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Beyond Belief

The biggest revelation for me from the election has come from pieces like this:

The revelation is this: People can be told something, understand what they’re being told, be presented with evidence of it, even have the speaker say that this is something they want to and are going to do, and just flat-out not believe it. In this case, Trump saying that the Affordable Care Act needed to be repealed (and replaced, but with no suggestions as to what it would be replaced with), which is entirely plausible considering repealing the ACA has been a cornerstone of Republican priorities in Congress for the last 4 years. There’s no good reason to think the Congress and Trump wouldn’t repeal it, yet people voted for him despite feeling the ACA is valuable and important.

Maybe this characteristic of voters has been obvious to everyone else, but it was a surprise to me. (And, frankly, I haven’t generally observed politicians, analysts, pundits or other voters acting as if they realized this.)

Most voters I think vote for a candidate expecting they will renege on – or may be flat-out lying – about some of their campaign statements, since that is, unfortunately, part and parcel of politics (and political reality) for most candidates. But it seems remarkable to me to vote for someone expecting that one of their key statements, about something which is important to one’s life and health (literally), is something they’d go back on.

(It’s easy to feel schadenfreude for people in the articles, but I think we should have more empathy than that; I think things are going to get pretty rough for a lot of Trump voters in the next few years, and no one should take joy in that.)

To my mind, this puts a stake through the heart of any “best interests” argument about voters (most of which I’ve found pretty weak anyway): Clearly large numbers of voters either don’t vote in their best interests, and one reason is that some of them simply don’t believe that a candidate will act against those interests even when the candidate flat-out says that they will.

I don’t know what this means for candidates’ campaigns, elections, political organizations, analysis, punditry, or just plain watching all of those. But I find it unnervingly weird that many people voted to delete Obamacare (much as they voted for racism) even when that’s not what they wanted. I know that choosing a candidate is a matter of compromise, but geez.

4 comments to Beyond Belief

  • Brian

    The Republican party has been good at getting blocs of people to vote against their common interests for decades now. Consider white blue-collar workers. The economic planks in the Republican platform are (and long have been) almost uniformly bad for this bloc. Yet Republicans now take a huge share of its votes.
    I’m not saying that this bloc is necessarily voting irrationally, though it sure seems that way. But I guess other Republican positions (perhaps stick-it-to-the-gays, or war-on-christmas) may simply be more important than economic stuff for many white blue-collar workers.

    • Certainly I agree that there are many other reasons people might vote for Republicans, from ignorance to simply feeling some GOP positions they agree with are more important than other GOP positions that they disagree with. But I don’t think I’ve seen a chunk of voters who voted Republican even though the GOP position on an issue very important to them was different, because they actually didn’t believe the GOP would follow through on their position.

  • Mike

    Have you read any of Dan Ariely’s books on the subject of people making decisions that are not in their own best interest?

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