The Political Economy of Crazy

The Ohio State House of Representative has passed an absolutely insane law granting adults the option to challenge the gender of children participating in youth sports. This thread has the details, read at your own emotional peril:

Now, let’s keep a few things in mind. First, it hasn’t passed the Senate yet, which won’t make a decision until November. Second, there is no guarantee the governor would sign it into law if it passes the Senate. Third, the likelihood that such a law would hold up in court seems slim, though I’m certainly not a legal expert. Fourth, it strikes me as extremely unlikely the Republican party has any interest in having the legally prescribed violation of children as something they have to defend in subsequent elections.

So then what the hell just happened? Why have state houses of representatives become places where the lunatic fringe not only can get an institutional toehold, but actually push legislation through?

Let me answer my own question with a different question.

Can you name your state house representative? Name you name any representative from your state house? Can you name anyone who has been a representative in your state house that didn’t subsequently gain fame in national politics?

I can’t either.

The simple fact seems to be that voters don’t pay much attention to state representatives. Voter turnout is dependent on the draw of elections for national offices, and subsequent voter decisions largely leverage party brand. But that doesn’t mean candidates don’t have options. There are, of course, brands within parties (progressive Democrats, Trumpist Republicans, etc), which are particularly important in primaries. There are campaign platform choices that may resonate with informed voters, as well. The notion that informed voters can swing an election depends depends on the Miracle of Aggregation and the Law of Large Numbers. Simply put, if the voter errors are random, then completely ignorant voters should cancel out, leaving the outcome to be determined by the minority of informed voters.

What happens with a vanishingly thing number of people are informed, though? Candidates could inform them, but this is a state house election. Candidates don’t have any campaign money to inform them with. What they need is free campaign advertising. What they need is attention.

You know what gets attention? Crazy. Crazy gets attention.

Proposing and passing legislation to allow strangers to demand that children be physically inspected to determine their gender, that will get attention. That the “legitimacy” of a childs physical appearance be publicly brought into doubt, in front of peers and a crowd of peers. The shock, the tears, they chumming of the waters for the angriest parents and the most unhinged theories, that gets people to write articles and tweets. Articles and tweets that might include a candidate’s name. And if people know a candidate’s name, they might check their box come election time.

Social media gives the impression that everyone is paying attention to everything, but I suspect it is exactly the oppositve. We’ve never bored anymore, which means that the price of grabbing our attenion is higher than ever. For shoestring campaigns, the only way to get over the top is to offer somethings so irresistible that voters will be compelled to grant them a moment’s thought. Which isn’t to say that all of this insanity is pure pantomime. Sure, there are incentives to acting crazy. But causality can go the other way as well. The less we pay attenion to state politics, the more that elections will select for crazy.

This is all a long way of saying that I don’t see any reason it won’t keep getting even dumber.

One thought on “The Political Economy of Crazy

  1. StickerShockTrooper June 6, 2022 / 6:11 pm

    How about making all elections, large and small, on the same day, and dilute the crazy vote? Also, I wonder if senators elected on off years (hence with smaller voter turnout) tend to be more polarized than those on-year?

    Like

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