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.

One thought on “Primary Reactions & Binary Thinking

  1. Daniel

    I imagine, at least in politics, that a lot of it has to do with the fear of someone really awful getting into office on a plurality while votes for better candidates are divided among wiser votes (Awful, better, and wiser be left to the individual voter’s interpretation).

    Caucuses are nice in the sense that they allow caucus-goers to support their second or third or nth choice when it becomes clear their current choice isn’t viable. Of course, most of us enjoy the luxury of voting any time of day, and I don’t approve of excluding absentee voters and voters with night jobs. Perhaps some kind of caucus-ballot would be in order. Rank several candidates in order of preference, then count the top choices. Anyone whose top choice is inviable at the end of an iteration gets their next choice tabulated instead, and so on. It would be so easy to manage nationwide if we could only get reliable, secure computer voting systems in place…

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