Politics as Tribe
Severely partisan-minded people do not, as a rule, engage in rational policy discussion. Instead, they immediately start calling names in an effort to choke off any discussion before it can really get started. What this shows is politics at its most tribal. It isn't about issues - it's about identity.
This is not new, of course, as politicians have been playing their electoral bases for suckers since at least the Roman Republic. But, despite all that, loyal Democrats are stepping up to defend their guy just as viciously as loyal Republicans went to bat for W. It is almost as if they are unable to recognize that they are backing policies which are exactly opposite of what their guy promised in order to get elected.
What gives with that, anyway? Iíve pondered that question for years, but finally got some inkling of an answer from a study done during the 2004 presidential election cycle. Researchers at Emory University did a study on both Democrats and Republicans to determine how hyper-partisan individuals processed information.
Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjectsí brains were monitored while they pondered.
What did the researchers find? Essentially, partisan Democrats and Republicans are completely unable to see contradictions on their own side of the fence.
The tests involved pairs of statements by the candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, that clearly contradicted each other. The test subjects were asked to consider and rate the discrepancy. Then they were presented with another statement that might explain away the contradiction. The scenario was repeated several times for each candidate.
The brain imaging revealed a consistent pattern. Both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate.
Overall, here were the results:
* Partisan beliefs are calcified, meaning partisan people can learn very little from new data
* Partisans spin data in their minds until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones. They literally feel a rush from ignoring facts which contradict their desired outcomes.
Partisan politics isnít about facts or issues or policies. Itís about identity. In other words, it isnít about what a member of my tribe says or does, what matters is that they are part of my tribe. So if a Democrat sells out totally on issue after issue, the Democrats simply ignore that fact and keep on vilifying the opposition. The Republicans do the same thing. In fact, partisan minds even reinforce this process by giving their owners a rush from ignoring contradictory data.
There is no logic to this. Which is why rational policy debate is out the window. How can you have a rational debate when you are totally blind to the contradictory nature of the policies emanating from your own side, and are incapable of learning from new data? In fact, how can you even begin to argue rationally if you are incapable of evaluating your own sideís ideas?
Politics as Tribe | National Policy Institute