For elites, politics is driven by ideology. For voters, it’s not.

I’m an elite and a very high information voter.  You probably are too.  The idea that most people don’t make their political decisions based on ideology is somewhere between odd and crazy.  However, it seems to be true…

From Vox:

If you asked an average voter in 2000 whether they were liberal, moderate, conservative, or none of the above, their answer was only 63 percent predictive of what they’d tell you two years later. For voters with very little political knowledge, ideological identity is so fragile it’s probably not even worth calling it an identity. If you are a diehard liberal or conservative who hasn’t changed your views in 20 years, look at this table and reflect on just how unusual you are.

These findings pose a profound challenge to traditional models of politics. In theory, ideology comes first and party comes second. We decide whether we’re for single-payer health care, or same-sex marriage, or abortion restriction, and then we choose the party that most closely fits our ideas. You’re a liberal and so you become a Democrat; you’re a conservative and so you become a Republican.

The truth, it seems, is closer to the reverse: We choose our party for a variety of reasons — chief among them being the preferences of our family members, core groups, and community — and then we sign on to their platforms. In this telling, write Kinder and Kalmoe, “ideological identification is primarily an effect, not a cause, of a person’s political views.”

This theory makes a prediction: If party identification is stronger than ideological identification, then as parties change their ideological identities, their loyalists will change with them, rather than abandoning them. And that’s a lot closer to what we see. The exception is high-information voters, who keep their party identification and ideological identification linked.

“One enduring lesson to carry forward is an appreciation for the deep divide between elites and publics,” write Kinder and Kalmoe. For elites, politics is driven by ideology, and that seems like the most natural thing in the world. But it’s not, and it’s hard for highly ideological actors to appreciate just how weird they really are.

Critical People Sound Smarter

This article, in Wired, called “A Sad Fact of Life: It’s Actually Smart to Be Mean Online” makes some interesting points regarding how much we criticize is related to how smart we are percieved to be.

The students thought the negative author was smarter than the positive one—“by a lot,” Amabile tells me. Most said the nastier critic was “more competent.” Granted, being negative wasn’t all upside—they also rated the harsh reviewer as “less warm and more cruel, not as nice,” she says. “But definitely smarter.” Like my mordant tweets, presumably.

This so-called negativity bias works both ways, it seems. Other studies show that when we seek to impress someone with our massive gray matter, we spout sour and negative opinions. In a follow-up experiment, Bryan Gibson, a psychologist at Central Michigan University, took a group of 117 students (about two-thirds female) and had them watch a short movie and write a review that they would then show to a partner. Gibson’s team told some of the reviewers to try to make their partner feel warmly toward them; others were told to try to appear smart. You guessed it: Those who were trying to seem brainy went significantly more negative than those trying to be endearing.

I must say that  I hate the title of this article, btw.

Denying Problems When We Don’t Like the Solutions

There’s been a lot of study over the last several years regarding how “conservatives” differ from “liberals”

This study/article from Duke looked at how solutions impact the persons evaluation of the problem.

There may be a scientific answer for why conservatives and liberals disagree so vehemently over the existence of issues like climate change and specific types of crime.

A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don’t, then they tend to deny the problem even exists.

“Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation or an extension of the free market, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. However, we find it does,” said co-author Troy Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem.”

Sensitivity to Justice is Driven by Reason, Not Emotion

Psychologists have found that some individuals react more strongly than others to situations that invoke a sense of justice—for example, seeing a person being treated unfairly or mercifully. The new study used brain scans to analyze the thought processes of people with high “justice sensitivity.” – See more at:

Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain-scanning device, the team studied what happened in the participants’ brains as they judged videos depicting behavior that was morally good or bad. For example, they saw a person put money in a beggar’s cup or kick the beggar’s cup away. The participants were asked to rate on a scale how much they would blame or praise the actor seen in the video. People in the study also completed questionnaires that assessed cognitive and emotional empathy, as well as their justice sensitivity.

But the brain imaging also yielded surprises. During the behavior-evaluation exercise, people with high justice sensitivity showed more activity than average participants in parts of the brain associated with higher-order cognition. Brain areas commonly linked with emotional processing were not affected.

From University of Chicago News.

We Are All Confident Idiots

I’ve come to think of the Dunning-Kruger effect as one of the foundational theories of human behavior (regrettably, including my own).  Doctor Dunning recently posted an interesting article on the topic, here

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

He continues, “A whole battery of studies conducted by myself and others have confirmed that people who don’t know much about a given set of cognitive, technical, or social skills tend to grossly overestimate their prowess and performance, whether it’s grammar, emotional intelligence, logical reasoning, firearm care and safety, debating, or financial knowledge. College students who hand in exams that will earn them Ds and Fs tend to think their efforts will be worthy of far higher grades; low-performing chess players, bridge players, and medical students, and elderly people applying for a renewed driver’s license, similarly overestimate their competence by a long shot.”

When I daughter and I discussed this, she said “oh, I understand!”… and winked.

The Problem With Positive Thinking

From today’s New York Times, positive thinking isn’t all its cracked up to be:

More than two decades ago, I conducted a study in which I presented women enrolled in a weight-reduction program with several short, open-ended scenarios about future events — and asked them to imagine how they would fare in each one. Some of these scenarios asked the women to imagine that they had successfully completed the program; others asked them to imagine situations in which they were tempted to cheat on their diets. I then asked the women to rate how positive or negative their resulting thoughts and images were.

A year later, I checked in on these women. The results were striking: The more positively women had imagined themselves in these scenarios, the fewer pounds they had lost.