Who Votes and Why: The Tribes, The Unconscious

Who votes—and why? Who will vote in the midterms? Is tribalism key? What about other factors, both conscious and unconscious?

People don’t vote for what they want. They vote for who they are. All politics is identity politics. This Opinion headline from the Washington Post in August of this year denotes an increasingly popular notion regarding our nation’s increasing tribalism.

Indeed, a recent study by Real Clear Politics, as reported by Carl M. Cannon, found five such tribes in the U.S. The following breaks down who votes—and doesn’t—in which tribe:

  1. The Resistance (26%): mainly Democrats who are anti-Trump and eager to take back Congress in the midterms.
  2. Mainline GOP (14%): largely older, male, white, educated, suburban, loyal to Trump; mainly concerned about taxes and religious freedom.
  3. MAGA (12%): although Trump’s base, fewer MAGA’s than Mainline GOP’ers plan to vote in midterms; health care a main priority.
  4. Independent Blues (24%): more Democrat than not, though many actually wish for a third party, something in between the views of Dems and GOP.
  5. The Detached (24%): younger overall, less employed, less politically inclined—though a tad more Democrat leaning; least likely to vote in midterms.

Results of another recent study by More in Common can be found in a lengthy PDF called “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape.” Seven distinct “American tribes” are identified versus the five above.

Characterizing voters by tribes, however, certainly doesn’t explain all that goes into our decision-making at the polls. Kaitlin Goodrich, Brainscape:

We like to think that our important decisions are always made consciously, but in reality, unconscious thought-processes, emotions and prejudices are almost always involved. That’s why our voting behaviors can be so easily influenced by subtle psychological cues. In fact, according to Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University, ‘all decision-making is unconscious’ when it comes to politics.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Three of the most significant themes, says Goodrich, that arise related to our unconscious selections are the following:

    1. Negativity and disgust: Negative info affects us more than positive—and not necessarily against the target of negativity.
    2. Perception matters: Physical appearance can count, but even more so a feeling that the candidate is similar to us in various ways.
    3. Fear works: Especially with conservatives. But fear-based info can backfire if it stimulates a search to learn the truth, which often runs counter to what’s being said.

Some additionally “surprising findings” about factors that affect the vote, as reported by Vinita Mehta, PhD,EdM, Psychology Today, are listed below with text excerpts.

  1. Weather: Better weather, more turnout. “…What’s more, when temperatures were higher, voters were more likely to show leniency with the party in power and support the incumbent party.”
  2. Weather, again: “…Studies show that weather also affects mood, and in turn could influence decision making in the voting booth.”
  3. Competence: “…Candidates with competent faces or competent voices garnered more votes – but the effect of facial competence was nearly three times that of vocal competence.”
  4. Mental overload: A research study found that “…participants who express politically liberal views support black candidates more often than white candidates when the cognitive task was simple — but were less likely to do so when they were mentally overloaded.”

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