January 12, 2014

HOWEY: Marriage and unintended consequences


And then there was American sociologist Robert K. Merton, who wrote “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action,” in 1936. Merton identified five sources of unanticipated consequences. The first two – and the most pervasive – were “ignorance” and “error.” These were followed by the “imperious immediacy of interest” as well as “basic values” and then “self-defeating prediction.” Undeveloped by Merton was the bookend, “self-fulfilling prophesy.”

The “imperious immediacy of interest” is fascinating, as it prescribes to the notion in which someone wants the intended consequence of an action so much that he purposefully chooses to ignore any unintended effects.

Now, on the eve of the full manifestation of House Joint Resolution 3, Indiana’s constitutional marriage amendment – the issue that dominates the 2014 Howey Politics Indiana Power 50 list which you can read in full at – some of these theories will get a full public testing in this state, with a national audience not only watching, but making contributions into our own internal affairs.

It will likely be the most compelling social referendum to go before Indiana voters since the 1988 gaming amendment. Two polls Howey Politics conducted in October 2012 and April 2013 saw the marriage amendment as a dead heat. And that’s without either side spending a penny on the issue. By November, there will be millions spent trying to convince you.

There’s an even more recent example of unintended consequences. As U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar was facing a formidable primary challenge from Treasurer Richard Mourdock, his Republican congressional colleagues were neutral. In the spring of 2012, I asked a staffer on Mike Pence’s gubernatorial campaign whether they were concerned about the probable primary defeat of Lugar, the most prolific Republican vote getter in Hoosier history.

The answer was, “No, we’ll be OK,” even though Howey Politics Indiana polling had shown a fall matchup between Lugar and Democrat Joe Donnelly a 51-29 percent GOP rout, while the Mourdock/Donnelly matchup was a dead heat. We all know what happened. The landslide victory many anticipated for Pence became a nail-biter and at 49 percent, the first governor elected in 50 years without a majority. The reckless Mourdock imploded in the final weeks of the campaign and female voters fled the GOP. Had the steady Lugar been on the ticket, Pence probably would have had his landslide, or at least a comfortable win.

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