September 25, 2012


Filed under: Psychology and Politics — psychpol @ 8:09 pm

How do people decide to live their lives? How do we choose one path, or relationship or career over another? How do we choose a political affiliation, or decide who gets our vote?

Our internal belief system evaluating ourselves or the world will cause several things to happen with our actual behaviors.

We tend to define ourselves according to a sense of our psychological worth and value. We may decide that we are an outstanding person, or perhaps someone  who does not measure up to others. Many use other people as their point of reference. It could be a neighbor, public figure,  parent or a peer group.

This definition of ourselves determines many behavioral choices that we make. For example, if you think highly of your worth, you will not tolerate a relationship that constricts or punishes you. If you hold a low opinion of yourself,  you are more likely to seek out situations to reinforce that belief. You may even confuse love with pain.

Our beliefs about our political system and its candidates will also determine how we behave. Every belief  has some basis, whether in fact or in some kind of intellectual or emotional bias.

It is interesting to look at how various groups approach the issues that govern their choice of a political candidate. There are several common subtypes that are present in the political activity of voting.

Let’s examine some of the prevalent styles, and perhaps we can determine where we stand, and whether it is based on a rational belief system. It is possible to hold membership in multiple groups. Where do you stand?

THE PARTISAN VOTER – This position typically involves a party affiliation. One might strongly identify as a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, Green Party or other groups. Such an identification will tend to mandate voting along party lines. If a candidate has a D or R after their name, that box will automatically be checked.

This may be true for any office on the ballot, from President to Dog Catcher. The partisan believes, for whatever set of reasons, that the party represents their general philosophy of government. And so, the choice is typically quite simple. This group may represent an important element of a party’s base in terms of predictable support. It will tend to include activists who are involved with party affairs.

THE INDEPENDENT VOTER – Although independents have been present in the form of third parties since the time of President Lincoln, it is a group that appears to be gaining in membership. Here, one believes that evaluating a particular candidate, regardless of party, is the best approach. It is assumed that a candidate may have attractive views, no matter their party membership.

Such voters typically pride themselves on being informed about a candidate’s positions, and will consider the individuality of the political choice. In the current Presidential election, many believe that independents, perhaps as little as 10%, will decide the outcome of the election. Such voters tend to be less emotional and reactive than partisans.

THE ANTI VOTER – This group tends to be reactive toward their perceived enemy. Current examples would include Democratic partisans who are angry at the wealthy,  the “one percent”, the Tea Party or Republicans in general. Or,  Republican partisans  who are angry at the President, the liberal ideology or the mainstream media.

These beliefs in the unworthiness of the other tend to provoke generalizations (” they’re all the same!”) and a mindset that blocks contradictory input. Such a belief system is in fact quite rigid, and the person will seek out others who agree with their ideas. Those who do not agree are shunned or their input is disqualified.

Thus, like The Partisan, this group tends to be committed to a candidate, and is unlikely to be swayed by other data, no matter its factual basis. They will tend to seek out media that confirms their beliefs, be it network television or MSNBC for the liberals, and Fox News and certain talk radio shows for the conservatives.

In fact, some may even promote a ban on those with whom they disagree. Principles of Free Speech no longer apply, and this manifests as level of anger increases.

It is always interesting to note which groups want to deny the Constitutional right of Free Speech because they do not like what is being said. When such occurs, The Anti Voter is never far behind.

THE INDIFFERENT VOTER –  These persons may be eligible to vote, and may or may not be registered. A core belief for them is the idea that ” All politicians are the same.” Various attributes are projected onto politicians, with some favorites being ” corrupt, lying, greedy, power-hungry, in it for the money, will only help the rich/the poor, etc.” 

Although there might be a measure of truth for some candidates, this belief drives The Indifferent Voter into a state of apathy or deliberate withdrawal.

Such potential voters may opt out of the process, believing that their vote “doesn”t matter anyhow.” So, why bother?

They may hold a position of rejection of the power process,  focusing on their immediate life and needs. Since they have not sought out information or facts, they may be quite alienated, if not disdainful, of the political process.

In fact, a very large number of eligible voters do not vote. The US has a very low participation among democracies.

Young persons tend to have the lowest participation rate, even though government policy will determine many aspects of their extended futures. The opposite is true for seniors.

When the younger, indifferent group is considered, one wonders about the educational system in terms of civics and the obligations of citizenship. Such individuals are increasingly exposed to a cynical and disillusioning culture of deception by political leaders, narcissism by celebrities and values that center on financial gain with minimal effort.

THE ISSUE VOTER – This group tends to be issue oriented and well-informed. They may select a candidate based on specific concerns. Currently, these center on pro-life or pro-choice positions, size of government, amount of dependency on government, traditional marriage, economic issues such as the deficit or taxes, and class distinctions based on income.

Some are particularly concerned with the war on terror, the role of American power in the world, the problem of open borders and illegal immigration.

The issue may have a very strong emotional component, and may determine a voter’s choice. However, broader questions as to the opposition may also cause this voter to choose a less than fully desirable candidate.

Thus, on the pro-life issue, conservative Republicans may vote for the “lesser of two evils” and select a candidate with whom they do not fully agree.

Or a third-party voter may choose a Democratic or Republican candidate to “make their vote count” and not waste it.

One may find partisans who are strongly issue oriented, and whose party choice embraces a set of goals, for example, regarding marriage.

In extreme cases, this voter may opt out of an election because either choice is too personally distasteful. Currently, this is less likely, given the antipathy toward the incumbent President or the Challenger on the part of  select voter groups.

THE GULLIBLE VOTER – This voter tends to make judgements based on emotional impressions. It may be attributes of a candidate such as their public likeability, smile, race, socioeconomic status or other superficial characteristics, such as perceived position in the celebrity or economic worlds.

Some may even value ideas propounded by media, such as “who would you most like to share a beer with?” Or who would be “easier for you to talk to”? Or who seems to “relate” and really “care.?” Or “who is most like me”?

They may believe what a campaign exaggerates about the opponent or the candidate. Spin is seen as truth because of its emotional impact, and facts are not sought out that may counter conclusions.

This period in our history is a particularly divisive and emotionally charged one, thus inviting this voting style for some.

The entertainment value of a candidate might sway this voter. Thus, the Democratic incumbent recently appeared on the David Letterman show, “Pimp with a Limp” radio show, The View and at various celebrity events.

The Republican challenger appeared on the Kelly Rippa show. Others have hosted Saturday Night Live. Often, wives are included in such appearances, and the content of the questioning is typically not challenging, though this may vary with the bias of the interviewer

The idea appears to be presenting the candidate as “a regular guy” who can “relate” to people. It is apparently assumed that such a “guy” has the skills needed to manage highly complex issues.

The Gullible Voter may be charmed by the informality or glamor of such settings, believing that the candidate “cares” about them and is just like them.

This voting style bypasses critical thought and challenge of the images sold by the campaigns. A vote  is quite personal, suggesting a kind of relationship fantasy regarding the chosen candidate.

According to many, this style appears to be increasing, particularly among younger voters and those that embrace the popular culture in visually consumed material such as Internet content, television or entertainment publications.

Is there an APP that will tell me how to vote?

So, these are six subtypes of potential voters. There are undoubtedly more elaborate analyses of  voter groups, such as those done by Political Scientists. 

This writer offers some beliefs about what might constitute an ideal voter.

THE IDEAL VOTER – This voter will value objective analysis of facts above all else. There will be a tendency to discount spin.

This voter may ask “what is the candidate’s background and record?” This voter will try to understand the candidate’s philosophy of governing, and how this might manifest through actions if elected.

The Ideal Voter may begin from a passionate position on an issue. Rather than blocking new input, the position is refined by examining all sides of an issue. Factual data will be comprehended, and methods for gathering it considered. Is it a valid conclusion? Have the numbers been manipulated?

This voter takes into account a candidate’s goals and how it might affect one’s daily life. If there are concerns regarding the federal deficit, the voter will try to understand implications for personal finance, as well as the greater social welfare and that of future generations.

The Ideal Voter, believing that the past tends to predict the future, will discern the character of a candidate. Are they telling the truth? Do they lie with impunity? Are the criticisms of the opponent based on fact, or the stirring up of emotions such as anger?

The Ideal Voter will embrace citizenship and active participation. Their voting decisions will be based on a combination of personal interest and the greater good. They will tend to reject blind partisanship in favor of thoughtful decision-making and principle.

Many believe that the position of the Independent makes the most sense in the current political climate. For example, a core issue would be discerning the governmental philosophy and proposed action plan of candidates before selecting one.

 There are undoubtedly other characteristics of  The Ideal Voter.

Your thoughts are most welcome, and can be included in the Comments section below.

So, as the eve of the election nears, what is your belief system and your voting style?

How do you make decisions, and are you proud of the method?

What would cause you to alter your beliefs, or increase your critical thinking and open-mindedness? Is that a desirable goal and one you wish to examine?

Because when all is said and done, and the hyperbole is put to rest, it is OUR government, OUR future, OUR power and OUR choices that will create a path for us and future generations.

This is no small matter, and our responsibility is to be informed and act with wisdom whenever possible.


1 Comment »


    Pingback by OUR BELIEFS, OUR DECISIONS « psychpol — November 4, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

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