This election season has produced a strange disconnect. On the one hand, we’ve had the media narrative, propelled by breathless talk of “momentum” and “inevitability” and “collapses.” Then there are the voters. Remember last spring, when we were told that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were virtually unstoppable, and that because of the compressed primary schedule, it would all be over well before Super Tuesday? But wait. McCain stumbled and disappeared (from the narrative, that is, not from the campaign trail), while Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney got all the ink—until they didn’t get many votes. Then Clinton’s loss in Iowa was touted as proof that she was a paper tiger all along, while on the GOP side, Mike Huckabee’s Iowa win was hailed (for about a week) as the Second Coming. But wait. Hillary “found her voice” in New Hampshire, where her comeback proved that Barack Obama’s Iowa victory was a fluke. But wait. Obama’s win in South Carolina proved that he was surging, while Hillary was on the ropes because of Bill Clinton’s racially divisive remarks. But wait, Super Tuesday proved …

Whatever. Beyond the ever-changing media narrative, an even better—and more complex—story has been unfolding. Americans are paying very close attention to this campaign, tuning in to debates and political coverage
in unprecedented numbers and voting in the primaries and caucuses at a record clip. So while the press has been obsessing about opinion polls and anointing and dethroning front-runners, citizens have been making their own judgments about the candidates. Even in an age of instant analysis and ubiquitous punditry, it turns out, we live in a democracy after all.
-Eric Effron