Election 2012

Voters Don't Want Specifics

Bold ideas move people. Big ideas seduce them. And nothing crushes passion like a decimal point.


Bold ideas move people. Big ideas seduce them. And nothing crushes passion like a decimal point.

Few things get politicians into more trouble than offering voters too many details. Yet every election cycle, pundits of all denominations join to lament the fact that candidates (mostly Mitt Romney) aren't putting enough meat on their platitudes. Let's be honest; in politics, details can equal disaster.

Whereas wonks and columnists might eat up charts and white papers, the electorate has better things to do—most notably any activity not entailing looking at a chart or reading a white paper. That is why we function under a representative democracy rather than under a 300 million-person bull session. Voters, busy with real life, operate under the assumption that the people they send to Washington own calculators, watched enough "Schoolhouse Rock" to know how a bill becomes a law and, in some broad sense, share their worldview.

Sometimes political parties forget that fact. House Speaker John Boehner recently quipped that the GOP platform (now more than 32,000 words) should be housed on a single page. He didn't go far enough. The Republican platform should be distilled into its purest form, which, someone once noted, would read: "Get off my lawn."

Apparently, there is an impression in Washington that the longer a document is the more it says. Major political parties should also understand that some things are simply assumed by voters. For instance, everyone probably would concede that both parties are profoundly opposed to the trafficking of children. No need to write it down!

Take the Ten Commandments, the gold standard of political platforms. God commands: Thou shalt not commit adultery. He doesn't instruct the Israelites to break out into subcommittees to haggle over the definition of a "neighbor's wife" before the law is carved into stone. They get the gist.

But brevity is not the soul of Mitt. Example: The Declaration of Independence is a one-pager, and it covers the aspirations of freedom for all of mankind. Mitt Romney's "Believe in America" economic plan has 59 policy proposals and 156 endnotes. Trust me; no one's ever grabbed a musket to defend an endnote.

But people do erect Styrofoam columns for platitudes. I'd venture to guess (rather generously) that 90 percent of Barack Obama's conventioneers in 2008 could not have detailed any of the future president's policy proposals with any specificity. And guess what. America has never experienced a more exciting convention.

It should be added, as well, that most pundits who pine for details look forward to synthesizing this vital information and offer it to a curious public with their own biases attached. Whether they're "fact checkers," reporters or pundits, no one trusts anyone anyway. For good reason. A perceptive reader could, no doubt, predict exactly what will be said about a candidate's policy before journalists have even had time to download the PDF.

It can also be noted that whereas elsewhere in society a plan is typically a starting point for negotiations or discussions, in politics your plan is going to be pored over by an army of opposition researchers so they can produce slick ads blasting your pitiful stupidity and crypto-radicalism. You can look forward to every bright idea you've ever hatched being transformed into a "gotcha" or another example of your rank hypocrisy.

Perceptions trump details. Sloganeering works. Do voters really want details? If they did, would our televisions be polluted with ads that have less to do with reality than the sitcoms that they interrupt?

Policy? That comes later. This is an election.

NEXT: Crackdown Threatens CA Marijuana Industry

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Voters don’t want a lot of stuff but they’re getting it anyway.

  2. I suspect voters know at some level that politicos can talk details all they want, but once the legislature goes into session and the lobbyists bust out their expense accounts, all those white papers go out the window.

  3. The Republican platform should be distilled into its purest form, which, someone once noted, would read: “Get off my lawn.”

    Isn’t this more like the libertarian platform? I keed, I keed.

    1. Clint’s supposed to be emceeing this week.

  4. Don’t worry. The punditry’s thirst for policy details will be suspended on Monday.

  5. Laws and sausages.

  6. Oh, I don’t need a lot of specifics. Just fill in a couple:

    Mr. Romney, at your 2016 convention, what do expect the US Debt Clock to read?

    How many wars do you think we’ll be involved in in 2016?

    Which year do you expect the federal budget to be balanced?

    1. You forgot to quiz him on the rest of the Libertarian Platform:

      How soon will gay marriage be blessed?

      When can I buy fully legal pot?

      When will we completely abandon our current feeble attempts to regulate immigration?

      Do you agree that a Woman’s Eight To Choose continues until the kid has a job and has permanently moved out of the house?

  7. I’d venture to guess (rather generously) that 90 percent of Barack Obama’s conventioneers in 2008 could not have detailed any of the future president’s policy proposals with any specificity. And guess what. America has never experienced a more exciting convention.

    Followed by a bitch of a hangover and (in some instances) shame and remorse as they did the Walk O Shame away from that slick-talking bastard’s house, full of his cum.

  8. Wasn’t the UK Labour Party’s 1983 Political Platform described as the longest suicide note in history?

  9. Voters don’t want specifics? What, you just noticed that? You weren’t around during the 2010 budget battle?

  10. We don’t be involved in any wars by 2016. Well, declared wars anyway.

  11. It’s hardly Ryan’s fault that GM chose to shut the plant down even after securing enough money (supposedly) to save it.

  12. So we can assume that these politicians are showing big dreams to the peoples without any stats, which happen in every election.

  13. Certainly voters are partly responsible for lack of specificity. I find a lack of specificity and a budget to be reasons to not vote for someone. While others believe what they want to believe and vote on their HOPEs.

    Is the political campaign lack of specificity also partly a result of the two party system and their desires to spend our wealth (on Democratic or Republican campaign contributors)? I think so, as hiding one’s true agenda helps prevent loss of votes. But this only is true, if the real agenda is one that takes our freedom and wealth. If the real agenda is one to protect our liberty, a candidate has little to lose (except from those getting their checks from the government).

    Unfortunately, we may have reached the point where more people are using government to live off others, rather than actually producing for, and taking care of, themselves. I hope not, and that the American Dream lives in a majority of voters.

  14. Correction, MOST voters don’t want specifics. Some voters like myself do. Also, I am the guy that my mother, step-father, younger sister, older sister, and a solid 6 to 9 friends come to every 6 or 7 months for the local and state or in the case of this November national elections. Here’s the thing that many people forget that a minority of Americans are registered to vote. Even less are the number that do vote, and an even lower number are the influental voters like myself that stay involved and tell our friends and family members who we are voting for and why, then they tend to vote how we vote with exception of maybe the President. For every other office, that is the judges, senators, reps, school board, county clerks, etc. It is voters like me that are influental in the voting habits of about a dozen other voters if not more so. The key is you need to give out specifics to weed out the researched voters and convince them to vote for you so that they can tell their friends and family that tend to rely on their advice on who is the best to vote for.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.