Most voters over 30 will defensively claim that they research candidates and examine their record – but in truth, my own experience has verified that no matter how defensive people get on this topic, none of them are fully aware of the voting records or political lobby ratings of their current favorites. The vast majority of voters still make their decision based on factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with policy or competence.
Voters Who Value Personality Over Policy
Since modern politics is all about truncating, we’ll whittle voter styles down to three judgement criteria within the “Personality Over Policy” American voter phenomenon:
- Younger and lesser-involved voters can be generalized as Beer Summit (BS).
- Older voters we can dub Prim and Proper (PP).
- Covering a span of all ages, but found generally in most beta-minded individuals is Wannabe Trendy and Fashionable (WTF).
Beer Summit Decision Criteria Voters
George W. Bush was the first national candidate to effectively exploit the BS effect. Others have tried, but none won the BS voters as well as W. For centuries politicians have used some variation of BS on a smaller scale, but GWB mastered the art of exploiting the BS voters to win the White House. Generally, the these voters are people (usually men – a true BS-driven vote requires high levels of testosterone and a willingness to belch in public) who use phrases like, “I like a man with a firm handshake”, and “I like to look a man in the eye to know his soul”. They are prone to use BS not only when deciding upon a candidate, but in many other man-oriented aspects of their daily lives. (Note: there is no such thing as a Wine Summit Effect. It is decidedly a beer drinker’s MO.)
BS requires swagger; in delivery as well as ingestion. Voters who decide to vote for a person based on their personality rather than their policymaking like the banter, back-slapping game that is inherent when large quantities of beer is consumed. Beer summit voters like dirty jokes, fried food, hacking golf swings, and the occasional golf cart doughnut on the 13th fairway.
But how does this influence how politics in America operates?
Beer summit voters look at their chosen candidates more like a friend than as a leader. A member of the pack. This personal “relationship” coupled with the expectation of continued swagger (because that’s what they voted for) changes what a politician is able to do and say after they’re elected. They are forced to continue the BS facade or they’ll lose their job come the next primary. (Important side note: the vast majority of BS voters are right to hard right politically, whose decision processes are based on the risk / reward structure, and are perfectly happy to kick out someone from their own party if they appear “weak”.) And finally, as we have seen since the 2010 midterm election: the BS voter sees compromise as weakness. As a result we’re given such circus absurdities as the “Freedom Caucus” who have proven they’re willing to burn down their own house just to make an temper tantrum point.
Voters For Whom Prim and Proper Is More Important Than Policy
Prim and Proper voters tend to have desk jobs, pensions, and parents who never uttered a naughty word in the presence of their children. While PP voters are more often conservative (by definition insofar as conservatism resists change), these voters also live inside the democratic ranks – they just don’t realize it. PP voters follow the rules and secretly harbor a distaste for anyone who steps outside of the box or the company’s standard operating procedures manual. PP voters are prone to side-mouth say things like, “People say that…”, “I heard that she…”, and “That’s not how things are supposed work.”
Democratic PP voters vote against their own self-interest while republican PP voters for exclusively for them.
PP’s participate in politics more like a book club gossip circle than a policy-oriented building process. They operate as a club in which there are multiple, nuanced hierarchies of which all in the clubhouse are aware, yet the social leaders are never explicitly acknowledged to ensure feelings nor sensibilities get offended. While the exterior is polished, steadfast and well-poised, PP voting blocks are riddled with internal bickering and whisper campaigns. They participate in – and simultaneously decry – reality television.
The problem with PP voters is that they forget the United States of America was founded by a bunch of rebels, philanderers, and people who quite decisively declared, “We ain’t gonna take this status quo crap anymore!” PP, ironically, is the antithesis of what continues to be at the core of what it means to be an American.
Admittedly, there is something to be said for the “Proper” in PP. No one wants a Congress that’s out of control because they don’t understand how it works (except the BS voters, of course). Proper is not a bad thing. However, Proper is not a value. Proper is not a virtue. Proper is a behavior – I can teach my dog how to be “proper”. In the end, placing such a high importance on Proper ultimately inhibits Progress because the Status Quo defines what is and what is not proper – it’s a downward spiral.
Wannabe Trendy and Fashionable Voters
Republicans will immediately think to themselves that Barack Obama’s first campaign was masterful at exploiting the WTF voters – and they’re right. Bernie Sanders is also a perfect candidate for WTF voters. Don’t get my wrong, I’ve liked Bernie for a long time, but a person cannot be a one-issue president. Ron and Rand Paul are also WTF candidates. These sorts of voters gravitate towards a politician who might give an impression of “being on the edge” while not being whacko birds.
WTF voters amass like lava lamps. They’re moved by heat and don’t stick together for long. (The difference here with the Obama campaign is they managed to transition the WTF voters into true loyalists.) WTF voters are rarely poor, usually white, and are prone to skimming literature: they like the theme, but steer clear of the details. WTF voters believe life statements can be made on a bumper sticker, by a haircut, or a tattoo placed somewhere that’s safely hidden by work clothes.
Sadly for many candidates, Wannabe Trendy and Fashionable voters are very difficult to covet. Like bellbottoms and big hair, they tend to mysteriously and instantly attach themselves to pop culture with very little warning. Elders stand puzzled by the latest fashion while the WTF voters feel their current choice defines something interesting, unique, and cool about their inner soul. (WTF voters exist almost exclusively in America, but it’s not our fault: presidential elections have become a 18-month reality TV show.)
To understand WTF voters’ impact on American politics, it might be helpful to go back to the lava lamp, or at least the fluid inside. They’re like a dysfunctional water ballast on a boat: as it unpredictably shifts it can cause uncomfortable oscillations in the movement of the boat. Many get sick. Some like the excitement. WTF voters also tend to be those who (for reasons still heretofore totally unknown) proudly call themselves undecided up to the moment they step into the voting booth. As such, WTF voters are a killer for political polls. Not only do they cause Michele Bachmann win in the beginning of a presidential race, they cause Turd Blossom to make a fool of himself on election night.
Will any of this change? Probably not. “We don’t have time” to vote intelligently based on policy and voting records. Bring on the personality circus.
Update 07/22/16: Ten months later, Donald J. Trump accepts the the GOP nomination for President of the United States.
Update 11/09/16: President-Elect Donald J. Trump. Point proven.