Unpacking the Political Boxes

If you listen to the news media nowadays, political pundits try their hardest to put voters into neat boxes like liberal vs conservative, white vs minority, or urban vs rural etc. The problem with these categorizations is that people don’t fit into boxes – it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a voter to hold some liberal and some conservative viewpoints. It would be more productive to try to understand the mental model that voters use when weighing their internal beliefs.  I have listed out some of the voting mental models that people use.

The Single Issue Voter:

People who vote solely based on a single issue. They don’t care about the candidates and will always vote for the same party. They often believe other people should also vote the same way they do because their issue “trumps” all other issues. Some examples are listed below:

Liberal – Marriage Equality, Women’s Reproductive Rights, Pot Legalization, Gun Control, Minority Rights, Entitlements

Conservative – Second Amendment Rights, Pro Life, Religious Freedom, Taxes

The Multi Issue Voter:

People who vote after weighing the pros and cons of certain issues they care about. In certain election cycles, some of the issues may change in importance relative to each other. In the case where they can’t decide, they vote based off the candidates. Some examples are listed below:

Liberal – A minority small business owner that supports deregulating banks so banks will lend more money. If business is going well, he or she might be more likely to vote on minority rights. Vice versa, he or she may be more inclined to vote on economic issues.

Conservative – A corporate CEO that wants corporate tax reform to make his company more globally competitive, but also supports marriage equality. He or she might vote based on the political landscape or the candidate.

The Change Voter:

People who want change and vote against whoever is in power. They don’t vote based off issues but instead vote against the status quo. This voter is often reacting to poor economic conditions and broken campaign promises from incumbents. Historical data shows that the President’s party almost always loses seats during midterm elections.

Now if you apply these mental models, the 2016 election result makes a little more sense. Most of the white working class voters in the Rustbelt that voted for Trump would fall into the Change Voter category. They were economically hit hardest by globalization and viewed Hillary Clinton as more of the status quo. On the other hand, many liberal voters fell into the Single Issue Voter category (particularly due to some of Trump’s inflammatory comments), and could not fathom how any person could possibly vote for Trump. The net takeaway is that people vote with different mental models.  We must avoid the fallacy of putting voters into political boxes and assume that everyone votes with the same mental model that we do.

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