Is This Good?

I live in the 24th Congressional District of New York State. For over 20 years we were represented by Sherwood Boehlert, a moderate Republican (a real moderate, that is). Congressman Boehlert decided to retire this year and we now have what is considered to be one of the hottest races in the country; the Republicans trying to keep the seat with Ray Meier, a NY state senator and in my opinion no way comparable to to Boehlert, and the Democrats trying to tip the balance in their favor with Oneida County DA Michael Arcuri.

I have mentioned elsewhere that I feel Mr. Meier is a poor choice, particularly for those interested in progressive politics and who cherish Enlightenment ideals. Whatever your stand, one goal of the party planners has always been to “get out the vote”. Well, your side’s vote anyway, perhaps while suppressing theirs. I am one of those people who believe that if you don’t vote or participate in the process, you’ve got no right to bitch when the excrement hits the rapidly rotating blades. I saw something today though that has made me begin to doubt this. I am coming to the conclusion that some people should simply stay home and not vote.
A local television station teamed up with a student group out of Syracuse University to do some “man in the street” reporting regarding the 24th Congressional District race. In this video, they interviewed a bunch of people in Auburn, NY. (Auburn is just west of Syracuse. Syracuse itself is not part of the 24th which was gerrymandered in such a way as to look like a crumpled “j”, circling underneath and around the city). Without a doubt, everyone had an opinion on the Iraq war, education, taxes, and so forth, but the striking thing is that of five people, only one could identify Arcuri and Meier from photographs. In spite of this, everyone indicated that they planned to vote on election day.
Is this good? I don’t think so. I think it’s a misplaced sense of civic pride or duty. Consider: If someone can’t even recognize the candidates three weeks before the election, is it fair to assume that they’ll do a credible job of researching the issues and candidates’ positions before stepping into the voting booth in the remaining 20-odd days? And if they haven’t, then on what basis are they casting their votes?

  1. #1 by Scott Simmons on October 17, 2006 - 1:32 pm

    Um, maybe on some other basis than their appearance? I wouldn’t have recognized any of the candidates I voted for or against in the last election if I ran into one of them on the street, mainly because I watch virtually no TV. Fortunately, my print & Internet research about their positions was keyed to their names, which were conveniently printed on the ballot instead of their pictures …

  2. #2 by Jim on October 17, 2006 - 2:09 pm

    I understand and agree that one should not make a voting decision based on appearance and that one could do research without knowing what the candidates look like. I should have added that being this is such a close race, and one deemed very important by the national parties, we have been absolutely bombed with TV spots, direct mailings, roadside adverts, etc., not to mention news from the TV and papers which generally run photos/video. Both candidate’s web sites feature prominent photos on their home pages. Unless someone stuck with reading blogs and actively avoided anything which might have a photo, I can’t see how anyone actively interested in the race wouldn’t have a sense of what these guys look like. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just not probable. I would be willing to bet that there’s a high correlation between recognition of their faces and an accurate knowledge of their stands/records on various issues. I get the impression that there a lot of what I’ll call “inertia voters”. That is, people who always vote the same way. All they need to know before walking into the polling place is who’s on what party.

  3. #3 by Kelly on October 17, 2006 - 3:41 pm

    Don’t you listen to NPR? I get most of my news from NPR (and some from the internet) and rarely have any idea what the candidates look like. And I guess I would fall into your category of an “inertia voter” as I have not yet found a Republican I have wanted to vote for… if I hate the democrat, I sometimes vote green or liberatarian, but until we get instant runoff voting, it does seem like throwing your vote away. I freely admit that for many local races, I do just vote the party line, but I think that identifying with one of the parties is better than voting for whichever candidate seems like the better person, which many people do. I don’t care how nice they are, I want them to vote the way I would vote on issues that are important to me and party membership is a good indicator for many issues. I agree that voters should be more informed, but I would be suprised if the correlation between face recognition and stands on issues is as high as you think. After all, people who watch Fox News could certainly recognize a candidate, but they might think, for example, that Foley is a Democrat .

  4. #4 by Jim on October 17, 2006 - 4:03 pm

    I think someone who gets all of their news from NPR and the Internet (without pictures) is the exception rather than the rule. I don’t have any problem voting for a Republican, in fact, I like the stance of the Republican mayor of Utica, NY, and will probably vote for him for state senate (I live just outside of Utica). I agree though, that these days finding Republicans that I can support is about as painful as finding a needle in a pile of razor blades.
    Regarding the comment about Fox News viewers and high face recognition, please note that I said “I would be willing to bet that there’s a high correlation between recognition of their faces and an ACCURATE knowledge of their stands/records on various issues”. Certainly, Faux News viewers would score very high in terms of being able to recognize their supposed enemies, but very low in terms of accuracy on issues and records. Such is the way demonizing works.

  5. #5 by Jim on October 17, 2006 - 4:10 pm

    Ooops. My bad. I should’ve reversed that, as in the correlation would be accurate knowledge to face, not face to accurate knowledge. As written, you’re absolutely correct.
    In my defense it is very cold and rainy here, and just this afternoon I received two (yes, two) huge postcards from the National Republican Congressional Committee attacking DA Arcuri (repeating gross distortions that have been debunked in local media but I guess they figure that if they say them often enough people will believe them).

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