Staff Columnist

Don't let electability pseudoscience cloud caucuses

"I voted" buttons lay in a bowl on the voting machine in Coralville, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/Gazette-KCRG)
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Newsflash: Predictions about the 2020 presidential election don’t matter and they’re all wrong anyway.

Iowa caucus season is underway, and scores of professional and amateur pundits alike are busy picking front-runners and rating the electability of likely candidates.

These analyses are fake news, based on little more than each individual’s own hunches and biases.

People will say you’re wasting your vote if you support the candidate who could never win the nomination, let alone a general election. Don’t listen to them.

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Yet worse than just being premature and ill-informed, the discussion distorts our governing process. People will say you’re wasting your vote if you support the candidate who could never win the nomination, let alone a general election. Don’t listen to them. The race is long and winding.

Recall this point during the 2016 Republican nominating contest, when Jeb Bush was just breaking away from the top of the pack, which also included Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul. Scott Walker later spent about 15 minutes as the presumed front-runner. You probably remember how all that turned out.

Even Bernie Sanders’ long shot campaign managed to fall within a percentage point of Hillary Clinton’s performance during the 2016 Iowa caucuses, defying the conventional wisdom.

President Donald Trump faced electability doubts, as did his predecessor and several other modern presidents. When prognosticators’ premonitions do occasionally turn out to be right, it’s only by accident. If enough people make enough predictions, some of them are bound to be correct.

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Sometimes candidates are deemed unelectable because they’re too “radical.” However, we can see that range of politically palatable positions can morph quickly, especially when a leading political figure pushes the bounds.

Consider the way Sanders is making single-payer health care a mainstream Democratic priority, or how Trump has turned a segment of Republicans against foreign intervention. The fact that a certain proposal polls below majority support right now, in January 2019, does not necessarily mean it will sink a national candidate almost two years later.

Sometimes candidates are deemed unelectable because they’re “not likable.” This criticism is often used against women or people of color, which is unfortunate because the one black man and one woman ever to win major party nominations have fared pretty well, occupying the top three spots on the list of most votes ever won by presidential candidates.

If the concern really is personality and not demographics, consider that only 14 presidents have appeared on television during their political lives, and only two have actively used social media. There’s no historical basis for guessing what personal qualities people will be attracted to in presidential elections.

Sometimes candidates are deemed electable based on some mishmash of polling data, demographic information and fundraising figures. But the truth is presidential elections don’t happen often enough to be studied in great statistical detail. Voters are influenced by a huge set of shifting dynamics that are difficult to measure.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be talking about the presidential election, only that we should talk about the candidates on their ideas, and not fixate on phony horse race politics.

Don’t want to waste your vote? Forget about electability. Vote for the candidate who agrees with your views, the one whose leadership abilities you trust and the one who pushes your party in the right direction.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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