Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Better Way to Study Political Science

As you might have heard, last night in California was an election night - we finally dispensed with the June primaries so that brought both the inevitable (Meg Whitman winning the primary after spending $110 MILLION), and the surprising (Prop. 17's loss).  Like most election nights since I became involved in politics, I went to the Downtown/Gaslamp section of San Diego, and watched the election results with friends. 

On my way there, I began thinking about how little attention I paid to these elections.  I had a vague notion of what was at stake, but really, I have been much more focused on national politics.  And that's when it hit me - there are really two kinds of politics with vastly different approaches - macropolitics, or politics of nation-states, etc., and micropolitics, the politics of local elections.  While the two types of politics influence on another, they are completely different.

Macropolitics is all about policy.  Okay, its about policy and the candidate's control of mass media.  But because no one will ever actually meet or have a substantive conversation with a Presidential candidate, we are largely focused on things like where the candidate stands on various issues, and how good (or bad) they look on television.  So, crafting the right argument, making the right statements, polling, all play substantial roles in determining the outcome.

Micropolitics, by contrast, is almost all about personality and social networks, because unlike races on a national level, local elections have much fewer voters, can be swayed by a candidate's connections.  For instance, a friend of mine was "killed" in a local election yesterday, but lost only by six thousand votes.  Take a look at the local election results for San Diego here.  So a key endorsement here, or a personal tiff there, can make all the difference between winning and losing a race.  Moreover, on the national stage, we know everything there is to be known about the candidates.  At the local level, the candidate will probably know more about the voter than the voter will know about the candidate. 

In light of these substantial differences, I think the study of politics would be better served to acknowledge these differences in the same way economics splits a national economy (macroeconomics) from the study of business behavior (microeconomics).  Moreover, micropolitics, which is really the study of relationships within social networks, has a large part to play in study of comparative politics, because unlike macropolitics, micropolitics is not as affected by institutions, because again, its all about social relationships.  So, when looking at Iran, for instance, you don't study who has what vote, you study who's backing who, and by how much. 

So, for those of you out there who are interested in politics, don't forget about your local races.  They are often more dynamic and interesting than the national affairs.

No comments:

Post a Comment