Friday, April 16, 2010

Getting Inside Their Heads

One of the cool things to me about studying politics is the interaction of group behavior and individual action.  On the one hand, those who study elections can make very good estimates in advance without actually talking to a single person, because in the aggregate, it's possible to make very good guesses about what people will do.  If you knew who I voted for in 2000, 2004, and 2008 you could predict how I would vote in 2012.  I can predict today that Obama will carry Rhode Island in 2012 but lose Utah. 

But that's not the only thing going on.  There's also action: deliberate political choices.   From my individual perspective, my vote choice in 2012 can be an active, deliberate choice, not "mere" behavior.  From a remote view, one could describe Republican House retirements in the 2006 and 2008 cycles as "caused by" the incentives created by Bush's poor approval ratings and (in 2008) the meaninglessness of minority party life in the House.  But from an individual view, Members of Congress choices were not simply the result of a bunch of factors; they were choices, made by human beings (this is, by the way, a way (vastly over-?) simplified version of what Hannah Arendt talks about in The Human Condition).   So when we think about what will happen in politics, we're trying to use the tools of studying behavior to places where it does apply...but only sort of. 

OK, from the lofty to the mundane: what's up with Charlie Crist?  Well, what's up is that it sure looks as if Jonathan Chait called it: Crist is probably not going to contest the Republican nomination for Senate from Florida.  He's either going to make a third-party run, or drop out.  Chait correctly analyzed the incentives (the "behavior") part months ago.  But you can never tell what's in the head of a politician (the "action" part).  Maybe Crist would ignore the obvious signs that he couldn't win; maybe he was just plain attached to the GOP come-what-may; maybe he wanted the crusade to vindicate his place in the party, even more than he wanted to be a Senator.  Or something else.  You just can't get into the head of a pol.

Until, that is, they start letting you know what they're going to do.  And with two weeks to the deadline, it sure looks as if Crist is out of the Republican primary.  The veto of a bill popular with conservatives is a pretty good indication, but an even better one (via Goddard) is his comment to reporters he'll "that look at [running as an independent] later on."  I don't see how a pol who intended to run in the Republican primary, who is taking shots for not being a loyal Republican, ever says anything other than pledging his complete and total devotion to the party.  In other words, it's either a mistake (which can happen!) or, more likely, he's out.

Which also means, as I've been saying , that George LeMieux's vote on the Court nominee, banking legislation, and everything else is about to be subject to a completely different calculus than it's been since he took his seat in the Senate last year.  If I were advising the Dems, I'd make it clear (as soon as Crist jumps) to Crist and LeMieux that they will consider Crist liable for any votes that LeMieux casts, beginning with the banking bill.  Does Crist really think that the GOP position on that one will play well in a three-way Senate race?  We may soon see.

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