Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Feelings and Voting

Politicians need both quantity of mild support and quality of intense support.  The former provide votes, the latter provide money. But negative impressions of them do not matter in the same way. Dislike is only measured compared to other candidates. Thus it is important to keep generalised dislike at a mild level, so that your opponent(s) can be more easily portrayed as worse.  But intense dislike doesn't matter much more than mild dislike.  Those who hate you cannot take votes or campaign money away from you, they can only accomplish that indirectly by giving to your opponent - who they also may not much like. 

This may seem obvious, but look at consequences.  A thousand jobs on the Keystone XL pipleline were just lost.  They have friends and family, certainly, but that is only a few thousand votes of people who are really angry at you.  The mild positives you get from having done...something about the environment...y'know, a good thing like not having a big ugly pipeline...that might spill or something, which would be gross over a lot of ground...and those oil company people aren't trustworthy...

Or if you had a nice business in downtown Portland built over years, but now it's destroyed, and you are really angry at the lack of protection and you have politicians you hate that you used to like...well, what of it?  Those are only a few votes.  There may be some increased generalised bad feeling for some politicians, but even in Portland, even among your neighbors and (former?) friends, people are still mostly happy that "We still get to be Portland, y'know?" Their image of themselves can go on almost uninterrupted, and such bad feelings can be gradually redirected against other politicians and other groups.  It's actually pretty simple, because people want to find ways to go back to hating who they used to hate and liking who they used to like. They will actually help you make excuses, as Screwtape explained to Wormwood about even Christians not wanting to face God sometimes, actively assisting their tempters in staying away from Him.

I don't think all this is widely understood. Conservatives think that "Whoo, boy, those people out of pipefitters jobs aren't going to like Biden much now, eh?"  It's a few thousand votes max, and who knows if many of them were Biden voters anyway?  That they mildly disliked him and were worried about him and now despise him doesn't much matter.  It matters some.  People talk, people become activated, their friends and neighbors do absorb some of this data that might connect to other negative things and change attitudes.  But maybe not.

People who hated Trump also seem to have missed a lot of this understanding.  They seemed to think that if the people who hated him could be convinced to hate him even more, then it would change the attitudes of the country.  If anything, when hatred reaches a certain level it starts to send folks in the opposite direction. I don't say the intensity has zero effect, because it does enter the general atmosphere of the culture.  Yet not so much as they imagine.

The weight, the quantity and quality, the intensity of like and dislike are not equal forces in politics.


dmoelling said...

I work in the Electric Power business across the USA (and world) so I get to meet a lot of people in the trades (welders, pipefitters, electricians etc.). They were huge Trump guys from the start. I don't think Donald wanted to be real buddies with these guys, but he read the room and picked up the anger. This real contempt for skilled trades (except for programmers at bit) is new in the last 20 or so years. So the first thing Biden does as president in a pandemic is shutdown construction and maintenance jobs? couple this with another 100 or so executive orders on every favorite left/liberal cause and you build big resentment. I'm not very sure Biden is in control here. He was always a flexible politician who really looked for gifts (Senator from MBNA as the stories went) but not a real lefty.

Donna B. said...

@dmoelling: Back in the 90s, I was in an unofficial UA* yahoo group discussing jobs for travelers. I was astounded at the very conservative opinions expressed by most of the members who also stated that they would always vote for the Democrat for any office. Seems they got "woke" or at least opened their political eyes since then.

*United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinkler Fitting Industry

Christopher B said...

The evidence is that moving people from 'dislike' to 'hate' does win elections. It's why negative campaigning continues even though candidates always complain about it.

I think you're on firmer ground with the inference at the end of the first 'graph. Moving people from 'dislike' to 'hate' of your opponent doesn't mean they start liking your candidate any better even if they vote for him.

Douglas2 said...

I was kind of surprised 5 years ago that the tame and inoffensive pairing of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld didn't get more momentum than it did, given the level of vitriol against both Hillary and Trump. The 'takedown' interview where all the press decided suddenly to dismiss Johnson as unready was really transparently coordinated.

In hindsight, reviewing his bio, I can see that there were an awful lot of DC insiders who loathed and feared Weld. But aside from that, it does seem to illustrate your point.


Aggie said...

People who make things have evidence of their efforts. It's easy to see that connection with the trades, slightly more abstract with, say, an industrialist that builds an industry or a small businessman starting out with a dream to hand down a healthy business to his kids and have them follow his footsteps to make it even better still.

All of these things represent results with physical proof you can point to - and there's a real sense of loss when it goes away. What does an Administrator point to? To me this was the attraction of Trump. Most of his supporters had little in common with him - they just liked that he was capable of plain speech, that he didn't pander, that he spoke to their concerns. He might be full of sh*t when he's talking trash, but he doesn't change to suit anyone but himself.

The hate that bloomed following Trump's election was something I found profoundly disappointing. Trump was a bright light to a lot of people, but the responses have been a roaring electrical arc, like a utility transformer blowing up, by comparison; so profoundly disproportional and out of touch, they only serve to highlight how deeply the political system is failing Americans. There may only be a few thousand put out of work by the Keystone cancellation - but don't you think there will be an empathetical awareness by anybody that has lost a business or property because of the 9 months of rioting in many cities, or because of the COVID shutdowns, that they identify with the same group?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Aggie - if it is reported to people and not forgotten, yes. But if it is memory-holed, none of us tends to keep in mind things that happened to people we don't know and don't identify with strongly. All that releasing bad news on a Friday, calling something Old News, etc are design to accomplish forgetting.