Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Buyer Remorse

Sometimes the actual consequences of winning are not as attractive as they seemed to be during the contest. Economists talk about the winner's curse in discussing auctions. They do not talk about buyer remorse or buyer regret, a phenomenon I have observed often in politics

Once people have committed to a candidate, they have a tendency to view the campaign as a struggle of good versus evil. They want to believe everything that their candidate says, and to disbelieve everything the opposing candidate says. The candidates have a strong incentive to over-promise. They promise to spend more, cut taxes, and reduce the budget deficit. Once in office they have to confront the reality that they cannot do everything that they promised to do. Hence, supporters of a winning candidate are often disappointed with what they get.

When I was young and idealistic, I voted for candidates. Now I vote against candidates. I try to pick the one who is the lesser evil. If I am undecided, I vote against the incumbent. I vote even though I realize that the chances my vote will matter are almost nil. I vote because voting is as emotionally satisfying as cheering at a basketball game, knowing that neither my voting nor my cheering will affect the outcome. So even when my candidate does not lose, I do not expect much.

However, in this election many people expect a great deal from Barack Obama. (I do not see similar enthusiasm for John McCain--most people who will vote McCain are actually voting against Obama--or for Palin.) And since it appears that Obama will win the upcoming election--Intrade today gives him almost a 70% chance of winning--I wonder how much buyer remorse there will be in the next few years. Obama has had the uncanny attribute that people see what they want to see in him. He has little record to contradict any view. But what will happen when he actually has to make decisions? Certainly some people will discover that the real Obama is not the Obama that they thought they knew. For the cynics, and maybe I am one of them, it will be entertaining to see how it unfolds, and to see how long all bad things can be blamed on George Bush.

Update: An article in the National Journal wonders which Obama we will get as president, the liberal ideologue or the pragmatic reformer. The author wants and hopes the latter, but says there is plenty in the record to suggest the former.

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