Laws of politics
is simple: parties and canTHE FIRST RULE didates should be able to communicate powerful ideas in an easily understandable way. This is perhaps not a law but remains important nonetheless. The rest isn’t that obvious though and needs some elaboration.
POLITICAL SUPPLY DOESN’T CREATE ITS OWN DEMAND
Except rare situations supply doesn’t create demand. Demand has to be there in the first place. The political demand function isn’t exactly the same as the demand function for a commodity but it is similar. There has to be choices/preferences and an abstract political utility function/demand that is supported by them. Because inverse demand is price, all political demands come with a price. Unless those who demand something –like more freedom- are ready to pay the price, there is no effective demand. For instance, workers went on strike to get some rights or to secure pay raises, suffragettes struggled to obtain the right for women to vote and to be elected etc. Demanding something is never free: there is no free lunch in politics as there is none in economics. If parties insist on advocating policies for which there is no popular demand, they will miserably fail in the elections.
PREFERENCES ARE PERSISTENT
Preferences don’t change often. Preferences are derived from choices but choices are dependent on values and culture, and they are translated to ideas through a symbolic lens. Symbols and stories matter and cognitive psychology is at work. Therefore, in many multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious countries –notably the US- stable political preferences are firmly entrenched in localities. Local communities matter a lot. Yes, there is the Blue Wall and there is the Red Wall, and they are more or less stable. Yet in 2016 there were many switches between localities: hitherto GOP strongholds voted Democrat and vice versa. The fact remains that candidates ought to know the cultural characteristics of their local voters. Preferences in Queens, NYC are very different from those in New Mexico, and the Baltimore black community reasons differently from Michigan or LA voters. These differences are real and persistent. They aren’t epiphenomena and they can’t be rendered negligible by a metanarrative, like socialism or liberalism.
Consider the period between 1890 and 1920. The American Left was as strong as it could ever be. However, the working class was divided. Hispanics, Italians, Blacks, Jews, and Women couldn’t be accommodated under one roof and the attempt to establish a single working class party failed at about the same time when the Labour Party in the UK successfully took off. True, the police was more brutal in the US, true the state was unbending vis-à-vis socialist currents. Nevertheless, labour parties sprang up like mushrooms in Europe at that time. Some of them gathered over 40% of total votes in the 20th Century.
THY SHOULD KNOW YOUR PEOPLE BETTER
In 1972 McGovern, the presidential candidate for Democrats and a senator from South Dakota started his NYC campaign. He visited Jewish quarters in Queens the first day. He didn’t know NYC well and didn’t feel comfortable. Cameras always followed him, recording his every move. He stopped at a Jewish deli. He ordered a hot dog. When the owner asked “kosher?” he hesitated but said “yes”. And he added “and a glass of milk please”. I don’t know if he had lost all Jewish votes but this incident is recorded in American presidential elections history as a major gaffe. Similarly, in 1976, the president and runner Gerald Ford whoa was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan toured Texas and stopped at San Antonio to tell Mexican immigrants he was sympathetic to their cause. He ordered tamales, a Mexican food. He tried to take a bite, eating the corn shucks which serve as a wrapper and weren’t meant to be eaten. Again the media were present. He would later say “always shuck your tamales”. Why are these incidents important? They are important because you have to be acquainted with the customs, meals, and customs of the people you claim to represent. Otherwise, sincerity and trust will be lost.
YOU HAVE BETTER KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT
Your discourse can’t be the same in Michigan when you address to WASP
workers who lost their jobs and in NYC when you visit Jewish neighbourhoods. The same propaganda won’t work simultaneously in San Antonio, Texas and in LA. The same metanarrative wouldn’t do. A didactic language wouldn’t serve the purpose either. You can’t focus on foreign policy in front of those who are afraid to lose their homes. Political parties may have their agenda, their ideology, their strong beliefs but politics at the nation level is an entirely different matter. You have to know what you are trying to build and what you build it with.
AND TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Ernst Niekisch wrote in 1930 that “ideas whose time hasn’t come are politically dysfunctional”. Political demand in general isn’t sufficient. Ideological configurations that span the political imaginary have to be mature. Ideas and their ideological representations have to be developing in the back of people’s minds. There has to be a clear-cut potential so political supply turns it into kinetic energy. Political entrepreneurs have to be one-step ahead only, not way ahead. Similarly, advocating already lost causes wouldn’t deliver success. Ideas whose time has passed should best be left abandoned. For example, you can’t keep telling to Eastern European peoples that socialism is actually a good idea but that the Soviet model was flawed. The experiment lasted 70 years and the model has spectacularly collapsed. Naturally nobody will support the project of an extreme makeover after the deluge. Bygones are bygones.
THE REASONING VOTER
Voters reason but they possibly reason based on kind of low-information–or low-intensityrationality .They may vote economically and/ or ideological ly but either way they don’t collect all available information. They are rational in some sense but their rationality isn’t that of an automaton or a computer as some game-theoretic models imagine. Clearly both ideology and organization serve as short-cuts. Voters who subscribe to a party don’t search much. The reasoning voters opt for simple and brief deliberations, not for elaborate analyses. That is in fact awkward because voters know that voting is a public event, and parties offer public goods. It isn’t exactly the same as choosing which car to buy. Yet voters spend less time on political declarations, programmes, documents compared to searching for the right product on the internet. Still, voters understand that there is a “we” that is involved therein, not just “I”. The “we” can be anything: ethnicity, religion, or class. Maybe economic motives lie beneath them but they aren’t less “real” for that. To conjecture that class or religion is the “true real” and that other identifications are just superficial is impossible unless one sees the world from a deontological standpoint and firmly believes that she is holding the Key to Truth card.
CHANGING POLITICO̞ ECONOMIC PATTERNS
If before the 2012 elections many Democrats voted left with nostalgia, that of the historic American working class and the New deal memory, they have gradually changed their motives and even their allegiances after that. In 2016 Trump could find holes in the Blue Wall. It isn’t just about rednecks and roughnecks voting Republican. In Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin etc. time-honoured Democratic towns voted for Trump and the converse is also true. The Florida Governor, and the likely next GOP candidate Ron DeSantis sent immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, but he is actually the most popular Republican Governor in Florida’s history among the non-white population, excluding the Cuban immigrants. These changes aren’t hazardous. Universities, the movie sector, writers generally support Democrats. Again, more to the point, information and communication finance and healthcare sectors almost uniformly support Democrats. These sectors employ college graduates, PhDs etc. It is ironically said that not a single vote has been cast in favour of Trump in the Silicon Valley. Contrary to that, defence, energy (oil), real estate and retail sectors fill Republican ranks. In affluent towns where ¾ of the population are college graduates Democrats win and if ¼ are graduates only Republicans get the upper hand. The old idea that many Democrat voters are leftists (liberals) in the American sense doesn’t perhaps hold anymore. “When all the rich people turned Democrat?” had asked a character in a Broadway play decades ago. The change occurred slowly but surely.
Yet not all change occurs slowly. There may be abrupt changes, belief cascades, and sudden reversals. This is what low-intensity rationality entails in a sense. Consider Crater vs. Reagan in 1980. Until the last 48 hours it looked like a close race. However, Reagan won by 10% margin. Why was that? By a fluke, November 4, 1980, the Election Day, was also the first anniversary of the Teheran Embassy incident whereby 52 Americans were held hostage by radical Islamist students. After a year the crisis wasn’t yet solved. Moreover, the military rescue mission had failed in April 1980, and US military helicopters had crushed in the desert. A year before in September Crater had collapsed while jogging in a park. The media put the two photos together, and talked about weakness for a week. Undecided voters associated the photos of a weak President collapsing in a park and the crushed helicopters. As long as a week (unhealthy) president is in charge the US will also remain week –so they must have thought. The media campaign adviser Gerald Rafshoon emphasized that a few years after. “We had better send three more helicopters to Iran rather than spending 30 million dollars for the campaign” he said. Here we are.