Did Policy Perceptions Swing Votes in 2020?
So, this feels like a much richer and less reductive explication of "It's the economy, stupid," where "economy" is only one example of policy more broadly conceived. In what ways would you say that popular aphorism is still appropriate here, and in what ways does it fail to capture what you're saying?
"The personal is political but all politics isn’t always that personal" is a lovely turn of phrase; hard to believe someone hasn't used that already. I wonder if there's a way in which we are predisposed to elevate and idealize the "personal transformation" narrative, or at least fantasize that politics *is* more personal than it really is (perhaps because that implies we can change people's minds through the sheer power and rightness of our own values?).
P.S. Hate to be the annoying typo-spotter but: "I've seen commentators say the aid *was* pathetic.."
Whenever I hear someone argue that there's no hope to appeal to person X for reason Y, all I can think of are those tiny little barriers that are enough to stop suicides. The most impactful decision you will make in your life and you'll put it off if 10 seconds of effort get put in the way. It feels like sometimes there's an implicit assumption that the *impact* of a belief is correlated with the "strength that it's held*, and that the large impact of a Trump presidency means that people who vote for Trump must really care about him. But people do enormously consequential stuff for tiny stupid reasons all the time, so I'm with you that there's no sense in trying to discretely put voters in one bucket vs. another.
Thank you for another incisive, nuanced analysis!!
Regarding: "In addition, the cultural affinity with the Republican party—with individuals being social conservative or even anti-abortion—may well have been the reason the region swung in Trump’s favor, sometimes dramatically. "
I understand why these voters would vote for Trump in 2020, but I don't understand why these would have voted for Clinton in 2016 - assuming the driver was the stance on social conservative issues, including abortion.
I think we as Homo sapiens are always trying to find "the" cause of something we see. This worked well when our biggest threats were physical - starvation, injury, encounter with a saber tooth tiger. But the "risks" we encounter today are all multi-causal, and the "billiard ball" view of causation just doesn't work. I think this extends to political views and outcomes - there is no "one reason" why 70+ million people voted for Trump, just as there is no single reason for the 76+ million who voted for Biden. Each person is actually on a continuum distribution across multiple dimensions, but polls, social science, political science, and in end voting itself, impose categorization of people into discrete bins instead. But it seems to be that the underlying reality is much more continuous, and varies in time and space even for the same person.
This means, of course, that there is no "silver bullet" for progressives to convince people to vote for them. Seems like it may come down to a multitude of small "nudges" to those multivariate distributions. But given the sorry state of polling, and the problem of imposing false categories on continua that analysts and commentators do, I'm not sure how to find all those nudges...
When you look back at the four years of Trump's presidency two things stick out as most damaging: 1) his attempt to kill the ACA in early 2017 and 2) the Tax cut debate/passage in late 2017. Two things that directly impact your pocketbook and in the case of ACA, your livelihood. The near non-stop threat to the ACA is what led Democrats to orient their messaging around in the 18' midterms, i.e. Trump and the GOP are a threat to your health. Once that issue faded and tax cuts disparaged into ether, not surprising that the historic stimulus passed and doled out would redound to the benefit of Trump. Also: student loan pause, etc etc. These are tangible and timely benefits! Democrats would be wise to put their stamp (literally) on any benefits that start going out the door come Jan 21. I still remember back in the Obama days the big debate on how stimulus $$$ should apportioned and it turned into a tax withholding rebate (for non-fed beneficiaries) over a period of weeks sight unseen because in their view, that helps the economy more than lump sum payments. IN the end, not only did it not help the economy, most didn't even realize they received support.
To put your advice into practice, at least in the usual sense of public policy as something that governments do, is going to be excruciatingly difficult. I follow green energy. We have a few years to then rebuild our economy, our polity, and the way we live from the ground up. We won't know until after the January 5th runoff in Georgia if we even have an outside chance at permanent legislative change. Have you thought about ways that we could bring together non-governmental forces to change the policies? For instance, could (1) progressive Emerson Collective type investors fund geothermal wells at a modest loss (2) to employ roughneck Trump supporters from the oil patch and (3) soak up the excess capacity in the drilling industry (4) so petro companies can't find the capacity to drill out the last-minute leases that Trump is authorizing until (5) the price of renewable energy drops enough so the oil leases are eventually worthless.
Most academics are horrified by Trump's racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric/actions. It appears to me that in the social sciences, this has led to a tendency toward groupthink - the usual party line is that non-college-educated/working-class voting for Trump is purely or very predominantly due to racial resentment or "status threat". But as far as I can see, the studies cited in support of that suffer from substantial methodological problems - deficiencies in causal analysis, etc.
A couple studies that, IMHO, examine the question a bit more carefully:
Anecdotal: I know a high-level executive at a big multinational who (with sadness) predicted that Trump would win because he knew so many people who were going to vote for him purely due to the fact that their 401Ks were doing so well. Obviously, Trump didn’t but I wonder if this person was right about a lot of that section of the upper-middle-income population voting for “what makes my personal situation feel more secure.”
My dad, who grew up under Stalin and emigrated in the 1970s, talks a lot about other Russian immigrants in the U.S. who only understand freedom in terms of “freedom for me to do whatever I want,” and their votes reflect that.
Thank you Professor Tufekci.
"What does this mean in practice? It means that people respond to policy a lot more than we assume, and that cultural dynamics are then fused with this policy."
I am persuaded.
People may not be mechanically ideological nor the rational choice decision makers but they are responsive to policies and actions that are responsive to their situations.
To me, this can be distilled into: selfishness overrides racism. Acknowledge a person's perception of suffering, and promise them things, and they may vote for you even if they don't like you.