The divine Ms. A. told several of us semi-grubby part-timers that we could start posting on Tuesday, even if we weren’t regular Tuesday folk. You’d have to be nuts to give me that OK, A, but hey… Don’t think for a second that I won’t take full advantage of this, like the dudes in Ferris Bueller’s Day off took advantage of the Ferrari. When mom hands over the keys to the car, of course we’re going to drive 50 miles out of our way to get that gallon of milk we were sent to retrieve.
Anyway, I’ve been watching the lines outside of polling places and the posts develop and we’re all heading toward a coronation and I keep thinking ofthe last part of this scene from Pulp Fiction. In other words, we’re not there yet.
Yesthis and this both have this thing done. It’s likely done. It could be done. But I’ve watched the replay of the 1986 Mets-Red Sox game too many times to let you tell me for sure this is true at this point.(Enjoy the MLB NES version; it’s an underappreciated classic…)
OK, sports analogies and polling data aside, here’s what really concerns me: the third-person effect. The concept is simple: We like to think that others are more affected by a message than we are. So, for example, if we watch a negative ad and someone else watches a negative ad, we believe we’ll be less affected by this ad than the other person. We also tend to believe that other people are less rational, less intelligent, more easily influenced and so forth.
Why does this bother me with this election? Because I watched one of these before and it was truly weird.
In a state that shall remain nameless, there was a ballot initiative in which the state was looking to pass a right to carry concealed firearms. Basically, you can tote the .357 to Hardee’s and no one can know until you lose your mind on the counter help. Anyway, this had been on the ballot before and had lost in a close split each time (usually within the 5-point margin).
This time, however, the folks from the NRA decided that if they dumped enough cash into some major ads, they could crack the nut, get out the vote and get over the hump. They outspent the anti-gun folks something ridiculous. You couldn’t go six feet without seeing a bumper sticker, sign, T-shirt, coffee mug or what have you that was supporting this right to carry law. All polling data was sliding in the 60-40 range with this thing passing.
The anti-gun folks said, “Y’know what? To hell with this. We’re out-gunned and out-spent. Guess they can buy the damned vote.” They pulled out all their ads and just let it ride.
Election Day came and this thing lost.
Lost like 60-40ish.
In studying the results, a researcher friend employed the third-person effect theory in his analysis and the theory came up aces. Turns out that the more the anti-gun folk saw these messages, the more they figured every stereotypical git with no brain and a big gun would show up to cast a ballot on election day. So, while they had previously shown no intention to vote or to vote against the referendum, they quietly showed up on election day and beat the shit out of this thing.
I thought of this whole scenario as I sat in a bar, mesmerized by the Obama 30-minute, we’re-blowing-cash-like-the-stuff-might-rot ad-of-the-century last week. He’s got the ads, the time, the money, the charm, the wisdom and this is looking more and more like Mondale-Reagan than Kennedy-Nixon. Still…
There are a million people who are citing everything from the Bradley Effect to social acceptability bias and I don’t want to be a harpie when it comes to this. I just want to make absolutely sure that people get this: The vote counts when it’s cast, not when the sign goes up on the lawn or the T-shirt goes on your back or when you spend your day in a sandwich board walking the street for your candidate.
Saddle up, lock and load and punch your card.
Until then, it don’t mean a thing.