Shock about turnout is sinking in two days after the election. Many, many more people voted for the incumbent than polling suggested would. I don’t have a polling take or a sociological analysis, but I’ve thought a lot since Tuesday about something I witnessed at a church meeting years ago that suggests a partial explanation.

At a presbytery gathering, an overture was submitted by a session (the elected governing board of a congregation) that was related to a hot-button issue. This presbytery was deeply divided over this issue, as everyone knew. The overture was sent out to members days ahead of the meeting, so everyone showed up knowing that this would be on the agenda. I expected drama.

When the overture was introduced and the floor opened for discussion, the Moderator instructed those speaking for and those speaking against to line up at opposing microphones, so that he could call on them to speak in turn. Immediately a handful of bodies queued at the “against” microphone. Nobody stood in support. The Moderator called on the first “against” speaker, who said what she came to say and was rewarded with hearty nods from her against compatriots, and then the Moderator turned to call on someone at the “for” microphone, but there was still nobody there. He chuckled nervously and then turned back to the “against” line and called on another speaker.

When the second speaker finished there was still nobody at the “for” microphone, so the Moderator began to plead. “Is anyone going to speak in favor of the overture?” After several seconds of silence, someone finally stood and issued a few halfhearted sentences of endorsement from his seat. He didn’t even walk the 15 feet between him and the microphone.

Several more people spoke against and not another soul spoke for, so that when the time came to vote defeat was assured. And, as expected, the overture was defeated. By one vote.

I gasped. My perception of the people I was sharing that room with got spun around and upside down in an instant. I had mistaken the conversation for the reality. Half of the voters knew their vote before it was called for and didn’t feel the need to change a single mind about it. I suspected immediately that the pro camp had coordinated ahead of time, though I could never prove that, and even if they had that would be their right. Still, the incident shook my confidence in what I know about what is really going on during deliberations.

Democratic decision making (which my church uses) associates public statements with intention. I’ve long questioned that association.

3 thoughts on “Association

  1. I’m thinking that lots of the incumbent’s supporters don’t want to be seen supporting him because they know who he is, but they like that and want to keep him, they just don’t want others to know they, too, believe as he does.

  2. That’s a powerful story. If I’m approached by a pollster next time around, I will remind that person of the value of the last two sets of presidential polls. Meanwhile, whatever happened to the advice “be ready to account for the grace that is in you”?

  3. Rocky, you made me think about this phenomenon. We need to think a lot more about the kind of evidence we use to make assumptions. The professional poll takers put a lot of thought and science into how to know what a population thinks and how it will act. Obviously, even they mistook what they saw. It ain’t easy work.

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