Scozzafava and the Feiler Faster Thesis

Scozzafava and the Feiler Faster Thesis

Scozzafava and the Feiler Faster Thesis

A mostly political weblog.
Nov. 9 2009 2:50 PM

Scozzafava and the Feiler Faster Thesis

FFT-NY-23: Was the NY-23 race--in which conservative third-party candidate Doug Hoffman's surge suddenly unsurged after the GOP candidate dropped out--an example of the Feiler Faster Thesis  (which holds that voters now comfortably process new information and events with a speed that matches the speeding up of the news cycle)? Here's Mark Blumenthal :

Experience tells us that when a candidate enters a contest's final weekend with both a lead and as much apparent momentum as Hoffman, they almost always win. By the end of a long campaign, voters have spent weeks or months acquiring information and pondering their choice, and most have made up their minds by the final weekend.

In this case, however, the voters experienced "man bites dog" news twice : First, the Republican nominee [Dede Scozzafava] dropped out, then she endorsed the Democrat. I am guessing that the unprecedented news made a significant number of these habitual voters sit up and take special notice, especially those who had until that moment experienced the campaign mostly through television advertising.

So here is my hunch: When confronted by a pollster's call over the weekend, many were simply not ready to make a final decision. If pollsters pushed hard for a choice, some voters may have fallen back on an initial preference that they were now in the process of reconsidering. For those who shifted to Owens that weekend, however, the campaign had started anew. Their final decisions were probably not made until they cast a ballot on Tuesday. [E.A.]


NY-23 voters certainly seem to have processed a lot of dramatic new information very quickly, the essence of the Feiler Faster Thesis. Upshot: Not only is momentum not what it used to be--a venerable implication of the FFT --but dropping out or switching candidates a few days before an election doesn't seem to annoy or confuse voters. Rather, it can have its intended effect (for Scozzafava, the intended effect of defeating Hoffman). Prediction: We will see a lot more of these dramatic last-minute drop-outs and support switches. I wouldn't even be surprised to see it happen in a presidential race.**

**--In October, 1988 I thought the flailing Michael Dukakis should drop out and let his then-popular VP pick, Lloyd Bentsen, become the Democratic candidate. I snuck the idea into a Newsweek piece, and then felt vaguely embarrassed. When I argued to my friends that it was the best chance to beat Bush, people looked at me like I was an unsophisticated high schooler, Presidential candidates didn't pull stunts like that. It was simply too late for Dukakis to avoid inevitable defeat. If he bailed, voters would only be confused and demoralized. Democrats might stay home--and then down-ballot Dems would suffer along with Dukakis.

That may have been true in 1988. Not sure it would be true today. ...  12:19 P.M.