Douglas Schoen, a former advisor to Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post in which he claims that this year's election may be decided by a block of voters he calls "restless and anxious moderates," or RAMs. "Most come from the third of the electorate that identifies itself as independent, but some Democrats and Republicans have also joined this new bloc," Schoen writes. "These voters tend to be practical, non-ideological and unabashedly results-oriented people such as Gary Butler, 60, who lives in Show Low, Ariz. Both parties, he says, 'are way too far apart, and nobody is looking out for the good of the people.'" Pollsters love to come up with fancy new names for this year's swing voters, who usually are not that much different from swing voters in previous elections. They are political sporks, people who can't make up their minds if they are really Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, whether they are called yuppies, Reagan Democrats, soccer moms, security moms, NASCAR dads or office park dads. Pollsters love these people because they can charge clients in either political party enormous sums of money to explain how to reach them.

But this election is not going to be decided by RAMs or any of these other groups that pollsters and political consultants like to re-invent every election cycle. This election is going to be decided by the same people who decide every election. I call them Scared High-strung Easily-manipulated Egocentric Pinheads or SHEEP. SHEEP are flaky not particularly bright voters who make up their minds at the last minute and vote instinctively for whichever candidate promises them the most and frightens them the least. They are people like Betty Bukowsky, 49, who lives in Dinkytown, Minn., who told me, "There's a Presidential election this year?"

"Will you stop calling my house during dinner time?" another SHEEP told me.

SHEEP are barely paying any attention to the election now, though most have a vague idea that the candidates are "some black guy, the woman Bill cheated on with Monica-something and a really, really old man who was in World War II or Vietnam or something and still hasn't gotten over it." Most of them don't vote in primaries because they aren't quite sure what primaries are. As the summer rolls around, they will start to form concrete opinions about the candidates based on 30-second attack ads and jokes on late-night talk shows. And come November, this group is virtually certain to determine the winner of the presidential race.

SHEEP don't really know what they want. SHEEP may tell gullible pollsters they are looking for substance and straight talk and an end to partisan bickering but in reality they are like high school girls who say they want to date a guy who is smart and sensitive and dependable and really, really cares about them but go to the prom with the first guy on the football team who asks them. The last thing SHEEP want to hear is straight talk, no matter what they tell pollsters. They want a candidate who will tell them exactly what they want to hear and looks good saying it, someone who will protect them from scary things like terrorist attacks or universal health care. They want a candidate who promises to pay attention to people just like them and won't give away things to people who are not like them who don't deserve it because they don't work as hard and nobody should get anything for free.

The political parties don't need to hire expensive consultants to tell them how to reach these people. All they have to do is define their opponent in a way that will provide easy fodder for Jay Leno's joke writers, make good skits on Saturday Night Live and give pundits something to repeat over and over again, and the SHEEP will fall into line. And candidates just need to come up with snappy put-downs of their opponents and vague, feel-good slogans and avoid saying or doing anything that will become a popular YouTube video and get replayed endlessly on cable news stations.

Republicans already know how to reach these voters and most Democrats will probably never learn (except for Bill Clinton who just got lucky). By November the SHEEP will have decided that one of the candidates really icks them out and the other candidate isn't so bad. And SHEEP are never wrong. If the person they voted for turns out not to be so great after all, they will say that the alternative would have been so much worse. "Just imagine how bad things would be if the other guy won," they will say and all the other SHEEP will nod along.

Crossposted at Jon Swift

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