Our Primary Reasons
Thinking about how people vote in a primary election is a lot like trying to figure out whether Macbeth would have met his demise had it not been for those smug arguing witches.
Rather than witches, Oberlin students have the news media, friends and political junkies whispering in their ears. Do people just internalize the reasoning and predictions they hear, or is it intuitive anyway (after all, those witches had cauldrons — they knew what they were talking about)? Or, are Shakespeare (or politics-) savvy Obies just so aware of the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy they see no use in working against it?
For an example of what I’m rambling about, take the frequently expressed view that it is negative that Clinton has already had a stay in the White House and is too embedded in the D.C. political scene. “I don’t hate Hillary, but I want to put an end to the ‘dynasty,’” said Mary Kate Kelly, a first-year referring to the unsavory thought of continually passing the presidency between family members. For Kelly, “electability” does not come into play.
“Hillary has more enemies,” said College junior Ben Glass-Siegel, who is voting for Obama because he is of the popular opinion — be it jaded or pragmatic — that “electability” is all that matters. “I quickly realized that I’m very liberal on a lot of issues, but no candidate who agrees with me is electable.”
College sophomore Talia Brooks-Salzman is probably voting for Obama now that John Edwards — the candidate she felt best represented her on the issues — has dropped out. She is well aware of the issue of electability, but also weighs her personal preferences in making a decision. “I don’t think Hillary would get the same support [as Obama] if she won the primary,” said Brooks-Salzman. On a more personal note, she added, “I see myself working harder for Obama.”
All three students would happily vote for Clinton were she to win the primary, though. This is not so surprising, considering many feel they have very similar views, and there are plenty of issues such as Obama’s inexperience that similarly weigh against him. It’s particularly telling that Brendan Kelley, OC ’07, the Ohio State Coordinator of “Students for Barack Obama” who has helped lead the effort to make Obama converts of as many Obies as possible, said he doesn’t see much of a difference between Obama and Clinton outside of their abilities to motivate voters and create coalitions.
So why is Obama so much more appealing, then? As one anonymous College student said, “He’s charming…and he’s hottt.”
It’s not unreasonable for voters to consider whom they are going to have to stare at on their TV and computer screens for the next four to eight years. “Barack is more inspiring to me and personable,” said College senior Kate Zipp, who still plans to go back and review the candidates’ stances on their websites before making a final decision.
Most people do undermine the issues, though, and it’s not just us students, insulated as we are from many adult concerns, who vote this way — research has shown that it’s everyone.
We might as well face it — voters just want to have fun. “Voting is one of the most social things we can engage in,” said politics professor Michael Parkin, who specializes in political media studies. As far as making gut decisions on image, style and personality, he’s for it. “Many political scientists say it is not a good idea, but I think it is because we are better at judging that,” said Parkin. “Also, personality will be the same in the White House, but policies won’t necessarily.”
Professor Parkin also said that since the 1950s and ’60s, political science studies have shown that people don’t vote on the issues and lent validity to the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy in politics. But is it naïve to think rationalization and predictions on these grounds can make one a more effective voter? “We all have this sports fan in us,” he said, noting that excitement for Super Tuesday was almost as high and widespread as that garnered by the Superbowl. “But it is kind of naïve to say Obama will get attacked less, because no matter who goes on to the general election, they will be attacked.”
It’s hard to avoid, though. Members of the media, like The New York Times, which many students said they use as a main source of news about the election, there are prominent articles about candidates’ campaign strategies everyday, but it’s harder to find articles prominently featuring clear stances or discussing big issues. As great as the Times is, in that regard it reminds me of how MTV can show you anything you want to know about how Jay-Z starts a clothing line, but not much about why his songs are important.
In any case, trying to figure out the “real” reasons someone decides to vote for a particular candidate in the primary is enough to make your head spin. And when it comes down to it, the outcome is the same, whether someone thinks Clinton is a poorly dressed wench who can’t stand on line at the grocery store without making a new enemy, or whether they are just paranoid that all their classmates are thinking that.
And aren’t we all just poor players on this political stage, anyway?
Ohio’s primary elections will be held on Tuesday, March 4th.