Why people vote against their values

By TJ Reilly,

Each election season political campaigns try to define their candidates. They want their candidate to be likeable and their opponent’s candidate to be unlikable. The real issues are not important unless they can create an emotional response in the voter. They will do everything they can to defame the candidate they want to lose and promote the candidate they want to win.

People vote for people they like even when they don’t represent their values. This was more than evident in 2006 when Carol York ran against Senator Rick Metsger. Early on an “issues poll” was taken in Senate District 26. The “issues poll” showed that York would win over Metsger by more than 10 points if they could get the message out. Several hundred thousand dollars was spent promoting York. The final outcome of the election was that Metsger won by over 10 points.

So why did Metsger win if York better represented the average voter’s values? The reason is that voters knew and liked Rick Metsger more than they liked Carol York. In the end, the issues had nothing to do with the final outcome.

The same phenomenon is happening this election season. Many people are going to not vote for a candidate that best represents their values because of something the media or the opponent’s campaign said (whether it be true or false). Some people will just refuse to vote or else write in someone’s name they wish they could vote for.

The problem with this philosophy is that if you write in someone’s name that can’t win or don’t vote at all, you are actually voting for the candidate that you don’t want. This is exactly the emotional response that the opposing campaign is trying to create.

This philosophy is particularly harmful in legislative races. After each election the “first vote” determines who gets to be The Speaker of the House and The Senate President. The Speaker of the House and The Senate President are the ones who determine which bills get to be heard and/or voted on. If there are more democratic senators than republican senators, you will have a democratic senate president because of the “first vote”.

Remember that when you vote your values, even if it’s for someone you don’t like, you are also voting for the “first vote”. The “first vote” is the most important thing you will vote for this election season.

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Posted by at 04:05 | Posted in Measure 37 | 8 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Mark F.

    So what about those who don’t vote down ticket? Those that are hurded to turn in a ballot with little realization about the issues or the candidates.

    What about those people?

    To me that is the real issue. The Democrats can poll all they want but if you can’t get those who claim to line up with their values to turn out locally (Because they don’t read the news nor care about local involvement) what do you have.

    Thats the real value of labor unions to the Democrats. A media direction machine via the membership and communication. The list of individuals to place signs, stickers, and other media. Though the labor vote is small in Oregon its concentration pushes down ticket races.

    • Kenny

      I don’t think anyone can explain the people who do not vote down-ballot.

  • David

    TJ Reilly couldn’t be more correct. Unfortunately, the ‘feel good’ easily influenced by less than ethical campaign vote manipulators, respond to the TV ads and radio spots the last few weeks or days of a campaign, and vote accordingly…according to their ‘feelings.’

    Campaign managers/social engineers via politics by manipulation know that this fringe, non involved, non engaged, and frankly ignorant element, control the outcomes of close races, which most have become.

    Heaven help us!


  • dean

    People vote how they vote for all sorts of reasons. Some are analytical and look for the candidate that has checked all or most of the right boxes on issues. Others are focused on only a single issue (out of Iraq now, no abortion ever…).

    Some are fence sitters because they may be libertarian on social issuces but conservative on economic ones, or the opposite. Trying to suggest it is only about “likeability” is grabbing a single color thread and trying to weave a multi-color pattern.

    I don’t know about Merkley’s likeability. I voted for him in the primary because he seemed the one Democrat who had the best chance of knocking off Gordon Smith based on resume, not personality. On issues, all 3 major Democrats were quite close. I suspect he won because he was better known, better funded, and had most of the Democratic establishment at his back.

  • David from Eugene

    How people decide to vote is extremely personal decision making process. In which small things can have major importance. A candidate stopping to listen to a voter while waking a district, a rude staffer at a local office, arranging for a capital flag, nomination of a friends kid to an academy or other relatively small incident can have greater influence the a campaign platform or voting record.

    There is another source of confusion coming from party affiliations. For simplicity more than anything else, the political spectrum in America is typically expressed on a one-dimensional linear scale running with the conservatives to the right of the center point and liberals to the left. While this is simple it is not accurate, politics and political views are much more complicated. They should be described using a 2D or 3D graph, so that an individual or party’s position on social, fiscal and governmental style could be expressed. With this style of plotting it would be easier see where individuals and groups exist outside of the major parties or to see where there are nominal party members who have registered with what they see as the least objectionable party.

  • Tiffany

    Let’s not forget that candidates make claims, many times falsely, and it seems that most people don’t question their validity, but assume that if they say it on T.V. or in another media it is true.

    And, largely, people believe what they want to believe. If they want to think Obama is pro-life, they will find the “facts and figures” that make them feel okay about voting for him. If they want to think John McCain is anti illegal immigration, then they will find those “facts”.

    Sadly, it is very hard to have enough time and energy to wade through the spin and find the truth about everything. Even for those who do have time and/or energy, is it possible?

  • Pat Ryan

    *Even for those who do have time and/or energy, is it possible?*

    Depends on whether you have good research habits.

    When I hear a story or read an article that supports what I *want to believe*, I always go in search of thoughtful articles and stories that oppose my viewpoint, but still seem to make a logical argument.

    Over time, I can also pick up on who I believe to be an honest and disciplined thinker on a variety of issues, and give those persons a little more weight in my consideration of issues.

    The Tubes of the Internets are your friends.


    Oh, and re the Metsger example, we on the Dem side have faced the exact same dilemma with the recently retired Patti Smith in HD-52 (one half of Rick’s Senate District. She was/is very personable, showed up at every ribbon cutting, anti-drug seminar, Chamer Dinner, Charitable event, and so on.


    “Cause Patti is a “Nice Lady”.


    Mostly I’d guess that readers of the Oregon Catalyst do not fit into this group that most of us refer to as “low info voters”.

  • Boring John

    Name recognition is even more important at this level. People vote for the name they know or a name of someone who endorses. Signs, signs, signs…………..

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