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The "Effect" Effect of the 2008 General Election

The Bradley Effect. The Reverse Bradley Effect. The Box Effect [www.rrstar.com], The Obama Effect [www.weeklystandard.com]. The Coattail Effect [www.wausaudailyherald.com]. The Presidential Election Effect [www.marketwatch.com]. The Bandwagon Effect [www.politico.com]

It seems that these days everyone is finding ways to capture the idea that this particular presidential election will generate a variety of responses among the voters. As if we don’t already understand that this election will have many significant effects on all of us, politicians, economists and pundits are working hard to slap all kinds of silly names on patterns that may or may not occur on November 4 and the days leading up to it. They seem to have fallen into the American trap of over-diagnosis and hyper-naming. Looks like we have another patch of I Need To Be the First To Label This Bitch Before Anyone Else Does Syndrome. Oops, there it goes again!

It’s not just the people coming up with these “effects,” however, who are addicted to them, it’s also the rest of us who eat ‘em up. It makes us feeling like we understand the indiscernible. Buying into these trends and labels makes us feel like we are part of a larger discourse. It makes us feel like maybe if we identify it, we can control it. But we’ll take whatever sense of security we can get, even if it’s false, if it can help us alleviate our pre-election jitters.

One of the latest “effects” that people are posturing may take place on November 4 is the “bandwagon effect.” This plays on the idea that many of us process a “fear of missing out” or being the “other” and that deep down we all have a desire to be a part of a team, and ideally, the winning team.

The “bandwagon effect” is sort of like fair-weather voting.

“The original bandwagon theory is that people don’t want to miss the party. There will be somebody in the end who says, ‘I don’t want to vote for him because he’s black, but McCain’s going to lose so I’ll vote for him to tell my grandkids I did,’” Samuel Popkin, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego told Politico [www.politico.com].

Perhaps if all of these “effects” are indeed in effect on November 4, there may be no effect at all.

–Jamie Wong