Academics whine no one listens to them. It’s not true.
This study by Christopher D. Johnson, an assistant professor of political science at Duke, suggests that we divide up into teams based on issues “such as sexuality, gender, law and order, immigration, and terrorism“ and then look to the economic experts within our chosen team for our economic policy preferences. This means that academic economics defines the terms of the debate and controls what counts as possible.
The authoritarian divide has infused economic debates in the United States because engaged citizens seek out, trust, and assimilate information about economic policy from elites who share their traits and cultural worldview. Consistent with this theory, among the politically engaged, child-rearing values are very strongly associated with both party affect and economic conservatism, trumping income and other common predictors of economic ideology in terms of explanatory value. In two experimental studies, I also provided evidence that partisan-ideological and cultural cue-taking is the causal mechanism driving this correlation among engaged citizens.
In principle, politically active citizens could use distinct decision rules in forming preferences across distinct dimensions of policy. For example, authoritarianism might structure information seeking for issues concerning (say) terrorism, but heuristics related to class might structure information- seeking on issues of social welfare and market regulation. I might trust people who exude “toughness” when it comes to thinking about how to deal with ISIS but turn to those who share a class identity when it comes to health insurance reform (e.g., Carnes & Sadin, 2014). This is true, even when—as in the United States—the system effectively forces a choice between candidates of only two parties on Election Day. If dimensions are kept distinct, vote choice becomes a problem of weighing and combining the various policy dimensions per one's priorities. That is, one can maintain the independence of ideological dimensions and then trade off preferences across dimensions when confronting the binary choice at the voting booth.
Yet, this is not how engaged citizens appear to operate. Instead, they seem to have a strong need to reconcile their economic views with the personality and cultural divisions emphasized by Hetherington and Weiler (2009) and others (e.g., Frank, 2004; Haidt, 2012; Jost et al., 2003). This may be due to the depth and emotional intensity of conflicts rooted in these considerations. As argued by Kahan (2015) in his work on climate change opinion, it may be too socially costly to deviate from the economic views of those who share one's traits and cultural values; or, perhaps, too disconcerting to associate oneself with the economic views of opponents who are strongly disliked for these reasons. As partisanship has become increasingly tied to authoritarianism among politically engaged citizens, it may be more difficult than in the past to contemplate agreeing with one's opponents on just about anything (Hetherington & Rudolph, 2015)—even seemingly technical issues like many of those in the economic domain. In this sense, consistent with Webster and Abramowitz (2017), engaged citizens are disagreeing disagreeably on economic issues; but, consistent with Mason (2015b), the root cause of the conflict is only loosely connected to policy content: “We might believe that we are responding to specific policy disputes, but to a very real extent we are also being driven by an automatic, basic need to defend our social group” (p. 58).
By the by, this is empirical evidence that Marx was wrong. Class consciousness is not inevitable. It’s not natural.
The author describes the typical leftist argument that you can reach Trump voters with economics:
In principle, politically active citizens could use distinct decision rules in forming preferences across distinct dimensions of policy. For example, authoritarianism might structure information seeking for issues concerning (say) terrorism, but heuristics related to class might structure information- seeking on issues of social welfare and market regulation.
And then says: Nope! Not the way it works:
Yet, this is not how engaged citizens appear to operate. Instead, they seem to have a strong need to reconcile their economic views with the personality and cultural divisions [on issues like sexuality, gender, law and order, immigration, and terrorism].
In other words, people seek out fellow racists and homophobes and then adopt the economic policy preferences handed to them by racist, homophobe economic experts.
BUT: I think this guy is overgeneralizing in the same way Marx did. Marx tried to say money is fundamental, ie, there are two kinds of people in this world: the wage-payers and the wage-earners. But, even if he was right (and he wasn’t), that’s just the way it worked for a tiny slice of time in the middle of the Industrial Revolution.
Similarly, just because the GOP is organized as the more authoritarian party, I don’t think it’s a fact of nature that one party is authoritarian and the other not. This is the guy (Johnson) who says open personalities end up Democrats and closed/authoritarian personalities end up Republicans. I don’t think he realizes how contingent his concept of “open personality” is. Just like with Jung or Myers-Brigg, his attempts to reduce the infinite variety of human personality to some manageable number of categories will fail as history unfolds and blows up the categories. Some of the open and some of the closed will end up together in the “evolving toward city life” and some of the open and some of the closed will end up together in the category “evolving toward suburban life” in categories drawn up by my now 15 year old niece as she earns her PhD. And her Uncle Thornton will make sure she points out that those categories are themselves contingent and about to change.