People’s economic beliefs explain the close vote.
However, media-driven party stereotypes had more influence than well-thought-out reasoning.
In other words, people believe what they want to believe, hear what they want to hear, reason with their beliefs more than with external information, and vote according to what they believe.
And here’s what Trump’s voters believed, generally speaking:
- Republicans = good for stock market, pocketbook economics, Christian values, working class, nothing-for-free, leaders, heroes. President is the leader.
- Democrats = Arrogant liberals, bad for corporations and stock market, free stuff for everyone, immigrants, more concerned about social justice than economic issues, secular values. “Socialists”. Congress is a disaster.
The Democratic Party was ineffective in addressing these stereotypes and countering the misinformation and slant put out on Fox and Facebook. And while they used to own the image of the party that thinks about family money matters, more and more people now believe the Republican Party cares about wage stagnation and health care costs. You can’t get to this conclusion objectively, yet here we are.
Campaign-wise, the Democratic Party made a strategic error in selecting an older, career politician. That did little to challenge the aggressively marketed negative stereotypes about Democrats. The Democratic Party ended up missing out on a substantial candidate advantage they should have had over an incompetent, disrespectful, would-be dictator. In the end, the 65-and-over crowd didn’t come over to Biden as hoped, and the anti-Trump Republicans were stuck with a lesser of two evils choice. They reverted to basic impressions and biases and loyalties. It’s Marketing 101.
A lot of votes for Trump were just votes against Democrats.
I think the Democratic Party just has no hope of ever recovering from these negative stereotypes within our current political system. ‘Two-party’ has been too well gamed and trapped.
The marketing of positive Republican stereotypes and negative Democratic stereotypes has overpowered the masses. The right dominates the persuasive media landscape.
Think about it. The most watched news channel is Fox News. Daily data on clicks and shares on Facebook shows that the top 10 are hard right sources, virtually every day. The most downloaded news app is Fox News. There are far more popular right-wing personalities and shows on talk radio/XM/podcasts than there are progressive ones.
Cause and effect need to be distinguished, though. Do more people watch Fox because America is becoming more conservative, or is it the other way around? Are people getting hooked? Or is it a feedback loop?
I think it’s the latter two, because that would explain a lot of the paradoxes of Trump’s supporters, who are voting against what they want:
- The majority of Americans want the actual benefits of the ACA, but almost half just voted for the party that is trying to have the laws overturned.
- Most Americans consider the national debt to be a serious concern, but half just voted for the party that would increase defense spending even more.
- Most Americans don’t trust the financial industry to self-regulate, but about half just voted for the party that wants to privatize Social Security.
- Most Americans believe global warming is real, man-made, and serious, but fewer than half think we should do anything about it yet.
These paradoxes are telling us something — the American media landscape is either heavily weighted or exceptionally effective, or both, in building those Republican stereotypes. The unexplained high level of public support for irrational cultural narratives also points to the same cause. Consider, for example: the federal response to the pandemic has been good or great (wtf?!?); all news and information is opinion and lies, so it doesn’t matter which channel you watch; Russia was not really spreading disinformation on Facebook, regardless of what the experts concluded; the impeachment witnesses and evidence were all a giant conspiracy by hard-core never-Trumpers; and…my personal favorite for most ridiculous claim… the right’s views and voices are being censored!
In effect, the more people listen, watch, and read, the more exposure they will have to the most popular sources. And that is Republican/conservative media. And the exposure is effective because they are using the techniques of propaganda more than the other side — fear, disinformation, fake claims, false flags, etc. Then people go into the voting booth and vote what they believe, even when it is opposed to what they want. This explains the paradoxes.
By the way, conservative media domination also explains why the voting numbers now reliably slide a few points to the right during the last week and days before an election. This is a reflection of apolitical people cranking up their listening, watching and reading at the last minute, in an attempt to be somewhat informed. As they do so, they hit on more conservative Republican-favoring messages than Democratic-favoring messages. It was at least a 5-pt surprise this year, right?
I don’t see how to undo the dominant market positions or challenge the stereotypes that conservative elites and the Republican Party have already built. However, I favor voting/political reforms as the path forward, because these have the potential to affect party and candidate positioning. I favor mandatory voting, like Australia has, or ranked-choice voting. But I think less ambitious ideas would also work. Even just making election day a national holiday would be helpful.
The Republican Party strategy has been to dominate the news and information universe, polarize the best issues, and own the stronger poles (i.e. win a battle of party stereotypes). Voting reforms have the potential to change the calculus for winning elections in ways that require them to abandon the strategy.
I am less optimistic about trying to change the media landscape itself. I suppose we could try boycotts and other economic incentives. Or legal actions against entities that are aggressively engaged in Federalist propaganda. Or media reform legislation. I just think changing the massive industry of Republican/conservative media is the larger mountain to climb. It would be easier to change how voting gets done, and I think it might be enough.