward fools. Fortunately, I don’t watch much network TV, but based on the few broadcast ads I’ve seen, I’m not missing anything useful.
Who is influenced by silly and ignorant messages? I haven’t seen any message — in advertising or debate — that would change my mind.
The “fool” theory is that a substantial percentage of voters base their votes on trivia — celebrity, appearance, personality, yard signs — rather than on issues. The fools may not be the majority, but they are enough to swing a close election.
Who are these silly messages targeted at? Is it true, as in my father’s version of a famous quote: “Everybody’s crazy except me and you, and sometimes I wonder about you.”
Or to quote the King, one of the con men in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberrry Finn:” “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”
The King and the Duke were rascals trying to scam every town they floated past on the Mississippi. But the quote might make sense in another way. If a town is divided by thirds, into far left, far right and moderate middle, a person in any one of those groups might think the majority are fools.
It’s probably true of all of us at one time or another. We can be smart and well-informed on some issues, but dumb and ignorant on others. The skill we lack is knowing when we don’t know what we feel we know.
There’s quote about that, too, attributed (probably falsely) to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
Frequently, right-wing conspiracy theorists claim that people who doubt their conspiracies are Sheeple. Left-wing conspiracy theorists have the same arrogance, but without the clever nickname.
One outcome is that many conservatives believe we shouldn’t encourage fools to vote. If people haven’t voted in the past, it’s probably because they are fools, and we shouldn’t encourage them to start now. Election results will be better if only the determined and well-read (conservatives only, they imagine) make it out to vote.
In the past, Republicans did nothing to make voting convenient. Today some conservatives go further, and actively try to make voting diffi cult. Democrats want everybody to vote, because they think all new voters will vote Democratic, but that may be wishful thinking. Even if it seems new voters have social reasons to vote liberal, it doesn’t mean they will. People on both sides believe opponents vote against their real economic and social interests.
The fool theory may also explain why polls have become unreliable. Only fools respond truthfully to pollsters. Smart people refuse to participate, and clever people lie. I, personally, think inaccurate polling is no great loss. There’s no need to spoil the surprise. This might explain why Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was such a surprise to pollsters and people who follow them. Trump supporters kept their mouths shut, because they considered pollsters to be part of the unreliable media. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton supporters blabbed and expected the resulting polls to match their wishes.
Most of us have learned our lesson about polls. We can’t avoid the constant reports and predictions, but we don’t count on polling. It’s not polls, but voters — fools or not — who decide elections.
I’ll close with a story about a recent mailer that said: “We’re in for a stormy future with Candidate X.” The picture showed the candidate grinning maniacally next to disasters. I turned it over. The other side said: “Candidate X — Making New Mexico Affordable,” with positive citizenship pictures. What? Was the same flyer for and against Candidate X?
Well, it turned out that flyers for and against were stuck together. Chance? I think not. Maybe the post office would do us a favor by gluing opposing mailers together on purpose.
Yes, we have to pick between Candidate X and Candidate Y, but we should do it based on careful study, rather than being fooled by superficial ads.