A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found something that, believe it or not, surprised nobody. The conclusion of the study found that “People vote with their party, not their personal beliefs.” As YaleNews later reported:
People vote on an issue based on the facts and their ideology, or personal beliefs, but they disregard both the facts and their personal beliefs when they are aware of their political party’s position
The premise of the study is that given a situation involving the issue of welfare, people artificially voted from their beliefs. But when informed of their party’s beliefs beforehand they often switched their own opinion to fall in line with the party. Again this is not very surprising. A simple talk with a stranger reveals how little people truly care about core issues, or when they do take an interest to them how little information they get on that subject. The worst possible outcome is someone who is not just interested, but militant and uninformed.
This information is especially important going into voting season. And since we’re beginning to see oddlike cult of personalities pop up around the candidates it’s good to step back and analyze why. Albeit Trump supporters may be passionate about building a wall or kicking all the poor Moslems out or whatever it is they want to do, but many people are simply attracted to the persona of Trump. In fact Ice Cube, a celebrity Trump supporter, described him as what Americans love about the American Dream.
One of the biggest questions to come out of this election season is at what point to people vote on policy, and at what point do people vote on personality? This may seem superficial but it is a very deep issue. At the heart of so many modern political movements is the call for increased democratic participation, but what good is more democratic participation if people merely vote for a single party and the candidate with the biggest smile?
One reason this happens is because it is so easy to be told what to believe. Instead of looking at each individual issue and making up your own mind, pick a candidate, listen to what he says, and repeat it. It saves a lot of time. The social experiment comes to mind when a person went around a city with a pamphlet full of Hitler quotes and watched as people agreed because they thought Trump said them. In fact it’s almost sad to watch. Increasingly at the end as the people try to defend themselves, with one man even claiming “I’d support them if Trump said them!”
The cult of personality is just one of the roadblocks to a participatory democracy. People tend to choose the politics that make them feel good, whether that be through helping others or helping yourself. This can be both good to bad, and more often than not leads to dogmatism. I’m guilty of it myself. A truly honest person knows this, that giving to the poor makes them feel good, or that collecting power for yourself feels good, and therefore votes in a way to continue that pleasure. I fail to believe that people just don’t care anymore about issues, like so many people want to claim. They way people bitch and complain there’s almost now way to believe that people don’t care about the issues, they just don’t care enough to go vote. However insignificant they realize their vote is. One of the main problems is that simply endorse an idea to get the pleasure out of it, making them feel good. They endorse the idea without actually doing anything to further it, and just expecting it to happen!
So really, what is there to be done? First of all we need a surge of information about the political process. You would think this would happen due to the increase in internet activity, but a Pew Research report found that that the amount of knowledge on current affairs hasn’t increased. The only thing to motivate people enough to participate is to feel personally obligated to, either from feeling threatened or inspired. That is the only thing I can thank Trump for, is organizing people enough to hold mass protests against him. Once people feel personally threatened by an idea or policy they are more likely to act.
Of course the issues in our political system are vast. Chances are in our celebrity driven media the issue of personality politics will likely worsen, but perhaps with the internet we’ll start to see a more interesting pick of candidates.