The silver bullet of political science, particularly in America, is to discover a single indicator to predict the only national election we have, which is for President. Typically, the indicators used for this measure can be divided into two categories: intangibles and material conditions. The former category contains items such as Presidential Approval Rating, opinions about the trajectory of the country, attitudes about the economy, and so on. In the latter category, measures such as the unemployment rate, real disposable income, gross domestic product, and fluctuations of the stock market are often considered to be signals of how the country will vote. The logic of such an exercise is relatively straightforward. A certain indicator, when measured at a specific time (usually between Spring and Fall of an election year) will give you a finger on the pulse of the country; and, in being able to gauge the mood of the citizenry, you will thus be able to anticipate whether it will choose to keep the incumbent party in power, or vote it out.
I think I have found the silver bullet. I think the Sin Tax (the national sumptuary tax on alcohol, tobacco, and gambling) is the indicator that, when put in a regression model, will render the most accurate predictions for the Presidential election. Here’s why.
Psychologists and sociologists are in relative agreement that “socially undesirable” behavior (like boozing, smoking, and gambling) is the resort of individuals who are under stress or strain, or otherwise seeking a means of “escape.” This much is intuitive — we all understand the impulse to cope with trying circumstances or phases.
The rationale of my model is that, in times of social, political, or economic hardship, consumption of socially undesirable goods rises. Consequently, the greater the yields of the Sin Tax, the greater dissatisfaction there is in the country; the greater the dissatisfaction in the country, the greater collective desire to change the status quo; the greater the desire to change the status quo, the greater the likelihood that the incumbent party will be booted from office. The logical progression seems, at least to me, relatively tight. The conclusion, however, may be wrong. There may not be such a correlation — maybe people buy more alcohol and tobacco, and gamble more, when times are good, when they have more cash to burn — but in such a case, all one would need to do is reverse the outcome of the election, and the entire equation has predictive power again.
Using the Sin Tax also helps to bridge the gap between intangible and material conditions, given that it is an empirical indicator with immaterial or psychological roots.
Pecunia Non Olet
In first century Rome, the emperor Vespasian apparently proclaimed, “Pecunia Non Olet,” or “money has no smell,” after imposing a tax of the city’s urine (which was then being sold by peasants to tanners and launderers who desired its ammonia). This statement is a declaration that no matter its origins, money has no smell — whether it’s acquired by selling flowers or feces, a coin is a coin is a coin.
And in the United States today, a green back earned from sinful activity may indeed have no smell, yet the stench from where it came may lead to a valuable conclusion. It may reveal who the next President of the country will be.
And this is what I plan to find out.