Is Partisanship a “What” or a “Why”?

The conversation continues. (Warning: it is over 3000 words).

The answer to the title of the post is both. Partisanship is certainly an empirical variable that can be measured in various ways, not the least of which is self-identification and, even more importantly, via electoral outcomes. We can both address partisanship in the moment via polling/election results as well as historically over time. This is true both for the country as a whole, as well as for an individual. It is also a “why” that explains how people behave.

I think that the “why” aspect of all of this is the crux of the problem. We would like to think that political decisions are made based on the weighing of evidence and careful consideration of the facts. But, in reality, that isn’t how most decisions are made, not even political ones.

If you have ever made a purchase because you trust the brand of the product, you used a shorthand to cut through a lot of work. If you have ever gone to a restaurant or on a trip because someone you trust suggested it, you used a shorthand to make that choice. Most of us don’t have time or, really, the expertise to make fully informed decisions on most things we do. If we are going to be honest, so we frequently use shortcuts.

Political party labels are shortcuts of this type that allow voters to simplify complex choices. This even more true, as I noted yesterday, with the long ballots we have in the United States.

But the “why” of partisanship itself isn’t just the shortcut aspect of the label. The “why” is that partisanship is a point of self-identification that influences us regardless of who is running in what race at a given moment in time. If I am a Democrat, then I am likely to vote Democratic. Moreover, if I am Democratic, I am more likely to view Democrats positively, and Republicans negatively. And perhaps most importantly for this conversation, if I am a Democrat I am more likely to rationalize or excuse bad behavior by Democrats and more likely to be highly critical of bad behavior by Republicans.

If you personally actually find that you give both Ds and Rs equally fair treatment at all times and never find yourself giving your party more of the benefit of the doubt than you do the other party, more power to you as you are a rare individual.

However, most people are likely to rationalize the behavior of their co-partisans and, also, to be far more critical of the opposite party.

Indeed, our ability to rationalize is such that research has shown that when we are giving factual information that disproves our positions that this causes people not to change their minds, but to double-down on their previously held position. See the work of Brendan Nyhan, for example. As a species, we are not as rational as we would like to think we are (so to speak).

So, back to identity. The following is a brief overview of the topic, with numerous citations, from a 2011 article in the American Political Science Review (one of the top journals in the field) by Gerber, Huber, and Washington:*

Scholars from a variety of disciplines contend that allegiances and group affiliations, from nationalism and religious identities to ethnic and kinshipties, powerfully affect attitudes and behavior. One such identity is partisanship, which political scientists have hypothesized is an active force shaping how individuals evaluate and interact with the political world (inthe United States: Campbell et al. 1960; more recently,Bartels 2002; abroad: Brader and Tucker 2001; Dancy-gier and Saunders 2006; Whitefield and Evans 1999). Evidence presented to support the importance of partisanship includes the strong correlation between partisanship and political opinions (vote choice: Bartels2000; Campbell et al. 1960; Fiorina 1981; Miller 1991; assessments of the economy: Bartels 2002;Erikson 2004; Wlezien, Franklin, and Twiggs 1997), the divergence among conflicting partisans in interpretations of common events (Bartels 2002; Gerber and Huber 2010; Lupia 1992; Rahn 1993; Zaller 1992), preferences for biased political information (Lau andRedlawsk 2001; Redlawsk 2002), and the persistence over time of partisan affiliations (Alwin and Krosnick 1991; Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002; Jenningsand Niemi 1974; Niemi and Jennings 1991). Across accounts, both political and beyond, a common thread is the claim that affiliations and identities cause the outcomes associated with holding a particular allegiance.

The claim that party identification is more than a summary of political attitudes or a “standing decision” regarding candidate choice, but instead might play acausal role in attitude formation, is consistent with the large body of work in social psychology demonstrating the power of social identification to alter attitudes and behavior. According to social identity theorists, it is a common human tendency, perhaps evolutionary in origin, for individuals to distinguish between in-groups,those to which they belong, and out-groups (Sumner1906). Belonging leads to formation of a group-based social identity that includes emotional attachments to the group and a tendency to favor the in-group (Tajfel1978; Tajfel and Turner 1986). Individuals who perceive themselves as members of a group may also internalizethe group’s norms and values and use these as a guidefor their own attitudes and behaviors (Brewer andBrown 1998). Following Weisberg and Greene (2003),among others, and applying this logic of social identity formation to partisanship suggests that identifying with a party may be akin to forming a social identity as amember of that party and, as a consequence, may cause the individual to adopt the party’s values and developmore favorable attitudes toward the party’s candidates and causes.

I can add, too, the following from Enns and McAvoy:**

Survey research has documented partisanship’s influence on information processing and opinion updating at the individual level (Berelson et al. 1954; Campbell et al. 1960; Finkel 1993; Goren 2002, 2007; Jacoby 1988; Markus and Converse 1979; Stokes 1966; Zaller 1992). As Stokes (1966, p. 127) notes, “for most people the tie between party identification and voting behavior involves subtle processes of perceptual adjustment by which the individual assembles an image of current politics consistent with his partisan allegiance.” Experimental studies also suggest that individuals’ motivations to maintain consistent attitudes produce strong partisan effects (Gaines et al. 2007; Kunda 1990; Taber and Lodge 2006; Taber et al. 2009). According to individual level analyses, partisanship influences what information individuals encounter, whether they accept or discount the information, and how they interpret the information.

All emphases are mine.

I just wanted to bring along some other voices on this topic, and the above hits on several items that I have been trying to convey, and the passage helpfully also includes a mini-literature review of the topics in question should people want to do actual research on this topic.

People’s partisanship is part of how they view themselves and it filters how they see politics. It very much guides how they rationalize their own side (and the other side as well).

And as I noted elsewhere, a key source of partisan identity is one’s family. This has been a key issue in the political science literature since at least the 1960s. You get your first exposure to politics from your family and the community in which your family operates. Your social class, your educational attainment, your race, your religion, your regionality are all linked to family and typically reinforce general identity and specific partisanship.

And since most people don’t move away from their families, these identities are reinforced over a lifetime:

The typical adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother, according to an Upshot analysis of data from a comprehensive survey of older Americans. Over the last few decades, Americans have become less mobile, and most adults – especially those with less education or lower incomes — do not venture far from their hometowns.

The power of place and family are huge influences on our thoughts and behaviors. Indeed, I would wager that those of us who have changed our political points of view over time could link such changes to having lived in different places and having interacted with different kinds of people. I know this has been true for me.

And, as noted above by Enns and McAvoy, it affects what information sources you seek out (and niche partisan news sources have gotten increasingly easier to tap into). This further strengthens all of the above.

Let me tease out two items from that list from the first paragraph of Gerber, et al. which cites studies that show how partisanship can influence the following:

  • assessments of the economy
  • divergence among conflicting partisans in interpretations of common events

Surely, the state of the economy is an empirical issue, yes? And yet most people evaluate it through a partisan lens. See this WaPo piece: And just like that, Republicans are pretty confident in where the economy is headed.

Here is a clear, empirical indicator that partisan preferences can drive political opinion without any consideration of actual evidence, and it affects both parties.

To quote the WaPo piece:

It’s almost as though . . . opinions . . . are driven by politics??

And it then noted:

The exact same thing happened when President Obama first took office, as Gallup noted during his first term.

There’s more in a follow-on WaPo piece: Your view of the economy depends on whether your party controls the White House. See, also, Gallup: 2017 Partisan Gap in Economic Confidence One of the Largest.

The above are clear examples of partisan identity producing an opinion absent of any evidence or reason save for a shift in partisan control of the executive. The aggregated shifts in opinion were clearly measurable and, again, affected partisans of both parties.

Let’s be clear: we have here direct evidence that people’s perception of reality is influenced by their partisan identity. This makes it both a “what” and a “why” in and of itself.

Is partisanship destiny? Am I saying people can’t use reason or that they can’t change their minds? Quite clearly not. At a minimum, I have noted that I personally have changed my mind, and my partisan orientation, over time. Likewise, we know that my co-blogger, James Joyner, has left the GOP. But using personal experiences and views and then extrapolating typically isn’t a good basis for science. Luckily, there are plenty of other data points. George Will quit the party publically. Bill Kristol has been an unrelenting Trump critic. There is the general NeverTrump movement and things like the Lincoln Project.

So yes, people can change their minds. But that doesn’t mean that mind-changing is easy (we are, after all, talking about personal identity issues) and it is even harder in our binary party system.

But I will say that yes, to a degree, partisanship is destiny in the sense that most people don’t change their partisan behaviors over time (this is why I keep using the now tiresome phrase “in the aggregate”). I have repeatedly noted that my argument is about the probabilistic mass behavior of Americans and that most people are quite stable in their political attitudes and voting behaviors.

I will also note, that most people do not pay a lot of attention to the news. They don’t know a lot about how the government works or even what is responsibilities are. Most people are not reading or writing a political blog post on a Sunday morning.***

Of course, the radioactive issue in the room is Trump. How in the world could anyone support Trump, especially if that someone is paying any attention whatsoever?

If you want to understand how we can get a Trump presidency and the real possibility of a Trump re-election, a key is the way in which stable partisanship works in a strict two-party system.

Voters have only two real choices in our system. It is binary, as I have discussed for years. Our political institutions create a zero-sum, winner-take-all situation. I win, you lose. That’s it.

Going into any election the battlelines are drawn between Rs and Ds well before the election takes place. They are drawn before the prevailing conditions of the elections are known. They are drawn before the candidates are known. People, as a general principle, start to fit the candidates to their preexisting identities, not the other way around.

The causality is: I support Party X and as a result, I support the candidate for party X. And I will very likely retrospectively adjust certain opinions I have (many of which aren’t that firm to begin with) to fit candidate X.

If we are talking about Republican voters in the aggregate, that is what most of them have done. They were Rs in early 2016. Most of them did not vote for him in the GOP primary (both on the sense that most voters don’t vote in the primaries, but also in the sense that Trump did not win the majority of the GOP primary vote). But once Trump was nominee, motivated reasoning kicked in and lots and lots of people talked themselves into voting for Trump.

After all, what else were they going to do? Vote for Hillary Clinton? Or, even if they abstained or voted third party, did they want to help the Democrat get elected?

This last point is important because partisanship not only helps create support for a candidate it also enhances opposition to the opposing candidate. I cannot stress enough to the importance that most political choices in the US are X and Y only. This makes changing partisan identification really difficult. Who wants to tell their family that they have become one of them?

And note, there is evidence that shows partisanship is influencing basic social bonds, like marriage (via QZ):

In 1973, the level of political agreement among relative recent newlyweds was 54%, according to Konitzer. By 2014, it had risen to 74%. This trend held true even in zip codes where political opinions were more diverse, suggesting that politics, not just proximity to like-minded partisans, is behind this sorting.

Note: there is a reason I frequently advocate for changes to our institutions that would induce multi-party democracy. It would help get us out of the zero-sum nature of binary party politics.

I am not saying any of this is a moral defense of voting for Trump. But is an analytical explanation of mass behavior. As a political scientist, my job is seeking analytical explanations for political behavior. Normative judgments can then result, but the main goal is analysis and explanation. And I have made rather clear over the years as to my normative (i.e., values-based) assessment of Donald J. Trump and his presidency.

I am also not saying that some of his base don’t truly love him and his race-baiting, Know-Nothing approach to politics. Of course many clearly do.

I am also not saying that the moral implications of a Trump vote in 2020 aren’t higher than one in 2016 because now we all know what kind of president he has been, and therefore will be.

But, and this is a big but, the choice is still binary. And partisan identities have not changed for most people and therefore, most people are going to behave the same way in 2020 as they did in 2016. They will rationalize their support for their party and their opposition to the other.

But when it is asserting that the GOP has become a “cult of personality” as if that is all we need to know. Or, as started this whole series of conversations that Republicans are acting more like that are in a religion than a political party, I balk as a political scientist. The bottom line is that the behavior of GOP voters in the aggregate is pretty much what we would expect.

And yes, as demonstrated above by opinions on the economy, Democrats are susceptible to partisan-based motivated thinking as well.

I don’t want to get into a protracted counterfactual argument (indeed, I have made a pact with myself that I will not). But yes, if a Democratic president made a ridiculous claim akin to Trump’s “powerful light” and disinfectant comments, some Democratic voters would believe him or her. Some pro-Democratic talking heads on TV would try to rationalize or explain it.

I would note: that is what happened with Republicans and Trump and those utterances: some Rs criticized him, most kind of pretended like he didn’t say it, other accepted that he was “being sarcastic,” and a few either rationalized it or even believed him.

Let’s just hope that after Trump we won’t have to test the hypothesis of how Democrats would respond to utter nonsense from a president of their own party. I will note that there were some Democrats who briefly flirted with the idea that Michael Avenatti would be a good nominee for the party, so let’s not pretend like all Democrats are perfectly rational all the time.****

(If you think I am wrong on the notion that some Ds would act that way with one of their own in the WH, that’s fine. But, I am not going to rehash it in the comments).

At any rate, even with this long of a post, there is a lot more that could be said. If you think I am full of it, cool (and thanks for reading this far). In terms of discussions, however, I am happy to answer clarifying questions and I don’t mind further debate, but I am asking for some parameters to perhaps decrease both my frustration levels and those of the commenters:

  1. I just spent a good chunk of the morning writing this (not to mention three other posts specifically on this topic, plus hundreds (probably thousands) of words in several comment sections–such as here and here.
  2. I have spent approaching thirty years professionally studying politics. I have expertise in parties in elections (although I do not do public opinion research, I will admit).
  3. I have priors at OTB for over a decade of being pro-democracy and critical of the GOP when it comes to things like voting rights as well as priors of three+ years of being opposed to Trump. Again: I think Trump is a major threat to American democracy and to the stable global order (that is not hyperbole). I am not excusing Trump nor those who vote for Trump (although I am willing to understand that it is more complicated than simply calling them all Cult45 and declaring QED).

All of that sums, I would argue, to giving me the benefit of the doubt as to what I am trying to accomplish here: to provide an analytical framework to understand mass political behavior. It also sums to: the odds that whatever you are going to dash off in the comments section almost certainly has less thought put into the topic than I have (although that may not be the case).

I may be risking a lot of resentment and fewer comments as a result of saying this, but the notion that we start these conversations as equals in terms of the subject matter simply isn’t true. Some may see that as an arrogant comment, and I think, in fact, my saying something along those lines at the early stages of this discussion in a comment thread may have been the source of some of the pushback. This is not to say that I am right and can’t be wrong. But it is to say that it is highly improbable a 75-word comment written in a couple of minutes is going to demonstrate my wrongness. I will state that I can, and do, learn from the interchanges (I have noted elsewhere that blogging–which I think of largely as thinking in public, has helped refine my views over time and has changed my thoughts and opinions in various ways).

Note that I don’t expect anyone to change their minds today. If any of you do change your minds, I expect it won’t be for some time, and it will be as part of a cumulative process that includes other evidence, information, and experiences. Minds typically change slowly (if they change at all).

And, it is certainly possible that my mind will change as well.

I will admit that I am hopeful that all these words will induce some thinking in those who read them. At a minimum, as the writers who read this site may can attest, the words were in my head and needed to get out regardless.

In conclusion, I actually would love it if people made all their political decisions based on reasoned evidence. I recognize functional democracy requires an informed electorate, and it is arguable that that doesn’t actually exist the way we need it to. I remain convinced, however, that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.


*Gerber, Alan S., Gregory A. Huber, and Ebonya Washington. “Party Affiliation, Partisanship, and Political Beliefs: A Field Experiment” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 104, No. 4 (November 2010), pp. 720-744

**Enns, Peter K. and Gregory E. McAvoy. “The Role of Partisanship in Aggregate Opinion.” Political Behavior, Vol. 34, No. 4 (December 2012), pp. 627-651

***Well, I started in the morning.

****At the time we got Chris Cillizza writing a piece art CNN.com called President Michael Avenatti? Never say never! and the following headlines from Politico: Avenatti quietly builds 2020 machine and Michael Avenatti Is Winning the 2020 Democratic Primary.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Montanareddog says:

    Professor Taylor, I am a left-leaning citizen of a PR-based multi-party democracy. I have never voted for a candidate from a right wing party, so I am a partisan, but I have voted for different left-wing or centrist parties. Has your research shown in what way partisanship differs in parliamentary and in multi-party systems, with coalition governments, and in how voters make their choices?

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    When I click on the QZ link I get a “Safari Can’t Open the Page/invalid address” message.
    Also 4 paragraphs below the QZ cite:

    I am also not saying that the moral implications of a Trump vote in 2020 aren’t higher than one in 2020 because now we all know what kind of president he has been, and therefore will be.

    I think the second 2020 should be 2016.

  3. drj says:

    Democrats are susceptible to partisan-based motivated thinking as well.

    Of course!

    But as I remember it, the point of contention was whether Republicans do this to such an excessive extent that the “cult” framework becomes helpful.

    This may be my own motivated reasoning kicking in, but I don’t remember any major economic developments in 2016. And still, economic confidence among Republicans changed by 60 points in single week, while the change among Democrats was 25 points.

    So which group appears to be more susceptible to partisan-based motivated thinking?

    Also, which group has had its own dedicated propganda network for the last quarter century to reinforce beliefs that are patently untrue?

    Cult members don’t start off crazy. They are gradually being sucked in. And this is what has been happening with GOP voters for at least the last decade, if not longer.

    In short, I don’t think anyone disagrees with your main point. It’s the symmetry in partisanship that is being contended here. Not whether Democrats are partisans, too.

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  4. MWLib says:

    I have lurked on OTB for a couple of years but never commented previously. I have found the whole series of posts and all of the comments to be fascinating. At least to me, nothing seemed to be trying to tear you down personally, although YMMV.
    I do think that the binary nature of US parties helps steer people’s analysis of whether, for example, the economy is getting better or worse, as in your example. One party is pretty forthrightly against minimum wages increases, is anti-union, and pro-business in a general sense. The other party is, not too surprisingly, for minimum wage increases, nominally pro-union and less friendly towards business interests generally. When, as in 2008, the economy is cratering, with 500,000 jobs lost per month (give or take), and the election results in a change in the party of the executive, it seems unclear to me that responding to a survey that you think the economy is “getting better or worse” if you are a “D” and work for minimum wage or near that level, or if you are a union member, that you might think that the change at the Presidential level may be a sign of good things to come. Is that purely partisanship? I think that you would say it is, as there was obviously no tangible change in the economy (yet) at the time of the survey you noted. But, I don’t think that it is purely an irrational, emotional reaction either. If you are the position of someone for whom an increase in the minimum wage would have a positive impact for you personally, the election of a Democrat seems to me to be “moving in the right direction”. Of course the reverse is true for Republicants.
    Partisanship in a 2-party system seems predestined to result in a Manichean understanding of the world on both sides. Not that I’m promoting bothsiderism, but it seems like a feature, not a bug of a 2 party system.
    Is this consistent with what you have been trying to teach us, Dr. Taylor?

  5. Roger says:

    But I will say that yes, to a degree, partisanship is destiny in the sense that most people don’t change their partisan behaviors over time (this is why I keep using the now tiresome phrase “in the aggregate”).

    Given that your level of expertise far exceeds mine in this area, I’m sure you’re right. I think some of the pushback (at least from me) came because

    (1) on a site where the hosts and (based on things said in the comments) a pretty high percentage of the readers have in fact changed their partisan behaviors, the assertion that partisanship is destiny seemed counter to our actual experience, and since everything revolves around me it’s hard to believe that I’m the aberration, not the norm; and

    (2) Trump’s near-constant breaking of norms, assertion of factual claims that obviously are not true, and rejection of the supposed principles of his followers seem so far from anything seen in living memory that it feels like something beyond mere partisan inertia is required to explain his continued support in the face of pandemic and economic collapse and, if I understand the position you’re outlining above correctly, it’s perfectly normal (though not admirable) for us to look for data that supports our feelings and reject data that doesn’t.

    Here’s the thing I still don’t get. I understand that in a binary system, you have to vote R or D if your vote is going to count. After all, I couldn’t stand Hillary but I voted for her in the 2016 general because it was her or Trump. But I thought this whole argument began, not with questions about why Republicans voted for Trump but why his baseline support in the polls was so consistent.

    If you compare the approval rating polls for Trump to any other president in my lifetime, you see a very flat line for Trump and significant swings for every other president. That remains true for Obama, W. Bush, and Clinton, the presidents during the time you have described as the era of increased partisan polarization, but not for Trump. If none of those other presidents ever fell below Trump’s approval numbers, I would conclude that 35-40% of the population will approve of their party’s president no matter what, but both Bushes reached approval ratings far below anything we have seen for Trump. You don’t think the existence of Cult 45 explains this. What does?

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  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    If Dems are the party of logic and listen, if not defer to expertise, we should bring lot’s of documented arguments if we’re going to disagree. Over the series of posts on this subject, I’ve made only a comment or two, mostly in affirmation, because nothing that Dr Taylor has said is at variance with my own experience, that has included graduate level degrees in government.

    Most of the disagreement that I’ve read fall into the wish it were so category of argument and to be cruel, in some cases the kind of argument that we read from the Tiny trolls who lurk in the shadows.

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  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Roger:

    The reason Tiny has such a flat line of approval, is that we’ve become far more partisan as a country. Conservatives are further to the right and Liberals to the left than 30 years ago. A few years ago Thomas Frank wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas, a republican political theorist could have written What’s the Matter with NY, CA or MA. Because the Democratic leanings of those states doesn’t reflect the financial status of the citizens. The reason Kansas, MA, CA and NY vote the way they do is the voters identity. If we had the Dems and Rep parties of the 1960’s you would see more crossover voting, but liberal Reps are now Dems and conservative Dems are now Reps.

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  8. Roger says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The reason Tiny has such a flat line of approval, is that we’ve become far more partisan as a country. Conservatives are further to the right and Liberals to the left than 30 years ago.

    That explains why Trump does better than Herbert Walker Bush. But W’s presidency ended eight years ago, not 30, and his lowest approval numbers were more than ten points lower than Trump’s lowest numbers. Now, I could argue that even a 25% approval rating was crazy high for someone who drug us into an unnecessary war in Iraq, then presided over the biggest economic collapse since the depression, but I don’t have any problem with the concept that partisan loyalty puts a floor of 25% or so for support of any president. I’m trying to figure out the difference in W’s 25% and Trump’s 40%, and to someone who admittedly is not an expert it looks like that difference, combined with wide acceptance by our president’s most ardent supporters of QAnon-type conspiracy theories needs a better explanation than partisan sorting.

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  9. CSK says:

    @Roger:
    Trump’s most ardent supporters express contempt for G.W. Bush; in their eyes, he’s a weakling who didn’t fight back when the press criticized him. That probably accounts for at least some of the difference between Trump’s 40% and Bush’s 25%. Bush also wasn’t a crude oaf, which also means he wasn’t a true American patriot.

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  10. Modulo Myself says:

    With the economy in 2016, why wouldn’t Democrats reconsider how well it was doing? The entire Trump campaign (if you believed it was not simply an appeal to white people) rested on the economy being worse for those outside blue bubbles. After Trump was surprisingly elected, the focus was on the economic reasons for his EC victory. So why wouldn’t that number actually reflect non-partisanship? I.e., Democrats trying to see outside their own bias?

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  11. Roger says:

    @Roger:

    But W’s presidency ended eight years ago, not 30, and his lowest approval numbers were more than ten points lower than Trump’s lowest numbers.

    One reason I’m a lawyer, not a political scientist, is I don’t do the math. Obviously W’s presidency ended more than 8 years ago. I still think it’s within the time frame where we talk about increased partisan polarization.

  12. @Montanareddog: I would argue that multiparty democracy allows voters the ability to have options and so decreases the partisan effects I see in the US.

    @Mister Bluster: Thanks for noting that, I have fixed both.

    @drj:

    I don’t think anyone disagrees with your main point.

    Oh, I think there was disagreement 🙂

    It’s the symmetry in partisanship that is being contended here.

    Sure, but I never claimed symmetry.

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  13. @Roger:

    But I thought this whole argument began, not with questions about why Republicans voted for Trump but why his baseline support in the polls was so consistent.

    If you compare the approval rating polls for Trump to any other president in my lifetime, you see a very flat line for Trump and significant swings for every other president. That remains true for Obama, W. Bush, and Clinton, the presidents during the time you have described as the era of increased partisan polarization, but not for Trump.

    You are correct, that is where all this started And the point I tried to make at the time was that we couldn’t account for the stability in approval and disapproval without taking into account the stable attitudes of BOTH Rs and Ds. You can’t account for the difference with past presidents without taking into account the whole population. There was, in my interpretation at least, a lot of focus on Rs without accounting for D behavior as well.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    At the risk of triggering another 3,000 words of reading… If so much is cast in stone, why do we switch parties in the White House every 8 years or so?

    Also:

    Here is a clear, empirical indicator that partisan preferences can drive political opinion without any consideration of actual evidence, and it affects both parties. [Graph of people answering whether the economy is getting better or worse, a week before and after election]

    People don’t answer the question by measuring the second derivative at that exact point in time. People answer it as “is the economy going to be better or worse in the near future?”

    Changing who is expected to be running the country will definitely change that answer. Few people expected Trump to win.

    ETA: I don’t disagree with the claim that this polling was meant to support, I just don’t think it does a good job of supporting it.

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  15. Kurtz says:

    Steven, you’re an arrogant son of a bitch. How dare you claim expertise about something that you’ve spent your whole adult life working to understand?

    To those who objected to Dr. Taylor’s other posts:

    I found myself quite amused by all the pushback on the partisanship posts for two reasons.

    1.) As I pointed out in one of the other threads, most of this was said in the posts about binary choices a few months ago, but did not engender the frustration shown the past two days. Much of this was also at least touched on in the comments of those posts.

    2.) For all the persistent hand-wringing about Republicans rejecting experts and science, when presented with a non-controversial, well-established finding in political science, the response by some was reactionary.

    I’m trying to find a way to put it without being harsh or undue (unearned) arrogance… Let’s just say that my amusement was laced with a bit of disappointment and sadness when reading some of the comments.

    Most of you had moved on by the time I commented, so I will repeat my suspicion here. I think many of you reacted the way you did because it could disrupt some long-held beliefs about your political adversaries.

    I also suspect that some of you, deep down, know that you behave pretty much the same way.

    Take those comments from someone who aligns pretty closely with your own politics, at least practically and in the short-term. It’s not an insult, but sometimes people need to be reminded that they are much more like other humans than they want to admit.

    I really wanted to hear from Jen, because she made her transition recently.

    I have made clear my skepticism of social science many times here. (In short, useful and necessary, but drawing large conclusions from them is unwise without strong corroboration across time.)

    But this is one of those times when it is safe to accept that this is true (at least at the present time,) because the conclusion is well-corroborated and narrow.

    The question of why is anything but narrow. Studies will give outputs that are highly dependent upon methodology, assumptions, and context. The isolation of variables is almost impossible. We don’t understand enough about the human brain to develop reliable enough tools to get clear answers to questions posed by any of the social sciences.

    The partisanship question is one of the few places that we can get a clear answer, and even then, there are exceptions. And there have been times in the recent past when this question would have a much different answer.

    Capsule form: the what is clear; the why and how are complicated, variable, and our tools are too blunt to get a clear picture.

    3
  16. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m pretty sure it’s a result of turnout. Negative motivation tends to be a more consistent driver than positive motivation.

    But our hosts likely have data on it.

  17. Gustopher says:

    But when it is asserting that the GOP has become a “cult of personality” as if that is all we need to know. Or, as started this whole series of conversations that Republicans are acting more like that are in a religion than a political party, I balk as a political scientist. The bottom line is that the behavior of GOP voters in the aggregate is pretty much what we would expect.

    Are there historical examples of parties changing so dramatically in such a short period of time, and having their base not only commit to the new version of the party but raise the floor of support? (W.’s floor was so much lower than Trump’s)

    I suspect that without a similar change to the media landscape, to the point where there are two entirely different set of facts, the answer is no. But, that’s just a guess.

    I think Fox is far closer to the state run television of a dictatorship than anything previously seen in a modern democracy. But, because we are a free country, the media runs the state rather than the other way around.

    5
  18. Ken_L says:

    It’s true that partisan loyalty forms part of many people’s social identity. However for very few people does it form the entirety of their social identity. The most committed political partisans tend to be those whose social identities include multiple factors which complement each other; thus someone who identifies as an evangelical Christian, a vet, a small business owner and a gun rights activist will naturally find being a fervent Trump Republican reinforces their overall social identity.

    A willingness to change partisanship may arise when various elements of a person’s social identity come into conflict. Thus lots of #neverTrumpers may well have found Trump’s ignorance and boorishness so incompatible with their social identities as refined, educated members of the ruling class that they could no longer feel comfortable identifying as Republicans. Similarly southerners who once identified strongly as Democrats found they could no longer do so as the Democratic Party became hostile to their white supremacist social identity. Note this is different to a reasoned decision not to support a party because of its ‘policies’. It’s an emotionally-driven change in attitude that ‘the party left me’, as one often hears it expressed. The dominant elements in a person’s social identity become impossible to reconcile with ‘the kind of person who now seems to typify the Republican/Democratic Party’.

    Of course some people may abandon one party without necessarily becoming a partisan on the other side. Justin Amash obviously felt he could no longer be a Republican, but nor does his social identity move him towards the Democratic Party. Indeed I suspect he would be appalled at the very idea of being identified as a liberal. It’s also quite plausible, although I’m not aware of any studies of the matter, that the reason so many Americans don’t bother voting is that their social identity simply doesn’t include political partisanship at all – they feel socially whole without it. Left therefore to decide whether it’s in their interests to vote on a straightforward cost/benefit analysis, they rationally decide not to bother.

    4
  19. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    After finishing this post, but before it is read, I’d like to express describe my current mood.

    Gus, this is likely a little scattered. I spiked a pretty long post that expanded upon my earlier comment in this thread. If I can bring it back on my clipboard, I may post it if a similar discussion pops up again.

    Either way, I really didn’t want to spend this much time thinking about all of this. Between the last few threads and that Rouhani interview shared in the open forum yesterday, I’m a little spent thinking about this shit.

    Disco Elysium finally awaits. No description can capture how bizarre this game is. You start assed out drunk with your “Ancient Reptilian Brain” telling you to stay asleep. You can choose to stay asleep and it keeps talking. Once you decide to wake up, your Limbic System begins speaking as well. You wake up with amnesia in a trashed room in a hostel.

    I wanted to do other things, and then read your post and decided to look at some polls and share what I found.

    I know we like to say that Trump has a floor of ~40%, but using 538’s tracker, he spent most of his first year in office below that supposed floor. It has since gone below 40% very briefly a couple times since then. One of them was around the mid-terms, a time when most Presidents seem to hit a low point.

    RCP pretty much shows the same thing for the first year, but it’s somewhat hard to tell, because it doesn’t allow me to check each day (at least on my phone.)

    I prefer fivethirtyeight’s method of adjusting for poll quality and house effects. I’m not a stastician, but I think I understand enough about polling to understand why their method is sound.

    The straight average is a little more favorable to Trump, but the most well known Presidential tracker, Gallup, has had a pretty consistent Republican lean over the years. (Unintentional, of course. It’s just a product of their polling method.)

    I’m not sure that we can look at Bush’s floor and compare it to Trump’s. Just at a quick glance on Gallup, Bush’s approval rating didn’t permanently stay below 40% until later summerish 2006.

    If we look at Bush’ s first term, once the big Iraq bump faded, his approval floor appeared to be in the mid 40s. But it’s hard to tell if the war effort kept it higher than it otherwise would have been. As for his second term…

    Even after Katrina, it recovered to above 40% at a few points. Though, he did hit 31% in what looks like Spring ’06.

    After that, the sale of potential sale of management of some US Ports to a Dubai entity, appears to have hurt Bush more than Katrina alone. And again, his rating still hit 40 later in ’06.

    After he crossed below 40% and never went above it again, his floor looked to be in the mid to high 30s until the financial crisis caused it to plummet.

    Trump has one advantage over Bush in terms of a plummeting economy. Trump can easily blame Democrats for the current economic woes; Bush couldn’t (and likely wouldn’t anyway.) Bush didn’t have a foreign entity to blame for any of the bad shit that happened in his second term. Trump does with Covid.

    There are two interesting graphics from Pew here. The first is Bush’s approval rating with labels for different events.

    The second is interesting for this discussion. There is a question asked in December 2018, so after the financial crisis. Will the Bush Administration best be known for accomplishments or failures?” Overall? 64-24 said it would be remembered for its failures. Among Republicans? 52-33 said it would be remembered for its accomplishments.

    Yes… You read that correctly. After a bloody war justified to the public via lies, an insanely inept response to a natural disaster in a major American city, outing the identity of an intelligence agent, a scandal involving poor conditions at a military hospital, failed attempts at social security and immigration reform, just over half of Republicans thought that Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, two rounds of tax cuts*, and I guess Patriot Act/9-11 response would be remembered more than the others.

    *There is a chart that also shows that even before they were passed, most people thought the two rounds of tax cuts would benefit the wealthy the most. Less than 30% thought they would be fair to all. By 2008 ~60% thought that they should all be repealed or that the ones for the wealthy should be repealed.

    1
  20. DrDaveT says:

    @Roger:

    (1) on a site where the hosts and (based on things said in the comments) a pretty high percentage of the readers have in fact changed their partisan behaviors, the assertion that partisanship is destiny seemed counter to our actual experience

    On reflection, I think part of it may also be linked to the subset of commenters who grew up in an era when, to a degree that became the assumed default, young people rejected the political affiliations of their parents. The term “generation gap” referred to a real thing, and it wasn’t musical tastes. To anyone who remembers the Vietnam years, the idea that kids automatically follow in their parents’ political footsteps seems bizarre. Perhaps those years were the exception, though.

    2
  21. Kurtz says:

    @Ken_L:

    Excellent post, Ken. Especially this:

    Of course some people may abandon one party without necessarily becoming a partisan on the other side.

    I think this gets lost unless one thinks about it.

    On Amash:

    I hate to harp on this so much, but I think there is one thing that matters more than people admit. Amash can move to the Libertarian Party.

    He may lose his chance at elected office, but he can still influence policy. The LP can and does affect the GOP–Libertarian candidates poll better than they perform on election day. If the GOP were to move toward the center economically, some portion of those who favor a Libertarian would likely choose not to vote or pull the lever for their ideology.

    A Democrat really doesn’t have that option at the present time. The Greens on the DSA don’t have a presence comparable to the LP. Some lefties may decide not to turn out, but I’m quite sure most will just continue to vote Dem, because the ideological Left finds the GOP to be dangerously authoritarian in one or more ways.

    In order to be competitive, Dem candidates have to compete for centrist voters who are willing to vote Republican for economic reasons.

    All of this keeps the political center tilted artificially toward the right wing.

  22. Kurtz says:

    @DrDaveT:

    They were the exception–party realignment increased the instances of people switching parties. It took decades to fully settle.

    @CSK: @Roger:

    I’ll summarize my post above.

    GWB’s approval rating at the end of his second term should not be identified as his floor. His rating in his first term was distorted first by 9/11, then by Iraq. I linked to a chart in my post earlier. It helpfully identifies some major events on the rating chart.

    This chart has clearer markings on the Y axis so you get a more accurate picture of approval. He rarely dropped below 50% his first term, though I’m loathe to really attribute that to him.

    Katrina did not even push him much below 40%. He hit ~45% as late as August 2006! What tanked his rating was a series of negative events. Katrina hurt it, but it wasn’t really until the midterms, Walter Reed, serious deterioration of Iraq, and finally the economic crisis that his rating hit the levels we remember.

    1
  23. Kit says:

    Thanks for these great posts, Steven. I feel that you views and approach has been laid out clearly, and I really need to sit down for a couple of hours and properly digest it all. Unfortunately, that must wait until next weekend. I would like to make a few minor comments in the meantime.

    I just spent a good chunk of the morning writing this (not to mention three other posts specifically on this topic, plus hundreds (probably thousands) of words in several comment sections–such as here and here.

    The last link is broken, Steven.

    But yes, if a Democratic president made a ridiculous claim akin to Trump’s “powerful light” and disinfectant comments, some Democratic voters would believe him or her. Some pro-Democratic talking heads on TV would try to rationalize or explain it.

    This is minor, but it seems like you are shifting from an aggregate view to more of an anecdotal one. If Obama were to say something similar today, my first reaction would be WTF followed by an attempt to figure out what happened. There are so many ways to twist out of such a situation, some valid, others less so. But to double down or just let it fall down the memory hole? I don’t recall Bush acting like that. Pre-Trump there were rules to these sorts of games. What happened? The burden of proof obviously falls on me, but I feel this is telling.

    While you don’t make this argument here, I think I remember you claiming that the the increasingly stability in approval/disapproval is due to increased political sorting. But that’s just another way of saying that people made the difficult leap of changing identities, and did so within the past generation. Your framework can hold before and after, but I’d like to see how it holds up during that period. While I realize that you haven’t played nearly all your cards, I do feel this period requires something more from you to explain.

    And, as noted above by Enns and McAvoy, it affects what information sources you seek out (and niche partisan news sources have gotten increasingly easier to tap into)… I will also note, that most people do not pay a lot of attention to the news

    I pointed to a poll recently claiming that:

    44 percent of Republicans believe that Bill Gates is plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements

    When I read that, I cannot help but think that an awful lot of people are much more up-to-date than we generally were pre-internet. This alternative reality must largely account for both identity (this is who we are, and these are the enemies), as well as support of Trump and Republicans in general (Trump built the wall, it’s done, and he has, in fact, always kept his word). No one before Trump could have been expected followers to repeatedly turn on a dime until some sort of official explanation for the issue du jour could coalesce. At the risk of becoming a crank on this particular subject, I am all but unshakably convinced that the past twenty years of modern communication has been an historically significant event, especially in the realm of politics. But I guess that leaves the ball in my court.

    And this makes me start wondering about the Tea Party: how do you explain that phenomenon? I’m not pretending to any sort of gotcha moment with this, but it does, on its surface, seem to run against what you have laid out, or at least require a footnote.

    But when it is asserting that the GOP has become a “cult of personality” as if that is all we need to know. Or, as started this whole series of conversations that Republicans are acting more like that are in a religion than a political party, I balk as a political scientist. The bottom line is that the behavior of GOP voters in the aggregate is pretty much what we would expect.

    Perhaps this is why, perhaps, I feel (and I’ll admit to confronting your well-considered framework with my series of observations, half-developed theories, and gut feelings), that there is more to this “cult of personality” talk than you capture in your analysis. I do expect that what you say would pretty much hold true any time, anywhere a two-party democracy is in place. But I don’t expect the present level of disconnect. Something new is afoot.

    I’ll spend more time coming to grips with what you have written. At the very least, it will help me to tighten up my own views. Thanks, Steven.

    4
  24. Mu Yixiao says:

    I’ve been reading these posts with fair amount of interest, but I (as a “regular joe” who’s not educated in this sort of thing) see two flaws in your premise.

    1) There’s reasonable evidence to show that many people become more conservative as their age and/or income increase. That suggests that people aren’t just looking at “R vs. D” but at “Who’s going to give me what I want” (e.g., self-interest).

    2) Independents (Gallup). Independents have been the largest “affiliation” since December of 2012, and only barely dipping below the Democrats 3 times since July 2010. Since December 2012, they (on average) represent a group 33% larger than Republicans, and 38% larger than Democrats. 5 times during that period, independents were twice–or greater–the size of Republicans (once reaching 235%).

    The last time independents were the smallest affiliation was October 2008, when they were 1% less than R and 2% less than D. More importantly, that situation was much more frequent between 2004 and 2006 (happening 46 times during those three years–20 of those in 2004 alone).

    To me, this would suggest that we are actually less partisan than we previously were (in the aggregate), and more likely to make choices based on the something other than the letter next to someone’s name.

    4
  25. Roger says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Independents have been the largest “affiliation” since December of 2012, and only barely dipping below the Democrats 3 times since July 2010. …To me, this would suggest that we are actually less partisan than we previously were (in the aggregate), and more likely to make choices based on the something other than the letter next to someone’s name.

    I have a good friend who went to Northern Ireland during the height of the troubles. He tells the story (that may or may not be true), that while there he was asked whether he was protestant or catholic, and when he explained that he was an atheist was met with the followup, “But are you a protestant atheist or a catholic atheist?”

    I believe, though I am sure others here can speak to this much more authoritatively than I can, that the increase in people identifying as independents speaks more to an unwillingness to admit to being tied to a political party than it does to actual partisan behavior. We have a lot of Republican independents and Democratic independents. They may claim to be proud independents who are disgusted with both parties, but they vote reliably for one or the other.

    3
  26. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Roger:

    I believe, though I am sure others here can speak to this much more authoritatively than I can, that the increase in people identifying as independents speaks more to an unwillingness to admit to being tied to a political party than it does to actual partisan behavior. We have a lot of Republican independents and Democratic independents. They may claim to be proud independents who are disgusted with both parties, but they vote reliably for one or the other.

    I think you’re making some unwarranted assumptions there. Being independent doesn’t mean that they’re “disgusted with both parties”. I’d classify myself as an independent. I agree with and disagree with parts of both parties (I’d say I’m socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and in favor of small government regardless of the side)–but I’m not “disgusted by them”. I voted for Obama, but if he’d been running against Colin Powell, I’d have gone the other way.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding, “partisan” mean “I believe in (follow) the party”. Regardless of how one votes, declaring yourself “independent” would be in opposition to that. “I vote D/R because I think they’re the best choice” (always voting for the same side) is different than “I vote D/R because they’re D/R” (partisanship).

    2
  27. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Roger:

    While the partisan sort has been a trend over the last 30 years there have been “events” in the past 10 years that cemented the separation. One is that the trend the Bill Bishop described in The Big Sort, reached a critical mass and after the 2010 elections Repugs used sophisticated data analysis to skew legislative district to their advantage. Moscow Mitch’s declaration that it was his and the Repug party roll to have Obama fail. Tiny actively using divisiveness as a political weapon and not retreating to the bromide of being President of all Americans.

    And yes, if you wanted to argue this from a Repug perspective you could point to evidence of Dem treachery.

    3
  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Interesting points, sir. Also, good to see you back — I’ve been missing your commentary.

    3
  29. @Gustopher:

    If so much is cast in stone, why do we switch parties in the White House every 8 years or so?

    A lot is cast in stone, but all it takes is a little bit to still be wet cement to get some movement. And a major point I am trying to make is that at the moment, the stone is harder than is sometimes has been. We are incredibly polarized at the moment.

    Three answers:

    1. In less polarized times behavior was less rigid (again, without getting super-precise, the current era of party politics is linked to the 1994 “Republican Revolution” and the true sorting of the parties into more ideologically pure units, and it deepened into the early 21st century).

    2. Of late in particular, the number of votes needed to produce a winner can be small. Off the top of my head I want to say that Trump won the EC due to a combined ~70k votes across three states,

    3. THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE!-sorry to shout 😉 As I have noted before, the last time a GOP president won the popular vote in their first term was in 1988, when I was still a single, childless, undergraduate. My wife and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary next month and we are semi-empty nesters.

    Bush beat Kerry by ~3 percentage points in 2004, but incumbency tends to be a huge advantage.

    But if we didn’t have the EC, Gore would have been president in 2000, and probably re-elected in 2004. Certainly without the EC we wouldn’t have Trump now.

    And if the GOP had to compete under different rules, they would be incentivized to find better ways to compete.

    Institutions matter! 🙂

    3
  30. @Kurtz: And I would note: you can’t compare Bush’s second term floor to Trump’s first term floor.

    Trump, we have to remember, is going to be the GOP nominee this year. This means there is cost to Republican voters to abandon him. If this was his second term, I expect his approval numbers would be lower because there would be no competitive need to see him as someone who should remain in the presidency.

    At the end of a first term, a president running for re-election remains the party leader and standard-bearer.

    At the end of a second term, they are headed for retirement and a new standard-bearer has been selected.

    4
  31. @Kit: Thanks for the kind words.

    A couple of responses, but I realize not to everything:

    to increased political sorting

    In simple terms: over a period of time that really started decades ago, but only really accelerated in the last 25ish years, the liberal Reps have become Dems and the conservative Dems have become Reps. The Susan Collinses of the world are a saying species.

    And it is the shift of specifically conservative southern Democrats into the GOP that really is the major issue here. I really need to write about that in detail at some point.

    And this makes me start wondering about the Tea Party: how do you explain that phenomenon? I’m not pretending to any sort of gotcha moment with this, but it does, on its surface, seem to run against what you have laid out, or at least require a footnote.

    Lots could be said, but I would point out that the Tea Paty was ultimately just a faction of the GOP. They didn’t try to break away, they worked within the party (and helped deepen its ideological rigidity, I would note).

    I would say the fact that the Tea Party didn’t actually form a party and, instead, staying with the GOP helps my point, because a Tea Party as a third party would have been a losing party (but this also is a discussion about primaries and our electoral system).

    1
  32. @Mu Yixiao:

    There’s reasonable evidence to show that many people become more conservative as their age and/or income increase. That suggests that people aren’t just looking at “R vs. D” but at “Who’s going to give me what I want” (e.g., self-interest).

    Well, I think conventional wisdom states that people get more conservative and they age/increase income, but what evidence would you like to provide for that? And, to what degree do you think that that actually changes their partisan voting?

    Also: the evidence is pretty strong that people don’t actually vote simply based on economic self-interest (that was the basis, IIRC, of the famous books What’s the Matter with Kansas ?). If they did a lot of GOP voters would vote Dem and a lot of Dem voters (including a lot of people on this site) would vote R. Ends up that identity and values are also really important in determining how we vote.

    If we were voting solely based on economic self-interest (e.g., the tax code) then why would any well-off person vote D? And yet, they do.

    Independents have been the largest “affiliation” since December of 2012,

    Ah yes, independents. There are tons of posts and comment threads about this that remind me very much of some of the pushback I received on partisanship this week. The bottom line is that most independents are partisan voters. People like to say that they are “independent” (heck, I prefer that label) because it sounds like we have an open mind. The real percentage of truly independent voters (who could go either way in a given election) is small.

    I wrote a couple of extensive posts on this last year: here and here (amusingly, to me anyway, I see that I stressed “in the aggregate” a lot in that second post).

    Regardless of how one votes, declaring yourself “independent” would be in opposition to that.

    And this is often where the arguments start over “independent”–I am of the position that it ultimately doesn’t matter what you tell yourself or what you call yourself, what matters for this conversation is whether you consistently vote one way or the other. Votes count the same regardless of the motivation of the voter.

    And to go back to a question I asked a couple of days ago, I bet most self-declared “independents” have a pretty good idea right now as to how they will vote in 2024. And even if they wouldn’t admit it, I would be willing to bet that their voting history would be highly predictive of how they will mark their 2024 ballot.

    2
  33. @Mu Yixiao:

    To me, this would suggest that we are actually less partisan than we previously were (in the aggregate), and more likely to make choices based on the something other than the letter next to someone’s name.

    I would recommend the two posts I linked above.

    I clearly disagree (as do most in my profession) the were are less partisan now. A suggested place to look would be the degree which reactions to the coronavirus have clear partisan elements (and this show up in polling).

    Or, indeed, polling on policies tend to show a great deal of polarization.

  34. @Mu Yixiao:

    I voted for Obama, but if he’d been running against Colin Powell, I’d have gone the other way.

    Not unfair.

    But can you actually envision a world in which the GOP would nominate Powell? Even in 2008?

    1
  35. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Not sure if you will see this. Any opinion on what’s going on with Gallup the last couple runs? It’s way beyond their usual Republican lean. It’s an outlier on the order of 4-6 points past most of the other polls, and the only one that has disapproval below 50%.

    It’s four points past the latest Rasmussen run, which usually has a heavier house effect.

    I only got a chance to look at the cross-tabs of the latest poll, and didn’t have the desire to calculate the unweighted raw numbers at the time. So I’m not comfortable really commenting on what may be going on.

    I’m a little irritated that I had two shots to insert the first term numbers ought not be compared to second term ratings. That disclaimer should have been somewhere.

    Really, Bush’s first term is incomparable to anyone else specifically because of distortion introduced in 2001 and 2003.

    On the latter point, I remember being quite cynical about the timing of invasion. But looking back, that was probably a bit unfair, given that it was about 20 months before election day.

    Beat me to the tiny number of true independent research. IIRC the numbers are usually somewhere in the realm of 4-8% of Self-ID indies are actually swing voters. Hell, even if you double that, it’s a tiny fraction of the electorate.

    Not sure about distribution. It seems logical that they are likely to be somewhat more concentrated in traditional swing states, but I’m drawing a blank on whether there is any decent research into it.

  36. Sleeping Dog says:

    Yo, OzarkHillbilly, I guess the haven’t heard of the virus around the lake.

    https://twitter.com/scottpasmoretv/status/1264394565861232640

  37. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Oh my. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this much attention from the PtB. I’m not sure if I should be flattered or run away and hide. 🙂

    You have the academic background, the degrees, and the decades of work in this area. I have… half a decade more working in bars and listening to what people say.

    I clearly disagree (as do most in my profession) the were are less partisan now.

    I would have to ask how you measure that. I’m old-school, but where I come from, the person making the statement is expected to provide the evidence to back it up. I will absolutely agree that the most vocal members of the electorate are more partisan now than in the past. I (and the Gallup polls) disagree that this is indicative of the electorate as a whole.

    Let me step back for a moment and ask a simple question: How do you define “partisan”?

    The way I’ve been reading your posts (correct me if I’m wrong in my interpretation), you define “partisan” as “I am X and will always vote X because the candidate is X“. If that’s the definition, then the numbers from Gallup say otherwise.

    If you define “partisan” as something else, I would like a better definition.

    Well, I think conventional wisdom states that people get more conservative and they age/increase income, but what evidence would you like to provide for that? And, to what degree do you think that that actually changes their partisan voting?

    Look at any data showing liberal vs. conservative over the past 50 years. The young end of the graph is liberal, the old end of the graph is conservative.

    That demographic doesn’t change much.

    If people didn’t change their views with age, the distribution at the high end now would be the same as at the low end 50 years ago–unless there’s some reason that liberals die at a significantly higher rate than conservatives.

    (On a side note: A study in the UK showed that winning the lottery changed the winner from a liberal to a conservative.)

    If we were voting solely based on economic self-interest (e.g., the tax code) then why would any well-off person vote D? And yet, they do.

    Who said anything about voting “solely based on economic self-interest”? I said “self-interest”. That encompasses everything.

    Rich homosexuals would vote D in order to get SS marriage legalized. They’d vote D to get SS adoption standardized. They’d vote D to ban “conversion therapy” and allow transexuals to use the bathroom of their choice.

    But to answer your economic question: Why would a rich person vote D? Because R says they’re not allowed to engage in business. Hollywood is rich. They are overwhelmingly D.

    Porn is estimated to be up to $97B a year. I’m guessing the industry leans towards D–because it’s in their “economic self-interest”.

    At the state and local level, “business-friendly conservatives (R)” frequently support rent-seeking and actively oppose entrepreneurs who are looking to compete with established businesses (look up state laws and local ordinances regarding food trucks).

    Then there’s booze.
    And “commercial licensing”.
    And “moral clauses” in contracts.
    And militarization of the police.
    And stricter immigration policies.

    Nope… couldn’t possibly think of a reason that rich people might vote D. /s

    2
  38. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Can you actually envision a world in which the GOP would nominate Powell? Even in 2008?

    If he had stepped up and positioned himself as a candidate?

    Yes.

    He would have had to distance himself from Bush & Cheney . It would require him to denounce Bush & Cheney–but that wouldn’t be difficult.

    Powell has two critical flaws–he follows orders and doesn’t like politics. If he had chosen to run for the presidency in 2016, Trump wouldn’t have stood a chance.

    1
  39. @Mu Yixiao:

    Can you actually envision a world in which the GOP would nominate Powell? Even in 2008?

    If he had stepped up and positioned himself as a candidate?

    Yes.

    He would have had to distance himself from Bush & Cheney . It would require him to denounce Bush & Cheney–but that wouldn’t be difficult.

    Powell has two critical flaws–he follows orders and doesn’t like politics. If he had chosen to run for the presidency in 2016, Trump wouldn’t have stood a chance.

    I will try and address the longer comment later, but I would suggest that you are engaging in a bit of magical thinking here. It would seem to me that you are assuming that competence is more valued than other factors in politics. And while that appeals to me personally, it is hard to look at 2016 and draw the conclusion that the calm technocrat was going to win the day.

    For one thing, Powell was never a social conservative and wasn’t going to play one for the cameras nor for the nomination. I remember talking about Powell running from the early 1990s onward but he clearly did not have appeal to conservatives in the GOP (to win the presidency at a Republican requires being nominated by Republicans).

    And really: what are Powell’s politics? What does he stand for? Is it possible that some of what you find appealing is that you can ascribe to him some level of calm competence, but you really don’t know what he thinks about taxes, abortion, trade, foreign policy, judges, environmental regulation, etc? Part of Powell’s appeal has always partially driven by the fact we don’t know the answers to those questions.

    And why would a GOP nominee in 2008 renounce Bush and Cheney? I don’t recall McCain doing so in 2008.

    And scroll back up this very thread to this from @Kurtz:

    here is a question asked in December 2018, so after the financial crisis. Will the Bush Administration best be known for accomplishments or failures?” Overall? 64-24 said it would be remembered for its failures. Among Republicans? 52-33 said it would be remembered for its accomplishments.

    And BTW, not liking politics is a pretty major flaw in this context 😉

  40. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It would seem to me that you are assuming that competence is more valued than other factors in politics.

    Whereas you’re asserting that a letter next to someone’s name is significantly more valued than other factors.

    Powell was never a social conservative and wasn’t going to play one for the cameras nor for the nomination

    So… he’d be a black war-veteran Republican with a socially liberal side.

    I can’t imagine how that could possibly appeal to a majority of voters on both sides of the spectrum–nor in the vast middle. (Do I need the sarcasm tag?)

    If Powell had formed his own party and run under that banner, I’d bet dollars to donuts that the election would have ended up in the lap of the House–only because he’d have a plurality, but not a majority.

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  41. Mu Yixiao says:

    @DrDaveT:

    good to see you back — I’ve been missing your commentary.

    Thank you. But I’m not “back”.

    It’s a long weekend, I’m bored, and I have scotch. I’ll disappear again tomorrow.

    I’ll continue to read the posts, think about them, and use what I’ve learned to evolve how I look at the world.

    However: 99.44% of the commentors here are partisan assholes who hate the other side just because they have a different letter next to their name. I enjoy honest discussion and debate with open-minded people who may disagree with me. I’ve no tolerance, however, for people who insist that they are automatically right and those who disagree with them are automatically inferior.

    [See all the recent posts on partisanship]

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  42. @Mu Yixiao:

    Whereas you’re asserting that a letter next to someone’s name is significantly more valued than other factors.

    Beacuse it is empirically true, Do you have any evidence that it isn’t?

    So… he’d be a black war-veteran Republican with a socially liberal side.

    Please explain to me how a socially liberal black man is getting the GOP nomination.

    That’s a fantastical proposition.

    Indeed, this scenario started with you stating what kind of Republican it would have taken for you to vote R. What you are failing to taken into is what kind of candidate an R primary electorate would be willing to nominate.

    That is no small thing.

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  43. @Mu Yixiao:

    If Powell had formed his own party and run under that banner, I’d bet dollars to donuts that the election would have ended up in the lap of the House–only because he’d have a plurality, but not a majority.

    That’s a lovely pundity fantasy the likes of which we see with some frequency on a regular basis. But it has no basis in reality.

    If you really think such an outcome was a real possibility, I am going to guess that you will not* be persuadable by anything I have to say.

    (*Edited to include an important “not”!)

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  44. DrDaveT says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Thank you. But I’m not “back”.

    Good to see you anyway. Be well.

  45. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But can you actually envision a world in which the GOP would nominate Powell? Even in 2008?

    2012, when the Republicans went through every candidate trying to find some reason not to nominate Mitt Romney, and failed. Powell could have gotten the nomination, if he is opposed to abortion. Or was willing to say he was.

    He was willing to say that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was pursuing nuclear weapons. He might have been willing to say he’s opposed to abortion even if he isn’t. And he might be genuinely opposed to it.

  46. @Gustopher: The Colin Powell who had endorsed Obama in 2008 is someone you can see the GOP nominating in 2012?

  47. @Gustopher: BTW: Romney was the overwhelming winner in 2012. He was never seriously challenged once the process got underway. His biggest threat (and that is being kind) was Rick Santorum, and he withdrew in April. Gingrich hung until May, but never had a chance and Ron Paul stuck it out as a nuisance opponent.

  48. Michael Reynolds says:

    Prediction: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

    100% true.

    Name all the previous presidents who could have made that statement and had it be proven true. Right: none. The answer is not partisanship, the answer is a surrender of personal values and will to a charismatic leader. That is the definition of a cult of personality, and that’s what this is. #Cult45.

    In the middle of the Civil War, the most polarized era in American history, Jefferson Davis could not have made that statement. God knows Lincoln couldn’t have. You know who could have made that kind of statement and been right? David Koresh. Jim Jones. Shoko Asahara. Adolf Hitler. Josef Stalin. They were not partisans, they were objects of veneration by a cult of personality.

    Wiki def: A cult of personality, or cult of the leader, arises when a country’s regime – or, more rarely, an individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by the state or the party in one-party states and dominant-party states. It is often seen in totalitarian or authoritarian countries.

    Wiki def of a political party: A political party is an organized group of people who have the same ideology, or who otherwise have the same political positions, and who field candidates for elections, in an attempt to get them elected and thereby implement the party’s agenda.

    Now, which of the two paradigms most nearly resembles the Trump presidency? Is it ideology driven? Or is it personality driven? Did Republicans always favor allowing foreign influence in US elections? Did they always support obstruction of justice? Did they always support caging children? Did they always support daily attacks on non-politicians by the president? Did they always believe that the media is the enemy? Did they always think NATO was a bad idea? Did they always believe we should abrogate treaties? Did they always support nepotism? Did they always believe POTUS should be able to ignore Congressional oversight? Did they always believe that aid to states should be contingent on expressions of love for POTUS? Did they always believe POTUS should ignore doctors and promote quack cures? Did they always excuse adultery? Did they always believe in trade wars? Did they always believe in firing Inspectors General? Did they always believe POTUS should attack his own government? Did they always believe the president of the United States had no responsibility?

    This is not partisanship in the sense the word is commonly used. This is a cult of personality. And you know who knows that? Trump.

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  49. @Michael Reynolds: Well, glad to know I was so persuasive 🙂

    What more do we need than some Wikipedia citations to prove the point?

    We will clearly have to agree to disagree, MR, come on: you are going to throw Wikipedia in as evidence?.

    In the middle of the Civil War, the most polarized era in American history Jefferson Davis could not have made that statement. God knows Lincoln couldn’t have.

    Except for the part in which each commanded armies whose job it was to, you know, actually shoot and kill other Americans given how polarized things were.

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  50. @Michael Reynolds: In regards to your penultimate paragraph, I will point you again to the polling on the economy above. And to polling on Russia I have shared before.

    And to quote Enns and McAvoy again, “partisanship influences what information individuals encounter, whether they accept or discount the information, and how they interpret the information.”

    I am at a loss as to why you have to double down on “cult of personality” as THE answer when there is plenty of room in what I have discussed to encompass the pathologies you are describing,

    And, ultimately, your position doesn’t address the real causality here: Trump became widely accepted because he was nominated. Without that, he would still be a c-list celebrity.

    And yes, as I have noted, there is an intense set of followers (the rally people, for example) who are clearly enthralled and do behave as extreme followers. (But I have never denied that).

  51. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    You know, I was really not looking for a fight. I just disagree. But you’re starting to make this personal.

    I’m sure you know the story of the blind men and the elephant. You’re holding a trunk, I’m holding an ear.

    I genuinely have great respect for you and your erudition. I have no doubt that you know vastly more than I do about political history and political systems. I have no doubt that you’ve helped educate thousands of people and had an effect on their lives and careers. There are people right now in important jobs who’ll credit you with their success. It was never my intention to attack you or question your learning or skill.

    What I do is make up stories and invent people, characters. Characters who in many cases had such an impact on people that 20 years later they burst into tears at the mention of certain names. Every day, people – kids and adults – write me long, heartfelt letters talking about how a character I created changed their life, liberated them, filled them with purpose. I get letters saying I stopped them committing suicide. Really.

    I’ve invented hundreds, maybe as many as a thousand characters. I know how they think, I know how they feel, I know what they’re afraid of, I know what they want, I know their limitations, I know how they process information.

    So, of the two of us, objectively, who is more likely to understand people? The guy who studies political systems? Or the guy who earns millions creating characters sufficiently compelling that people tattoo their names on their bodies and write ten thousand word fan fiction and launch endless YouTube videos, all inspired by those ‘people’ and narratives I made up?

    You might want to consider the possibility that sometimes people without your formal education nevertheless understand things you don’t. Academics love systems. I won’t pretend I love people, but I suspect I’ve put a great deal more study and work into understanding them than you have. I realize half the population thinks they can do what I can do, but they can’t. The ‘position’ I occupy is many times more competitive than yours, there are millions who want my job and I don’t think there are millions looking to be poli sci professors. You might want to consider reciprocating the respect I genuinely have for you, because, professor, I am just as intelligent as you are, I know a hell of a lot more about humans, and all the political systems you understand so well are built out of the people I understand.

    Look, if you want me to fuck off and not comment here, I will do so. I’d be sad if it came to that, but this is your home, so to speak, I’m here at your sufferance. But so long as I am here I will read what you write with interest, I will accept your expertise, I will respect your credentials, but I will stop short of believing that you are omniscient, even in your chosen field.

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  52. @Michael Reynolds:

    Look, if you want me to fuck off and not comment here, I will do so. I’d be sad if it came to that, but this is your home, so to speak, I’m here at your sufferance. But so long as I am here I will read what you write with interest, I will accept your expertise, I will respect your credentials, but I will stop short of believing that you are omniscient, even in your chosen field.

    I am not asking you to fuck off, not by any means. I did put a smiley face in that one response rather deliberately because I recognize that I did not persuade you (I also noted that we are going to have to agree to disagree). Tonality is hard in this forum, but I was not trying to escalate.

    I honestly did find your example of Lincoln and Davis to be problematic, insofar as they very much were shooting Americans (at least by proxy) because things had gotten highly polarized. If you can’t see that maybe you picked a bad example, that’s fine.

    And no, I am not saying I am omniscient, nor do I harbor delusions of perfection.

    And BTW, I do respect what you do, and as a much younger man I once had fantasies about writing fiction, but I am not especially good at it, so I harbor no thoughts that I can do what you do (although to be fair, I don’t think I ever came close to suggesting that I could).

    I respect you are a commenter on the site. Indeed, is not a willingness to directly engage a sign of respect?

    I will say that I don’t understand your assertions that I don’t study people. As you note, politics is made of people. This whole partisanship conversation is about how people aren’t as rational as we would like them to be.

    Having said all of that, I really feel like we could better understand one another if we were speaking in person, as I think some of the tone here is getting lost.

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  53. Kurtz says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    That’s quite the Gish Gallop, Michael. And you’re kind of proving the point I made in one of these threads about displaying behaviors for which you criticize Trump supporters.

    Most of your examples of supposed reversals are not nearly as clear cut as you are portraying here.

    On the question of ignoring doctors:

    Decisions regarding vaccination are more complicated than simply considering risks, costs, and benefits.In this paper we argued that socio-political characteristics of individuals shape their vaccination attitudes. More specifically, we examined the role of ideology, trust, and the relationship between these and attitudes about vaccination. Our findings corroborate analyses that show that the intent to vaccinate differs among conservatives and liberals with conservatives expressing less intent to vaccinate. Similarly, those with lower levels of trust in government medical experts are also less likely to express intent to vaccinate, and these individuals also tend to be conservative. What has been less understood, however, is the nature of the relationship between ideology and trust. Our findings suggest that ideology has two routes in affecting people’s vaccination attitude. One is direct, independent of trust. The other route goes through trust. That is, a person’s ideology impacts who they trust such that they can selectively credit information related to vaccine risks and benefits in ways that reflect their ideology. We thus establish a direction in the relationship between ideology and trust, namely from ideology to trust.

    Our findings may provide insights into addressing growing vaccine refusal. Current strategies tend to be driven by a knowledge-deficit approach, attempting to persuade the public by appealing to risks. While we do see that vaccine attitudes are partially driven by resources, our findings suggest that the success of knowledge-deficit strategies will be limited by whether individuals trust the sources by which they are informed of risks and benefits, where this trust in turn can be limited by ideology.

    Source.

    On the question of multilateralism, abrogating treaties, etc.:

    It is way more complicated than your are arguing. I can’t clip any quotes because it is an image based pdf. Suffice it to say, it has not been an about-face. On free trade agreements, Trump closed a gap that already existed between elite Republicans and their partisans.

    You’re proving Steven’s point here.

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  54. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Tonality is hard in this forum, but I was not trying to escalate.

    You didn’t. I’ll go back when I have a moment and re-read that exchange and issue you a mea culpa if necessary. But I don’t think you did.

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  55. @Kurtz: Thanks.

    What I thought I was doing was a) acknowledging that we didn’t agree, and b) doing what we all usually do, tell someone we think they are wrong and why (which, TBH, is what I thought @Michael Reynolds did in his comment–told me he thought I was wrong and why).

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  56. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Honestly, I’m not really sure where his post came from. I have my suspicions, but I don’t know. I just scanned your post and made a screw face, because what Michael’s post implied you did seemed out of character for you. So I went back and read it all.

    Now, as I said I would, I’ve re-read it to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The most I can say, and I am grasping at straws to even proffer this, maybe the Wikipedia thing pissed him off? I mean… For someone who is, ahem, aggressive toward disagreement, it seems odd that he would feel slighted, because nothing you said is remotely approaching “personal.”

    Maybe it’s you becoming clearly exasperated by people just flat out refusing to believe something backed by ample, clear, and consistent evidence.

    Maybe it’s Andy making clear (without saying anyone specific) why he was leaving, including his disgust at the fact that no one here was pushing back against the “good German” lines that get thrown around. I think I even admitted that MarkedMan’s application of it was somewhat persuasive. But really, I felt bad that I didn’t push back at all.

    I think, or at least hope, that if it had been directed at you or James, I probably would have had some things to say. I think because it was directed at Schuler, with whom I am not as familiar, I didn’t really have much of a reaction to it. Actually, I’m pretty positive that I would have made clear that it was out of bounds, because both you and James take great pains to engage in good faith.

    I’m going to stop now, because Michael’s post is so far from his usual tone, I am a little concerned that it is coming from something other than this discussion. If I say what I think right now, I may regret it.

    Let me just say this, thank you for doing what you do. I know you take time and make effort that could be spent on something else, like photography. You provide all of us with valuable insight. I already know quite a bit about a lot of this, as I’m sure you can tell, and it is still quite valuable to me.

    Keep your head up. Be well.

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  57. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    How about this? We could go on refuting each other ad nauseam and mostly I think it’s blind men vs. elephant and we’re talking past each other.

    Also, I suspect that lockdown may be getting to both of us – tomorrow will be 12 weeks for my wife and me. I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit I’m getting cranky. I want to get on a plane and fly somewhere. I want to go to London and Lisbon and Saigon. 22 fucking years I couldn’t drive or fly because I was busy playing fugitive and this is all taking me right back there.

    Let’s be clear: I’m still right. (I always am.) But maybe we break clean, shake hands, and move on to other topics?

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  58. @Michael Reynolds: Hands shook.

    I can’t guarantee I won’t keep writing about this topic, but feel free to breeze on by those posts if you like.

    And I will definitely agree that the times are trying and that nerves are, no doubt, a little rawer than normal.

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  59. Michael Cain says:

    Late to the party…

    Consider the red states in the West, where ballot initiatives are common (eg, Arizona, Utah, etc). Ballot initiatives are a useful view into the voters’ mind that is largely separate from political parties. Not entirely separate, but the campaigns for/against initiatives must necessarily deal with the policy rather than simply saying “Republican!” or “Democratic!”

    Arizona voters originated and approved an independent redistricting commission, higher minimum wage, and mandatory paid sick time. At the same time the Republican party — which opposed all of those initiative policies — retained control of the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature. I interpret that to indicate the Democrats come with too much “baggage” to win control, even though some of their policies are popular.

    In Utah, voters originated and approved expansion of Medicaid under the ACA and a redistricting commission (the Utah commission is more limited than Arizona’s, and the Republican-controlled Utah state legislature has replaced the Medicaid expansion with a different plan). Same story — Democrats have too much “baggage” to control the state government, even though some of their policies can pass.

    We may see a different sort of lesson on partisanship after November. In any realistic scenario where the Democrats win control of the US Senate, 10 of their majority will be from the Mountain West. Those ten are likely to have a different take on some of the party’s proposed policies, and would be an important part of seeing any of them implemented.

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  60. @Michael Cain:

    Democrats have too much “baggage” to control the state government, even though some of their policies can pass.

    There is something to that.

    There is also something to the fact that on a related topic I talk about, our two-party system actually does a lousy job of really representing citizen interests and a more proportionally elected legislature (both at the stat and national level) would likely reveal support for a large number of policies we currently find trapped by the overweening gridlock created by our rigid, binary party system.