POLITICAL observations & opinions

* the psychological minefield we need to traverse in order to win

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 14, 2008


Reflections on a quiet Sunday morning …

I have a great deal of trouble understanding voters who seem to vote against their own interests when they vote Republican.

It is tempting to write them off as stupid, fooled by the Republican lies, overly  concerned with personal, religious, and family issues that aren’t even the proper concern of government.

That may not be the most productive way to think … if we want to win.

Undecided voters are the battleground for this election. Committed Republicans, like committed Democrats, are not going to switch allegiances in any significant numbers.

So perhaps we, and the Obama-Biden campaign, should try to understand the psychological minefield we need to traverse in order to win those currently undecided votes.

Judith Warner’s column, and the article by Jonathan Haidt she cites, offer a roadway into that psychological terrain.


Judith Warner wrote with great perception in last week’s NYT …

  • “Palin Power” isn’t just about making hockey moms feel important. It’s not just about giving abortion rights opponents their due.
  • It’s also, in obscure ways, about making yearnings come true — deep, inchoate desires about respect and service, hierarchy and family that have somehow been successfully projected onto the figure of this unlikely woman and have stuck.
  • For those of us who can’t tap into those yearnings, it seems the Palin faithful are blind – to the contradictions between her stated positions and the truth of the policies she espouses, to the contradictions between her ideology and their interests.
  • But Jonathan Haidt, an associate professor of moral psychology at the University of Virginia, argues in an essay this month, “What Makes People Vote Republican?”, that it’s liberals, in fact, who are dangerously blind.
  • Haidt has conducted research in which liberals and conservatives were asked to project themselves into the minds of their opponents and answer questions about their moral reasoning.
  • Conservatives, he said, prove quite adept at thinking like liberals, but liberals are consistently incapable of understanding the conservative point of view.
  • “Liberals feel contempt for the conservative moral view, and that is very, very angering. Republicans are good at exploiting that anger,” he told me in a phone interview.

Jonathan Haidt’s long, rather difficult article, referenced in Warner’s column, includes the following observations …

  • Why do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies?
  • … when gut feelings are present, dispassionate reasoning is rare.
  • Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society.
  • When Democrats try to explain away these positions …  they err, they alienate, and they earn the label “elitist.”


Read Judith Warner’s column, and the comments in response to that column, at … http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/no-laughing-matter/

Read Jonathan Haidt’s article at … http://edge.org/3rd_culture/haidt08/haidt08_index.html




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