Sunday, October 31, 2010

Who's side are you on?

The Tea Party is a fascinating movement. First of all there is the question of whether it is a movement at all, or simply a charade set up by billionaires with an eye for 40-something home-makers (an 'astroturf' movement). Second, there is the appalling lack of ability to speak coherently and knowledgeably displayed by some of the candidates (listen to Sharron Angle on healthcare reform here). Third - how will they do? Will people's fury at the economic crisis be translated into simplistic anti-government rhetoric?

We'll see. But if frustrated Americans respond to the Tea Party's appeal in large numbers, it will once again raise lots of questions about why Americans vote against most reasonable assessments of their interests by promoting tax cuts for the super-rich and limiting redistributive government spending which would benefit most people in US society.

Somehow, people have trouble recognizing their interests. Part of the reason for this is, of course, that it's not always that easy to figure out what your interests are. Very often people make their political choices by simply taking sides, rather than analyzing complex issues - after all, why should voters spend time getting informed? They only have one vote. So instead, they identify. And for a lot of people, a middle aged woman with conservative values (Angle) looks far more like 'their kind of person' than an aging politician who has spent too long in Washington (Reid). Given the difficulties of figuring out how health care reform is likely to work, a 'mom' like Angle who talks about 'getting government out of your life' rings bells with a lot of people. Certainly more than an over-educated black guy who has lived in Indonesia and, someone told you, wasn't even born where he said he was.

There is a lot of instinctive, emotional behaviour in voting. Poli sci hasn't done a great job of understanding this kind of behaviour so far.