Who Really Elects The Presidents?


Extensive studies of voting outlook and behavior conducted at the University of Michigan coincide closely with the opinions of experienced politicians about this group: in comparison with regular voters, purely Presidential voters are less interested in politics, government, and allied matters, are less well informed about political issues and candidates, and are much less inclined to hold strong opinions about them. This does not mean that the Presidential voter is a political independent. Like most regular voters, he usually thinks of himself as basically a Republican or a Democrat—but he is seldom a strong partisan.

There is no way of knowing for sure how Presidential voters actually vote, but it seems quite likely that people of this kind—not much interested in political matters, not very clear on what the issues are or where the candidates stand, not especially concerned about the whole thing anyway but drawn to participate with everybody else in America’s biggest event — would be strongly inclined to vote for an incumbent President, a man whom they know who has demonstrated that he can run the country, rather than try some new fellow. Or if both candidates are new fellows, to vote for the one who belongs to “my party.” And, finally, to depart from this rather direct and simple line of thinking only when it’s overwhelmingly obvious that the ship of state has gone on the rocks and drastic action is called for.

If this reasoning is sound, what we are left with is a paradox indeed. Despite the millions of dollars and billions of words poured out across the land each four years to influence the election of a President, the decisive role in choosing the winner may well be played by an amorphous, anonymous collection of citizens whose chief claim to distinctiveness is that by conventional standards they appear to be the least qualified voters of all and who probably care less than anybody else about how it all comes out.