On The Hypocrisy of Voters: The politics of economics redux

This is from Gallup:

Overall, 46% of Americans believe the federal government "poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens," little changed from the prior reading in 2006. However, during that time, Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of the government as a threat have shifted dramatically.


The results suggest that Americans’ perceptions of the government as a threat may be less dependent on broader, philosophical views of government power, and instead have more to do with who is wielding that power. Throughout the Bush administration, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to perceive the government as a threat. Now that a Democratic president is in office, the reverse is true.

Since 2003, when the question was first asked, independents’ views have been more consistent, although independents have been somewhat more likely to perceive the government as a threat since 2006 than they were before that year.

What does this tell you? Personally, I find it a bit disturbing.  My take: People are hypocrites. People don’t have any defensible philosophical world view that they apply systematically. It depends on who is in power and whether one feels allied to power by party affiliation.

In the United States, Democrats give Democratic Administrations a free pass, not because they are doing things that they want done but because they have a pre-conceived notion of how "threatening" those Administrations’ wielding of power is. Glenn Greenwald is on to this regarding the Obama Administration’s dubious track record on executive power and civil liberties. The same is also true about Republican voters who were much more willing to give George Bush a free pass than Barack Obama. Greenwald demonstrates the same hypocrisy is also evident in the American media’s treatment of government power and privacy for the United States versus foreign governments.

We know this is true based on scientific studies about political partisans (see here), but this Gallup poll is telling you that as well. Is the U.S. in a period of particularly partisan thinking? It seems that way to me. And it suggests that government is going to be less than effective at tackling big economic problems.

This reminds me of a post I wrote last December called Humans are built to be hypocritical. My takeaway from that post is that people are naturally drawn to people who espouse categorical views, especially in times of crisis. It’s not always relevant whether those views are correct.

a leader or pundit who seems to make coherent but more inaccurate statements is better regarded than one who makes less coherent but more accurate statements. A June article in New Science summed this regard up as “Humans prefer cockiness to expertise.”  What this means in practice is that ideologues (those who express extreme but more coherent views) are attractive because of the apparent coherence of their views – and I stress the word apparent.

This is a clear negative for Barack Obama the conciliator not because he isn’t articulate or self-assured but rather because he hasn’t demonstrated 100% conviction to any set of issues and has shown a willingness to horse trade. President Obama shows a lot of ambivalence across a wide range of specific economic and political issues. A lot of this may be personality-specific. The Wall Street Journal, for example, had a widely-read post late in September called "Why So Many People Can’t Make Decisions" about people with higher levels of ambivalence.

High ambivalence may be useful in some situations, and low ambivalence in others, researchers say. And although people don’t fall neatly into one camp or the other, in general, individuals who tend toward ambivalence do so fairly consistently across different areas of their lives…

Now, researchers have been investigating how ambivalence, or lack of it, affects people’s lives, and how they might be able to make better decisions. Overall, thinking in shades of gray is a sign of maturity, enabling people to see the world as it really is. It’s a "coming to grips with the complexity of the world," says Jeff Larsen, a psychology professor who studies ambivalence at Texas Tech University in Lubbock…

If there isn’t an easy answer, ambivalent people, more than black-and-white thinkers, are likely to procrastinate and avoid making a choice…

Researchers can’t say for sure why some people tend towards greater ambivalence. Certain personality traits play a role—people with a strong need to reach a conclusion in a given situation tend to black-and-white thinking, while ambivalent people tend to be more comfortable with uncertainty. Individuals who are raised in environments where their parents are ambivalent or unstable may grow to experience anxiety and ambivalence in future relationships, according to some developmental psychologists.

I see this through a Myers-Briggs type of framing with people with ambivalence being those who score high on the Perception scale and those who think more black-and-white being people who scored high on the Judgment scale. You can take the test here.

In normal times, a "perceiver" could do well as a "judger" might be perceived as inflexible. But, my takeaway from these bits and pieces is that ambivalent "perceivers" don’t do well in a partisan or crisis-ridden world. They lack the conviction which gets people on side – something very necessary in these times. By contrast, "Judgers" are perceived as ‘strong leaders’.

Does the President have the right policies? I’m sure your answer depends on which party you are affiliated with (see above)! How ever you view this, it is clear that Barack Obama has erred in thinking conciliation was going to work in  this environment because it doesn’t.

Update: I was just reminded of all the seniors screaming about Government and socialized medicine during the healthcare reform debates when they lived off of the most socialized medicine in the US. These people didn’t see the contradiction because it wasn’t emotionally or even rationally beneficial to do so. If you are a politician who sees this kind of behaviour, you realize that people can be exploited as a result of it. The easiest ways to do so is to align yourself with voters on issues they care about while on the campaign trail, but once in office pay tribute to the special interests that benefit you personally.

Comments appreciated.

  1. Tf says

    The numbers above prove that the powers that be have successfully socially engineered a population with almost no capability of individual discernment. It is a complete herd mentality.

    1. Edward Harrison says

      I have heard people saying independent voters are the ambivalent ones who need to get off the fence. But this polling shows that it is partisans who have been sucked into their party’s orbit in an uncritical way. Herd mentality? 100%. But we are seeing splintering of that via the Tea Party and the liberal left.

      1. dnarby says

        Nice article sir.I think that poll clearly shows that 21% of the electorate are either partisan Democrats, or Republicans – A perfect split, leaving 58% as independents.This great American middle will hopefully wake up to the fact they are more than likely moderately libertarian, and will vote accordingly.

  2. jimh009 says

    > I have heard people saying independent voters are the ambivalent ones who need to get off the fence.

    Yeah, I hear that all the time, too. Personally, sitting on the fence is the the best place to be if there isn’t anything worth hopping off the fence for.

    1. Edward Harrison says

      exactly. Lip service is not enough. BOTH parties need to promote policies that directly benefit the large majority of American voters – and I’m not talking about trickle down. Why are voters allied to their parties this way when it is clear that the middle class is not benefitting? It defies logic.

      1. jimh009 says

        I once read a blurb somewhere that said that a majority of declared Republican voters would vote for Hitler if he ran on the Republican ticket. And conversely, a majority of declared Democrat voters would vote for Stalin if he was on the Democratic ticket.

        It’s why a third party has such difficulty rising in the USA…the vast majority of the electorate is already “claimed” by the two parties, and those voters vote, however repugnant, for whoever is on the ticket.

        The only good news is the recent surge in people abandoning both parties and declaring themselves as “Independent.” Perhaps with a larger and larger percentage of people identifying as “Independent,” the parties will be forced into a different direction.

        But I’m not holding my breath. What’s the old saying in political elections – during the primary the politician should “cater to the base” and then “tack to the center” during the general election in hopes of capturing the Independent voters. Once elected, the politician should then cater to their base, until the election season happens again where they “rinse and repeat” the process again.

  3. gf says

    Maybe it is just me but you have a super annoying pop-up advert that covers the text of your article at times. It looks related to the gold special alert.

  4. Glen says

    I voted for Obama and I’m pissed as hell at the guy, pretty much for the same reasons I was upset with Bush. He seems to be putting a bunch of crooked banks interests ahead the American peoples, and he seems determined to continue a idiotic war on terror and he does seem to be the same old Bush policies on executive power abuses. In fact, you could say I’m more pissed at Obama because I just didn’t expect the core values of the Democratic party to be tossed under the bus so quickly.

    But I also figure I’m a hypocrite when it comes to my expectations – I expect more out of the Democrats than we’re getting.

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