Once an election season starts, politicians appear to act according to their own separate rulebook. But one of the most convenient things to forget when observing their behavior is that politics is a tough game.
We often make the mistake of thinking that politicians don’t have a clue what they’re doing. These things are hard. How do you structure a trade deal? How do you negotiate with China? What do you know about immigration? These are extremely hard problems with few ready solutions in a sea of self-interested partisanship.
But politicians don’t just have to untangle such issue intricacies. They also have to appeal to what might be simultaneously the most fickle and discerning crowd out there: voters.
Elections are entertainment for the masses. The U.S. electorate this year will be the country’s most diverse ever, and that is evident in several Super Tuesday states holding primaries or caucuses on March 1 in which blacks could have a significant impact.
In five of 12 Super Tuesday states, blacks account for at least 15% of the electorate, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of 2014 census data. Black eligible voters have the largest footprint in Georgia (31%) and Alabama (26%), while Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas also have sizable black electorates.
In a reversal of historical migration trends, Southern states have seen their black populations increase more than twice as fast as non-Southern states since 1990. From 1910 to 1970, 6 million blacks left the South, with many pursuing industrial jobs in Northern cities in what is called the Great Migration. But since then, blacks have increasingly chosen to live in the South.
Blacks far outnumber Hispanics among eligible voters in the five Southern Super Tuesday states with large black electorates. For example, among eligible voters in Georgia, 2.2 million are blacks, compared with 291,000 Hispanics and 179,000 Asians.
Blacks have long leaned toward the Democratic Party, according to Pew Research Center surveys. In 2014, 80% identified as or leaned Democratic, compared with 56% of Hispanics and 40% of whites.
Hispanics have a large presence in the Super Tuesday states of Texas and Colorado. In Texas, Hispanics make up 28% of the electorate and outnumber blacks 4.8 million to 2.2 million. In Colorado, Hispanics make up a rising share of eligible voters, standing at nearly 15% in 2014, up from nearly 13% in 2008. Overall, Hispanics favor the Democratic Party, but to a lesser degree than blacks. Exit polls in 2014 in some states showed significant shares of Hispanic voters supporting Republican candidates in races for governor and U.S. Senate.
Several other Super Tuesday states have largely white electorates. For example, whites make up 95% of eligible voters in Vermont and 88% of eligible voters in Minnesota.
Alaska stands apart from other Super Tuesday states because of its large Native American population. American Indians or Alaska Natives make up 13% of Alaska’s electorate (and in Oklahoma they make up 7% of eligible voters.)
We peel back campaign chicanery and party posturing to show how politicians walk the tightrope of public opinion by crafting their messages, performing acrobatic acts of pandering, and actually changing constituents’ opinions to win elections.
There is a signature dilemma of representative democracy: What happens when a politician must choose between an unpopular policy that she believes is in the public’s interest and a popular one that she believes is not?
The game-theoretic model lays out such scenarios for incumbents seeking reelection. On one hand, politicians can display true leadership: Go with the better policy, even though it flies in the face of public opinion. The flipside would be to pander: Support the popular policy, even though politicians know it isn’t in the public’s best interest.
Which do they choose? Often, it depends on how long they’ve been in office. Newly elected leaders who display leadership early on have time for the public to come around to the idea that the policy was good. They actually have an electoral incentive not to pander, even though pandering would give them a short-term jump in popularity. But, as the election gets close, then the politician has more incentive to pander, because it’s less likely the voters are going to observe the effects before the next election.
This tension could help explain, for example, some curious about-faces on issues like free trade during election seasons. Voters typically think that free trade is a bad thing. Economists think it’s a good thing. Politicians probably know more about what economists think about free trade than a typical citizen does, but come election time, politicians become less pro-free trade. And they’ll do a variety of other things that voters think is in their interest, but that the politician doesn’t think is in their interest.
In addition to the timing of the election, the closeness of the race can also play a part in determining the heft of this incentive to pander. A politician who’s far ahead has the luxury of ignoring the urge to pander. Similarly, one who’s far behind could also be disinclined to pander, opting instead for an unpopular policy that serves voters’ interests, in the hope of being electorally rewarded if the public changes its views. But in close contests, where any advantage could be pivotal in securing the election, the pull to pander is especially intense.
Any time there’s a tight race, we get really worried for policymaking. Our concern is that people are going to take lots of positions that sound good but aren’t.
Conventional wisdom says that Americans like optimistic leaders. Voters place optimism among the highest-ranked traits in a politician, above charisma and daring, and below only reliability and intelligence.
But too much of a sunny disposition can backfire. Voters are harsh judges of politicians who seem to have direct control over outcomes that fail to meet expectations, such as a president directing a foreign-policy disaster. They also punish politicians who fail to make the right call even when they have no meaningful control over the outcome, such as a leader of a small country who says the global economy will pick up and then it doesn’t.
Optimism is a double-edged sword. Even if politicians can’t be blamed for poor results, they get punished for being too optimistic because it signals that they may be incompetent, that they weren’t able to accurately predict an outcome.
When it comes to safeguarding reelection prospects, the better bet might be to under-promise and over-deliver. The Iraq War is an example. Instead of painting the war as a challenging, long-term engagement, the George W. Bush administration had Dick Cheney go on the morning news shows and make predictions about how quick the war will be, how they will love us after we depose Saddam Hussein. Even though Bush eventually won reelection in 2004, it’s likely that he would have enjoyed a much easier election by setting more somber expectations.
Candidates shouldn’t temper their optimistic demeanors, but if they aren’t certain of the outcome, they could face steep repercussions. Think hard about whether you absolutely need to set the high expectations to convince people. If you’ve got a list of arguments for a policy that you can bring to the table that don’t have to do with setting expectations, that’s the better way to do it.
Do politicians who lie win more often? Quite the opposite. For politicians picking their way down the campaign trail, there often seems to be little downside in delivering empty promises to get elected. But do lies actually help a candidate succeed? The pervasive presence of lying actually increases the level of honesty in campaigns.
Imagine placing politicians on a spectrum. At one end is a perfectly honest candidate who is either unable or unwilling to promise things that deviate from his or her true intentions, whether for moral, personal, or societal reasons. In other words, a candidate who considers campaign promises to be binding. At the other end is a candidate who feels no such compunctions, and is eager and willing to misrepresent his or her true intentions. In short, someone who is willing to say anything to get elected.
A basic conclusion would be that dishonest candidates should dominate elections. After all, they can promise everything that honest candidates can to sway voters, and then some. And yet, this isn’t quite the case.
There’s a natural limit to the effectiveness of lying. The reason stems from the fact that voters don’t take what a candidate says at face value. They’re also trying to get a bead on the politician’s character. Aside from whatever they feel about the policies on display, voters don’t want to elect people they suspect are untrustworthy.
In other words, a field of candidates willing to misrepresent their true intentions and march in perfect lockstep with public opinion creates a strategic incentive for a candidate to take what might be a more unpopular stand, thus signaling a level of sincerity. If they’re all liars, then there’s an opportunity for someone to distinguish themselves by being a little more extreme, but being a little more honest.
Indeed, politicians might be wise to say some things that are discordant with what the voters want. In a sense, agitate them and displease them a little bit, because you’re signaling that you’re not just saying what they want to hear, that you take positions you believe in.
For a lot of people, the appeal with Trump is that they see him as this independent figure who speaks his mind and isn’t pandering. To his supporters, he’s someone who has his own positions, makes up his mind quickly, and, because he’s independently rich, isn’t pressured by outside interests. Is this the strong guy who’s going to do great things? In some sense, people would love to have someone like that in power.
But there is a note of caution regarding the downside of being seen as too much of a loose cannon — something that Trump might encounter if he wins the nomination: This captures his appeal, but also his limitations. It’s one thing to be independent, but if you’re not responsive at all to what the public wants, then it’s really dangerous.
Sometimes voters outright disagree with politicians, particularly on hot-button issues like the death penalty, abortion, or climate change. But studies show that politicians can sway a voter’s opinion simply by changing the angle of their messages.
A senator might tell a fellow pro-immigration supporter about an amendment she introduced to allow more green cards for parents of U.S. citizens, but mention to an anti-immigration constituent that she voted for an amendment providing more money for border security. So, without being entirely dishonest, the senators nonetheless presented a very different face to different audiences.
Senators were able to boost their support among constituents who disagreed with them on the issue by sending tailored letters. In fact, in some instances, the senators could confuse people into thinking they took the opposite position from the one they explicitly stated earlier in the letter.
These people are good strategic communicators who can potentially take very extreme positions that are out of step with their constituents but then massage them with language.
Politicians might not even need to do that much to change their voters’ opinions. Overall voters do not change their approval of legislators who stake out positions they oppose. Voters are also significantly more likely to change their stance and agree with their legislator’s position. What’s even more astounding is that these patterns do not change depending on whether the legislator provided arguments for her policy positions. In other words, efforts to convince constituents are almost entirely unnecessary. They adopt the legislators’ positions on the issues just as readily without any justification.
It’s possible that when people learn that their representatives are pursuing policies they oppose, they decide to defer to their representatives’ policy judgment rather than judge their representatives’ actions negatively.
This is strong evidence that, rather than being constrained by public opinion, political elites have broad leeway to shape it. Several things could explain why. First, for as much as we complain about politics, we might have high levels of social trust in our elected officials. Or it could be a psychological reaction to authority.
Another possibility is that people just really don’t care that much about these issues. They’re not going to spend the time and effort to research and understand every single complex issue, which in some ways is the same thing as saying that they’re willing to trust politicians.
Some people say this is bad news for democracy. Actually it as very good news for our system. There wouldn’t be benefits of having representatives if they always just did what a majority of people wanted. At least on many issues, politicians could say what they really think and stand up for what they believe in.
American politics are far more exciting, consequential and charismatic than European politics. This is in part due to the status of the United States among the democracies of the world as the leading Superpower. The world has for a century turned on the American axis. Yet, it is more than just power with a capital P. The United States – politically, aesthetically and culturally – is a far more vibrant and glamorous country than Britain and EU, and thanks to the creative power and influence of the American entertainment industry with its citadel of Hollywood, churns out American politicos who run political campaigns as if they were producing blockbuster movies.
The American political process – with the myriad of domestic and international policy issues involved, passionate civic organizing & quirky public engagement along with the cast of larger than life political characters – has always had a stronger grip on my imagination and attention than the dreary, trivial, boring and deeply parochial political village of Westminster. Dipping into pop culture, if American and British politics were to be compared to television soap dramas, the US polity would surely resemble an episode of CBS’s 1980s global mega hit Dallas which dominated American and World TV ratings for much of that decade – and the UK polity a cross between EastEnders meets Emmerdale.
Only in America could a Head of State have his regime brought down by a newspaper with the saga turned into a film All the President’s Men while only in Britain could the current Mayor of its Capital City simultaneously sit in the lower house of its National Parliament – supposedly able to carry out two publicly funded jobs at the same time – without so much as a howl of protest from the British electorate (or media) due to the fact that when compared to the rest of the grey British political class Boris Johnston is considered a colorful character.
One wonders what the reaction in New York City amongst the voters and press would have been if Mayor de Blasio had followed Boris Johnson’s greedy example and announced he was running for the House of Representatives and would still carry on as NYC Mayor. Something tells me – unlike Londoners – New Yorkers would not have taken such a proposition lying down. We also wonder if the Mayor of London claims two publicly funded salaries and two publicly funded expense accounts for the two jobs he performs as if he were Superman, though without the awesome splendor of Henry Cavill’s Superman physique.
The old adage that democratic, electoral politics is acting for ugly people rings true when one casts one’s eye over the green benches of the British House of Commons. British MPs – as a body of people – are not exactly the easiest on the eye, putting it politely. The vast majority of Members of Parliament, both in the Commons and Lords, are physically underwhelming and ascetically un-photogenic, yet ironically this seems no restraint on many of them posing for the television cameras and seeking out publicity at the drop of a hat.
This may sound superficial; however, it goes to the heart psychologically of why many people stand for Parliament in Britain and other democratic political systems – not out of any high minded ideological, intellectual principles and convictions – rather a burning desire to achieve the personal recognition and attention to massage their swollen egos which eluded many of them throughout their lives prior to becoming an MP. A very senior British politician once told me when it came to the fickle voting public the most important attributes of appealing to a democratic electorate in a 24/7 mass media/consumer/entertainment age was not your political beliefs, policies, strategic vision, intellect, rhetoric or life/professional experience – rather how you look and how you sound – than anything you actually say, do or believe in.
This also goes a long way to explaining the rivalry that exists within political parties. The majority of politicians in a democracy have to go out of their way to artificially attract attention to themselves and generate interest in their persona among the public while a tiny minority of democratic politicians attract attention naturally through the effortless way of their being. From an anthropological Darwinian perspective, in a society and political system of mass democracy, you have people who stand out of a crowd due to the dominance of their physical presence, personality, style and charisma. Then you have the majority of people who are the crowd and blend into each other forming a sea of unremarkable and forgettable faces.
You have a tiny minority of people who can turn heads by just walking down a street or command the attention of a room full of people simply by entering it as they are blessed with the natural ability to captivate others just through being themselves. However, this blessing can also be a curse, as those few politicians who do possess natural star power must contend with the envy of other politicos (and the voting public) who are forever trapped within the confines of the supporting cast yet crave to be the lead actor.
Indeed, the world could be soon presented with an American Presidential Election reminiscent and worthy of one of the greatest television shows ever to grace the small screen – the fantastic Dallas mentioned above. If it is to be Donald Trump for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats come November 2016, the contest for the White House would be like Trump as the ruthless, megalomaniac (but entertaining and loveable) scoundrel JR Ewing (played to perfection by the masterly Larry Hagman) doing battle in Southfork ranch (White House) with Pamela Barnes Ewing (played with equal perfection by the brilliant Victoria Principal) in the form of Mrs Clinton.
Americans and American politicians are heavily influenced by Hollywood, so if it is to be Trump vs. Clinton, it will be intriguing to see if Americans would rather have JR Ewing calling the shots in the Oval Office or Pamela Barnes Ewing. This in a nutshell explains why Donald Trump has taken off the way he has within the American body politic and the Republican Party. Trump, unlike the rest of the GOP field, is entertaining and compelling precisely because of his controversial charisma. The overlap between American television programs, music, films and plays with its politics is institutionalized.
The multi-billion dollar American Presidential Election cycle is, in a way, an extension of the multi-billion dollar Los Angeles entertainment industry. Why else did Mrs Clinton turn to Hollywood movie mogul Steven Spielberg to recommend media consultants to help coach her with her public oratory and stump speeches? Why else in US Presidential election campaigns is so much money spent on television advertising, so much time and resource spent on television interviews and television debates, social media outreach, the courting and roll out of celebrity endorsements, make-up, clothes, hair styles et al.
Western democratic publics are not the most politically aware and educated, policy astute and erudite of peoples with most of the western democratic consumer masses more interested in the latest reality TV show, pop band, goings on of the grotesque Khardashian family, shopping at the mall, the latest gadget, internet trends, talking about what they had for dinner on Facebook/Twitter, taking selfies or decorating their suburban homes. Of course non-political types would retort that this is what normal people are interested in, however I always remember what the inspirational American Army Ranger and motivational fitness guru Greg Plitt said about normality: Normal is what weak people call living… I call it death.
Therein lays the rotten truth of the Western democratic capitalist model. It is nothing more than a facade and charade in order to keep the weak and feckless masses entertained and distracted rather than truly politically, intellectually, culturally, physically and economically empowered while the elites exercise real power, furthering their own policy agendas and interests alongside manipulating the masses through the false language and corrupted institutions of so-called democracy. Western democratic publics moan and complain incessantly about their democratically elected leaders. Yet these democratic leaders are merely reflections of the democratic systems and democratic publics who elected them in the first place. Democracies deserve the leaders they elect.
The idea that Western style democracy is the most superior system of government perfected by humankind is a dangerous fallacy and nonsense. After all, Weimar Germany boasted one of the most democratic constitutions and systems of government ever engineered in the democratic West and we all remember what that led to – the democratic election of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. Many people who know little of history forget Hitler came to power through a democratic election.
“I’ll have those niggers voting Democratic for the next two hundred years” – Lyndon Johnson
Citizens who make the big mistake of voting try to choose the less evil. Smart citizens stay home, voting for nobody. Nobody is the best politician. Nobody is not evil. Voting is a religious ritual. Just as the ancient religious rituals served to confirm the divine right of ancient kings, the ballot box is used today to bestow the same kind of blessing on the secular rulers.
Monarchies actually safeguarded peoples’ lives and liberty far more than democracy has. Western leaders routinely speak of democracy as a virtue unto itself, even using religious phrasing such as rooted in the sanctity of the individual. In actuality, democracy is simply a decision-making process in which the majority gets its way. Democracy is the dictatorship of majority.
Do not vote, as it encourages the bastards! A large turnout gives legitimacy to rulers and sedates the people. Voting is merely the mechanism by which the extremely corrupt political system fools hoi polloi into supporting it. No human has any right to rule and rob another. Yet government, and the voting process by which it is legalized, is in the exclusive business of ruling and robbing others.
A majority of the public harbors antimarket, antiforeign, and make-work biases. The market’s beneficial undesigned order is counterintuitive. Systemic irrationality is an excellent reason to keep important matters out of the political system. Even politicians who know better will be motivated by their passion for power to ignore their best judgment and cater to the voters’ irrationality.
Two major parties in every Western country try to commoditize all voters, transforming them to vegetables in the center field! Rabblerousers gravitate to two dominant parties running for the center, trying to offend as few people as possible. This produces a groupthink where everybody avoids the issues when they’re running for office. Most Westerners are disappointed in both major parties. They’re hungry for a new approach, a new party, truly committed to substantive ideas, and not just to getting elected and focusing on their particular election cycles.
Lemmings are Arctic rodents of poor eyesight, which can drown en masse. American lemmings vote for Republicans or Decocrats. Europeans behave like lemmings when they masochistically vote for kleptocrats. British lemmings vote for Whigs or Tories. Are you a lemming? Are you a victim of taxation and kleptocracy? It’s time for soulsearching and vision examination.
Kleptocrats promote phobias and bogeys in order to take the attention of voters away from taxation and kleptocracy, and to have a fantastic opportunity to present themselves as Moses who leads the people to salvation! Rabblerousers make a living out of convincing people that the sky is falling. The essence of statesmanship in a free society is just the opposite, helping people understand the facts and proposing real solutions to real problems.
Don’t vote, it just encourages the bastards. Voting tells politicians that they’ve fooled you. Either you, the voter, are so vacuous that a sweating politician will determine how you vote, or perhaps worse, you’re so naive that no matter how many failed political promises you’ve been fed, you’ll always believe the next one will actually be fulfilled.
Venitism is a new paradigm in economics and politics.
Black Hole: Taxation is armed robbery that feeds the black hole of political corruption; it’s the perfect index of corruption and tyranny. Only evil governments tax citizens and companies.
Constitution: The only purpose of a constitution is to protect citizens from government abuse. Reform treaties of a confederation, such as the Lisbon Treaty of EU, not voted by the citizens are null and void.
Corruption: Political corruption is proportional to the square of the size of the government.
Democracy: Every democracy is eventually hijacked by rabblerousers, pullpeddlers, clans of kleptocrats, bumptious bugaboos, busybodies, butterbabies, nabobs of nepotism, cranks of cronyism, pusillanimous pussyfooters, riffraffs of rascals, socialist sophists, and Machiavellian mafiosi. Democracy tends to kleptocracy. Anarchy should replace democracy.
Depression: Only governments can cause economic depressions and funny money. Lower tax rates, a reduction in the burden of government, and elimination of kleptocracy and VAT are the only way to boost growth.
Education: There is no direct relationship between education and schooling. You might be schooled but uneducated, and you might be educated but unschooled. Schools are concentration camps for the drones of society. Unschooling is much better than schooling. Internet is the best source of knowledge and information, replacing schools, libraries, media, parliaments, and postoffice.
Environment: The best way to save the environment is vasectomy. Deadly viruses are Gaia’s antibiotics against the cancer of overpopulation.
Equality: Death is the only equalizer. Egalitarianism brings death to society, transforming citizens to zombies.
Evolution: The ultimate phase of human evolution is the complete domination of soul.
Government: The only purpose of government is to protect citizens from criminals. Public services, central banks, and fiat money should be abolished.
Heroism: Entrepreneurs, innovators, anarchists, and heretics are the real heroes.
Insurance: Citizens with proper individual retirement accounts and health savings accounts should be allowed to opt out of State Insurance.
Intervention: Any government intervention deteriorates an existing trend. Laissez-faire is the only progressive policy.
Laws: All laws that citizens are required to know should not exceed 300 pages of type size 12. When a new law is born, another law must die.
Legislature: Parliaments should be abolished, because they continuously create laws that enslave citizens, constrain economic activity, loot producers, reward drones, and encourage political corruption.
Misery: Throwing money to misery brings more misery.
Money: A deluge of fiat money brings financial plague and haemorrhage of economy. Real money is tied up to precious metals and strategic metals.
Patriotism: Patriotism is addiction to local hysteria.
Privacy: Nobody, including your government, has the right to break into your home, your land, your accounts, your computer, your files, and your secrets. You have the natural right to protect your privacy from intruders. Molon Labe!
Property: Governments should not own or regulate any property, including electromagnetic waves. The first individual who improves or cultivates any unclaimed property is entitled to that property. Governments cannot own, allocate, regulate, or manipulate frequency fields and media. Eminent domain is null and void.
Religion: God delusion is a neurosis of hoi polloi. Faith is retarded thinking, opposite of reason.
Selfownership: You own your body and your soul, and nobody should dictate what you take in and what you take out. Speech, education, heresy, habeas corpus, military service, mating, healthcare, food, abortion, cloning, drugs, guns, and euthanasia should be personal choices.
Style: Your soul needs to resonate with mighty words and unique acts that express your style and destiny. Your government cannot dictate your language, your words, and your culture. Resonate now and sing your song!
System: The most efficient political system is anarchy, where everything is private, there are no taxes at all, there is no government, and there is no parliament. Government has deteriorated to a racket that benefits the political elite by taking money from average people.
Taxes: Taxes destroy the economy. Raising tax rates is masochism. Smart stimulus is to cut tax rates. Stupidus stimulus is to increase spending, which stimulates the cancer of statism!
For more insightful understanding, invite Basil Venitis to speak at your meeting. firstname.lastname@example.org