Media Metaphysics and Mid-Term Results

American elections are difficult enough to interpret in Presidential years. In by-election years, like 1986, political analyses assume the proportions of tea-leaf readings—or so television network analyses would seem to suggest. Faced with complex nonreductionistic information, the media resorted to metaphysical quick-fixes to explain complicated events. The U.S. Senate was recaptured by the Democratic Party, giving it control of both houses of Congress; and in sharp contrast, substantial gains were registered by the Republican Party at the state levels, where in the roughly three-quarters of the gubernatorial contests, it pulled to a rough parity with the Democrats.

Network pundits saw these results in a variety of ways, but all were one-sided. The simplest "interpretation" was that the results showed a battle of personalities, and Americans voted for the "moral" candidate in each case. If this were the case, of course, one would have to conclude that the Democratic Party loaded its moralists for the Senate races and the Republican Party for the governors' races—a clearly preposterous position. Another frequently heard remark was that the results are simply part of a by-election syndrome in which the party out of the White House makes gains over the party in the White House. But if this is so, then how does one account for sweeping Republican gains at the state capitol levels and the virtual stasis...

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