Gingrich, Virginia, and the Pundit’s Fallacy
As noted in several previous posts, Newt Gingrich’s failure to get on the ballot in Virginia is an indication of both the weakness of his campaign organization and the oddities of our electoral system. But much of the analysis is a variation of the Pundit’s Fallacy, the notion that those of us who obsess over politics and policy on a daily basis represent the typical voter.
A case in point is Katharine Seelye’s NYT piece “Gingrich’s Ballot Miss Could Shake Voters’ Confidence.”
This misstep is bad news for Mr. Gingrich on several levels. Virginia is his adopted home state. Failing to gather enough signatures in one’s backyard creates an image problem, at the very least.
“It’s a disaster for him,” said Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “This sends yet another signal to Republicans that Gingrich is not able to organize.”
He added that such a lack of organization “suggests you’re not a serious candidate.”
The failure to get on the ballot in Virginia could also shake the confidence of voters in states that go to the polls before Virginia does. Why, his supporters in those states might ask, should I throw my vote away on someone who might not be competing in other critical states?
But whether or not there is any practical effect, Mr. Gingrich immediately began suffering a psychological effect as pundits and people posting on Twitter questioned anew his ability to organize and his credibility, in light of his earlier declaration that he would make the ballot.
This is all swell except for a couple of minor points. First, a vanishingly small number of voters–even the more hard core voters that tend to show up to vote in primaries–has any idea that Gingrich didn’t make the ballot in Virginia. Second, few if any of them are going to make their decision on who to support based on which candidate’s organization did best at jumping through arcane hoops.
Normal people just don’t think that way. If they like Gingrich, they’ll either be angry at Virginia for excluding their guy from the ballot or rationalize Gingrich’s failure in some way. If they didn’t like Gingrich to begin with, they’ll use this tidbit to buttress their pre-existing view. If they’re truly undecided, all manner of other factors will be more decisive in making a call.