Cognitive Psychology

The Two Weird Tricks That Keep MAGAs and the GOP Supporting Trump


Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Impossible to answer, right? Try these:

  • Which came first, the genocidal murder of 325,000+ real live dead Americans or the the belief that the genocidal murder of 325,000+ real live dead Americans is a core bedrock conservative belief?
  • Which came first, the willingness to aide and abet an authoritarian leader to illegally overturn a legal, fair, transparent presidential election, or the willingness to aide and abet an authoritarian leader to illegally overturn a legal, fair, transparent presidential election is a core bedrock conservative belief?

Why is it that good conservatives who until four or five years ago would have never dreamed of supporting genocide through incompetent neglect of a pandemic or a blatant anti-democratic power grab through overturning free, fair, and transparent elections using court actions, state legislatures, or martial law are doing so now?

It just doesn’t seem possible people who identify as conservatives could be so enthusiastically embracing obvious anti-American anti-democratic behaviors. That we could have real live patriotic Americans willing to die while claiming that #COVID19 is a hoax and support a military coup?

PRO-TIP

As soon as the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is off the stage — out of office — the complicit enablers will swear they were never supporters and were part of the silent resistance. Mostly, they’ll just not say anything about it. Be ready to hold them accountable.

Lucky for us all that political psychology and behavioral economics have convincing explanations for such ass-scratching behavior. We’re going to divide this post into two parts: Follow the Leader Theory and Heuristic Projection.

The Follow the Leader Theory of Trump Support

The Follow the Leader Theory of political science states that the policies and positions of the rank and file are based more on the positions of prominent politicians than it is on ideology. If a political leader espouses a political belief or policy position, then the rank and file are likely to support it even if it contradicts long held political positions of the rank and file.

I know that doesn’t seem possible. Every bubba who kisses his cousins will loudly and proudly proclaim that he is a conservative American who loves our country and our rights and freedoms. He knows that only right-good god-afearing Repubes will affirm our country and his rights and freedoms and the Democrats hate America because of our rights and freedoms. He knows this.

Gabriel Lenz used the American National Election Studies to analyze the political preferences and knowledge of the same voters over decades. His analysis revealed that only 50% of the sample can match politicians or parties to policy positions and that only 20 to 40% has a stable view on policy. These findings strongly suggest that there are a lot of low-information voters in the electorate and that policy views are malleable.

One caveat must be noted: big-ticket policies like abortion and gun rights do tend to remain stable, but the small-ticket items like housing and trade policies change fairly frequently. His evidence strongly suggests that people have an amazing capacity to be completely unaware of changes in their beliefs.

Because there are many difficult confusing topics out there in our complex socio-economic-political landscape, people don’t really know what to think or believe. Do the Chinese pay us money when tariffs are enacted? The average person just doesn’t know. Instead of trying to puzzle it out or doing a brief Google search and reading the headlines and blurbs that pop up, people will FOLLOW THE LEADER!

Heuristic Projection and the Role of Super PACs and Other Special Interest Groups

Heuristic projection is a cognitive shortcut in which people assume that special interest groups (SIGs) support their political views based on trivial information (that’s the projection part) and use their s endorsements of politicians as their basis for deciding who to support (that’s the heuristic part). A heuristic is a rule of thumb that usually leads to an accurate or correct solution when followed or applied.

If the interest group is one that they agree with, then they support their endorsed politicians, and if not, then they don’t. This is a workable system as long as the policies and positions supported by the SIGs aligns with those of the voter, but it is clear that there is active deception being perpetrated by the SIGs. Interestingly, the beginnings of this deception is the name of the group: “Freedom Works” or “Save America PAC.” These SIGS use popular issues such as stances on abortion and the Second Amendment to attract followers obscure the impact of their other issues such as tax policy and environmental regulation. This phenomenon explains the reasons issues like common sense gun laws and support for Roe v. Wade consistently poll well, but gun laws are never enacted and access to abortion keeps being restricted.

A good example is offered in the paper. Apparently, many people assume that the League of Conservation Voters is actually a conservative group rather than an environmental protection group. It doesn’t seem possible to me, but when you have a representative sample that consistently identifies the LCV as a conservative political group, then you have to start to believe it is possible. After all, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber did raise over $500 million dollars for his personal slush fund using his Save America PAC and prominently stating that it supports his court challenges of the election and in the fine print stipulates that 75% of the money will go to whatever the fuck he wants to spend it on, which ain’t any hopeless hapless court case challenging the election.

Studies strongly suggest that the average constituent knows very little about what their elected representatives actually do once in office, i.e. what laws and policies they support or pass, which makes it difficult for those same constituents to “control” or influence their elected representatives at any level.

According to the studies reported on in the paper, voters will give their MoC a high rating based on the endorsement of a SIG not realizing that the SIG is diametrically opposed to their political point of view. Even after the voters are educated on the issues that the SIG supports, which are against their own, they will punish their MoC if the SIG endorsement goes down and reward them if it improves thus causing their MoC to vote against the issues that the voter purports to care about! This is how people end up living in Cancer Alley, drinking Flint water, and dying young by returning the politicians to office year after year who ensure these conditions exist. You wonder how that happens. This is how it happens.

What all of this really shows is that we are group-oriented animals. Nothing is more important than remaining in good standing in the group, and to do so, we must find agreement on the issues that confront us. We evolved these tendencies to help ensure that we had group harmony. Unfortunately, if we get a bad leader, which we got with Trump, then we can be in real trouble. Coupling that with the social support for destructive beliefs that social media can provide, and we may be on a path to destruction that is difficult to get off of.

Image Attribution

“Unwilling Eggs 5” by aGape n’ agaPe is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

7 replies »

  1. I suspect that when it comes to the policies and legislation (beyond the few super hot button issues) an elected official supports or opposes, most voters (and more so, non-voters) rely on the candidate’s opponents to tell them (negative advertising works). Fear and outrage grab attention far more than any nuanced discussion of policy.

    I like the example of the LCV. Why read and comprehend the whole word “Conservation” when “Conserv….” will do, especially with a reading comprehension level perhaps somewhere in the Primary Grades. We are not dealing there with critical thinkers with high SAT scores.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      That was one of the points made in the studies I was reading that opposition SIG endorsements shaped voting behavior more than aligned SIG endorsements. We really do vote against and not for in our two-party system. I wonder if this is what the Founding Fathers meant when they warned against mob rule.

      I couldn’t believe the LCV thing. I had to read through the appendices to get the particulars on the sample and questions they asked. It makes absolutely no sense. It just goes to show that literacy matters because you aren’t hearing about the LCV on Fox News.

      One thing that I did come away with was an understanding of why the label socialist was so effective. It really does activate the heuristic projection. Once you have a common enemy, you are friends and allies. The ease with which that con works really does make me fearful for the future of our country.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you’ve written some number of times about the relationship between fear of loss versus hope of gain. I remember some ads that came up in my FaceBook feed from some rather neutrally named PAC attacking the Democrat candidate in the 11th Congressional District of NC (my district) with the “Socialist” tag and other conspiracy oriented stuff. It was brutal. Criminal accusations and all. And when he got caught sexting a woman not his wife, it got worse. Truth to tell, the 11th was a long shot for a Dem, even after some redistricting through litigation, but the GOP candidate was a lying, philandering, racist (He said he wouldn’t take his wife out to dinner in Asheville because of the needles, excrement, garbage, and muggers in the streets.) Q-praising upstart.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Huzzah!

        I think that is a great application of risk aversion and how it combines with heuristic projection. Fear of change is one thing; fear of changing into socialism puts it on steroids. I’m still amazed at how easily opinions are molded by the utterance of just one word. That alone makes me fear for our future.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

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