Saturday, June 10, 2006

How competitive will the Hare-Zinga race really be?

Why is there so much talk in blogs and other media about the Illinois 17th Congressional District race between Phil Hare and Andrea Zinga as if there was a possibility that it will be viewed on the national level as competitive? There has been speculation that there could be more money donated and spent in this race than in 1998 when the national Republican Party poured money and attention into the race and the national Democratic Party responded in kind.

All such talk and speculation is obvious nonsense. Since 1998 the district has been gerrymandered into a Democratic safe district which the national parties ignore in order to order to focus their resources on other races which are truly in play.

There are a couple of possible explanations for the locally popular denial of this reality. One explanation for all the written nonsense is that political bloggers and reporters need something to write about and they are pretending they have an interesting and competitive race to cover because otherwise they would have nothing to write. Another possible explanation is that political writing, like all forms of human discourse, conforms to familiar patterns and norms and it is traditional to describe all upcoming elections as interesting and uncertain.

My preferred explanation, though, for this situation is cognitive dissidence. Americans have been told over and over how important their vote is, how vitally important it is that they vote, that they are responsible for the selection of our political leaders, etc. The reality that at least as far as their representation in the US House of Representatives is concerned the citizens of north-western and west central Illinois are completely disenfranchised, whether they go to the polls or not, is so at odds with their world view that they have no way of dealing with that reality. They have no place within their mental framework to fit that situation so they are forced to ignore it. They act, talk and write as if they lived somewhere else, some place like Iowa, where the voters in the general election can actually have some influence on the selection of their representative.

Great scientific breakthroughs often happen in situations where there is data that cannot be explained by the existing theories. If your operating understanding of the American political system cannot explain the data that you, along with many other Americans, live in a part of the country where you can have no effect on the selection of your Congressional representative perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift in your political views.


J said...

Remember just last month how every news piece and blog post was saying how it was going to be a close race with Sullivan having more appeal than Hare. Everyone said that the southern end of the district was going to unite behind Sullivan. Where did all that hype get Sullivan? 10,000 votes behind Phil. The poll comissioned by Schwibert showed that Phil would win handily, but Schwiebert needed to show that he was more electable than Phil, the frontrunner, so that poll should be taken with a grain of salt. The media wants to present a close race so that people will buy their papers and watch their broadcasts, so they're going to present this race as more competitive than it is. But the speculation that millions are going to be spent on both sides is ridiculous. The national GOP isn't in a position to spend any money trying to steal seats from Democrats; come November, they'll be spending too much of their own money trying to keep Democrats from winning their House seats to think about funding their crazy little loser Zinga. Phil is going to impress a lot of people over the next few months and Zinga will continue to do what she does best: Serve as living proof of the need for involuntary psychiatric commitment laws.

Dave Barrett said...

My assertion that the race is not competitive was more than simply saying I like Phil Hare better than Andrea Zinga (although I do). It is not a "rah rah for my side" statement. I am saying that the race is not competitive because the district has been drawn in such a way that it is impossible for a Republican to win and it is impossible for a Democrat to win the neighboring districts (Ray LaHood's and Dennis Hastert's). The drawing of the districts this way was a profoundly undemocratic disenfranchising act.
It is no credit to Phil Hare that he will win and no fault of Andrea Zinga that she will lose. The fact that you can read what I wrote and respond with a rah rah for my side statement is a further example of the phenomenon I was discussing.

J said...

And the fact that you read my post as a "rah rah for my side" drops my jaw. My point remains this: Every race will look closer in the media than it will in the ballot box. Call it the media compensating for a lack of true choice if you will, but I believe that there is more that goes into elections than the drawing of the district. I have no reason to challange your claim that it is very difficult for a challanger to win office; an incument's retention rate in the House is upwards of 90 percent. But the simple fact also stands that people are going to vote in part based on their long-held political opinions, and in part on the political climate of their region and nation. At the moment, Republicans are poised to be swept from offices across the nation this November; this, coupled with the violent opposition Zinga has always received throughout the district does not bode will for her chances. While Zinga's performance in the general election in November will, in part, be a product of a district made to benefit a Democrat, it will also be a reflection of the nation's prevailing attitude to Republicans and conservatism. Throughout history, we have seen several major reallignments of the nation's political beliefs and smaller reallignments are happening all the time, showing that while an incumbent may draw his own district to his advantage, that advantage is not going to stand up to incompetance. We are actually seeing some surprisingly competitive elections (mostly due to Republicans' poor numbers) right nextdoor in the Republican district being vacated by Hastert. In 1994 when Republicans swept through the House for the first time in decades, they won many seats drawn to give incumbent Democrats the advantage. Yet, the people of those districts believed Republicans had a better vision for the nation than the Democrats that currently represented them. Lane Evans won his first election in a district that had been held by Republicans since 1939. Yes, it is now a strong Democratic district, but there are no simple answers to explain why people vote the way they do. If we lived in a society where there was more room for flexibile beliefs within the major parties, we wouldn't be having this discussion. I believe a Republican could win this district, if they were willing to be socially progressive and fiscially prudent, willing to represent the values of the people in the district. But that is not the interest of the national parties, that would prefer to force their ideology on the people, rather than represent the people's beliefs. I believe Phil will have an advantage in the fall because he and Lane drew the district, but he will also experience the advantage of running against an opponent who stands far right of the mainstream in a time when the people are growing weary of right-wing governance.

Anonymous said...

The 33rd Congressional District in California is not competitive at all. The Republicans frequently don't bother to enter a candidate. Congresswoman Diane Watson hardly spends a dime on campaigning, as far as I can see, and she always wins with about 80% of the vote. This was also the case with her predecesser, Julian Dixon. One result of this is that there is no media coverage of the 33rd District elections. No news there. Not much to talk about.

Anonymous said...

I frequently read that congresspersons have to spend a lot of their time raising money for the next election, which is always in less than two years in the case of the House of Representatives. Besides taking up all their time, this forces them to cozy up to special interest groups who will then expect some benefit for their contributions. Knowing this, it makes sense that the Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives get together to gerrymander the districts so there are as many safe seats as possible. That way the occupants of the safe seats don't have to raise money all the time for the next election.