There's a persistent idea in politics -- it's particularly rampant in political journalism and academia -- that voters are deeply interested in the specifics of each candidate's policies. That the way people make up their minds in an election is through a thorough review of where the candidates stand on a variety of issues.
That is, of course, bunk -- at least for the majority of swing voters. Typically, the way these people decide whom to vote for is based on their perceptions -- and often misperceptions -- of the candidates. The idea that the average undecided voter is looking for deep dives into policy from the candidates before making up his/her mind is a farce.
Witness a poll question buried deep in the new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll of Iowa voters. Here's how the question reads: "Do you want to be clear about specific policies [NAME OF FIRST CHOICE CANDIDATE] would address if elected or do you trust [HIM/HER] to figure it out once [S/HE] is in office?"
Just 41 percent of likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers said they wanted their preferred candidate to "be clear about specific policies" while almost six in 10 (57 percent) said they would simply trust him or her to figure it all out once they got into office.
What these numbers prove -- not for the first time in this election -- is that Donald Trump has a remarkably refined understanding of the Republican electorate. "Well, I think the press is more eager to see it than the voters, to be honest," Trump said earlier this month in Iowa when asked when he might release a detailed immigration plan. "I think the voters like me, they understand me, they know I'm going to do the job. ... I think they trust me. I think they know I'm going to make good deals for them."
The political class scoffed. No plan!? People won't stand for it! (Trump did soon put out a relatively detailed immigration plan, by the way.) Except, no one really cared. The people who like Trump not only believe he will take care of all of the problems facing the country when he gets elected but a big part of why they like him is because his message is: Leave it to me. I've got this.
There are, without question, voters who engage deeply on a single policy or a series of policies. But to assume that they are the a) the majority of the country or b) the majority of swing voters is simply wrong. Trump appeals to a desire within a decent-sized chunk of the electorate which has little interest in knowing the ins and out of policies and would rather simply elect someone they trust to handle things.
Call it the Homer Simpson philosophy: "Can't someone else do it?"