What You Just Said Hurts My Head

We’re all familiar with the feeling of cognitive dissonance, when suddenly we’re forced to hold two contradicting ideas in our heads. Maybe we’ve just heard unflattering news about someone we respected, or have been presented with facts that challenge a deeply held worldview. As any communications expert will tell you, we tend to deal with this kind of dissonance by simply rejecting the new information as incorrect, unreliable, or purposefully misleading.

NPR recently ran a story on this topic that went a little deeper, exploring how partisan beliefs interacted with challenging facts. Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan and Georgia State’s Jason Reifler began looking into why it is, for instance, that Democrats currently believe the president has little control over gas prices, while six years ago they believed that President Bush could do something to lower them. Republicans have just as predictably switched position on this issue. Partisans, it seems, can reject facts they earlier believed – facts that probably don’t mean much to them, really – in order to stay aligned with their party loyalty.

Party loyalty is one way to describe a more deeply held worldview, but I think an even better term is core values. We belong to certain political parties because they have become a stand-in for those values. So we reject or accept facts that question or support our party loyalty (the president has little control over gas prices) because doing so reinforces our belief that our core values are right. And that we are right. President = party = core values = core identity. So it’s important to us that our party's president does the right thing.

So how do we approach audiences armed with facts that are likely to contradict their firmly-held beliefs? NPR reports:

Nyhan and Reifler hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they're against the facts, but because it's painful. That notion suggested a possible solution: If partisans were made to feel better about themselves — if they received a little image and ego boost — could this help them more easily absorb the "blow" of information that threatens their pre-existing views?

Nyhan said that ongoing —and as yet, unpublished— research was showing the technique could be effective. The researchers had voters think of times in their lives when they had done something very positive and found that, fortified by this positive memory, voters were more willing to take in information that challenged their pre-existing views.

Interesting, and useful if you’re talking one-on-one and know your subject enough to evoke such specific memories. But what about messaging to the masses? I think the answer is values again. By appealing to people’s notions of what we as a country hold dear, and how those values make us our best selves, we give them a bit of an ego boost.

For instance, the topic of immigration can cause many audiences a fair amount of cognitive dissonance. The dominant narrative tells us that many immigrants are criminals just for being here, and are taking jobs from native-born Americans.  Of course, the facts don’t support either of these storylines. But many an immigration advocate will tell you that simply relaying to folks that being here without papers is a civil, not criminal, violation; or that study after study shows that immigrant workers have no affect on unemployment rates, does not change minds. But what if we made people feel a little good about themselves first? Could they better handle the dissonance?

We could start by reminding people why immigrants want to come here –for opportunity, because of our freedoms, to be a part of something we all love. We can remind people of the other aspirations that most of them believe make this country great: our values of treating people equally and fairly, our values of community and voice, our ambition to make things better and try new things.

Now clearly, those stories can go in a number of different directions and cause their own dissonance, particularly among progressives. Sure, we value equality, but then why do we stand for income and racial disparities? And doesn’t our ambition sometimes cause us to leave whole groups of people behind? No, we don’t always live up to our aspirations. But they’re still good ones. And they do make a lot of people feel good about the country, and perhaps as an extension, themselves.

Like any messaging strategy, opening conversations with values is no silver bullet guaranteed to ease the way for all challenging ideas. But if we know that throwing facts at people doesn’t work (and actually pains them), we need to rethink how we use those facts. Otherwise, they’re not just useless, but actively harmful to the cause.

An Interesting Way in Which Barack Obama’s Race Helps Him

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

The 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be an election highly focused on economics and class. It seems that one of the main themes of the election will be class, or the gap between the rich and the poor. At this point, it’s pretty likely that the main Democratic attack on Mitt Romney will be an attack based on class. Mitt Romney will be portrayed as rich and out-of-touch, a Wall Street banker.

Now what does this have to do with the title of this post?

Well, obviously this critique of Mitt Romney wouldn’t work if his opponent was also a billionaire businessman. The attack against Mitt Romney relies on the fact that Barack Obama is not rich, is not out-of-touch, and is not a Wall Street banker.

Except one of these things is false. Barack Obama is rich. His income level squarely puts him in the top one percent.

One can make a good argument, of course, that Obama’s wealth is a very different thing from Romney’s wealth. Obama is wealthy mainly due to the success of his books. He has never been and will never be rich in the way Mitt Romney is. Before gaining political success, Obama was pretty heavily indebted. Not to mention that he deliberately chose to be a community organizer after college, not the most high-income of jobs.

But more importantly than all these facts, there is the fact that Barack Obama just doesn’t look very rich. The typical American does not think of Obama as belonging to the top one percent when they look at him. Obama just doesn’t exude wealth in the way Mitt Romney’s very presence does.

Why is this? The answer is pretty simple: it’s because Obama’s black.

Despite the occasional successful black entertainer or athlete, the black community is still very strongly associated with poverty. Think about, for instance, the first image that usually comes to mind when people talk about poverty in America (and especially urban poverty).

The result is that Americans almost never associate Barack Obama with being rich, even though today he has become quite wealthy. This is one of those subconscious things which most people don’t even realize is happening in their minds. Nor even do many political experts realize this. Nor did I for the longest time.

But the fact that Obama is African-American, and the fact that very few people associate African-Americans with wealth, will end up making a huge difference in the 2012 presidential election.

 

 

The Demographics of America’s Governors: Place of Birth

 

This post will look at the demographics of America’s governors by place of birth, as of March 2012. All in all, this series on the demographics of America’s governors examines:

  • Place of Birth

The following map indicates the birth place of each of America’s governors. I honestly had no idea what to expect when making this map. On the one hand, the result is quite interesting in several ways. On the other hand, it’s somewhat difficult to interpret what appears in the following map. Is this a result of randomness, or is there a pattern?

Let’s take a look:

There are actually a lot of states whose current governor was born in said state. 31 states fit this category.

This is an interesting result. America is commonly thought of a very mobile society; there are very few regional differences, with the exception of the South, between one part of America and another. You can’t tell a Pennsylvanian from a Californian, for instance. Yet the majority of American states are still governed by native-born members of those states.

Another element is missing here: foreigners. Not a single American state is governed by a person born outside of the United States. Arnold Schwarzeneggers are very rare.

There seems to be a degree of regional difference. Most obviously, a band of states stretching from the Pacific Northwest to the Southwest are governed by individuals born outside said state. It’s hard to draw conclusions about the other parts of the country, however.

The map above does bear some resemblance to the electoral college. States with governors born elsewhere in the United States tend to be states which Barack Obama could possibly win in 2012. There are, of course, plenty of exceptions to this statement (such as Oklahoma and New York).

Finally, there a lot of Pennsylvanians governing states elsewhere. On the other hand, only one New Yorker (Neil Abercrombie) is governing a state outside of New York. Nor does anybody born in heavily populated Florida govern a state. You can make a lot of jokes about this result, although it’s most probably just randomness.

Are there any revealing partisan differences in this demographic? Let’s look at states governed by Democrats:

Now states governed by Republicans:

If such differences exist, they escape me.

Perhaps the most relevant conclusion to be drawn from this result is that America is still a pretty introverted place. Chances are pretty good that the your state is governed by somebody born there. And chances are very good that your state is governed by somebody born in the United States.

(Edit: Apparently about six in ten American live in the same state that they were born, which is a lot higher than I thought. Consider that 12.9% of Americans are foreign-born. Anyways, the number of governors born in the same state that they govern happens to match pretty well the number of Americans born in the same state that they live – although not-so-well the number of Americans born in a different country.)

--inoljt

 

The Demographics of America’s Governors: Age

 

This post will look at the demographics of America’s governors by age, as of February 2012. All in all, this series on the demographics of America’s governors examines:

  • Age

 

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

America’s governors generally have a pretty wide range in age. The youngest governor, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, was less than forty years old when elected. The oldest, Jerry Brown of California, was actually governor of California decades before many Americans were born.

Here's a more detailed look.

This is a truly random map. There’s essentially no relationship that one can see between the age of a state’s governor and, well, anything. States with young governors, like Nevada or South Carolina, are located right next to states with old governors, such as California or Georgia.

Let’s try to add political party to this analysis.

First, we'll take a look at the age of Democratic governors:

Naturally the Democratic Party governs fewer states after its losses in the 2010 midterm election. Interestingly, it seems that Democrats still hold a lot of the “Clinton belt” – the Appalachian region which went strongly for Bill Clinton and has since then turned decisively Republican on a presidential level.

Now let's look at Republicans.

It does seem that Republican governors are, in general, a younger bunch. There are several possible reasons behind this. Firstly, it should be expected for Republican governors to be younger given that they won most of the most recent midterm elections. Secondly, it could be just mere chance: given enough elections, eventually you’ll get one in which one party’s governors are younger than the other party’s. Finally, there’s the possibility that something about the Republican Party and American politics tends to make Republican governors younger.

All in all, there’s not that much to see here. Unlike other demographic dividers, age does not arouse great passions. This is because everybody has the opportunity to reach the age most American governors tend to be. I didn’t expect to find anything extremely interesting when writing this post, and I didn’t find anything. Which is not a big problem; not everything provides a piercing insight into the current state of politics.

--inoljt

 

Why Barack Obama Will Lose the 2012 Presidential Debates

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

The presidential debates are a storied tradition in America’s presidential elections. They tend to be more serious than the often superficial primary debates (which have escalated to a new low in this year’s Republican primary). The last presidential election featured Barack Obama debating John McCain. There were none of the game-changing fireworks that occurred in previous debates, and indeed the vice presidential debate caught more interest. Nevertheless, the general consensus was that Obama won. He did this not by landing a devastating blow on McCain, but merely by appearing more presidential and dignified.

Obama will probably not win the 2012 presidential debates. There are several reasons why this will happen. These reasons are neither complex nor convoluted; they’re just restating some common-sense principles.

Reason #1: The Republican candidates have much more practice debating than Obama does. Obama’s last debate occurred more than three years ago, during the fall of 2008. On the other hand, the Republican candidates have been debating for months now, often with one debate every week. That’s a lot of practice for the fall 2012 debates, and they’ve gotten pretty good. Much has been made about how Mitt Romney is now quite a skilled debater after the grueling schedule he’s just gone through. Newt Gingrich is no slouch either; his campaign revival is almost singlehandedly due to strong debate performances.

Reason #2: Obama is not a great debater. This is something that tends to be forgotten, but Obama struggled repeatedly in his debates against Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s strong performances were responsible for her summer lead in 2007 against Obama, and they helped her win Ohio and Texas when her campaign desperately needed to. Many undecided voters watched Clinton and Obama debate before crucial primaries; Obama’s consistent weaker performances probably cost him a lot of strength with those voters.

All this is not to say that Obama will actually lose the presidential election itself. John Kerry, after all, did much better than George W. Bush in 2004; he still lost. Walter Mondale’s strong debate performances against Ronald Reagan gave him absolutely no help. Debate winners do not necessarily become presidents.

But mark this prediction for the calendar: Obama will lose the 2012 presidential debates.

 

 

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