Cognitive Psychology

Being a Likeable Old White Guy is Biden’s Super Power


Most people don’t realize it, but we are in the middle of one of the most fascinating natural experiments in modern American history. We know that our current era of politics is determined by one of two trends. (1) We act more out of hatred for our opponents than we do out of support for our candidates. It explains how odious creatures like Ted Cruz get elected. And (2) we support the policies and actions of politicians we like rather than support the politicians who enact policies and actions we like. We’ll switch our political beliefs to match those of politicians we like rather than switch politicians. Both are at work right now in our politics. Which one will win out?

Much has been made of how popular Old Handsome Joe Biden is right now. I heard lots o’ talk by all the talking heads on the TV machine that there was one poll where Biden got a 62% approval rating! One poll! 62%. It must be true. We should slow down here and consider Biden’s polling average, so lets skip over to Five Thirty Eight and check out their average of Biden’s approval ratings! He has been holding steady at 54.7% approval since the election, but his disapproval rating has been creeping upward, reaching 38.1%.

The reasoning that has all the pundits swooning is that because Trump never broke 50% approval, Biden’s sky high approval must mean some Repubes approve of him. He’s skimmed some of the spongy supporters off the top of the festering vat of Trump voters. Hunh.

Likeability

Biden’s stock-in-trade has always been likeability, and if you saw his speech marking the 500,000 needless unnecessary and avoidable #COVID19 deaths threshold, you understand why. He was understanding, soothing, and compassionate. He connected emotionally with all who were open to being emotionally connected with, which according one poll is about 60% of the population.

The Stuart Smalley Effect

We’ve posted about the likeability factor before here at Ye Olde Blogge. The funny thing is, it doesn’t necessarily garner votes, especially when applied to men. Studies suggest that people like politicians who express warmth, compassion, and sadness. They don’t always vote for them, but they like them. Old Handsome Joe was expressing butt loaded fuck ton of warmth, compassion, and sadness in his #COVID19 commemoration speech, wasn’t he? And, doggone it, people like him like he’s some kind of common Stuart Smalley.

The other thing that Biden has going for him is being an old white guy because our beliefs are driven by the groups we belong to, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a lot of folks who belong to the old white guy group whether they are old white guys or not. Joe Biden looks like a lot of Americans, he speaks their language, and exudes their vibe. They identify with him.

His warmth, compassion, and sadness added to old white guyness combine to produce likeability.

The Affect Heuristic: Instant Liking or Disliking

One of our most basic reactions is the instantaneous like and dislike reaction. Upon encountering anything, within milliseconds of seeing it, you either like it or dislike it based on trivial superficial characteristics, too. True, those characteristics are all based on past experience of things. Things that were helpful to us, we generally like and associate goodness with, so when something triggers those associations we like it. More than likely, it too will be helpful.

Once when visiting Germany, I staggered into a German bakery early one morning. In the displace case I spied a thick piece of chocolate pastry with an almost equally thick slab of sugar icing spread across the top. Man, was that what the doctor ordered to chase the herd of sheep outta my mouth and calm the miners excavating my head. I wanted that and a big hot steaming cup of coffee. I got the coffee, but I didn’t get that. Instead of a chocolate pastry, I got pumpernickel bread and instead of sugar icing, lard. Needless to say, my breakfast did not help dispel my hangover. Perhaps you’ve a similar story that you could relate in the comment?

Our associations don’t always steer us right, but they are powerful and that like and dislike reaction is foundational to our decision making. If you like it, it is because it reminds you something you liked before. And, if you like it, you’re going to want it or do something with it or whatever. Apparently, Old Handsome Joe Biden is one of those people that folks take a liking to straight away.

While likeability might not drive voting, it does drive support, which is weird because the only support that really matters is who we vote for. As noted elsewhere on Ye Olde Blogge, identity trumps ideology. Our ideologies are almost completely malleable. They are fleeting and fragile ready to be recast in an instance under the right circumstances that is.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are some beliefs that have reified in us: pro-choice vs. forced birth, gun control vs. rampant gun proliferation, and anything related to racial identity. Those are pretty firm and independent of who is espousing what or the groups we belong to. In fact, we may chose our groups based on those beliefs. But, everything else is fair game, which is good.

There are some beliefs that have reified in us: pro-choice vs. forced birth, gun control vs. rampant gun proliferation, and anything related to racial identity. Those are pretty firm and independent of who is espousing what or the groups we belong to. In fact, we may chose our groups based on those beliefs. But, everything else is fair game, which is good.

There are a slew of issues like #COVID19 relief, pandemic mitigation efforts, voting accessibility. minimum wage, access to healthcare and a slew of other issues depends on who is espousing them. If we like the person who wants to forgive student loan debt, then we’ll likely want to forgive it to. If we dislike the person who is advocating laws limiting access to the vote, we’ll likely not support limiting voting access.

Studies in this area have demonstrated two things. First, that people are amazingly good at ignoring contradictions. They can be against the #COVID19 vaccine in 2020 and eager to take it in 2021 without every really realizing or acknowledging the change. And, second, low-information voters are especially prone to follow-the-leader style beliefs. They just adopt the beliefs that the politician de jour is holding.

Conclusion: As people come to like Old Handsome Joe Biden, they’re likely to adopt many of his political stances, especially if they’re low-information voters. And, who are low-information voters? Those pesky independent voters and many in MAGA Nation. Unfortunately, most of the MAGA voters have already given their heart to the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, but the malleable middle is up for grabs and Joe Biden has grabbed them. I’m sure he’s just squeezing their shoulders and sniffing their hair, though.

The Sportsification of National Politics

Poised against this trend of adopting the views of the politicians you like is hate voting or the sportsification of politics. One of the more recent phenomenon to occur in modern American politics is voting for the opponent of the politician or party you hate rather than for the politician or party you like. The Repubes have successfully turned democratic politics into a zero-sum game in which every victory by one side means the other side loses. It is the embodiment of rule #3 from Hitler’s Propaganda Playbook, NEVER CONCEDE THAT THERE MAY BE SOME GOOD IN YOUR ENEMY.

When we treat our politics as if it were a supporting event in which the only thing that matters is winning, then we cannot compromise with the other side. Compromise is not winning, so it must be tantamount to losing. We care only about party affiliation and not about policy, personality, or purview. Running off to Cancun while you sit in the dark wondering whether you’ll freeze to death before you die of thirst is unimportant as long as you’re not a Democrat. Delivering $4 million dollars in aide is a despicable act if its done by a Democrat and cannot be supported.

Under these circumstances, the 74 million Trump voters could never support Biden, yet he has a vaunted 60% approval rating in ONE POLL!!1! So, we’re going to see which one is more important in modern American politics. Is it whether the politician is liked and therefore his policy positions are supported or is it his identity and party affiliation and, therefore, hated and despised?

My money is on the likeability factor over the hate voting factor. I think maybe the Repubes do too given the desperate lengths that are going to to tear him down: criticizing an elderly dog with hip dysplasia? Really? Neera Tandens mean tweets? Deb Haaland for being too Native American? I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. They’ve got nothing to criticize, really, so we’re back to tan suits and grey poupon. We’ll see if it works against the white guy as well as it did against his Black partner.

If you like posts about Super Powers and American Politics, then join our email list, so you don’t miss a single post!

Image Attribution

“What are your super powers?” by The Sean & Lauren Spectacular is licensed under CC BY 2.0

19 replies »

  1. Biden’s speech last night was spot on, and likeable to the max. He spoke as a man well acquainted with grief, reassuring and calm. There was no screaming, no insults, no denigration, no blame except of the virus itself. It was grandfatherly. You could relax into his words and tone and just let him hug you in these troubled times. Somebody has to be far into “Hate the other side” politics to not like this guy, and they wouldn’t watch or listen because they would be getting the commentary about it from Fox “News” or worse.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      I think once the Dems have passed the American Rescue Plan into law and the funds and other relief measures begin to flow and Dems hit their talking points on it, people will be very supportive of Biden.

      The only other thing that would stop people from liking Biden and that speech in particular other than just hating everything he does is not having heard it, which is possible if you get your news from right-wing sources. The consistent messaging out of the Biden admin and Dems in general is that much of what we face isn’t a political or partisan fight but something we need to work together on. Hopefully, repeating that message will help it sink in a la if you repeat a lie often enough, people will start to believe it.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 2 people

      • Howdy Bob!
        That’s why the GOP was having a fit over the ACA. They knew if people got to be able to use all of its benefits, they wouldn’t want to give it up. They can’t overturn it without paying a political cost. They’ve been trying to over turn Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid since their inception but can’t since it’s the political “third rail.” They know that aide packages once passed are impossible to undo. But, this isn’t an ongoing government program. The only thing with any permanence is the minimum wage, which isn’t going to be in the package anyway.

        I guess if you can’t enter into good faith negotiations, then the only thing you can do is oppose whatever it gets proposed. And, if the relief package gets passed, it will be bad for the GOP in 2022, and it will be worse than it would be if they can get it killed.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 2 people

      • The Republicans have been promising to repeal and replace the ACA for ten years, and coming up empty because they have no plan. They have no plan because there isn’t one that can meet their policy criteria and vested interests. The ACA actually is based on a Republican plan, Romney Care in Massachusetts based on a plan from the Heritage Foundation. They are stuck with digging up negative anecdotal stories of it not working. They do know that if the Public Option had been included, the for-profit medical insurance industry would already be dying, so Medicare For All terrifies them.

        The relief package will be a disaster for the GOP, especially with the Dems able to keep pointing out that they passed it without a single Republican vote, as in, “Those guys didn’t want you to get this.”

        Liked by 2 people

      • Howdy Bob!

        This is the danger of groupthink in action. They just don’t recognize the danger. Mitch has been out saying how the GOP is united against the American Recovery Plan! Keep talking Mitch, you’ll be in all the commercials in 2022. They are thinking 2009 redux when they used the ACA and the recovery act to take back Congress in 2010, but it ain’t gonna work that way this time. This package is big enough to be felt in the economy almost immediately and will provide relief to foks immediately. Those who are distressed, which is most people, will remember the relief they feel. These are huge emotional issues that will influence the behavior and mental processes of the electorate for years to come. The tunnel vision of the GOP is just amazing.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 2 people

      • The message for the Democrats to deliver in regard to the Recovery Plan, the Texas freeze catastrophe, opposition to Medicare Expansion (and issue in my state), etc. is simple: “The Republican Party considers you expendable, even if you have voted for them.”

        Liked by 2 people

      • In all of those events Black Americans were hurt first and worst. That’s the thing about a theory, it explains and predicts. There opposition to the Recovery Plan is rooted on the damage the pandemic wrecks on communities of color. I wonder if poor whites realize they are acceptable collateral loses? According to according to Arlie Hochschild in “Strangers in Their Own Land,” they are willing accomplices.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 2 people

      • They are, I think, willing accomplices, because they don’t understand that they are acceptable collateral losses, or, because they believe that their losses will be less than the “bad people’s” losses. One way to look at it is that if you think you are in a war for group survival or supremacy, then losses are to be expected, as long as it is not you, personally, that is lost. And, remember why the death penalty doesn’t work as a deterrent; Nobody expects to get caught.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        I’m still reminded of the rural conservative Christian white folks of Louisiana that Arlie Hochschild lived with for five years and wrote about in her book, “Strangers in Their Own Land.” They believed that it was their patriotic duty to live in Cancer Alley so that the international corporations that manufactured there could supply the rest of us with cheap petroleum-based products. The weird thing was that they never connected the politicians they voted for with the policies that allowed them to be so ruthlessly exploited. They engaged in some heavy duty cognitive dissonance like believing that corporations wouldn’t pollute the environment more than necessary because it would be bad for business and that the corporations produced good jobs for locals.

        Of course, they were victims of the same mentality, to hit Black folks first and worst. The capacity of motivated reasoning to lead to cognitive dissonance to ensure that people die slow agonizing deaths is just awe inspiring. It is the same for the white folks who are willing to flush our democracy in order to suppress Black voters and themselves. They will have some twisted reasoning about how it is okay and not connected whatever misery they live through to their politics.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • And the politicians they vote for can always find somebody for them to blame for their misery other than the politicians themselves and their funders, and that the folks (Black) even worse off than them are really getting all the goodies.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        We see another line item out of Hitler’s Propaganda Playbook, BLAME HIM (an opponent) FOR EVERYTHING THAT GOES WRONG,” being used by the GOP. Also, it is known as scapegoating of a group or groups. And, we have an clear example of how well the playbook works.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Like

      • And today, at CPAC, that is exactly what they were doing, sort of, claiming that the Biden Administration is a complete disaster and “anti” everything good and decent. And, still hold ig to The Big Lie.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        I was looking back through the first year of posts and found one that outlined gaslighting abuse or narcissistic personality abuse. Each item described as being in the repertoire of abuse corresponded to an item in Hitler’s Propaganda Playbook. Both, obviously, are grounded in how narcissists treat the world.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        It certainly makes a strong argument for keeping extreme narcissists out of positions of power. I was thinking the other day of how you could categorize GOP politicians — another blog post!

        Category 1: The narcissistic and anti-social personality disorders like Cruz and Hawley and Greene. They are driven by personal ambition and have absolutely no empathy for the wider population.
        Category 2: The useful idiots like Gohmert, Nunes, and Johnson. They are just doing what they think the cool kids are doing to be cool. Easily manipulated and willing to do, say, and support the worst of GOP policies and initiatives.
        Category 3: The pure-racists like Sessions, Kennedy, and Hyde-Smith. They are in it just to punish the Blacks, women, and other communities of color.
        Category 4: The rank and vile like Grassley, Brooks, and Brasso. They suffer from a diffusion of responsibility and may tut-tut over excesses but go along with it.
        Category 5: The never-Trumpers like Romney, Kinzinger, and Buetler. They are willing to vote against the party.

        I think that covers most of them, but if you have any ideas for categories or who belongs where, I’d welcome it. Some, of course, fit in a couple of categories but probably mostly in one if the categories are well made.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

Howdy y'all! Comments are always welcome... well, almost always. No sense in tempting fate, amirite?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.