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Tribalism and Electoral Politics | AIER


Reprinted from the Unbiased Institute

People have at all times lived and labored in teams and instinctively search to cooperate with others of their group whereas viewing folks in different teams with hostility. Folks in the identical tribe work collectively for his or her widespread good. Folks in different tribes are potential predators or potential prey.

These tribal instincts have caught with us in trendy occasions, typically in socially dangerous methods. Tribal instincts are the premise for racism and lay the foundations for nationalism. Fashionable societies have developed establishments to channel tribalism in non-destructive methods, reminiscent of organized sports activities. Somewhat than going to conflict with these of one other tribe, we play video games in opposition to them, giving us the satisfaction of battling one other tribe whereas minimizing the demise and destruction that accompanies different kinds of battles.

Electoral politics additionally performs on tribal instincts. We select sides, and it’s us in opposition to them. How sides are chosen is, a minimum of partly, as much as the politicians who’re up for election.

The 2016 presidential election gives a superb instance. In a contest that pits “us” in opposition to “them,” Hillary Clinton referred to as Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables,” clearly putting Trump supporters within the “them” class. In the meantime, Trump was important of Mexicans, Chinese language, and unlawful immigrants.

One fascinating facet of those appeals to tribal instincts is that Clinton put many potential voters, the Trump supporters, within the “them” class. Trump put foreigners who don’t vote, within the “them” class. He included all People as part of the “us” group.

As Trump framed it, we People, who may vote within the election, have been part of his group, whereas as Clinton framed it, some People have been in her tribe however others weren’t. Trump’s framing pitted People in opposition to foreigners. All voters have been in his “us” group. Clinton’s framing pitted some voters in opposition to others.

We’re seeing Clinton’s model of tribalism play out once more, as President Biden has labeled MAGA Republicans as semi-fascists. Why would a politician need to alienate such a big proportion of potential voters? Wouldn’t it make extra sense to attempt to unite voters in opposition to a typical enemy somewhat than branding maybe half of potential voters because the enemy?

The extra inclusive message would appear to make extra sense if the article of tribal rhetoric is to win over undecided voters or persuade potential voters to modify to the speaker’s facet. Trump’s technique says that we People, who vote, are all on this collectively in opposition to a typical enemy–foreigners who don’t vote.

Nevertheless, not that many citizens are genuinely undecided, and even fewer who’ve already chosen a facet will defect to the opposite facet. Electoral politics is extra about turnout. Voter turnout tends to run about 50% in mid-term elections, so the highway to victory have to be fueled by getting “our” supporters to point out up and vote whereas discouraging “their” supporters from voting.

A charitable technique to view the tribal methods of Clinton and Biden is that casting their opponents in an undesirable gentle will encourage Clinton and Biden supporters to prove to vote in opposition to the deplorables and fascists. They’re performing to encourage their base.

Nonetheless, this looks like a poor technique as a result of it has the potential to encourage their opponents’ base a minimum of as a lot as their very own. Suppose you might be a kind of people who find themselves being referred to as deplorable and fascist. In that case, you may be motivated to strike out at those that are making these accusations.

My guess is that by intentionally making an attempt to alienate a big share of voters, the Clinton-Biden tribal technique prices extra votes than it positive factors, as a result of it motivates the “them” voters greater than the “us” voters. Trump’s strategy of together with all People within the “us” group in opposition to foreigners within the “them” group looks like higher electoral politics. Trump did assault Clinton, calling her “mendacity Hillary,” however he didn’t assault Clinton’s supporters.

President Biden was his occasion’s selection within the presidential election of 2020 partly as a result of he was considered as a extra reasonable Democrat who may enchantment to a broader spectrum of voters. After he was elected, he introduced himself as a president who needed to unite America. It seems that he now has chosen a distinct political technique–a method that will have saved Clinton out of the White Home somewhat than his outdated technique that will have put him within the White Home.

People nonetheless have these tribal instincts, and politicians can play them in another way by defining who they embody of their “us” group and who they outline as “them.” Their methods are absolutely intentional. President Biden’s characterization of MAGA Republicans as semi-fascists was absolutely meant to play on the tribal instincts of his base, however possible may have a much bigger impression on the tribal instincts of these exterior his base. You don’t need to be a MAGA Republican to be offended that the president would label a big proportion of People as semi-fascists.

Randall G. Holcombe

Randall G. Holcombe

Randall G. Holcombe is DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State College. He acquired his Ph.D. in economics from Virginia Tech, and taught at Texas A&M College and at Auburn College previous to coming to Florida State in 1988. Dr. Holcombe can also be Senior Fellow on the James Madison Institute and is Senior Fellow on the Unbiased Institute in Oakland, California.

Dr. Holcombe is the writer of twenty books and greater than 200 articles revealed in tutorial {and professional} journals. His books embody Political Capitalism: How Financial and Political Energy Is Made and Maintained (2018) and Coordination, Cooperation, and Management: The Evolution of Financial and Political Energy (2020).

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