On the Sunday before the election, nobody really knows who will win. One thing seems likely, though. If the outcome is very close, people on the losing side will blame the winning side’s malevolent machine.
In Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Robert Jervis writes: “Domestic groups in conflict see the other side as more unified than it is. In local labor-management disputes each side is apt to believe incorrectly that the other is controlled from above. Both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives see the other party as the one that is more organized and disciplined.” Jervis’s insight applies to the 2004 campaign. From their partisan trenches, activists peer across no-man’s land and see vast conspiracies behind enemy lines. Red-hot Republicans think Dan Rather and George Soros are plotting to rig the election with vote fraud and media disinformation. Blue-hot Democrats think Karl Rove can conjure up terror threats and make millions of Democratic votes disappear.
Yes, each side has some reason to worry. Close elections bring out the id in every political organization. But images of evil centralized schemes are more the product of partisan fever than dispassionate analysis. To know a political party from the inside is to know a story of feuds and screwups. Since political scientists are heavily Democratic, they understand their own side’s weaknesses yet sometimes see the GOP through the Rove-as-Satan theory. They should consider studies showing that Republicans are a good deal more complex than their cartoon image. A good place to start is Phil Klinkner’s The Losing Parties.
Similarly, Republicans should entertain the possibility that the votes for Kerry come from living human beings, not the ghosts that Mayor Daley summoned in 1960.
The result may not be clear on election night. But sooner or later, a lot of partisans will have to deal with disappointment. They should ponder two literary passages. Though they have religious origins, these lines can offer comfort to people of all persuasions.
From Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ: "A prophet is the one who, when everyone else despairs hopes. And when everyone else hopes, he despairs. You'll ask me why. It's because he has mastered the Great Secret: that the Wheel turns.”
From Ecclesiastes 9:11: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”