Gentle reader, would you be kind enough to participate as a subject in a small unscientific study in social pschology?

Read the text below, and, before reading further, send me an email ( with the answers to the two questions that immediately follow.

We are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota. Minnesota is one of the few states that allow same day voter registration. We will therefore focus our energy on registering young Minnesotans. Wellstone will need a high percentage of young people to register and vote for him if he is to stave off the campaign that Bush, the Republicans and the Greens are waging against him.

Question 1 What is the organization that sent that message trying to do? Does it intend:

A. To bring young people from outside Minnesota to Minnesota to falsely register and vote there; or

B. To bring young people from outside Minnesota to Minnesota to encourage young people who live in Minnesota to register and vote?

C. The text is ambiguous.

Question 2 Would you describe yourself as:

A. A strong Democratic partisan

B. A weak Democratic partisan

C. More or less neutral between the parties

D. A weak Republican partisan

E. A strong Republican partisan

F. Not placeable on this scale


What, you wonder, is the point of this study?

It starts with a puzzle. Eugene Volokh is a sensible and fair-minded person, and a somewhat less rabid partisan than I. (It’s hard to be a more rabid partisan than I, at least on an outpatient basis.) He is, as a law professor, a professional interpreter of texts. He would never willingly make a false charge, especially about as serious a matter as voter fraud. His blog reprinted the text above (which came from the Young Democratic Socialists, the youth arm of the Democratic Socialists of America, which is the Michael Harrington wing of the old Socialist Party), with the following comment:

I suppose this might be seen as saying that they want to bring young people to Minnesota to register other young people, who are legitimate Minnesotans. But this sure isn’t what leaps out at you when you first read this — the much more obvious interpretation is that they’re bringing young people from outside Minnesota to Minnesota so they can then register as young Minnesotans. Pretty iffy stuff; I’m surprised that it hasn’t gotten more attention.

Now when I first read the message from the DSA, interpretation (B) struck me as the only possible reading; “registering young Minnesotans” means, I would have thought unambiguously, registering young people who live in Minnesota. (The sheer cost-ineffectivenss of trying to steal votes by moving physical voters seems to me to strengthen this interpretation; if you’re going to commit voter fraud, why not use natives and save the travel expense? Or spend the transportation money on honest phone-banking, which surely produces more net votes per dollar spent?) But Eugene, even after a second reading, continues to believe that the text is, at best, ambiguous.

So that’s the point of my study. How closely will responses break down along party lines? If only strong Democratic partisans agree with me, I’ll have to concede that my biases have led me to an error of interpretation. Results (if any) to be posted soon. Anyone who would like to help with the study is encouraged to recruit additional subjects, by email, in blogspace, or face-to-face.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

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