02 November 2016

Gradually Turning up the Heat on Frogs in Water: GOP Voters in 2016

In his book on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert points to a really fascinating thing about predicting our happiness: we're really bad at it.

Put simply, if you have a mouthful of liver you are incapable of imagining chocolate. Our current reality so colors our perception of future possibilities that we simply can't predict how we'll feel in those futures.

Ask someone, "How would you feel if you lost the use of your legs in an accident?" They'll answer that they'd be devastated, depressed, inconsolable. Ask them how they'd feel if the spouse they loved left them suddenly. Same sorts of answers. Well, a funny thing happens if you ask people who actually have gone through these experiences. As it turns out, after feeling initially about how they had imagined, they find a way to construct a new life that doesn't depend on their legs or spouse. Most people move on and many will even say things like, "It seemed like the worst thing to ever happen but now I realize it really was for the good." Or, "I have so much more compassion now and it forced me to become more spiritual, It really made me a better person," or "I feel so lucky because I never would have met Greg if my husband hadn't left me."

Predicting your emotions after something bad happens is tough. We find a way to justify, to adapt, to make the best of things.

Which brings me to this election and Donald's surprising performance. If you had asked evangelicals how they would feel about voting for Trump earlier in the primaries when they thought that Cruz could win, they'll tell you that they'd never do it. Ask a Bush supporter who thinks Trump not only treated Jeb crassly but even the Republican agenda (things like the invasion of Iraq) that they'd defended at family dinners. The Bush supporter will say, "Not going to happen. I won't vote for him." But as mentioned, we poorly predict our own futures.

Given enough time, people adapt. Republicans are more likely to be religious people and for them the GOP s as much a religion as a political party. Sure they're upset that the local priest molested those boys but that doesn't change the fact that they're Catholic. They're not becoming Baptists because one person acted so poorly. They're not happy with Trump but they've only been unhappy with the GOP candidate for months whereas they've vilified the Democratic Party for decades. And it's not like they haven't already publicly committed to hating Clintons already. The family at the Thanksgiving dinner will remind them of the times they've ranted about the Clintons. It would be terribly embarrassing to admit to anyone that they voted for one.

Ask a Republican this series of questions a year ago:
1. Would you vote for a candidate who praised a Russian dictator and suggested disbanding NATO?
2. Would you vote for a candidate who said he wouldn't accept the results of a democratic election?
3. Would you vote for a candidate who won the endorsement of only one major newspaper, no former presidents from either party, no former secretary of states of either party, and only one of six former presidential candidates from his / her own party?
4. Would you vote for a candidate who mandated a religious test for people entering this country?
5. Would you vote for a candidate who attacked the leaders in the Republican Party, lowering Republican's odds of winning the House and Senate?

An overwhelming majority would have said no to each of these questions. But instead of asking them all at once, what if you just incrementally revealed that this was a feature of the candidate - the GOP nominee - they'd already committed to? That would give voters a chance to rationalize his flaws, to make the best of them. Earlier in the year they'd be devastated by such a candidate; later in the year they think it might actually be the best thing to happen to their party. "I would have thought it a tragedy to lose legs but these new wheel chairs are so amazing! I actually get through malls faster than I used to!"

Trump is the tragedy that Republicans have had enough time to re-frame as actually being a good thing. Sure he's a dubious character and he might make the deficit huge again and who knows what all but he's a Republican. Isn't he?

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