WHY VOTERS ARE ALWAYS RATIONAL (I OF II)
A large number of people chose to read my August 13 article Republicans Are Dying and a number of you took the time to comment. I appreciate your doing that. Several of those who commented were exercised by my suggestion that people are always rational. You just did not believe that it was so.
Politically, voters being rational is more important than we might first suspect. If they are really rational we can begin to predict what they will do. If they are not rational things become much more random. It would be more difficult for those who hope to help people to really do that.
And, most of us, without giving it much thought, assume that people are rational. Obviously political candidates do. A whole profession of campaign experts has sprung up (good news for Political Science majors) based on the assumption that the voters are rational and that their responses to political campaigns can be modified.
To begin, there are going to be a tiny number of people, who because of cancer or tumors, chemical imbalances, or malfunctioning brain circuitry, are going to be truly irrational. No one is going to struggle with those conditions more than the victims themselves. Their problems are tragic, their numbers small. Most will be incapable of being voters.
The responses of the vast majority of voters should be to us both rational and predictable. What we need is a simple non-technical explanation of their thought processes that will allow us to understand why they vote as they do. That could make it possible to understand why the voters’ puzzling responses are, in fact, predictable. So, let us begin with a shortcut non-technical theory of human behavior.
As we grow through the years from infancy into adulthood the internal conflicts we experience (often experienced as anxiety) can be truly painful. So painful that most of us develop a constant drive to reduce them. To facilitate that reduction each of us creates a kind of personal universe. We create a smaller world inside the larger one and we use everything in that universe to help us keep internal conflict down. That happens because we all need the love, stability and predictability that the larger, uncontrollable world out there cannot provide.
Think of that personal universe as a kind of oval within an outer barrier. By the time we reach adulthood we will have created our own limited world. Inside that smaller safer world is our immediate family, our friends, a small number of human connections from our various schools, our work, perhaps our church, and often a significant other. We find it more comfortable to avoid a world of strangers. We arrange to meet people all the time but they are almost always the same ones.
As this universe evolves, we for the most part spend our lives rocketing around in it, (we may go on vacation for a week but then we find ourselves rushing back). And, without consciously doing it, we work constantly to keep that personal universe intact and functioning in order to keep those internal conflicts at the lowest possible levels (if we lose one set of friends, we as quickly as possible replace them with others).
There are problems: For many, with the best will in the world, it is very hard to keep anxiety comfortably down (family members can be cold and unresponsive). That will be particularly true in areas where many adults feel “left behind”. It will often be true for those who are poorly educated, or who live in poverty. Some, trapped in dangerous neighborhoods will experience constant anxiety.
The natural reaction to this discomfort is to be angry but being angry with those around us tends to be counterproductive. People angry with others in their families or their adult associates face either retaliation or withdrawal. (If we can’t safely be angry with those in our own universe our minds will find anger symbols at which we can project anger (that will be the subject of Part II).
To sum up: We each create a personal universe and we use that universe to reduce inner conflict (anxiety) as much as we can. This is a constant process! At any time, all the time, we will think or do the thing that most reduces internal conflict! If politically we can assume that each voter will be most attracted to the candidates who most reduce conflict for them, then we can begin to predict political behavior. If one campaign can reduce internal conflict for voters more than others; it will usually win!
Knowing that adults voting have spent a life time perfecting a personal universe in order to keep anxiety down does have one obvious political result. It means that most people, whether they think of themselves as liberal or as conservative, will really be conservative in that they will resist change fiercely (because any change will tend to increase their level of anxiety).
They will tell pollsters and candidates that they really want change. They will demand change! They will do that because for the moment saying it will reduce anxiety for them. They will want to appear to be progressive, to favor change. But, when they go into that voting booth, they often will not vote for it (they may vote for something if the change is for others). They will often vote against candidates with programs that would clearly benefit them! They will be rational and instead, vote for the candidate who, for them, most keeps anxiety down! They are rational!
H.J. Rishel 9/14/2021