And interesting corollary to this in mainstream culture is that, so I have read, opinion pollsters have found it increasingly difficult to get unstudied opinions out of people. As "marketing" and "positioning" become concepts that most people think about most of the time, people asked what they think of a TV pilot will give replies like, "Most of this I thought had very broad appeal, but I think that older women will be turned off by this plot point."
Political writer Jay Cost has an interesting article at the RealClearPolitics Horse Race blog, which examines the two parties' selection of their nominees in this light. He argues that the predictions of political science models in regards to this election (current president approval rating, economy, war, end of two term presidency, etc.) are to a great extent counter-acted by the fact that many voters in both parties consciously took such factors into account in their nomination choices this cycle.
... So, both parties manifested signs of sophisticated thinking in pursuit of a goal - even though the manifestations were quite different. In both cases, information made a crucial difference. Party actors had up-to-date knowledge of relevant variables, and acted in light of that knowledge. The Republicans were aware of their dire straits and, accordingly, made a risk-averse choice. The Democrats were aware of how favored they are and made a risk-accepting choice. An important precondition of all this is the information age. It is simply easier for people of all classes to acquire information nowadays, and thus easier for them to make sophisticated choices like this.This rings fairly true to me. In an internet and media saturated age, enough people seem to be thinking along these lines to make it difficult to handicap election. Essentially, both parties are consciously steering towards getting as much of their way as possible while just barely winning the election.
Interestingly, while they are pursuing different goals in different manners, both parties are putting the same kind of stress on the electoral system. Republicans looked at the macro structure and determined that McCain might turn a probable defeat into a possible victory. Democrats looked at the same structure and determined that while Obama could probably not pull off an enormous win, he could still win in a year like this. Both candidates were thus selected with an eye to having the final result closer than the macro models predict. Both are testing the tensile strength of the macro structure of electoral conflict. Republicans picked a guy they don't like but who might pull the upset. Democrats (with the final say) are trading a possible landslide for their first choice....