A REAL PUZZLE

Posted in Quick Hits on April 25th, 2016 by Ed

The bar is set pretty low regarding what we expect from CNN at this point, but even by their Wolf Blitzery standards this "Voices from the Rust Belt" thing is delusional. It's little more than a variant on the Hard Working Americans / Salt of the Earth Blue Collar Types (read: white people who live in shitty places) theme that the mainstream media simply can't let go, probably on account of the fact that their average viewer is 65 and thus able to remember a time when Erie, PA mattered.

rust

Having ruminated over the causes and consequences for decades, the present reality is that there is no real economic reason for these places to exist anymore. They once serviced geographically-bound industries that either have ceased to be relevant or have been brutalized by free trade agreements. As I tell every single half-sentient adult I meet in rural Central Illinois, the solution to the problem is to leave. Get out. Move somewhere with jobs and something to do. The good times are never coming back to Buffalo and Flint.

As the CNN piece itself notes, most mobile individuals do leave, and in fact have already left. So, one might ask their producers, what is the point of focusing on these places? Why do we care about the Voices of the people left behind, the vast majority of whom are just too old to let go of the place psychologically. Anything that could be done to "save" these places is never going to be done; the country is too all-in on globalization and the inerrant wisdom of the free market to countenance sentimental arguments about saving some massively polluted shit hole in rural Ohio.

They can call it whatever they want, but we can spot "Let's tell our old, sad, white viewers in Scranton or some other place we wouldn't live on a bet that they're still really important" when we see it.

TIRED, TIRED, TIRED OF WAITING

Posted in Rants on April 25th, 2016 by Ed

Election fatigue is a real thing. In fact it is several things. In political science it most often refers to the inverse relationship between the frequency of elections and voter turnout. American elections are numerous and frequent, and since most citizens are not terribly committed to the act of voting they are highly unlikely to do it repeatedly. That's why we get "high" voter turnout between 55% and 60% for presidential elections but something in the mid-thirties for off-year elections like 2014. For things like primaries and local elections, turnout in the single digits is not at all uncommon.

The more colloquial sense of the term "fatigue" also applies, though. Election fatigue also is a real thing in the sense that we just get sick of hearing about it after a while, even if it is an election in which we intend to participate. With the nomination process and the presidential election "pregame" starting earlier every election cycle, the opportunity to be bored with it before the actual election has even started is ample. I know you find politics interesting; otherwise it's highly unlikely that you would be a visitor here. Now be honest: you're pretty sick of this election already, right? The last dozen or so articles to flit across your field of vision didn't give you the slightest urge to read them, I'm guessing. Blah blah Trump, blah blah brokered convention, blah blah Bernie Something, blah blah Hillary Clinton sucks, and on and on it goes.

It's possible that I'm projecting my own fatigue here. My perception that most people have very little left to say about the election that has not already been beaten to death is backed up by some simple data, though. After peaking early in March, Google Trends for "Trump" and "Bernie" have cratered in April. It stands to reason, as most people with any non-zero amount of interest in politics have almost certainly had all the opportunities to learn about these candidates that they need. What is left to say about any of them? In theory the GOP nomination process, which is as occluded as any recent major party nomination has ever been this late in the primary season, should have our interest peaking. Instead we're not much interested in hearing any more about a "brokered convention."

This would be fine if not for the fact that we have six full months to go, and it isn't clear how a loss of interest this early in the year will affect outcomes if at all. Many scholars of campaign effects argue that voters generally start paying attention to the election six to eight weeks before the November finish line, and perhaps that will happen once again this year. Given the overall distasteful nature of the two likely nominees, that can't be taken for granted. There is no way to test this hypothesis, but I'm confident that we could hold a Trump-Clinton general election tomorrow and achieve a result no different than we will see when it happens in November. The odds that we will learn anything new, or be paying sufficient attention to these ass clowns to notice if anything new comes up, are long.