Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Obama, Chávez, and Undecided Voters

There is one way that the Venezuelan presidential election can be usefully compared to the one in the United States: the puzzle of undecided voters in a polarized electorate. If the two political poles seem so far apart, and the ideological position of each candidate is quite well known, then why have people not decided? In the Venezuelan case, which is more polarized than the United States, upwards of 20% may be undecided. In the U.S., that number is more like 6%.

Part of the answer for both countries can be found in this discussion from Ezra Klein.

Washington has been a bit perplexed by President Obama’s small but persistent lead in the polls. His administration would seem to fail the “Are you better off than you were four years ago” text. And presidents who fail that test lose, right? 
But perhaps that’s the wrong question. We focus on the question “Are you better off than you were four years ago” because we assume voters aren’t sophisticated enough to vote based on the right question, which is “are you better off than you would have been if the other party’s candidate had won the presidency four years ago?”

This doesn't just help explain Obama's (or Chávez's) lead. It also tells us something about why people are undecided. They know the incumbent very well. They are perhaps not as familiar with the opposition candidate, but after months of campaigning at least are acquiring a pretty good sense of where he stands ideologically.

They also know they're not as satisfied with the incumbent as they'd like to be. Some key problems (e.g. crime in Venezuela or the economy in the United States) haven't been resolved. So they are open to the opposition candidate. The problem is that they're not sure whether he'd actually have solved these issues if he had been president.

Without good answers, a surprising number of people can't make up their minds. They may, in fact, just stay home on election day. The silver lining here is the implication that, especially in the Venezuelan case, there are more moderate voters than we tend to think. In both countries, all candidates are trying to balance the need to energize the base with gobbling up these undecided voters who lean more toward the middle. In both countries, that balance is not easy.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP