Behavior Economics

The 6 January Committee, Trump, and the Risk to Our Democracy that White People Perceive


Apparently, the 6 January Committee is doing a bang up job if polls are to be believed, and we all know how predictive polls are of people’s behavior, right? Eighty percent of the public supports common sense gun reform, anyone? Seventy-some-odd percent support Roe, right? Yet, somehow, the GQP keeps getting elected. Ass scratcher, right?

Lots of pundits are wagging their jaws about an ABC/Ipsos poll have found the following:

  • 60% of respondents thought that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber should be prosecuted for the role he played in the insurrection.
    • That’s up from the 50% who thought so either right after the insurrection or even a month ago.
    • A whopping 91% of Democrats think he should be charged.
    • An unsurprising 19% of Republicans think so.
    • And, a comforting 60% of iNdEpEnDeNtS — hopefully the ones who vote and lean Democrat — think so.
  • 60% of respondents thought that the hearings were fair and impartial.
    • That’s up from 40% from April.
    • And, the 20% who had no opinion is way down.
    • A surprising 38% of Republicans think it is fair.
    • An unsurprising 85% of Democrats
    • A significant 63% of iNdEpEnDeNts
  • 34% of respondents say they are following the hearings very or somewhat closely.
    • With 10% very closely
    • 43% of Democrats fall into this category
    • And, 22% of Republicans do
  • 50% of respondents said the hearings will make no difference in how they’ll vote in November
    • 30% said they’re more likely to support Democrats
    • And, 20% Republicans

All of these findings beggar the question, how will the November 2022 election turn out? Lucky for us, behavioral economics has something to say about it.

The most salient factor in divining how all this will affect the upcoming elections is that we are in uncharted waters here. We’ve never had such a serious incident of sedition since the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 and certainly not one that involved all branches and levels of government and entire major political party before. Because it’s never happened before, there is a large amount of uncertainty — key behavioral economics term there — on how to react. Some things to consider:

THE BYSTANDER EFFECT

When faced with an ambiguous situation, meaning one that you haven’t encountered before and are therefore uncertain about how to react, people look to those around them for guidance. How are they reacting? And, then we try to fit in by doing the same.

We fear the embarrassment of being different because it risks being ostracized by the group. We will go to great lengths to avoid standing out and being different because of it. As an odd aside, many people who are attracted to conspiratorial thinking do not have this trait. In fact, they want to stand out and be different. They are contrarians, and right now, those folks are are squarely in the MAGA camp.

Because of this dynamic — fearing standing out versus wanting to buck the crowd — it doesn’t bode well for the effects these hearings will have on the ’22 elections. It is unlikely to peel any of the MAGA crowd off from their delusional thinking or awaken any of the somnambulant iNdEpEnDeNt voters.

The reaction is something significant is happening, feel uncertain, look around at how everyone else is reacting, keep your head down, and do nothing.

We can help change this by giving voice to our outrage that the insurrection happened, vocally encouraging people to vote, and explaining the details of the plot and specific local people who were involved to all who will listen.

PROPORTIONALITY BIAS

When faced with a big event, we assume that it must have a big cause. The 6 January Insurrection was a big event, it must have an equally big cause. People who are not paying attention will assume that a lie isn’t sufficient to cause the insurrection, meaning Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen couldn’t drive people to insurrect, so it must be that their was election malfeasance.

It is a sad, but true factor in our our thinking. Hopefully, the hearings will demonstrate just how much of an effort went into orchestrating the revolt and that will seem like a sufficient cause for the coup attempt. Hopefully, the hearings will penetrate the consciousnesses of the populace sufficiently to demonstrate that it was a spontaneous riot and was a serious attempt at overthrowing the government.

ILLUSORY EXPLANATION

The committee is doing a great job of demonstrating that Trump knew about and approved of all of the efforts that went into the 6 January attempt to overthrow the government. Interestingly, Trump does not seem to have been the mastermind or even a significant part of the planning and execution of the plot. Not surprising, given his lack of executive functioning, and even more evidence of how a narcissistic personality corrupts those around them with their delusions.

Blaming Trump is good and bad. Good because it may lead to a significant portion of the population supporting prosecution of Trump and his conspirators and dampen any potential for violence during the trial.

Bad because it may give the GQP a pass. Pinning the insurrection squarely on Trump may serve as illusory explanation. The vast disinterested masses may be lulled into thinking, Okay, Trump did it. We’ve got him. Now, back to business as usual. And, by electoral business as usual, those who can be bothered to vote will be moved by the usual racial fear mongering believing that the threat to our democracy passed when Trump left office.

The thinking would go something like this: We had this big significant event, the 6 January Insurrection. It was caused by Trump. We got Trump. Now, we’re safe once again, and we can return to business as usual.

RISK AVERSION

People instinctively hate taking risks. Of course we do. Risks mean that something bad could happen, and if you’re a hunter-gatherer that bad thing could be dying. There’s a reason the average life expectancy of the hunter-gatherer was so low. But, people will take a risk when faced with a sure loss.

If you think you’re heading for a loss, you’ll do almost anything to avoid it, even take a risk. This is a robust finding that has been duplicated and replicated in many ways with many different populations. It holds up. It is a rule of thumb. It accurately predicts the behavior of large groups of people.

With this in mind, we can analyze our current situation with regard to the 6 January Committee findings. What are the risks that we are being asked to take?

  • Accept that Trump is a crook and tried to overthrow the government. It is an unheard of crime. No one has ever done it before, which makes believing it very difficult to do. We really don’t want to believe that our democracy is under attack and is vulnerable. Accepting it as true is a risk because we would have to admit our vulnerabilities and some of us would have to admit that we were fooled by Trump. Many people rather than admit it will double down on the lie.
  • What is the loss that will drive us to take a risk? It is very difficult for the average non-political person to understand that our democracy is at risk, in fact that if the GQP wins majorities in Congress or many secretary of state offices, then our democracy will have ended. The proportionality bias looks at the outcome, loss of our democracy, and doesn’t see a cause proportionate to the devastating consequence that would be.
  • Worse, if we lose our democracy, we’ll still actually vote, and when I say we, I mean the white we. White people will vote. White people won’t realize the loss of our democracy, so it is hard for white people to accept that our democracy is under threat and could come to an end, especially when most white people will be permitted to vote. There is a lot of cognitive dissonance going on here.
  • The question is how many white people will not be able to stomach the reality of the Republican Party trying to destroy our democracy and prefer the fiction that it was only Trump? How many white people are going to look at the 6 January hearings and evidence — the little that they’ll actually see — and respond with, Yes, it was bad, but it is over, and we survived. Trump is prosecuted, so we can continue to vote our racial animus and elect Republicans?

The task of the Democrats heading into the 2022 elections is to convince enough white Americans that the loss they are facing is the sure loss of their democracy if Republicans are elected, especially those embracing the Big Lie of election fraud in 2020. If they feel the impending doom, they will then take a risk and vote Democrat in spite of their economic or racial misgivings.

The task of the Republicans is to make the political environment chaotic enough so that white people feel like they just can’t figure it out and will hold their breath and do what they’ve always done, vote Republican and hope for the best.

The question is, have the 6 January Committee hearings convinced white people that the threat has been removed when Trump left office and might could be prosecuted, or are they convincing people that the GQP represents an ongoing credible threat to our democracy?

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…everyone understands the sure loss that we face and is willing to take a risk and vote Democrat.

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Image Attribution

Tightrope Cycling” by jackol is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

7 replies »

  1. I await with baited breath the list of legislators and others who contacted the White House after 1/6 (i.e., after the coup failed) to seek preemptive pardons. Those requests look to me like prima facie evidence that they knew they were guilty of crimes. I hope that the folks over at DOJ think so too and can assemble evidence sufficient to specify those crimes and take them to trial. That would be the most likely persuasive demonstration that it wasn’t just Trump, but the core of the GOP that did it and will do it again given the chance.

    Speaking of the GOP, now, specifically in Texas, but I’m sure not only in formerly independent republic, there is an actual document, their “Permanent Platform”. It’s 40 pages of almost unrelieved horror, but it is honest about their goals. The amazing thing is that we, the non-MAGA public get to see it. https://texasgop.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/6-Permanent-Platform-Committee-FINAL-REPORT-6-16-2022.pdf

    Anybody who can read that thing and still vote for a Republican for any office is almost certainly lost to any appeal of reason or evidence about 1/6.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      The evidence that the committee is amassing and making public is amazing and damning. I don’t know why people aren’t thinking the DoJ is (a) paying attention and (b) has the same evidence and more. I don’t know whether they’ll bring a case against Trump, but they surely will against some in Congress and others.

      If accepting a pardon is an admission of guilt, asking for a pardon is a confession.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

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