Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Faulty journalistic analogies: Candidates aren't products

This bugs me enough that I actually wrote a book about it.  (OK, I actually wrote the book because that's sort of what we are expected to do, but, well...)

Here's a piece by Andrew Prokop over at Vox about how Pence did a good job trying to advocate for Trump.  Prokop is normally quite good, but unfortunately, he falls prey to the ubiquitous analogy that a campaign is equivalent to a marketing campaign.  A candidate is a product, voters are consumers, and a vote is a purchasing decision.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

This analogy falls apart in so many ways.  The critical thread that unravels the whole analogy is that when you purchase a product, you actually get that product.  If I buy a new iPhone (which I won't because, really, c'mon), I actually get one.  If I vote for Candidate X, I only get Candidate X if a plurality of other voters do likewise.  See the difference?  Why does that matter?  It turns the whole process into one big coordination problem.  Just ask Bernie-or-busters and the neverTrumpers who can't bring themselves to vote for HRC.  Rather than buying what you want, you have to coordinate your votes with people with whom you probably disagree.  That makes elections far messier.

No, this ain't no purchasing decision.  What is it?  It is, quite literally, a gigantic hiring committee, hiring somebody to do a job-- to be president.  That's it.  No analogies necessary.  That's a very different process.  And, this debate schtick?  Makes no sense.  It bears no resemblance to any task we ask presidents to perform on the job.  It is like interviewing job candidates for a position at a law firm, giving them violins and asking them to play you some Bach.

Regardless, this isn't a product marketing campaign.  We are hiring somebody to do a job.  I wrote a book about it!


  1. It's the lack of a headphone jack, isn't it?
    Well, there's a simple solution:

    1. Nope. I'm just cheap. Cue Joozian joke.