Be cautious reading those voter ‘signals’

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

It is fair to say, as The Associated Press does in a post-election analysis, that Indiana voters sent mixed signals in the primary. They gave victories to outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

But they didn’t completely mutiny against the establishment, as evidence by their rejection of tea party-backed Marlin Stutzman’s U.S. Senate bid. They squashed a bid against Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne but rewarded one against incumbent Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne.

Evangelical voters are coming under special scrutiny. “They fell short in big races,” The AP says in another story. They failed to topple Long or sustain Stutzman, and they couldn’t put Ted Cruz, the strongest evangelical Christian to run this election cycle, over the finish line.

But there are better ways to say those two things.

Voters did not “send mixed signals.” The analysts misread the signals that were sent. When an individual votes, he or she is acting on convictions, not trying to convey a message. “Signals” only become evident when we consider the aggregate and ascribe meaning that may or may not be there.

And evangelicals did not “fall short” of their goals. You may assign a goal to a group, but individual voters in that group will vote the dictates of their own political beliefs. Who knew so many evangelicals would choose Trump over Cruz? But they did, so how could a Cruz candidacy be their goal?

Politicians, take heed. It can seem politically necessary to build your campaigns on the perceived wishes of this or that demographic group, but you might get it wrong.

If Gov. Mike Pence, for example, is counting on strong support from those evangelicals, he might be disappointed. There has been ample evidence this election cycle that social issues like traditional marriage and abortion might not have the same weight they’ve had in the past.

Do not take us for granted as individual voters. Take our concerns seriously and work hard to win each and every vote by simply telling us honestly what you believe and what you will do.

This election cycle we have seen almost every piece of accepted political wisdom thrown right out the window. When it’s all over, if we have gotten rid of pandering to the perceived beliefs of groups of voters, that will be a very good thing.

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