Expect Surprises In This Year Of the Volatile Voter

LET me venture a little off-the-wall political analysis since on-the-wall analysis isn't working very well. No sooner have the media mavens wrapped up the election as a big win for Republicans and a defeat for all those old familiar faces than word comes of tightening races and narrowing gaps.

It seems to me that if there's anything voters hate more than being taken for a ride it is being taken for granted. So, having been told how they're going to vote and that the election is all over, some voters are saying, ``Oh yeah? This is still a horse race because I want a horse race.''

This may also be the point when the politics of meaninglessness peaked. I'm not sure what did it - maybe the revelation that Michael Huffington, California's scourge of illegal immigrants, illegally employed one in his household. Maybe the word of a new record of more than a million prisoners, making us think again about the candidates whose answer to crime is locking up more people for longer. Maybe disgust with commercials that feature people who have lost loved ones, exploiting crime victims for political gain.

In a campaign without real issues, maybe voters are reacting to the rising silliness quotient. Any serious talk is dangerous. The Republicans' ``Contract With America'' is used against them, and Democrats are pounced upon when Budget Director Alice Rivlin's catalog of deficit reduction options is leaked by a Treasury mole.

What do we get instead? The Wall Street Journal notes that Sen. Edward Kennedy scored points by singing ``Itsy-Bitsy Spider'' with schoolchildren. Sen. William Roth Jr. in Delaware sends out fund-raising letters signed with the paw-print of his St. Bernard. Some opponents of Republican candidates have organized as the ``Defeat that Son-of-a-Bush Committee.''

I'm having trouble figuring out why voters, having put up for so long with the politics of meaninglessness, are beginning to react against it. One possibility is that the voters are in such an anti-incumbent fever that they're jumping the gun and already turning against the next incumbents.

Just kidding, of course. Yet it is interesting that the closer we get to the election, the more tentative become the predictions, the more often you hear hedges like ``too close to call.''

Was it only a month ago that Rep. Newt Gingrich was publicly savoring the speakership of the House? And Sen. Bob Dole was talking about a Senate Republican majority as though it were an accomplished fact. More recently they have sounded less confident.

It is not that the early opinion polls were wrong. But polls are like snapshots of a cyclone, telling you where things are, but not where they may be blowing. And voters who are disillusioned with government, as many voters seem to be, are not voters who have necessarily made up their minds about who will effect the ``change'' they seek, even when they are focused on what they mean by ``change.''

The word for this election is ``volatility.'' And I suspect that we will see a good number of surprises next Tuesday. These are very undependable voters.

Maybe what we need is term limits for voters. (Just kidding, of course.)

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