Voters Often Do Not Behave Linearly, and They View National Elections Like Local Elections

Having done canvassing in the old days when we had to canvass neighborhoods both ways uphill identifying voters wasn’t very sophisticated, I learned that many voters don’t really organize candidates along a left-right axis–they don’t think linearly. One corollary of this is that voters’ second choices often don’t appear to follow from their first choices, with the following consequence for the 2020 primary:

Despite what the internecine snipers on the leftward side of the party would have you believe, Sanders and Warren are each pulling away significant votes from Biden. If one of them drops, Biden moves up in absolute terms, and this race suddenly becomes the centrist versus the leftist, with Biden the centrist having the advantage. That won’t play out well, as the political press corps will begin to marginalize the left-ish candidate, and Biden could pull away.

Likewise, if there isn’t a clear winner by the time the convention rolls around, both Sanders and Warren will have turned a significant portion of willing Biden supporters into lefty delegates–which is a good thing. Because the leftward side of things needs to remember that Biden isn’t a good candidate, and he likely would be a mediocre president, setting up someone like Tom Cotton for 2024.

We need both of them in the race right now, unless you want a Biden candidacy.

Or even worse, a Buttigieg candidacy–and he’s more conservative than Biden*.

But don’t believe me about second choices, listen to political scientists (boldface mine):

In a large-scale project called Nationscape that we’re conducting with our colleague Chris Tausanovitch at the University of California at Los Angeles, we have queried more than 6,000 voters weekly since July. Using these data, we find a surprising amount of agreement among Democrats on major policy issues. Contradicting the conventional wisdom, clearly defined ideological “lanes” don’t seem to exist in the minds of most voters.

This general agreement is reflected in how voters rank candidates. Despite all the talk about the moderate-progressive split, for instance, the most popular second choice of Biden voters is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — followed by Warren. Many supporters of the “progressives” also rank a moderate as a second choice.

More specifically, in surveys from Oct. 17 to Nov. 13, 35 percent of Biden supporters list Sanders as their No. 2 choice, and 29 percent list Warren. Only 9 percent list Buttigieg. Meanwhile, Sanders supporters are nearly evenly divided in their second-choice candidate: 36 percent say Warren, while 32 percent say Biden.

Warren supporters also show considerable willingness to embrace a “moderate”: 32 percent of them say Sanders is their second choice, 26 percent say Biden and 15 percent say Buttigieg. And to whom would Buttigieg supporters turn as a fallback? Thirty percent say Biden, and 28 percent say Warren.

Perhaps people’s preferences will change when the prospect of voting for someone other than their first choice is more than hypothetical. But there is little indication that voters are ranking the candidates primarily in terms of ideological affinity.

The reason may be that, right now, the ideological differences among the Democratic candidates, while noticeable to professional observers of politics, may not necessarily be large enough to register with Democratic voters paying only intermittent attention to the race… And some voters, of course, also don’t have the kinds of strong and coherent ideologies that commentators assume.

This is one reason why the clusterfuck over HOW DO WE PAY FOR IT? was so stupid: most people aren’t drilling down into the weeds on this stuff at all.

Most people, even those who claim they are paying attention, really aren’t into the particulars. They follow politics the way many mavens follow local politics–that is, very intermittently and not in great detail. They use rules of thumb, which can be flawed as well as based on flawed information. But they aren’t reading policy papers–at best, most are reading second or third-hand discussions of those policies.

Something to keep in mind when thinking about electability and so on.

*A year ago, Buttigieg strongly supported Medicare for All, now he doesn’t. The man is a stone cold opportunist.

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