A Ku Indeed!

The Voter With No Name?

Posted in Politics by Chris on November 3, 2008

Back in the old Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, Clint Eastwood cultivated a famous character type — the “man with no name.” If anything, he had a nickname that others used to refer to him (like “Blondie” from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). He was fiercely independent, lived on his own, mostly outside of society, and was generally skeptical of organized structured society. Although this portrait is a movie stereotype of the “Western man” I thought of it when I saw these stats (under the fold) at Marc Ambinger’s.

Update: Bill Haines has cleared up the issue nicely; the short story: I don’t read clearly at 5am. 🙂

These poll numbers were taken from a recent CBS poll. The first two categories make sense, but the third one is odd. According to the poll, only 8% of Independent Voters are in the West, whereas the other 92% is fairly evenly divided up among the Northeast, Midwest and South. Why does the West stick out so much as having so few independents?

If this is right, the “man with no name” stereotype of the anti-establishment Westerner appears to be dead.

Anyone have any guesses as to why the West sticks out so much?


10 Responses

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  1. Bill Haines said, on November 3, 2008 at 6:41 am

    8% is the percentage of undecideds, not of independents. He didn’t call the movie “The Uncommitted.” 🙂

  2. Chris said, on November 3, 2008 at 6:50 am


    Well that settles that. 🙂

    Still, it’s interesting to note that uncommitted voters are Western only in this percentage, but that is a different question!

  3. Bill Haines said, on November 3, 2008 at 7:08 am

    Ah, that’s because they know where they stand. They know who they are, even if they keep it between themselves and their pollsters.

  4. Chris said, on November 3, 2008 at 7:12 am

    So voters in other regions are less likely to do this? What’s the regional cultural explanation for it?

    Of course, it could be the “voter with no name” syndrome, oddly enough — perhaps Westerners are less likely to self-identify as “unsure” about who they are and what they believe.

    Not sure.

  5. b4uno said, on November 3, 2008 at 7:27 am

    I know when I voted, I didn’t fully understand, but after I voted, I realized that I had made a decision that didn’t support a strong America. When I voted, I realized I voted for someone who would “do it for me” where I don’t have to be responsible for myself. After I made that decision, I now know that I didn’t make a decision based on creating a strong America.

    I want a candidate in office that will support me being an entrepreneur, which is what this country was founded on. This country is not about having the government being responsible for you, its about being an entrepreneur and having that self reliant spirit. And that was what this country was founded on. I don’t agree with everything McCain does, and how he campaigned, but he does know a little bit more about being an American and what it means to be an entrepreneur. And that is what this country needs right now, just a little bit more of that. So if you haven’t voted yet, vote for the candidate who will support us in being responsible for ourselves. This country does depend on it.

  6. Bill Haines said, on November 3, 2008 at 7:49 am

    From David Brooks’s op-ed piece on Oct 12, 2004, “Not Just a Personality Clash, a Conflict of Visions”):

    On Sunday I went for a walk in the country, past some extremely skittish cows, and gazed at a wide-open valley without a single building in sight. Then I drove home to my little patch of Blue America, with the traffic getting progressively worse, and the population densities getting higher. I was struck again by how powerfully the physical landscape influences our view of politics and the world.

    When Bush talks about the world he hopes to create, he talks first about spreading freedom. What he’s really talking about is a decentralized world. Individuals would be free to live as they chose, in their own nations, carving out their own destinies.

    When Kerry talks about the world he hopes to create, he talks first about alliances and multilateral cooperation. He’s really talking about a crowded world. People from different nations would gather to work out differences and manage problems.

    It’s a conflict between two value systems. One is based on a presumption of a world in which individuals and nations should be self-reliant and free to develop their own capacities – forming voluntary associations when they want – without being overly coerced by national or global elites. The other is based on the presumption of a crowded world, which emphasizes that no individual or nation can go off and do as it pleases, but should work instead within governing institutions that establish norms and provide security.

    Maybe people from non-crowded areas are used to making up their minds and sticking to it, bearing the consequences (which usually come to them only from nature or what seemes like nature), while those from crowded areas are used to compromising, not insisting.

    That’s at least too simple. I think farm kids are brought up to avoid argument, because the chores can’t be risked. Still, there’s a sense that the fundamental problem is nature, not human conflict.

    Once a prominent scholar from Beijing, deciding which American PhD programs to enter, said to me, “Bill, I’ve just realized: I’ve never really had to make a decision before!”

  7. Chris said, on November 3, 2008 at 9:09 am


    Your interpretation is interesting. Perhaps argument is leisure driven (I suppose Aristotle might agree). There’s certainly something to that, I have no doubt.

    Brooks’ “crowded vs open” interpretation makes sense — it gets at something that, in my opinion, really underlies the “red-blue” divide. Anyone who has looked at political demographic maps knows this — the red/blue divide is, for the most part, really an “urban vs country” divide, not a region to region divide. As was once said about Pennsylvania, it is composed of “Philly, Pittsburg, and Alabama sandwiched in between.” New York is no different — there’s (blue) NYC, and then there’s the rest of the (red) state.

    At the risk of oversimplifying, I wonder whether there’s a Taoist-Confucian comparison here; Bush’s philosophy seems Taoist, whereas Kerry’s is Confucian. In any event, the comparison seems to map on in a general way.

    The comment from your Chinese colleague is very interesting, by the way.

  8. Bill Haines said, on November 3, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Chris, I was too brief&cryptic at one point I think. One of my vices.

    “I think farm kids are brought up to avoid argument, because the chores can’t be risked.”

    My thought was that on the farm it’s urgently important that people not disagree about practical things. The plowing and sowing and harvesting (and whatever else) has to be done on a tight schedule, and often hands are few and time is insufficient. The work is grueling and sometimes killing. It’s not so much that argument takes time away from chores as that it dispute threatens the order and discipline necessary for survival, so that a culture of argument doesn’t develop. I have the sense that I observed this to be the case when I was teaching in Iowa once upon a time, but I’ve lost track of what my evidence was. It might have involved reading Jane Smiley’s 1,000 Acres.

  9. Chris said, on November 3, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I see. Still, it’s a type of leisure in a way, though. Perhaps not of time, but of environmental circumstance.

    This reminds me in an odd way of a claim that Nietzsche makes in the Genealogy; he suggests that as the ‘feeling of power’ in a community decreases, its penal codes become more unforgiving (and those penal codes start to apply to the need for uniformity). As that feeling of power increases, it becomes more open to difference among its members.

    Similarly, I suppose, one could argue that a community’s “feeling of efficacy” over its environmental circumstances might work in a similar fashion, where argument takes the place of “openness to difference”.

    Perhaps — I’m sure there are many variables at work here, but this sounds like a reasonable one.

  10. Million said, on November 3, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    A quick thought. Could it be that the whole idea of “the man with no name” is just a romantic stereotype? Westerners overwelmingly leaned Republican in 2004. Maybe this was because they had nothing to gain and/or diden’t identify with government tailored to complex civic environments. Northerners, Midwesterners, and Southerners on the other hand have things they could take from each party. Maybe this contributed to the split? I’m not sure it’s this black and white but for a Westerner, small focused government and low taxes seem much more pragmatic than the supposed political alternative.

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