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Can we apply SAT-style textual analysis to this North Carolina “undecided” voter's indecision?

Friday, October 28, 2016 14:10
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by Ken

First off, I should specify that it has been many, many years since I took the SAT, and I understand that the test has undergone all sorts of changes since dinosaurs walked the earth. Also, while I did pretty well on the “verbal” portion of the test, I consistently did better on the math portion. (That's all there was in those antediluvian days.) This was surprising, in that I thought of myself, and was generally thought of, as more of a “word person” than, certainly, a math one.

Part of my problem may have been the tiresome and unproductive habit of wasting time and thought on trying to figure out the most nearly correct answer (among the multiple choices — which themselves presented such a curious representation of reality — offered by test-makers who hadn't thought out their choices nearly as completely as they imagined) rather than focusing on which answers the test-makers meant to get back. Actually, I tended to get trapped in the content of, say, the little texts about which we were then supposed to answer questions (and still think of the one that explained that “Horatio Alger novels” aren't at all what our clichéd image tells us they are).

Nevertheless, nevertheless. I'm wondering whether those same reasoning skills that were tested by the little-text Q-and-A's might be transferable to the post in this morning's Washington Post “Daily 202 (Morning intelligence for leaders), “The agonizing torment of a dozen undecided voters in North Carolina,” by James Hohmann with Breanne Deppisch, reports on “a focus group in Charlotte last night,” which purports to have shown

that these late deciders know quite a lot about both candidates. It’s not that they want to learn new information. They’ve concluded that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are each deeply flawed, and they’re trying to pick who they perceive as the lesser of two evils. It is an agonizing decision for most of the dozen voters who gathered in a conference room in North Carolina’s biggest city.

Among the focusees, I was especially struck by this one.

Katie Burak, 30, a financial planner, worries that there could be more riots and racial strife in her hometown if Trump wins. But she does not trust Clinton and worries that she would not rise to the occasion when national tragedies inevitably strike.

“I’m typically more conservative,” she said. “But what scares me about Trump, with the recent protests, I worry what might happen to our cities and our towns if he’s elected, especially when we’re so divided. But I also think he can bring new expertise and smart people who can advise him.”

The self-described moderate added that she does not think Clinton has empathy. “She’s too well prepared, she’s too well spoken,” said Burak. “She looks too good behind the podium. … I don’t envision her as motherly or grandmotherly. I can’t see her relating in difficult situations. Only when she has time to prepare does she look good.”

Burak said “either one could” still get her vote “hesitatingly.” “I don’t know what to do,” she said.

And I'm thinking that this little text might be investigated using some of the same reasoning skills applicable to SAT questions. A professional test-maker could probably rig up more professional questions than these, but here's a rough draft.

1. What information does Katie have that might lead her to vote for Hillary Clinton?
(a) So there will be less riots and racial strife in Charlotte.
(b) ???
(c) ???
(d) ???

2. What information does Katie have that causes her to not trust Clinton?
(a) It doesn't say, but probably it's all the lies and distortions offered by Trump.
(b) It doesn't say, but maybe this refers to the decades' worth of lies and distortions offered by right-wing sociopaths for whom vilifying Clintons is better than sex.
(c) It doesn't say, but Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!
(d) It doesn't say, but it must be all those e-mails leaked by WikiLeaks showing that Clinton knows how to cozy up to the rich and powerful — something that Donald Trump has never done. (Probably Katie reasons that WikiLeaks didn't have any of those e-mails when they might have been used against Clinton in the Democratic primaries, and of course Julian Assange himself says, apparently with a straight face, that among all the billions and billions of documents WikiLeaks has access to, there isn't a single one that might make Trump look bad.)

3. What information does Katie have that leads her to believe that Clinton would not rise to the occasion when national tragedies inevitably strike?
(a) It doesn't say, but never mind her extensive experience at the upper levels of government and international relations, it's clear that she couldn't handle a crisis, unlike Trump, who we know responds to even the slightest slight by throwing a hissy fit, which will scare the dickens out of people like Vladimir Putin and the fiendish leaders of ISIS.
(b) ???
(c) ???
(d) ???

4. What information does Katie have that leads her to believe that Trump has any kind of expertise relevant to being president?
(a) It doesn't say, but he's rich, isn't he? (Well, isn't he?) And he can't have gotten rich just by finagling and conniving with and against other rich people and exploiting subordinates and other people without power, can he?
(b) It doesn't say, but even though he's really never made much money by providing goods or services, he knows all about the Art of the Deal, doesn't he? And doing deals that transfers money from other people's pockets to his pockets is just the kind of skill a president needs, isn't it?
(c) Um . . .
(d) Well . . .

5. What information does Katie have that Trump either knows or listens to smart people who advise him, except perhaps people who advise him on how to bend or break laws in pursuit of his own greed (again, a skill that's invaluable for a president)?
(a) ???
(b) ???
(c) ???
(d) ???

6. What information does Katie have that Clinton, unlike Trump doesn't have empathy, despite the fact that the old-time “hate the Clintons” fanatics used to ridicule her precisely because of all that empathetic “It takes a village” folderol?
(a) “She’s too well prepared, she’s too well spoken. She looks too good behind the podium. I don’t envision her as motherly or grandmotherly. I can’t see her relating in difficult situations. Only when she has time to prepare does she look good.”
(b) What? Does this woman have a brain in her head?

#

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis

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