Cognitive Psychology

Election 2020: The Many Psychological Contributors to Our Partisan Divide, part 1

Now that most of the vote is in and we can start to smell the bile as the dust settles, I find myself scratching my ass and wondering just how in tarnation did the Dems LOSE House seats? I know that is not the question most people on my Twitter feed are concerned about, but that’s why they are not part-time bloggers with a blog read by tens of people a day. Y’all pay me not only to ask those tough questions but to answer them, too.

If we look at the vote, what we find in the more conservative leaning House districts is that they split their ticket. They didn’t vote for the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, but they did vote for their Repube Congress person. People that stare and compare at polling numbers for a living have found that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is running behind many Repube candidates for both the Senate, but, especially, for the House.

Most liberals seem to think that in addition to repudiating the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, conservative-leaning voters would generalize to the entire enabling conniving party. Not only that, most liberals seem to think that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and the Repubes should’ve lost everything in a landslide. Instead all we got was this messy mudslide.

The Ol’ Pussy Grabber and many of his campaign minions said they had a turnout operation and were out looking for new voters. Who knew that an administration that hadn’t done anything right for four years would be able to get turnout right in such a disorganized campaign?


Man, did the temperature just drop in here! Did it drop where you are, too? And, is that ghostly laughter I hear? Are you hearing this? Mom! Mom! You damned restless spirit! Quit laughing! I do too have tens of people reading Ye Olde Blogge AND I made fifty whole cents on WordAds last month! Well, that shut her up. That squealing shudder at the end, though, sounded bad. Can ghosts die? She may have laughed herself to death.

Who can possibly figure out why the country is so divided? What could cause people to vote so consistently against their own best interest as rural conservative Christian white voters do? Let’s make a quick summary of the psychological factors that keep these folks come back to trough to feed off of the poisonous radioactive leaded slop that the Repubes keep handing them for their votes.

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In this edition, we’ll summarize and apply two of our favoritest psychological theories and ideas: (1) Social Identity Theory or why red states treat blue states like they’re dirty, disease-ridden foreigners and (2) the sportsification of politics (it is a thing, you’ll see) through the release of terrifying amounts of dopamine in the wanting system and the activation of the addicting liking system. We’ll leave the contributions of the deadly combination of gaslighting and cognitive dissonance with a dash of social support thrown in to make it extra spicy, and the usual cognitive Tom fuckery that you’d expect like confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and something else for later posts.

Please note that we’ll be cribbing heavily from previous entries on Ye Olde Blogge, so to learn more just follow the links to the posts.

Social Identity Theory

In The Roots of White Supremacy Run Deep in White Culture written way back on 2 September 2017, tells us that Social Identity Theory posits that people socially categorize anyone and everyone they meet, especially strangers, using what ever clues are at their disposal. Stereotypes come from the tendency to generalize to an entire group based on what we glean from interacting with a few examples. These clues allow us to use stereotypes to interpret those people and situations around us. It is a human tendency, but one that can go badly wrong. The post goes on to explain that we the groups we identify ourselves with are called in-groups and the groups we don’t belong to become out-groups. When our self-esteem is especially butt-hurt, we begin trash-talking the out-groups to make ourselves feel better.

To apply Social Identity Theory to our current situation, we would say that Americans form one big in-group and everyone other nation in the world, out-groups, but we’d be wrong because increasingly, conservatives see liberals as being unAmerican and not a member of a shared in-group. It is true. Red states treat blue states as if they were foreigners.

MAGAs have been manipulated into adopting this extreme stance because Repube politicians and media personalities have made a cottage industry of sharpening the perceived differences between us. One of the simple tricks is the label socialism. It elicits a knee-jerk reaction from any conservative, but, especially, apparently, from a South Floridan of Cuban decent of absolute hatred and fear. Conservatives have peddled the lie that liberals are out to destroy America. Taken to its logical conclusion, as it is being taken right fucking now, means that we cannot live together as one country. It means that any Democratic legislative or policy initiative cannot possibly be supported; thus, McConnell sitting on 300+ bills passed out of the Democratic House and vowing that no one he thinks too liberal will be approved by a Repube Senate to serve in Biden’s cabinet.

That shit right there that socially categorizing people into conservative and liberal camps and demonizing the resulting out-group, that shit, is destroying America and has led to the sportisification of our politics.

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The Sportisfication of Politics

This one is new to Ye Olde Blogge, but it is a topic we’ve been wanting to write about for a long long time. Dan Hopkins, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, has been studying the sportisifcation of American politics or how the way the average person talks and thinks about politics as if it were a sports team. We focus on the big picture, the national struggle between the parties when if we were really concerned about politics, we would be focused more locally. Local politics is where the average person can have the biggest impact on decisions and on their lives. Yet, we stubbornly focus on national issues and endlessly trash talk the other side. He explains it all in his book, How and Why American Politics Nationalized.

This nationalization reduces the differences between the parties to their national ideologies and not any local issue. We tend to vote for a politician based on how they relate to that national party and not the actual day-to-day decisions they make while holding office. Every political argument and disagreement gets boiled down to it’s a Republican idea or sentiment so Republicans support it or vice versa.

The sportsification of politics explains why conservative rural Christian white voters will vote for politicians that condemn them to live in Cancer Alley, drink Flint water, and die quickly and quietly. They don’t connect the decisions those politicians are making with their local outcomes; they only connect to the national ideological struggle. It’s as if they were rooting for the national team at the World Cup and not voting for a politician who will be making decisions about their lives.

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When we root for a sports team, it is a zero-sum game in which only one player can win. Gains by one player means the other players lose something. There is no such thing as cooperation or compromise, which is the heart of democracy. If being a MAGA means that you cannot under any circumstances support a Biden position on any issue, then we cannot have a democracy because a Biden victory means that MAGAs cannot have nice things. If Trump wants to cut the taxes for the 1% and transfer all of the wealth from the middle class he can, then it is a great idea! If Biden wants to raise taxes on the 1% so MAGAs can have nice thing then Q-Anon was right and he should burn at the stake. It is complete fucking lunacy.

You can see this in McConnell’s obstruction of Obama trying to make him a one-term president, refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to SCOTUS, refusal to fill any judiciary opening during Obama’s last two years in office, refusal to consider any Democratic House bill during the past year. For McConnell, Trump, Republican politicians, and the rank and vile voter, a Democratic win means an intolerable Republican loss and equals the end of the world for them. It is antithetical to democracy.

When you focus only on winning and losing, you are constantly under the influence of dopamine. Dopamine fuels the feeling of just one more. You want the Ol’ Pussy Grabber to tweet one more zinger, you want to own the libs just one more time on social media, you want to read just one more political meme.

When you’re at a rally or protest, you are feeling the heady rush of adrenaline, dopamine, and opioids all at once. When you’re watching your favorite media personality trashing the other side with facts, lies, and hyperbolic rhetoric, you are enthused and cheering just as if the Dodgers had scored a touchdown from three-point range at the buzzer to win win the World Cup and take home the Stanly Cup.

Dopamine and sportisification of politics go hand-in-hand. Unless we can break that dopamine cycle of more more more our democracy is going down down down the shitter. Science fact.

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Image Attribution

“Danse Macabre: The Sports Fan.” by quirkybird is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

19 replies »

  1. One of the results of these processes, especially taken together is that it becomes beyond easy to believe anything bad about the other team, no matter how false, bizarre, or ridiculous it would appear (and does to foreigners who don’t live here) from outside the game field. Maybe (probably) I’m weird. I remember sitting in Pep Rallies in High School thinking, “These people are totally nuts. It’s just a silly football game.” I feel the same way a lot every election year, except that the outcome actually does matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      There is just so much to write about right now, I don’t know what to write first. Since we build our reality based upon what is happening around us and what people around us believe, if everyone is believing something, no matter how bizarre, we’ll believe it is true. As the predictions of the doomsday cult fail, true believers double down and RECRUIT! It is as if they are reasoning if they can surround themselves with people who believe, then it must be true. The key to maintaining cognitive dissonance is social support. Fox News, other “conservative” media outlets, and social media maintain that social support making it nearly impossible to burst that bubble.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep. One group that do seem to be pushing back on the “stolen election” stuff are the Republican governors, state AG’s, and secretaries of states who are saying very loud and pointedly that they are running clean, transparent, and honest elections. They will break with Trump long before many of the DC GOP. They have to. And, they will have to deal with the mobs when he sends them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You know, Bob, before researching that post, I hadn’t realized the emphasis that the Founding Father’s had put on local and state politics and how they had envisioned the electorate as being activists. Of course, back then, it took six weeks to travel the country from north to south and they didn’t have social media, but part of our problem is focusing on the national party, platform, and issues. Trying to be more local will cure a lot of what ails us. Understanding the role of social media and national media outlets will too. It begs the question in my mind if knowingly lying in order to manipulate the electorate should be protected speech.

          Keep the faith, my friend.


          Liked by 1 person

          • The Founders’ emphasis on local control an process has me thinking about my little town in North Carolina. Our mayor has followed the lead of our Governor (a Democrat now reelected) in dealing carefully and incrimentally with the COVID crisis), including instituting a municipal executive order on mask wearing in the business district and limiting gatherings. Despite this being a deep Red part of the state, those steps have met with virtually no resistance or protest. We are a tourism dependent economy here, so the business community got behind it, knowing (Republicans though they may largely be) that a serious virus spike would be more damaging in the long run than a short-term limitation. The result is that few business went under and our low case count is helping fuel an almost frantic boom in home sales to the new work-from-home refugees from Atlanta and other places (We are also in the process of installing gigabit fiber to all addresses. That helps too.). Confidence in local leadership works.

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