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Why This New York Journalist Thinks Montana’s Special Election Is A Case Study For National Politics

Anne Helen Petersen/Anne Helen Petersen

Montanans are not the only ones interested in the upcoming special election. BuzzFeed Senior Culture Writer Anne Helen Petersen recently wrote about what the nation ought to learn from the race to fill the state's lone House seat.She’s joined in conversation by YPR’s Brie Ripley.


Brie Ripley: You met a lot of people across the state who quintessentially defied clichés. How does this special election defy clichés?

Anne Helen Petersen: Well I think that people from the coast have an idea that they can look at a picture of someone and know the way that they voted, that they could hear the way that someone talks and know the way that they voted. And that’s a really I think reductive and dumb way of thinking about people and their political persuasions and what they value. And growing up in Idaho, I have a long history of not taking… you know, looking at someone and knowing that there is a really complex story behind that person. And so I think that by looking at the voters in Montana, you can learn you don't take things for granted. You know, just because someone is part of a union, that doesn't necessarily mean any more that they're going to vote democratic. And just because someone is rural doesn't mean that they are going to support the GOP. And I think that that's a lesson that the national organization absolutely needs to take to heart.

BR: Do you feel that voters across the nation have something to learn from voters in Montana? That perhaps this style of receiving information about candidates is unique?

AP:  Yeah, I think that there is so much polarization and this idea that like, 'Oh, I vote party-line I would never even think of voting for someone who is a Democrat or someone who’s a Republican.' Whereas, if you think about what that person actually represents and what they're going be able to do and their values. I think there's a lot of generative value in the idea of approaching an election with an open — a genuinely open mind.

BR: Your main takeaway point?

AP: There’s this weird conception of the independent voter on the national stage. And what people really talk about isn’t actually an undecided voter, and that oftentimes is a low-information voter — someone who doesn't know much and makes a decision at the last moment. And I think in Montana, the independent voter isn't a unicorn. It's a way of life, it's a way of conceiving of candidates. And people make decisions with a lot of information and with a lot of deliberation – and that's something that both parties can study.