Primary Reactions & Binary Thinking

Had dinner at my parents’ last night, and at one point talk turned to yesterday’s primary election. It’s quite interesting that, within a matter of days, the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary chose different candidates for both major parties.

It points out something that should be obvious: State-wide primaries don’t tell you how well a candidate would do in a national election. Iowa Democrats preferred Obama; New Hampshire Democrats preferred Clinton. Iowa Republicans preferred Huckabee; New Hampshire Republicans preferred McCain. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people in different regions have different concerns.

Putting too much stock in the results of one state-wide race makes as much sense as having Oregon voters select the next governor of Louisiana.

On a related note, what is it that causes so many fields to settle into the equivalent of a two-party system, with two major players (sometimes balanced, sometimes one dominant and one major alternative) and a bunch of also-rans? Republicans & Democrats, Windows & Macintosh, Internet Explorer & Firefox (and previously Netscape and Internet Explorer), Pepsi & Coca-Cola, etc.

Sure, humans like oppositions. It’s what makes the false dilemma fallacy work so well rhetorically. But why is either-or thinking so prevalent in some fields? And what’s different about fields in which many alternatives hold each other in balance? Car manufacturers, for instance, or movie studios, or cell phone manufacturers.