Party matters

Sep 19, 2017

Understanding tribalism

Recommending a survey article on tribalism in American politics.

Charles Richardson — Editor of The World is not Enough

Charles Richardson

Editor of The World is not Enough

I’m flying to Europe this afternoon, so I really don’t have time for blogging, but I just wanted to quickly recommend this piece from the New York Times last week by Robert Edsall. It’s an absolute must for understanding what’s going on in American politics today.

The standout is the graph he leads with (with data from the Public Religion Research Institute), showing that white evangelical Protestants have reversed their position on the relationship between politics and personal morality since the advent of Donald Trump. In 2011, only 30% of them thought that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” Now, it’s 72%.

But it’s not just about evangelicals, and it’s not just about Trump. Read the whole thing: it’s a very fine survey of the literature that shows how politics is driven by tribal identification. Voters don’t choose their political preference based on their views about policy, they tailor their views on policy to their political preferences.

It’s also not exclusively an American phenomenon; to some extent all politics works this way, and probably always has. But the United States – and particularly the Republican Party – has an especially severe case of it.


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