As researchers become better at projecting election results earlier and earlier in the process, we are learning surprising and counter-intuitive things. Elections are full of should haves, would haves and could haves. Many of the regrets involve candidates who start too late and ignore the little things that happen early and add up to the final November decision.
Surprising as it seems, the typical voter in 2012 may not even realize that he or she has made decisions long before November, probably even before 2012 begins, that lead directly to a vote for a candidate best reflecting all the little, seemingly unrelated decisions. Modern political researchers probe for indicators. Which voters are more committed and likely to vote? That’s the simple part. What behavior by candidates, what unspoken signals, are voters picking up? The researchers are getting better, election by election, at finding the little reasons. They are becoming more comfortable making earlier projections as they review their recent successes – successes based on those subtle hints.
Amazingly, they can begin to make fairly accurate judgments as early as June or July. The indicators may have nothing to do with a particular candidate but show how an individual voter will make the decision or what factors will be important to a particular type voter. Then, the analysts make their projections.
Instinctively, the media reject such early notice. Voters, too, refuse to believe the analysis: “How can some nerd at a university know how I’m likely to vote?” Candidates refuse to accept that their fate is sealed months before they begin their formal campaign. But the evolution of political research continues. Smart candidates know that the early bird gets the worm.
Will the small decisions that voters make unconsciously months before the election lead to a vote that the researchers can figure out by June or July 2012? Traditionally, many incumbents did not start campaigning until August, September or October “when the voters started to pay attention.” The media begin concentrating in September and then redouble efforts in October. But voters have decided by then, even if those voters will not admit it to others – or even themselves. The best political researchers know this. The best candidates adjust early to the little things and take advantage of their advance notice.
Ask yourself next July 4: Have you already decided how to vote in November? Will you say you don’t know? Some smart-alecky college kids will tell you that they know even if you don’t. With new methods and better analysis, it’s getting to be like an invasion of privacy.
Forewarned is forearmed.