Just How Nihilist Is American Politics Right Now?
What determines a voter’s choice when they cast their ballot? This is a fundamental question in my field. I have taken and taught enough political science classes to know the range of answers. Partisan lean matters a lot. An array of demographic characteristics can also affect voter choice — and might be the underlying cause for partisanship in the first place.
Still, at a gut level, one would assume voters gravitate toward competency: Politicians who govern badly are punished at the ballot box and politicians who govern well are rewarded. Sure, partisan filter helps define what is “good” and “bad,” but at the extremes one would hope voters recognize the truly great and truly awful politicians. Supporters of democracy had better hope there is some rough correlation between doing one’s job well and voters recognizing that fact. Otherwise, charlatans and crooks can get elected and stay popular even while running a country into the ground.