As he does with every election, Ilya Somin reminded us about the problem of rational political ignorance. After all, why bother to put in time to learn about how government works, about issues, about candidates and positions on issues, when all one has is a single vote? It requires a great deal of time and effort to become politically knowledgeable for almost no return, given that one vote, standing alone, does nothing.
But this election is being sold as different. Whether as the election of women and minorities to office or the election to deny Trump the House of Representatives, both parties are pushing their hardest to turn out their own voters. And to turn away the other party’s voters, whether by deliberate interference and suppression or gamesmanship. One vote does nothing, but the aggregation of single votes wins elections.
For many, this is an election for, and against, Trump. People may not know who their representative or their senators are, or their state reps, or even their governor. They may not understand how a tripartite government works. They can’t name a justice on the Supreme Court. But they know who they hate.
Here’s the secret about modern political tribalism: it has little to with policy or ideology. In fact, research suggests that political identities are weak predictors of policy preferences with Americans routinely overestimating the policy preferences of Republicans and Democrats.
In reality, modern political tribalism appears to be a vehicle for more conventional forms of tribalism. It is driven by differences of race, religion, geography, gender, and class, but is conveniently housed within the confines of a political contest. The reason for this is that our social identities have coalesced, aligning with our political identities. Put differently, our political preferences are becoming strong indicators of our race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender.
It’s almost as if it’s just a matter of identity rather than policy. But so what?
Along the same lines, 63% of Republicans and 49% of Democrats report being friends primarily with those sharing their political views. Another nationally representative study found that 20% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans believe that their country would be better off if large numbers of people in the other party died. We’ve traded one prejudice for another.
Notwithstanding political ignorance, a significant number of people from both left and right believe we would be better off if their adversaries were dead. It’s not just about winning the House, or even the presidency, but about wishing death on the other tribe. From the study:
We rebalance scholarly accounts by investigating the national prevalence and correlates of 1) partisan moral disengagement that rationalizes harm against opponents, 2) partisan schadenfreude in response to deaths and injuries of political opponents, and 3) explicit support for partisan violence.
But this election goes further than “punch a Nazi.”
Finally, experimental evidence shows inducing expectations of electoral victory gives strong partisans more impetus to endorse violence against their partisan opponents.
Tonight, we will find out which tribe will “win” the election, one way or the other, even if the outcome is largely dictated by politically ignorant voters based not on the worth of any particular candidate for office, but upon whether they love or hate Trump. Regardless of which tribe wins, tomorrow will bring accusations of malfeasance by the losers and, in all likelihood, the winners as well.
The question is whether this will end with blood on the streets, each side pointing at the other, screaming “they started it” and believing themselves righteous in their inability to suffer the outcome of the electoral process that’s sustained this nation, despite adversity and hostility, until now.