Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bubble

It is amazing it has taken me this long to write about "The Bubble" in great detail (I referenced it briefly in July).  It is something I talk about on a near daily basis and most of the people on my campaign team are tired of hearing about.  From my perspective, it requires daily focus, analysis, and exclusion.  Unwary observers can be caught up in its hallucinations and live in distorted worlds unconnected to reality.  Most importantly for present purposes, it is an interesting thing to consider.  So today let's talk about The Bubble.

The Bubble is "us".  It is the 500 to 800 people across the County that pay attention to hyper-local politics, talk about hyper-local politics, and can name at least three members of the Board of Education (if we were a club, that would be the pass-code).  We pay attention to each and every move a candidate makes and will look at campaign literature more than once after it arrives in our mailbox.  If you're reading this, you are at the pinnacle of the bubble - you cannot get enough of this stuff.  

But that's not always a good thing.  As noted above, The Bubble distorts things.  It makes you see things that aren't there.  It builds confidence in places of great doubt.  And it is most deceptive around election season.

The Bubble makes elections seem closer than they are.  For at least 60% of the elections in this County, the decision as to who will represent us in 2015 was made in June.  We can wring our hands all we want about how unfortunate that may be (or fortunate if your person won), but it is the truth.  Nevertheless, those who pay particularized attention to these races, and know the names of both candidates, by that very fact alone will see the race as closer than it is.  They saw Candidate X door knocking.  They saw Candidate X had over 30 people at their fundraiser.  Candidate X is talking a big game on Twitter.  Presumptive Incumbent Y doesn't look like they are working very hard, they don't have a Twitter account, and seem dismissive of their opponent.  Well that sounds like a formula for a loss.

It's not.  For these types of races, where registrations and resources lie heavily with one side over the other, it is a pure numbers game.  Everything else is theater.  

The Bubble makes front-runners in close races.  The Bubble has a horrible tendency to make front-runners.  Just as it can make one candidate look like they are making a race in a difficult district, it can also make a difficult district seem like a runaway.  Any race in which the margin of victory lies within the unaffiliated voter base should probably be treated like a dead heat until the votes are counted, particularly in Howard County.

The Bubble amplifies small sounds.  We're a club of talking heads and we have a tendency to overreact to small things.  "Candidate X did this, so that must mean they have a secret poll showing..."  Stop.  Please, for everyone's sake, stop.  Despite what many may think, polls are incredibly rare in local elections.  Even in a County Executive race, there may be 1 or 2 polls an entire election cycle.  James Carville isn't coming through that door saying "The polls look horrible, let's run a mailer/take a bizarre position/knock more doors."  A campaign is run in great part on feel, using your advantages to the fullest extent possible, and putting your name on anything people will allow.  To ascribe a motive to such things is embarrassing for you, for me, and for everyone who heard you.

If you take The Bubble away, elections and campaigns are the hulking decision-makers that keep candidates and their teams up late into the night working, planning, and not sleeping.  That's why it is good to identify what The Bubble is telling you and exclude it.  Chances are, things are much different than they appear.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!