I imagine that sociologists and psychologists are having a field day with this year’s election. That is, when they’re not crying over the loss of a sense of reality.
Considering that the two major-party candidates seem to have a strained relationship with truth, that’s not surprising. What is surprising (to me, anyway) is the degree to which hyper-partisanship, with its attendant rumors and conspiracies, has directed the race.
In the hyper-partisan atmosphere that currently exists, feelings and opinions seem to matter far more than facts … because facts are apparently partisan … some people need to buy dictionaries to see what “fact” means. OK, let me pull out the definition from Oxford to save them the trouble: “A thing that is indisputably the case. … The truth about events as opposed to interpretation.”
But I can see how things like facts and history could really mess up a political campaign. Reporting that something a candidate said is false (with evidence to back it up) is dangerous, as is not reporting every rumor and conspiracy theory as if it were true. People might start expecting truth in their news. (Gasp!)
Behavioral scientists have been looking at this election, and the analyses thus far are enlightening, encompassing topics such as the rise of authoritarianism in America and the educational divide among likely voters in the 2016 election. Aradhna Krishna and Tatiana Sokolova, both of the University of Michigan, conducted an online survey in April, giving respondents a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for president. They found that the people who saw good qualities in at least one of the candidates were more likely to make their selection through choice, while those who disliked both were more likely to make their selection through rejection.
It’s essentially, then, in the mindset of whether you’re choosing between two at least somewhat desirable things or outright rejecting the more objectionable alternative. I’m seeing lots of pro-con lists. With a lot of cons.
Krishna and Sokolova wrote on The Conversation:
“If people select between Clinton and Trump by using rejection rather than choice, then the information they use to make their decisions will be different. In some ways, it may be better. Voters using rejection are more deliberate. They are less likely to be swayed by unimportant information about a candidate that they read or hear on radio, television or Facebook. They may pay less attention to rumors. In fact, conscientious voters may be well served to actively adopt a rejection strategy for their vote in order to make a choice more deliberately.”
Awww, c’mon! Rumors are the best reason to elect … well, just about anything but a government position of power.
In nine separate studies, the researchers found that people who use rejection strategies “pay more attention to all information they have—both good and bad—and don’t get swayed as much by one piece of information that sticks out. In our research, we saw more deliberation in rejection decisions and less of a tendency to be swayed by emotional, in-your-face information.”
Of course, with the hyper-partisan, minds don’t really change; whatever they believe is what they’re sticking with, dadgummit! If they believe even the most bizarre rumor, it’s fact to them regardless of evidence to the contrary. Judging from comments in my email and on comment boards, there are more than a few people for whom facts are just empty words.
Don’t even mention the phrase “fact-checking” unless you want to hear a two-hour rant on how it’s all a plot, especially if you mention that Clinton has been the subject of negative media coverage far longer than Trump has been—since the late ’70s/early ’80s (yep, I remember the flap over her keeping her maiden name during Bill’s first term in the Governor’s Mansion).
Pointing out facts and stated policy positions doesn’t seem to help in this atmosphere, as logic no longer applies. The candidate doesn’t actually believe what you do? Doesn’t matter, as long as that candidate says he or she believes it, gets you fired up and delivers a feeling—righteous indignation, rabid patriotism, whatever—that makes you want to run into that voting booth to ensure your side will prevail.
Cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff wrote during the primaries:
“In a world governed by personal responsibility and discipline, those who win deserve to win. Why does Donald Trump publicly insult other candidates and political leaders mercilessly? Quite simply, because he knows he can win an onstage TV insult game. In strict conservative eyes, that makes him a formidable winning candidate who deserves to be a winning candidate. Electoral competition is seen as a battle. Insults that stick are seen as victories—deserved victories.”
But there’s little honor in such a victory. Is that what we’ve come to? Yeah, I know … of course it is, which is why we have such horrible choices.
Sociologist Lambros Fatsis, in the wake of the U.K. general elections last year, seemingly encapsulated on the Impact Blog what’s going on here now and what voters should be doing:
“Rather than allow ourselves to be swayed or mollycoddled by the inflation of hopes and the manufacturing of hype, we can invest instead in the deflation of irresponsible, ceremonial political rhetoric. This allows us to adopt a critical analysis by filtering proposals that may have an emotional structure but lack a concrete plan, resisting attractive slogans that generate more heat than light, and refusing to allow our parliamentary representatives access to our worst fears, insecurities and vulnerabilities. Instead we can demand that politicians address our critical faculties and civic sensibilities.”
Of course, looking past all the dross is a lot of work for some, and it’s just easier to let someone else do the thinking … which is where all those talking points come in handy. Plus, it irritates those who think for themselves, so … bonus!
I, meanwhile, support neither of the major-party candidates and instead back feline candidate Limberbutt McCubbins. I mean, seriously—have you seen these people? How could I not support Limberbutt? He’s the candidate for right meow, after all. Besides, he’s neutered, so there would be no tomcattin’ around.
When Nov. 9 rolls around, we’ll know where our nation is heading (maybe to Canada for those backing the loser). Maybe by then we’ll be able to figure out what possessed us to make such awful choices in candidates.
And maybe unicorns will give us all rides to Neverland. Seems about as likely to me.