Too Much “Macro”, Not Enough “Micro” In Election

This week’s Courier Herald column:

When I enrolled at the University of Georgia way back in 1987 and was told to pick a major, I chose economics.  I had no intention of it being my real major, but it was among the choices on the path to a B.B.A. and I liked it in high school.  I figured I would change it later, when I could decide if my future belonged to finance, marketing, or something similar.

One of the first questions I began to be asked by others in the same path was whether I preferred “Micro” or “Macro”.  I didn’t really have an opinion there.  I just wanted to study the fundamentals of money on my way to presumably making a lot of it.

Microeconomics is the study of individual decisions.  It studies how decisions are made to buy, sell, produce, and such as an individual consumer or producer.  Macroeconomics, on the other hand, deals with the impacts of these decisions collectively.  

For someone that had an interest in politics but never planned on it as a career field, macroeconomics was more interesting. Concepts like inflation, unemployment, and GDP were in the news constantly and being able to talk about them in conversations about current events seemed important.

Besides, what college student preparing to take on the world has time to deal with the pesky decisions of an individual on a case by case basis?  Macro just seemed like the effective way to smooth over the noise on the way to the bottom line answer. 

It’s the results, not all the inputs, that matter.  Or so I would have thought.

Study for that economics degree and for a subsequent masters taught me a lot about what I didn’t know.  I’ve since found in life that what you know is important, but what you don’t know is usually even more important.

What I didn’t fully understand about economics until well after my degrees were conferred is that the field is not a study of money.  Economics is the study of human behavior.  Money is just the method used to keep score.

Why am I rambling about college studies three decades ago?  As I’m preparing to file this column for print, Georgians are voting on what will certainly be the most expensive runoff in history. 

Almost one billion has been spent to “help” Georgians pick two United States Senators.  The 2020 election spending estimates nationwide for all races is pegged near $14 Billion.  “Unprecedented” barely seems an appropriate descriptor.

As more and more money has flooded into the sphere of influencing our votes, we’ve seen campaigns move from “micro” to “macro”.  Despite the ability to micro-target voters based on social media and other data sources, campaigns are losing the personal touch.  This was a trend well before the pandemic could be used as an excuse. 

Money is flooding the zone.  This allows one mail piece to become twenty.  One volunteer phone call to become ten texts per day.

Money has allowed the human touch to be replaced by highly targeted, professional voter outreach programs.  Getting to know the candidate, positions and solutions longer than will fit on a bumper sticker, and authenticity have been casualties along the way.

Those things, after all, can just get a campaign bogged down in the pesky thoughts and behaviors of individuals.  It’s just the collective result that matters.

Except, lost in all of this over-produced and under-sourced campaign Pablum is the fact that individuals still have to make decisions.  Most of the dollar spent have been aimed at turnout and “get out the vote” efforts.  Bots spamming text instructions to vote do little to win hearts and minds.

With almost one billion spent to elect two Senators, I’m willing to bet the volume and some of the actual messaging did in fact changed some hearts and minds.  Most likely, it wasn’t the way the campaigns had hoped for.  Here’s hoping the 2022 campaigns will have a bit more for the folks who appreciate the “micro” touch.


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