Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Think Piece, Vol. I

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 720

Psychologist Neal Miller formulated a theory of conflict that sought to explain the relationship between motivation and choice. What it boils down to is that you want to attain certain ends and avoid others, and your decisions are calibrated by the nature and degree of conflict between what you want and what you do not want. Since most decisions are not between pure benefit and pure detriment, but a mixture of the two, and influenced by a galaxy of factors, decisions are usually trade-offs in which you accept the likelihood of both beneficial and detrimental consequences arising from whatever choice you make.

In other words, conflicts in decision-making rarely achieve final resolution, and we live on the fulcrum of the see-saw, trying to ride both sides at once. Welcome, readers, to the much-coveted sweet spot of the campaign strategist: the world of the Uncommitted Voter.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not necessarily a bad place to be, particularly a year before the caucus. In some ways, it’s refreshing, in that many nominating cycles present either a choice between candidates all of whom you despise to varying degrees (“the lesser of two evils”), or about whom you are indifferent (“the evil of two lessers”). It’s not all that common to go into a campaign with more than one candidate who is relatively attractive (i.e., positives outweigh negatives), but I think that’s what we’ve got, at least up to this point.

It’s worth noting that this is the first presidential election cycle since 1952 in which there is no clear successor vying to follow the retiring incumbent into the Oval Office. With the field as wide open as it can be for both major parties, huge advantages are likely for whichever one presents the most robust group of candidates, first to its own ranks, and then to the electorate at large. I like the fact that on the Democratic side there are a number of candidates who would seem to merit some serious thought: Hillary Clinton (who, interestingly, is the national frontrunner but does not lead polling in Iowa) is as formidable as expected, but there’s also the phenomenon of Barack Obama, the personality of John Edwards, the résumé of Bill Richardson, the gravitas of Joe Biden. And who’s to say there aren’t surprises lurking in Tom Vilsack, Chris Dodd and some others?

Jumping back to Neal Miller, all this tosses a pretty attractive set of approach-approach conflicts into the decision mix. The not-so-good stuff, what Miller termed the “avoidance gradients,” hasn’t emerged yet; but I’m sure all the campaigns are hard at work on moving that process along. For the time being, though, this is the Happy Hour of the campaign, time for introductions and bar snacks, and trading the occasional phone number. There’s a long way to go before Last Call.


No comments:

Politics Blogs - Blog Top Sites