It's OK to vote your conscience

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The presidential primaries are well underway, and every day in the news and online, there are dozens of takes on why the current frontrunner (whoever that is at the moment) would be a good candidate or not. But here’s the thing: who that candidate is will likely matter far less than everyone thinks.

There are three reasons why this is the case: a misunderstanding of polling, an increase in polarization, and an inevitable media fiasco during the general election season.

Exhibit A: polls showing candidate X is ahead of President Donald Trump (R) in swing states by this percent, while candidate Y is only ahead by this percent. I’ll say it once. General election polls this early in the cycle are garbage. A poll last Aug. found former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 10 percent in Michigan, while Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was only ahead by four percent. A poll from last week showed Sanders ahead in Michigan by seven percent and Biden ahead by only four percent.

This inconsistency is not unique to 2020. Nationwide polls this time in 2012 showed Mitt Romney ahead of Barack Obama by four percent. Obama ended up winning by almost four percent, and no one needs a reminder of what the polls were saying in 2016.

The discrepancy between primary polls and general election results leads to exhibit B: voters from the party. Numerous Democratic voters claiming they’ll vote for the Democratic party, but only if candidate X is the nominee. This has been one of the main arguments in favor of Biden since he can allegedly bring many conservative-leaning blue-collar whites from the Midwest back into the fold.

Anyone who has been watching American politics in the past four years knows this is lunacy. Barring the occasional snap-back in 2018, Americans’ views on politics — especially regarding Trump — are extremely rigid. Sure, some Republican voters may profess uncertainty now, but in a couple of months, they will come home to the GOP, if not for love of Trump, then because of abortion or the Second Amendment or taxes.

A good example was the 2018 Senate election in Tennessee. Moderate former governor Phil Bredesen (D) seemed like he had a good chance of luring back the historical Democratic voters who had voted for him in 2006 with a whopping 39 percent lead, and early polls showed him ahead by a few points. However, when the time came for Tennessee to go to the polls, Bredesen lost by 11 percent. Simply put, voters are more polarized than they have been in recent memory and less willing to stray from the party line.

The reason for this “coming home” effect is simple: Fox News. It is inevitable that right-wing media outlets will carpet-bomb the Democratic nominee with months of nonstop coverage that paints them as a communist devil out to steal guns and murder babies. It doesn’t matter whether the nominee is an actual avowed Democratic Socialist like Sanders or an easy-to-mistake-for-a-Republican moderate like Bloomberg; by Nov., most of those flip-floppers will believe that the nominee is Stalin.

The moral of the story is that Democratic voters should not base their primary voting patterns on some vague and likely inaccurate notion of "electability," but rather on who they actually want to be president.