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Too Early to Tell 

What's your opinion of Emily Farris? Hint: You probably shouldn't have one yet

click to enlarge CALEB WALSH ILLUSTRATION
  • Caleb Walsh illustration

Recent polling shows that Emily Farris has little chance of becoming the next Republican nominee for president of the United States. Seventy-seven percent of Republican primary voters told Public Policy Polling they've never heard of her. Of those who said they did know her, 20 percent had an unfavorable opinion of her while only 3 percent had a favorable opinion.

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In addition to these dismal polling results, the other reason Farris is unlikely to become the next Republican nominee is that she isn't actually running. In fact, she couldn't run even if she wanted. At 31 years old, she's too young to run under the U.S. Constitution's age requirement for the office.

So Farris isn't going to be our next president and you shouldn't feel terribly bad about having no clue about who she is — because the reality is that probably almost none, if any, of the 23 percent of primary voters who claimed to have an opinion of her actually had ever heard of her either. And that's why it's worth all of us learning about Farris and what the opinions offered about her reveal about our politics.

Farris is a political science professor at Texas Christian University, where she teaches a course on survey research. Before Public Policy Polling recently put her in their poll — after she jokingly suggested it to them in a tweet as a way to test what people would say about someone they'd never heard of — she had no national reputation.

It's actually not surprising that 23 percent of primary voters offered an opinion about Farris. There's a psychological phenomenon known as "social pressure": when people are asked for an opinion about something or someone, they feel like they ought to have one and consequently will frequently come up with one.

What is surprising, at least to me, is the strongly negative opinions expressed. Perhaps they got her confused with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a liberal icon, or EMILY's list, which works to elect pro-choice, Democratic women — either option probably not terribly popular with Republican primary voters. Others have suggested that the 20 percent of primary voters who are Farris haters represent a more general distaste for a woman president within the Republican Party. There's unfortunately at least some truth to that, but I think there's another disturbing part of our politics that is in play.

We hate what we don't know. And when we pretend to know more than we do, we end up deciding that we hate it. It's why some are deeply skeptical of well-proven, but complex problems, like climate change. It's also why, as we increasingly live in areas dominated by people who share our particular political beliefs (whether conservative or liberal), our politics are becoming more partisan and hate-filled, as we no longer interact with or really know those of differing beliefs.

As for what I believe about Emily Farris running for president, I admit that she had a clever idea when she requested to be included in the poll, and respect her consequential responses to the media — she's taken it has an opportunity to educate not only her students, but also our nation. That said, I don't think that's enough information to form any kind of intelligent opinion about her potential for political office. If I get called by a pollster and asked about her or anyone else I've only read an article or two about, I'll proudly let them know that I don't know enough yet. ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He has been active in protecting Idaho's environment, expanding LGBT rights and the Idaho Republican Party.

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