Digby has twice discussed an article that appeared in the New Republic about undecided voters. As the article points out, undecided voters are undecided because they do not even recognize what a political issue is. As a result, they may care profoundly about certain issues, but because they don’t recognize them as political issues, they vote for candidates that actively work against their interests. This is a failure on the undecided voter’s part, but it is also a serious failure of instruction in civics.
As a country we have failed in civics education because we have not taught people what the nature and function of taxes are. As an example, almost any series of interviews with the person in the street on the subject of taxes will feature some person saying some variation of: I think the people should pay less and the government should pay more. These persons on the street are not opposed to government services. They just don’t understand how we pay for them. Where do you suppose these people think the government gets money? But it is not just the role and nature of taxes and funding people do not understand. They cannot recognize a political issue, and do not understand the relationship between their votes, and the outcomes of the issues they care about.
Undecided voters don’t think in terms of issues. Perhaps the greatest myth about undecided voters is that they are undecided because of the “issues.”
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More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I’d just asked them to name their favorite prime number.
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But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to… So I tried other ways of asking the same question: “Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what’s been happening in the country in the last four years?”
These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances.