Maybe it’s just a professional preoccupation, but I’ve always been intrigued by why voters cast their ballots as they do. I’ve never made a formal study of it but have talked with plenty of them over the years, and one thing sticks with me from those conversations: There’s no one thing. People find a myriad of interesting—and sometimes idiosyncratic—reasons for voting this way or that.
Some care mostly about a single issue—abortion, say, or climate change—and if a politician doesn’t meet muster on it, they don’t even give her or him a second glance. Or they care about a candidate’s ideology or party—conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat—and don’t feel much need to look beyond the label. For some decades, split-ticket voting was fairly common: that is, voters chose a Republican presidential candidate and a House Democrat or, less commonly, a Democrat for the White House and a GOP House member. This has grown much less common—in both federal and state elections. As ideological camps have hardened, party affiliation is part and parcel of who many people are.
Sometimes, it’s not so much ideology as what a party’s leaders stand for. I remember asking one man in my district how he voted and why. He responded, “I always vote for FDR.” This was years after Roosevelt had died. “FDR’s not on the ticket any more,” I told him. He laughed and said he knew that, but he always voted for whoever he believed would vote in accord with Roosevelt’s principles. This was not as whimsical as it sounds: he was saying, essentially, that the New Deal values Roosevelt pursued in office were still relevant to him, and he wanted candidates who’d uphold them.
What has always struck me, though, is that voters also find plenty of more particular reasons to cast a ballot one way or another. Sometimes, they care a lot about a particular project—a road, a new school, or some other piece of infrastructure. Or they worry about the taxpayer dollars required for that project, and so vote against anyone who supports it.