In our ancient history, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber professed a belief that his large rallies were far more indicative of his support than the polling, and that rallies were key to “winning” the 2016 election in the greatest Electoral College landslide ever recorded in recorded human history and, probably, since human beings stood upright and climbed out of the trees if we’re being realistic.
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We here at Ye Olde Blogge like many others scoffed at the notion that rallies were any kind of meaningful indication of support. The derisive scoffing continued as the Ol’ Pussy Grabber desperately re-ran his ’16 election playbook, but then a post from a lifetime ago resurfaced and it cued up some doubts mid-scoff.
You remember January 2020 when we were not consumed by mask controversies; we hadn’t lost 225,000+ real live dead Americans to the #COVID19 pandemic; we weren’t watching helplessly as yet another community ran out of ICU beds and begins to ration care; and we set new daily records for infections and hospitalizations. Back in the hazy halcyon days of yore all we had to worry about was impeaching the Ol’ Pussy Grabber; the continued dismantling of our democracy; another corruption scandal emerging from the White House; and the firehose of gaslighting spewing forth as the Ol’ Pussy Grabber grasped his liddle’ tweeter firmly in his stubby fingers.
Now, though, we are square in the middle of the end of the 2020 campaign and the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is frantically running from state to state holding rally after superspreader event. By all accounts, these events host thousands of people. How likely are they to result in improved turnout of his base? How effective are political rallies?
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While there are no definitive answers, evidence suggests that rallies ought to be an effective means of mobilizing and energizing support because they affect our collective intelligence in the same way that protests do. First, we’ll review the findings of the protest-voting study and then we’ll look at how collective intelligence affects behavior.
The Protest Boost
Gillion and Soule published an article in November 2018 that analyzed 30 years of data (1960 – 1990) focused on protest movements and their relationship to House elections at the district level. They found these trends:
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- Liberal protests boost a Democratic candidate’s vote total 2% and reduce a Republican’s by 6%.
- Conservative protests boost a Republican’s candidate’s vote total 6% and reduce a Democrat’s 2%.
- Large liberal protests boost the QUALITY of Democratic candidates running in subsequent elections.
- One reason Republicans seem to benefit disproportionately from protests was their relative rarity before the 1990’s. The sudden appearance of conservative protests may have made them more electrifying to conservative voters.
More information rarely changes the minds of people, especially highly partisan people. Once you’ve committed to supporting someone and acted on the support by voting for them once, you’re not going to over come the powerful combination of confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and cognitive dissonance that people use to maintain their need for consistency. These techniques are just too effective at screening out conflicting information.
The thing that does change behaviors and minds is the ingroup. If we see people like us — people who belong to the same group — behaving in a certain way, we’re more likely to behave that way, too.
When the news media shows a dense crowd of supporters all cheering lustily and rabidly for the Ol’ Pussy Grabber it creates the impression of large-scale support. It doesn’t matter whether the people in the crowd are paid supporters as the left accuses them of doing. Or that the people in the crowd are physically constrained to a smaller area to produce the density. Or that they are cheering on cue rather than from genuine passion. It only matters that the viewer perceives the support.
This is an effect similar to that of disparagement humor in which a person tells a racist or sexist joke and the listeners who are inclined to these prejudices acted in biased ways at their next opportunity because they feel accepted, understood, and encouraged by the teller whether the teller meant it that way or not. Viewers who see the superspreader events feel like they’re part of a larger successful group and are have their beliefs reinforced.
For the attendees, the effect is even more pronounced since it is accompanied by a flood of dopamine in their wanting system and opioids in their liking system. In addition, they’ve committed another significant act in their allegiance to the Ol’ Pussy Grabber.
The posts on cognitive dissonance explain that attendees have demonstrated the strength of their conviction by taking a significant action — fighting and fussing over mask wearing in public — making a significant commitment — attending a superspreader event as cases and hospitalizations are surging and during inclement weather — and experiencing strong social support for their dangerous and errant beliefs — seeing thousands of others taking the same foolhardy risks.
If protests boost the votes for Republican candidates by 6%, these superspreader events could have a similar effect for Trump. I don’t know this to be the case, but it doesn’t seem to be farfetched given what we know about the persuasive effects of groups.