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9.11.05

The Cultural Theory Of "He's A Douchebag But I'm Voting For Him Anyway"

Over at RedState, krempasky draws the same lesson from yesterday's Republican losses in New Jersey and Virginia as many Democrats did from the nationwide debacle last year: "welcome to the consequences of failing to inspire anyone." In both elections, the losers focused too much on the stick of prophesying doom should the other side win (Bush will overturn Roe! Kaine wouldn't execute Hitler!) than on the carrot of making people identify with the candidate and feel good about his plan to improve things.

I think some of the problem can be illuminated by Cultural Theory. The basic problem is that political junkies (including campaign managers and volunteers) tend to be Egalitarian with respect to elections, whereas most voters are Fatalists.

Douglas and Wildavsky argue that Egalitarian-Fatalist is a natural coalition (as is Hierarchist-Individualist). And there's some truth to that -- but it's a coalition that has to be carefully managed, and both the Kerry and Kilgore campaigns made a similar mistake in relying on their Egalitarian viewpoint in their interactions with the Fatalist electorate.

Egalitarians are easily motivated by fear. They see themselves as a small, tight-knit group struggling on behalf of the masses against an unjust system. They take a risk averse outlook, worrying that their small gains may slip away at any moment. So to tell a liberal Egalitarian that a Bush victory will spell the end of legal abortion will get him or her to the polls lickety-split.

It seems intuitive to an Egalitarian that a Fatalist ought to be open to the same sort of plea. Fatalists too feel oppressed by the system. There are problems, however. Fatalists have dealt with that oppression in a very different way. Egalitarians develop a theory of why and how the system is oppressive, and then fight to change it. Fatalists, on the other hand, give up on trying to understand their oppression and resign themselves to rolling with the punches. To point out that oppression is going to come from one direction is not very helpful, as they do not believe that anyone can really figure out and implement a plan for improvement. In fact, a fear-based argument is likely to cement their Fatalism further.

Fatalists may be experiencing and hating the high-grid situation that Egalitarians dislike, but they also lack the high-group that gives Egalitarians a sense of efficacy and purpose. An inspiring candidate can raise supporters' group, giving them a feeling of belonging and a vision of the future. That step of inspiration is necessary before fear-based appeals will have any purchase.

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