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Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's in a name: the power of ignorance and word association in politics.

In the recent GOP primary in my state there was, once again, a statewide contest in which I had to choose between two weak candidates. One candidate - let's call him 'Skunk'-  has been featured on these pages before; based on private interactions I believe him to be racist and intemperate. The second candidate, 'Eagle', was a cipher. He ran no campaign and had no web presence. As far as I could tell, he filed to run and then forgot about it. I had no idea what his policy positions were.
   Faced with choosing the hard campaigning Skunk, the retiring Eagle, or simply leaving one line blank on my ballot, I took the partisan path. I voted for Skunk. I reasoned that his racism was irrelevant to the particular office he was pursuing. Moreover, his racism was not publicly known; so, it might not taint the party by association. Skunk's background and expertise was also highly germane to the office he pursued. Moreover, I wanted the GOP to  capture the office. If Eagle refused to campaign in the primary, he would be annihilated in the general election.
   I was amazed to learn that Eagle won the primary. I chortled when I heard his acceptance speech at the GOP state convention. He acknowledged that he had not campaigned and was honored that the People had chosen him. It was therefore their campaign, the People's campaign. ...The rest was too incoherent to remember.
   So, how did Eagle beat Skunk? Word association. Skunk's and Eagle's real names were respectively associated with negative connotations like skunk, or positive connotations like eagle. Time and again I find that most voters, even the more motivated primary voters, have no acquaintance with any candidates other than the top of the ticket; so, they cast a random vote or allow themselves to be swayed by a pleasant name.
  In this instance, perhaps pervasive ignorance will lead to the optimal result. I had to hold my nose to vote for Skunk. Perhaps, continued ignorance and pleasant names will prevail in the general election, and Eagle will be elected. Perhaps we will be luckier yet and the Eagle cipher will actually be elected and competently perform his duties after election. I wish, however, that luck was not the major determining factor in so many elections.

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