Last week on Slate, two commentators analyzed the new series of TV ads for Hillary Clinton in her senate campaign against Rick Lazio. The ads feature Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City. Koch likes Lazio, he says, but he's going to vote for Hillary. After all, Lazio is a candidate who doesn't want the government to pay for abortions for poor women! One of the analysts commended this ad for its savvy strategy. In Lazio, the Republicans have the edge in personality, he noted, but the Democrats have the "issues." So in the ad Koch himself acknowledges that Lazio is a nice guy—before giving him the black spot.This is worth pondering. Consider, for starters, that the Clinton-Lazio race pits one commited pro-choicer against another. The difference between them is that Lazio opposed federal funding of partial-birth abortions. So Hillary Clinton, she who has such a passion for the welfare of children once they are safely out of the womb, is shocked—shocked!—at the callous restrictions that her opponent would place on a (poor) woman's right to choose. But it gets even more interesting. Why, exactly, does this distinction—between the absolutist pro-choicer Clinton and the not-quite-absolutist Lazio—figure as an "issue" for the voters of New York State? The answer has to do with an under-noticed but very important component of "voting behavior." When people vote, they are guided not only by obvious self-interest but also by a desire to feel good about themselves. Indeed, one reason many people go to the polls in the first place, even when they aren't familiar with many of the candidates and the "issues," is that if they didn't vote they would feel guilty. (An analysis of the 1994 congressional election revealed that the vast majority ...

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