The Etch-a-Sketch Election

Tuesday’s election reminded me of an Etch-a-Sketch, which I think was designed to make it easier to erase crappy drawings than to create good ones.

The picture we voters drew on Tuesday seems likely to be turned over, shaken and immediately redrawn as the now-perpetual campaign continues. But before moving on, it is de rigueur to pause momentarily and assess winners and losers.

Essentially, we spent $5 billion discussing the financial backing of Mexican parade and whether or not a teenage boy could have sex with a girl who was wearing a bathing suit under her clothes.

No minds were changed on either topic.

The shrill urban party preferred to discuss health care while the angry rural party favored immigration. Of course, there was no discussion of reducing of the actual cost of health care because major industry donors to both parties don’t much like that idea. Nor was there any meaningful discussion of the pros and cons of immigration beyond the shouts of “build the wall” or “you are a racist.”

Of course, there was no discussion whatever of such minor matters as whether the country was going broke or whether jobs were a good or a bad thing. These matters don’t poll well and they don’t add to the $5 billion we spent on making what was allegedly the most important choice ever.

The outcome was extremely close with the shrill urban party taking the House and the angry rural party slightly increasing its Senate majority. Importantly, both bodies are within easy reach of the other party in 2020.

This leads inevitably to a winner. (I like to be a little careful by saying “a” winner rather than “the” winner because the latter is the subject of much spinning on cable news. My preference is to suggest a novel answer that might not have occurred to others.)

My winner for this year is the “election industry” and it is well positioned to be an even bigger winner next go round. $5 billion for a midterm election smashes all records yet it seems likely to be a pittance compared to the amount that will be spent in two years time.

Both sides see prizes within reach and they are likely to spend accordingly. Where does the money go? Into the eager hands of those who happily make democracy a blood sport by over selling both fear and importance.

Now for a biggest loser (while continuing the “a”/“the” distinction): victims of sexual assault.

The advocates for those who heretofore stayed silent and suffered through the wrongs done to them have overplayed their hand. Read that sentence carefully. I said advocates not victims. The spokespeople have demanded that all sexual assault victims be believed absolutely and without question. This has opened the door to those who would exploit the benefit of absolute belief for their own advantage. It seems likely that the misplayed hand will diminish sympathy for legitimate assault accusations and perhaps even the frequency of victims coming forward.

Seems a high price to pay for a political issue that did not turn out to be very effective.

The 2020 campaign has already begun though not on the clean screen of an Etch-a-Sketch. Fifteen people are said by The Washington Post to be competing for the shrill urban nomination while two are seeking the angry rural vote. Too many are long past their sell-by dates and some should be honest and concede they are just in it for the attention.

After the winner-loser ritual, it is important to move directly to predictions, and this leads to a study called Hidden Tribes recently released by a group called More in Common. According to the study we fall into seven groups not just the two at the extremes that I have called urban shrill and rural angry.

From left to right, they are

  • Progressive Activists 8%
  • Traditional Liberals 11%
  • Passive Liberals 15%
  • Politically Disengaged 26%
  • Moderates 15%
  • Traditional Conservatives 19%
  • Devoted Conservatives 6%

You can read the report here and take the quiz to see where you fit here.

Now to my first 2020 predictions:

  • The 14% of Americans at the extremes will have significantly more impact on the tone of the election in 2020 than the 86% who are more in the middle because that is where the money is.
  • This will not be a good thing.


6 Responses to “The Etch-a-Sketch Election”

Armand Gilbert, November 10, 2018 at 7:40 pm said:

That test is rather cute. While it is correct that I’m a “Traditional Liberal” just about every single statistical observation about my “Tribe” was wrong in my case.
It’s telling that those “statistics” regarding such quaint notions of “need to heal,” disapprove of President Trump,” and “listen to others and compromise” are quite obviously designed to sway an individual’s viewpoints toward their stated goal of “more in common.”
Again very cute…
However noble their goal, it appears to have caused the authors to ignore the possibility that someone who supports things like freedom of speech, thought, discourse, culture, fair wages, domestic employment, etc., may support Trump, disparage the excesses of left, and feel that the necessity of compromising with the divisive evil that is being foisted by the media agents of the morally defunct DNCs, is just that.
Apparently, I’m some kind of black swan, and not a member of the legions of disaffected advocates for personal freedom and rights that now make up large swaths of the independent voters, libertarians, disaffected Bernie Bros., etc.
I as such I don’t think they recognize Trump for what I see him as, either. Which is quite simply a wonderful strategic opportunity to convert the Republican Party into the Democratic Party of the pre-1990’s.
I don’t think they recognize that Trump is a traditional populist Democrat from the previous era. You know the type, confrontational, low brow, pro-labor, speaks to the base with a working class dialect, votes against policies likely to lower wages like rampant immigration, encourages manufacturing at home, talks about the excesses of globalist corporations like Amazon, Google, Disparages the News Media that detests him, etc.
That guy… The one the Republican Party used to loath and is now morphing their platform into his image. As a “Traditional Liberal” who recognizes that there is zero chance of anything like this happening with the Democrats as long the Clinton cabal are still running the show, what on earth is not to like about “The Donald” to a rational, cautious, open to compromise, guy like myself.


Haven Pell, November 10, 2018 at 7:53 pm said:

You are not the first to criticize the survey. Here is an observation from Arnold Kling, who has created his own:

Several commenters did not like the poll, and a reader suggested that I try the Hidden Tribes quiz. Ugh! What a terrible survey instrument.

I would like to believe that there is a large portion of the population that is tired of hyper-partisanship. But if there is such a majority out there, this poll is not a credible way to find it.

I would trust a survey based on my three-axes model more than I would trust the Hidden Tribes report. If the general public is more centrist or nuanced, that would show up as a lot of people not consisting aligning with any one axis.

Perhaps it is not necessary to buy into the details of Hidden Tribes to realize there is a group in the middle.


James Weekes, November 10, 2018 at 9:15 pm said:

I think it is a flawed test. I was outed as a progressive activist, while I would bet that a better test would put me down as a passive liberal or a moderate. YouGov has me on their survey list and I find their surveys are rife with badly imagined choices/questions.


Haven Pell, November 10, 2018 at 10:22 pm said:

Much criticism of the test and many who believe they were misplaced. I wish it had not detracted from the suggested winner and loser in 2018.


Daniel Hsu, November 10, 2018 at 10:05 pm said:

Dear Mr. P,

I am resolutely, no-way no-how ready for the impending “perpetual campaign” coverage in high gear for 2020. Much like the Kardashians: you don’t have to follow them, they will follow you. Becoming a recluse does not seem practical to this NYer (Central Park is no Walden Pond after all). What is one to do? Help!

Almost cracked,
The Annoyed Citizen


Haven Pell, November 10, 2018 at 10:19 pm said:

In UK, we’d have about 100 weeks to rest before the next one.


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