BY PETE 3L
My first experience in electoral politics took place when I was in the third grade. Right between snack time and recess, to be exact. It was Election Day 1988, and Mrs. Hayden’s class was participating in the all-school mock election. I remember being escorted by a teacher into a makeshift voting booth, taking the thick sheet of construction paper with two names and proudly writing a squiggly “X” by my selection with a glossy red Crayola. Considering that I went to school in the Bay Area, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I learned that Dukakis had beaten out Bush by a jungle-gym landslide. Conversely, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that the Massachusetts’ Governor’s last best hope rested with seventy-five school kids who were more interested in recess than the impending change of the Presidential guard.
At any rate, I was excited by the fact that my dad’s candidate had won our election, because after all, my vote was completely determined by his. And I’m sure the other students used a similar rationale when casting their ballots; a parent’s political preference makes a handy heuristic for an 8 year-old who just can’t find the time to tune in to CNN between episodes of Fraggle Rock and Transformers.
Looking ahead to the forthcoming election, I can’t help but wonder how many eligible voters will employ a voting strategy which resembles that used by those students in Mrs. Hayden’s class. Busy schedules, hectic jobs and various responsibilities make it difficult for people to educate themselves on myriad domestic and international issues. Combine that with a general disinterest in political affairs, and it’s easy to understand why simple political heuristics – party affiliation, a single controversial issue, political preference of friends and family – are attractive to many voters.
Yet in this election cycle, even relatively uninformed voters can be expected to have some opinion of the candidates beyond basic political identifiers. Media coverage has presented too much about the divergent beliefs of both candidates to leave most people undecided and forced to rely on electoral shortcuts. While the 2000 election appeared to have all the significance of selecting between paper or plastic, our current contest has the billing of “the most important election in our lifetime.” Hyperbole or not, many constituent groups – military personnel, small-government advocates, AARP members, etc. – are taking a greater interest in the election, and are questioning their traditional political affiliations. Whether this trend represents a larger shift in the political landscape remains to be seen, but it does suggest a decline in voter use of political heuristics. For a liberal democratic society based on electoral participation, even a class of third-graders would have to agree that it’s an improvement…
Guest editorial by Peter Leroe-Munoz, 3L