Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Pox of Pigeonhole Politics

If Barack Obama has accomplished nothing else in his campaign so far, he has done us all a service by confounding the political consultants and pollsters who slice and dice voters by age, gender, ethnicity, religion, economic status, the population density of where they live and sub-categories thereof.

Unfazed by their spectacular failure in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, the identity experts appear regularly after each victory to report confidently on Obama's "progress" with younger women, blue-collar workers, Latinos, etc. to explain his march toward the Democratic nomination.

No turn of events escapes their expert analysis. In a classic gotcha, whatever they predict that turns out to be wrong is simply a new trend to be reported with confident expertise.

All this begs the question, to put it bluntly, of whether they know what they're talking about. One of the heartening aspects of the Obama campaign has been his capacity to reach across the lines that divide voters and tap into hopes that could unite them.

Each success has left Hillary Clinton's strategists scrambling for ways to stop losses among working men, shore up support among younger women, rope in straying independents and woo other perceived segments of society--a process that produces the picture of a campaign running off in all directions.

It's too much to hope that the experts will abandon their pigeonholing of voters. They will most likely respond by discovering a new demographic--true believers in the possibility of change, with subdivisions by age, gender, religion, etc.

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