They Set Down Right on the Horse!

Greg Marx has an absolute must-read for people who cover electoral politics today in defense of horse race coverage of campaigns. I’m going to quote a good-sized chunk, but you really should read the whole thing…

A primary campaign, and especially its early “invisible” period, can be understood as a time when party leaders—in other words, “insiders”—talk to, and argue with, each other about who their standard-bearer should be. Many factors go into that choice, from perceptions about electability to petty personal considerations. But the argument is, in large part, a contest over who wields power within the party, and what sort of values and goals the party wants to prioritize.

For the 2012 presidential cycle, this argument has been underway for months within the Republican Party. And the way it plays out will shape the choices available to GOP voters. In even the earliest primary and caucus states, voters choose from the options presented by party insiders (or, in some years, ratify the insiders’ choice). If reporters wait for the voters to weigh in to take stock of who’s ahead, they’ll have missed much of the story.

If you’re an ordinary voter, that might seem unfair. But one of the features of American democracy is that ordinary voters who care deeply about their party’s choice can, through the commitment of time and energy, influence the insider conversation. And good horse race coverage can help them understand how to do that effectively, by making the conversation transparent.

Just excellent. Suppose that you’re relatively new to politics and sympathetic to Tea Party concerns. You want to write a check to a presidential candidate, or you live in Iowa and want to spend a few hours going door-to-door. But which candidate? It’s good to get reports of their positions and their histories, but it’s also good to be armed with some accurate horse race information. Suppose you wind up believing that Michele Bachmann would be the best nominee and Rick Perry second-best. You may still choose to support Michele Bachmann even if you realize she’s an implausible nominee and very unlikely to win, either because you believe it’s worth it to try to beat the odds or because you believe that it’s worth building Bachmann up in order to shift the party in her direction. But you also may make a strategic choice to support Perry instead. Either way, unless your support is purely expressive (that is, you just want to make a statement and don’t care how you influence the world), having horse race information that’s as accurate as possible is critical to making the right choice.

Anyway, terrific item by Marx.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.