Are Political Narratives Falsifiable?



Do election results reflect voter preferences? No one seems to think so, despite most people’s enthusiasm for democracy. Consider the analysis of the recent US midterm elections. The Democratic narrative is that the voters enthusiastically chose Barack Obama and the Democrats in 2008 because they were “hungry for change,” and supported the main points of the Democratic agenda. The Republican gains in 2010 are explained, however, by the Democrats’ failure to “get their message out.” The voters were misled, in other words, by slick Republican ads, Tea Party emotionalism, and poor campaigning by Democratic incumbents. The idea that voters may have fully understood the Democrats’ message, and knowingly rejected it, is ruled out a priori.

Of course, the Republican narrative is no better; voters were suckered by the Obama propaganda machine in 2008, then came to their senses in 2010. I’m not picking on either party in particular. My point is that each side believes that voters really prefer its policies, and that election outcomes are a function of political advertising. In both cases, this core belief is entirely unfalsifiable. If voters really did prefer one set of policies over another, or change their aggregate preferences over time, how would party bosses know this?

In short, if election results reflect marketing, not substance, than what’s the point of elections?

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