Behavior Economics

How the Competing Narratives of Risk and Loss will affect the November 2022 Elections

Since the 2016 elections, American politics have been more than a little wonky, especially when Trump is on the ballot. 2022 is shaping up to be no different. Conventional wisdom ceases to be so conventional. Polling outcomes become less predictive; although, pollsters would have you believe that it isn’t true. What has held true is that the psychological motivations and drives of the electorate have remained predictive.

Characterizing Past Elections

Ever since the 2016 election, Ye Olde Blogge has used various psychological theories to analyze, characterize, and predict elections:

Image from an inaccessible Youtube account.

2016: THE THANKS OBAMA ELECTION. Obama had so completely and successfully pulled us out of the Repube-made Great Recession, beat back terrorism, prosecuted the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, addressed racism and police brutality, and a slew of other domestic social issues and scared the bejeesus out of a slew of white voters, that a majority of them were desperate for Trump.

We used three findings to help us understand how this could be: (1) The availability heuristic — what people think of immediately when asked to make a decision. (2) Decisions under uncertainty — how people assess risk and probability. And (3) the affect heuristic — how emotions influence our decisions. And we used Slovic’s conclusion that people use emotion over reason, pay attention to trivia, and cannot make good assessments of probability. And, sure ‘nough, Trump cheated his way to a slim victory.

2018. THE IF-SOMEONE-SHOWS-YOU-WHO-THEY-ARE ELECTION. We used racism to explain and predict the results of the 2018 mid-terms. It really is as simple as that. The racist dog whistles that the Repubes used up and down the tickets, across the states, and since Richard Nixon has kept the racist beating heart of America alive, ready, willing, and able to be exploited by those Machiavellian enough to do so, and, dammit, if those rascally Repubes didn’t purt near pull it off. What the fuck is wrong with white voters?!?

2020. THE SAFE-BET ELECTION. The past four years were such a train wreck that many Americans were looking for a safe bet. They not only were risk averse, their risk aversion had contracted up inside their bodies like the landing gear of an aircraft not to be seen again… at least until the next election. In the words of America’s other worst president, Thomas Harding, America was ready for a “Return to Normalcy.”

Characterizing the ’22 Elections

What are the psychological drivers of the 2022 elections? This election will turn on risk: our assessment and perception of risk.


Regular readers know two things about risk:

CONSERVATIVES ARE RISK AVERSE. Conservatives see the world as a dangerous place and are naturally cautious. They do not want to risk change; they cling to the old traditions, hierarchies, and ways of doing things. In America that means racial, sexual, class, and religious hierarchies. Thus, the divisive social issues and dog whistles that the Repubes have run on for the last couple of generations.

PEOPLE ABHOR RISK. It is one of the most established tenets of behavior economics: people will avoid taking a risk, unless it is to prevent a sure loss. In many ways, this principle is what drove the 2016 election. Obama’s election — the first BLACK man ever elected president — confirmed the worst fears of many white people: the Blacks were taking over! Whites would soon be a minority and at the mercy of the Blacks and Browns! They could not afford the loss of their status, so they took a chance on Trump. They came out in droves to vote for him. That

The power of the racial animus of most white people is demonstrated by their willingness to die for it. What else explains their #COVID19 deaths, opioid overdoses, gun suicides, willingness to live in Cancer Alley and die premature cancer deaths?

Seriously, the decline — DECLINING — in life expectancy of white middle-aged Americans tells you all you need to know. They are literally eating, drinking, drugging, and shooting themselves to death. Other demographic groups in the US continue to see gains in life expectancy. Other industrialized nations continue to see gains in life expectancy, but not in middle-aged white working class Americans. Their life expectancy has been declining since 1999.

Red states don’t provide adequate medical care, social services, minimum income, housing, or any other service to their constituents, and, thus, they live these awful gottamn lives watching their one solace, racism — feeling that they are better than the most well-off Black person — is being taken away from them. Without racism, what does the rural Christian white American have to live for? Apparently, fuck all.

Racial animus is a powerful motivator. They are willing to die rather than see the racial hierarchy in the US change. Never forget that.

Perceptions of Risk and Loss in the ’22 Election

How will each side or, rather, how should each side frame the election in terms of risk and loss?

Republican Framing

Repubes will focus on the economy and racist demagoguery. Why change what works? Since Ronald Reagan, Repubes have blown up the economy by giving massive tax cuts to the rich, waited for the succeeding Dem president to fix the economy again, and then attacked them for raising taxes. Why change now? Especially, when you have the added confusion of a pandemic and MAGA mishigas thrown in?

You may have noticed that Repubes keep doing the same things, pointing out gas prices, inflation, and the Southern border. They continually block any legislation that may address and alleviate these problems just so they can continue to harp upon them.

Another favorite trick is talk about crime! Crime in the streets! BLM! Antifa! Defund the police! The criminals that are coming for us. The illegals are out to take our jobs and commit our crimes. The immigrant caravans carrying monkeypox — the disease de jour — and traveling with whatever convenient boogeymen that they can dream up — Hunter Biden’s laptop, if nothing else.

If it weren’t so effective, it would be laughable in its predictability and effectiveness.

All of it is code for racial animus: fear of losing the dominate white culture. If you risk Democratic rule, then you will certainly lose the supremacy of white Christian culture!

Democratic Framing

The Democratic risk and loss messaging has to be about the big social issues of our day: abortion, gun violence, and the ongoing attack on our democracy. Their message must be that by electing Repubes, we face a sure loss of abortion, contraception, marriage equality, safety, and democracy.

By overturning Roe and states now outlawing abortion, placing criminal penalties on abortion, and placing limits on interstate travel for abortion, we now see the threat clearly. There is no denying that something fundamental has been lost even though it was being eroded for decades. There is a clear and present danger. The threat is palpable.

Now, there is serious talk of rolling back other rights to privacy guaranteed through the Fourteenth Amendment providing everyone due process before the law. Each of the rights that have been established by the courts over the past seventy years, marriage equality, access to contraception, interracial marriage, are now threatened.

Repubes are openly talking about sunsetting Medicare and Social Security. If they are willing to go after those two venerable social programs, they’ll sure as shit go after Section 8 housing and SNAP, too.

With extreme weather events happening daily somewhere in the country, climate change is undeniable and the need to address it becomes all the more urgent.

With Repube election supervisors refusing to certify this years primary results, it is easy to imagine that they will be refusing to certify the November 2022 results, too.

The 6 January Committee is clearly demonstrating — so clearly that the legacy media even has it right — that there was a vast coordinated conspiracy to overturn the peaceful transfer of power after an election in order to keep Trump in office.

All of these issues, and more, are sure losses that America will experience if Repubes are elected to office. In that sense, the electorate has no choice but to take a chance on Biden and a Democratic legislature and Democratic state and local governments.

The problem is that people are apt to return to old patterns if we get a sense of normalcy. Our old pattern was to counterbalance our government by electing more of the opposition party in the mid-term elections. This cannot be business as usual. There is too much at stake. Dem

Democrats have to cast this election as sure losses of rights and democracy if Republicans are elected and hope that it is sufficient to overcome the racial animus of white voters.

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Image Attribution

Gus takes a gamble–Pop-Sci-May-1953” by x-ray delta one is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

25 replies »

  1. In other words, all the Democrats need to do (actually, all they can do at this point) is to tell the truth loudly, consistently, clearly, and in unified chorus (always difficult for them) in simple terms of what is at stake and who (i.e., “You, not those other people, you; you, your kids, your mother, your town, your job – you, you, you) is going to surely lose each and every one of these things of great value on which you depend. Your choice is between doing something difficult and maybe risky, and seeing the country and your personal life go surely straight to Hell On Earth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      With our extreme weather events, aren’t we actually living in hell on earth? I think that may be the game changer. When people can see or experience something first hand moves it from the abstract and possible to the real and immediate. That’s also what is happening with the 6 January Committee.

      The other message from the Dems is that we cannot ever go back to business as usual. That was part of Biden’s appeal in 2020, but it just isn’t possible. We’ve got to be voting for the world we want and not the world we used to have.


      Liked by 1 person

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