Politics, Social Science

Political Moderates Are Lying

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once suggested that we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Mead is largely correct. Change is wrought by those willing to lead or force others toward it. Which is why we are skeptical that most people truly believe every position they express. Especially in public.

Do most people legitimately disagree with one another? Or are they merely conforming to supposedly dominant ideas?  Though there are legitimate disagreements, we contend that modern American political tribalism has been artificially inflated by group-based conformity. That is, the moderate majority’s submission to the demands of dedicated partisans has created a mirage of polarization.

Most Americans are not impassioned ideologues, neither coopted by Soros nor swayed by Koch. According to a May 2018 Gallup poll, 43% of Americans considered themselves “Independents” while 26% and 29% considered themselves “Republicans” and “Democrats,” respectively. In fact, it wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate to characterize the average American as a disinterested political observer. A poll of Americans’ attentiveness to the 2016 election revealed that 38% of respondents observed the election “somewhat closely” while 22% followed “not too closely” and 8% “not at all.”

These results are not at all surprising given the tedium of politics. People have better things to do. And yet when it comes to specific issues, people are quick to take sides. Here, we describe how a small group of dedicated partisans have come to dominate the political scene, stoking the flames of mistrust and fomenting political tribalism.

Preference Falsifiers and Political Ringleaders

One of the most important concepts for understanding social behavior is preference falsification. Developed by economist Timur Kuran, preference falsification occurs when an individual publicly misrepresents their private views to fit into a social group. It is conformity for the sake of social self-interest.

And reputation matters. We falsify our preferences to maintain or improve our standing within a group. Conformity to group preferences yields approval, affection, and advancement within the group. Disobedience, however, is reputational forfeiture as we may lose our seat at the vaunted “cool table.” The punishment for nonconformity is disrespect and ostracism.

But preference falsification raises more questions than it answers. Why do the vast majority of us, despite our supposedly moderate beliefs, adopt more partisan viewpoints? How did these viewpoints become mainstreamed? Who decides the rewards and punishments for conformity and dissent?

In short, partisans run the show. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Skin in the Game, discussed how this works in an essay titled “The Most Intolerant Wins.” He gives a simple example: the widespread use of automatic shifting cars. Those who can drive manual shift cars can drive all automatic cars. But the reverse isn’t true. Thus, the flexible manual shift drivers adapt to the inflexible drivers who can operate only automatic shift cars.

Taleb describes a Pareto distribution whereby a small number of highly inflexible individuals determine how a society is run. We might assume that the nature of democracy would mean the minority acquiesces to the whims of the majority. In reality, the majority’s passivity toward a policy or behavior is surpassed only by the minority’s rigidity toward it.

Committed ideologues are unshakable in their beliefs, unlikely to move toward the middle. On the other hand, moderates, less encumbered by bias, are more open to new ideas. Moderates are more likely to move toward the extremes than partisans are to move toward the middle. Given their flexibility, moderates tend to adopt the preferences of the intransigent minority.

But how does the moderate majority come to accept the preferences of an extreme minority? Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute provide an answer. The researchers, using mathematical modeling, found that there is a tipping point for when opinions held by a committed minority spread to the rest of the population. The tipping point is 10%. “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10%, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas…once that number grows above 10 %, the idea spreads like a flame.”

In short, how we behave often depends on how many people are behaving in that manner.

For a viewpoint to become popular, a minimum number of group members must first adopt it. Once this threshold is reached, the viewpoint becomes self-sustaining with more and more adopting it. Thus, the preferences of an intransigent minority are mainstreamed once enough moderates adopt them.

Following Taleb’s “minority rule,” political culture is driven by a small group of charismatic individuals. This makes intuitive sense as the actions of those in Washington drive the news cycle. Whether they be party leaders, activists, or intellectuals, these individuals are the heart and soul of a political movement. They draw the “party lines.” They create the tribe’s preferences and the tribe is willing to follow along.

The “minority rule” manifests rather mundanely in American politics. There is a lot of talk about hope, change, and making America great again. Slogans are indicators of what a party and political movement might become under a new leader. Often, a party comes to resemble the person who leads it. The leader determines what policies to support, what enemies to hate, what morals to espouse, and what hills to die on.

As a result, group preferences can change at the drop of hat. When Barack Obama openly supported gay marriage in 2012, his view not only became the de facto position of the Democratic Party but also produced preference changes across the US. Group preferences can also change radically over time. The Obama presidency significantly changed the political alignment of the Democratic voter base. According to Pew Research, between 2008 and 2016, Democrats have moved significantly leftward on a number of issues including racial discrimination, immigration, and the role of government.

This is not unique to Democrats, however, as Republicans’ political preferences have been “Trumpified.” YouGov polling indicates that between August 2014 and August 2017, Republicans’ view of Russia as an ally increased from 9% to 30%. Furthermore, Vladimir Putin’s favorability rating among Republicans increased from 12% to 32% between 2015 and 2017. And it’s not just Russia. Once supporters of free trade, Republicans are now increasingly against it, favoring steel tariffs.

This is not to suggest that political leaders are solely responsible for determining group preferences. Tribal preferences can be generated by self-righteous late night hosts, potty-mouthed actors, and this guy.

When it comes to formulating their own preferences, non-partisans tend to free ride on the ideas of the most available partisan, be it Kimmel or Schumer (both Chuck and Amy).

How Echo Chambers Encourage Preference Falsification

There’s no better time to join an echo chamber.

If everyone in your group holds the same viewpoint and constantly pats one other on the back for holding this view, then chances are you’re stuck in an echo chamber. There are no fundamental disagreements or internal debates. Acceptable ideas are “echoed” both because many people share them and because most refrain from speaking honestly. A group of likeminded individuals can reinforce one another’s tentative viewpoints through repeated interactions.

Consider this study by psychologists Serge Moscovici and Marisa Zavalloni. The researchers first asked participants their opinion of then French president, Charles de Gaulle. Next, participants were asked about their attitude towards Americans. Finally, the researchers asked the participants to discuss each topic as a group.

Discussion, it turns out, led individuals to become more extreme in their views. In particular, participants’ support for de Gaulle and dislike for Americans intensified as they learned that others shared these views. The researchers concluded, “Group consensus seems to induce a change of attitudes in which subjects are likely to adopt more extreme positions.” When we see our uncertain opinions echoed back to us, our beliefs strengthen.

We enjoy being around ideological compatriots. But this drive to associate with the likeminded has become excessive. Our communities are fragmented. And echo chambers are everywhere.

Today, polarization among Republicans and Democrats is staggering. Tracking 10 political values since 1994, the Pew Research Center discovered a 36-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. The gap was only 15 points in 1994.

This demonstrates a genuine movement towards polarization. As it relates to President Trump, nearly nine-in-ten Republicans (88%) approve of his job performance, compared to just 8% of Democrats.

In fact, the network science literature has revealed heightened levels of political homophily (“birds of a feather flock together”) on social media. Though these platforms were originally designed to bring people together, it is common to see social media users separate into two isolated communities, liberals and conservatives.

From what we’ve described, it is highly unlikely that most people within these groups are extreme partisans. It is instead more likely that moderates make up the rank and file. This raises an interesting question: how do moderates navigate this complex web of political tribes and echo chambers?

Simply put, they falsify their preferences. Most moderates conform to group preferences that have been established by committed ideologues.

Conformity is the key, here. Moderates must go along with the intransigent minority to get along with the group. In order to function within an echo chamber, less opinionated entrants must falsify their preferences so as to not upset those who decide the rules, rewards, and punishments. Moderates who agree with the gist of what the group stands for will often support fringe positions for the sake of group solidarity and reputational preservation. If you insist on telling the truth, your reputational goose is cooked.

American universities offer a clear example of how committed partisans can pressure moderates into falsifying their preferences.

In Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s piece entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Haidt offers a brief yet significant revelation. He notes that the majority of his students are well-adjusted individuals willing to learn and confront their biases. It is, however, a small cadre of dedicated ideologues who insist that Haidt modify his language and issue trigger warnings.

Campus ideologues have created an “ethical” code of conduct for which the rest of the student body must follow. Aware of the reputational costs of defiance, the moderate majority conceal their true feelings, quietly nodding along to campus diktats. According to Gallup, 88% of students at Pomona College agreed that campus climate prevented them from speaking openly. In fact, one Pomona sophomore noted that defying campus dogma could result in being “socially shunned.” Surveys from the Foundation for Rights in Education and The Harvard Crimson also confirm this reality.

Similarly, our polarized politics encourages preference falsification. The best evidence of this stares us right in the face: President Trump.

Following the outcome of the 2016 American presidential election, many political observers asked one question: how could the polls be so wrong? Put simply, the polls didn’t actually measure how people truly felt.

Of the 61 national polls tracking a two-way race since October, only six gave Trump the lead.

In fact, the Princeton Election Consortium and the New York Times put Clinton’s victory at 99% and 85%, respectively. Only polls by the LA Times, IBD/TIPP, and the Trafalgar Group correctly predicted Trump’s victory.

Despite their confidence in tried and true polling methods, pollsters simply could not account for preference falsification on the part of Americans.

Even if polling organizations managed to collect a representative sample, they can’t always trust the responses that people give them. When a topic is controversial, respondents often modify their answers to align with what they perceive to be socially acceptable. This is called the social desirability bias.

However, when a large enough number of respondents falsify their preferences to the point where the results of the survey contradict the results of the event, this is called the “Shy Tory Factor.” This is named after British conservatives who hid their voting preferences from pollsters during Britain’s 1992 general election.

Conclusively, a report from the American Association for Public Opinion Research revealed that preference falsification among Trump voters played a part in the incorrect polling results. In fact, Robert Cahaly, a senior analyst at the Trafalgar Group, revealed that altering his polling methodology to account for shy Trump supporters allowed him to correctly predict the election’s outcome.

Characterized as racists and “deplorables,” Trump supporters felt hesitant to declare their voting preferences when polled. Publicly admitting one’s support for Trump would garner disapproval. Pollsters could not breach this veil of false reportage.

A Journey to Abilene

Political polarization encourages preference falsification which in turn reinforces political polarization. This is the reality of our politics. It’s not as though Americans believe every position they express in public. It’s more so that inflexible partisans have pulled us to the fringes of the political spectrum. In fact, fewer Americans (32%) occupy the political center in 2018 compared to 1994 (49%) and 2004 (49%).

Preference falsification artificially inflates political polarization. If our political preferences have been falsified then our differences might not be as pronounced or as authentic as we think them to be.

Nevertheless, group-based conformity is dangerous. Especially when most of us don’t actually agree with the directives of our intransigent overlords. Conformity can lead us down a path that most of us did not want to travel.

Imagine a group of people trying to make dinner plans. One person suggests driving to a restaurant in a distant city called Abilene. Another person, not wanting to travel very far but dreading an argument, says “sure.” A third individual, now thinking that her two peers want to go to Abilene, doesn’t want to be the odd person out. She agrees that Abilene is a good idea. This domino effect leads to everyone thinking everyone else wants to go to Abilene when in fact a consensus does not exist.

This is called The Abilene Paradox, described by management expert Jerry B. Harvey. It resembles the aforementioned echo chamber. But the Abilene Paradox is stranger. It consists of individuals who do not agree with an idea yet acquiesce because of their mistaken belief that a consensus has been reached.

Why is any of this important? Well, if enough people falsify their preferences then many of us will begin to mistake polite but dishonest assent for the honest truth.

Suppose you and I publicly supported a policy we privately despised. If neither of us publicly dissents then we’ll continue to openly support this policy, making it more plausible than it actually is. And neither of us benefits when our “support” for this policy paves the way for its implementation.

As Americans, we collectively arrive at Abilene when we truly believe political polarization to be authentic. When moderates acquiesce to the beliefs of partisans, they signal to the opposition their ideological inflexibility and unwillingness to come together. It may even be the case that moderates on either side agree with another. But if no one speaks their mind, similarities are never discovered and compromises are never made.

Under these conditions, political caricatures and derogatory terms are accepted as truth. We’ll have bought into the idea that those on the other side are actually “deplorables” and “snowflakes.” Binary thinking, ideological brinksmanship, and bad faith assumptions will come to define us. Most importantly, we’ll have succumbed to belief that we have nothing in common.

In short, perception will become reality. The preference falsification which props up political tribalism will in time legitimize it. Indeed, believing that we are divided may be indistinguishable from actually being divided.

Unfortunately, the evidence now increasingly suggests that our inauthentic differences are becoming authentic. We are succumbing to the sway of partisans.

According to the Pew Research Center, 44% of Democrats and 45% of Republicans hold a very unfavorable view of the opposition. In 1994, fewer than 20% in both parties viewed the opposing party very unfavorably. In fact, our dislike of our political opponents may be driven more by fear than it is by legitimate critiques. 55% of Democrats said that the Republican Party made them “afraid” while 49% of Republicans said the same about the Democratic Party. As per our point on perceived ideological inflexibility, a staggering 70% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans viewed the opposition as “closed-minded.”

Political tribalism has even distorted our view of who our real enemies are. A poll conducted by The Daily Best revealed that Republicans were more favorable to Kim Jong Un (19%) compared to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (17%). Similarly, Democrats viewed Kim Jong Un (82%) less unfavorably than President Trump (88%).

In the case of American politics, it is clear that an intransigent political minority have led us towards political tribalism.

If the actual truth becomes unfashionable to express, then we will all operate under the assumption that everyone else holds opinions they do not actually believe. Cutting through this collective mirage can save us from a trip to Abilene. Or worse.

 

Vincent Harinam is a law enforcement consultant, research associate at the Independence Institute, and incoming PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. He received his BA and MA in Criminology from the University of Toronto. You can follow him (or not) @vincentharinam on Twitter.

Rob Henderson is a Gates Cambridge Scholar and incoming Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge. He received a B.S. in Psychology from Yale University and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. You can follow him on Twitter @robkhenderson

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74 Comments

  1. another fred says

    The authors seem to discount the large number of voters who felt they were making the “least bad” choice (for either candidate). There is a hard core of Trump believers (who will abandon him when things go bad) but many, perhaps most, voted for him as a repudiation of the excesses of the left. The policies of the left have been slow to reveal their infeasibility, especially when masked by “growth” fueled by expanding debt, but it is finally dawning on people that they are not working and they are being repudiated – that is the source of the partisan divide.

    Trump’s policies will not work either, at least, not as advertised, but I find it hilarious that those on the left are in such desperation to blame his rise on anything but the obvious stupidity of their policies for the last 50 years.

    • Gee says

      I agree, but I do think the ideas expressed in this article accommodate your argument. I suppose the big difference is that you are arguing that people in the center are being pushed to the right by idealouges on the left as opposed to being pulled to the right by idealouges in the right, but think a lot of the points in the article support that same position even if it’s not explicitly stated.

      • Bill says

        Another Fred is suggesting people are NOT being pushed to the left or the right. They are being labeled, ala the “if you aren’t against Trump your are a Nazi” theme that even Alan. Dershowitz is facing.

        Another Fred can correct me if i’m incorrect, but my interpretation is that the centrists had a choice — Hillary or Donald. The didn’t like either one so they had to revert to “who is the least offensive/bad/distasteful” and voted accordingly. Those that were anti-Clintons are now lumped as “pro-Trump” which is not the case.

        Social media enables the “if you aren’t for us, you’re against us” polarization by enabling conflict avoidance. In the era prior to social media, we encountered each other in a social setting and when we had a disagreement we would discuss and listen and communicate. In today’s world it’s far easier to ostracise/block/unfriend and shield yourself in a personalized safe-space rather than confront, tolerate, and adapt.

        This all began with President Obama. Not due to his actions, but by the actions of the alt-Left upon his election. Prior to him, if there was a political disagreement it was Left vs Right viewpoints. During his Presidency, political disagreements became “racist.” President Obama never declared such but his party’s Alex Jones did and that vocal minority, enabled by the sympathetic media searching for click-bait, created an atmosphere where you had to spout that nonsense to be “part of the gang.” Hence the new generation of vocal socialists who today feel Bernie Sander’s is borderline alt-Right (!)

        • Paul Ellis says

          @Bill

          “…my interpretation is that the centrists had a choice — Hillary or Donald. The didn’t like either one so they had to revert to “who is the least offensive/bad/distasteful” and voted accordingly. Those that were anti-Clintons are now lumped as “pro-Trump” which is not the case.”

          In the UK this is called Tactical Voting. Nowadays, probably a minority of voters vote *for* a candidate. We vote *against*, or for what we perceive as the least worst option, rather than for anyone we really want.

          In the UK many of us remain appalled at the choice of Presidential candidates the USA inflicted upon itself in 2016. We still think: “Is this really the best that the richest and most powerful nation on earth can do?”

          We are also appalled at the depth of your governmental dysfunction. How can it be that the government of the richest and most powerful nation on earth has to shut down every year because it cannot agree a budget? This is risible and causes us to despise your political class.

          Your problems are undoubtedly to do with the subject of this article, and as a nation you have to get a grip and sort yourselves out.

          Sadly, so do we.

          • ga gamba says

            Being appalled by the States is our national pastime. It’s one of the remaining topics where offensive things may be said without fear of being arrested for a hate crime.

            God bless America for that.

          • England will end up an Islamic state with a significant white, indigenous underclass, raped and abused and a very small often foreign, but also very rich minority indigenous English class and you have the gall to talk about American choice and leadership.

            I spent a few months in the US, mostly Texas but also all over, and a month in London, I can tell you which city more appalled my sensibilities.

            It was London that looked obscene.. Rolls Royces pulling past locals with bad teeth, very poor education and no brains. The world’s elite of the elite also there, perhaps similar to parts of New York.. but whereas NY is only a tiny part of the US, London is not a tiny part of England.

            The US much more closely resembled Australia, both of us undoubtedly less progressive than little old England, but I tell you far more equal societies than England for a much broader majority of citizens, with a much better looked after populace than what you have. So what does that say about your leadership eh?

            How come your NHS is so lauded when more than half of your population looks malformed? Crippled by poverty? Horrible teeth etc and so unhealthy?

            We can laugh at the cult of Kardashians but what about UK big brother? Compare US reality stars and UK and it isn’t the US that comes across as brainless.

            England’s worst are easily the worst that the entirety of the Western world have to offer and if the purpose of the state is to protect and uplift ITS OWN people then there are few failing more than England.

        • Ad Francis says

          “Prior to [Obama], if there was a political disagreement it was Left vs Right viewpoints…”

          Bill, I think you’re correct to say that these ad hominem politics have been at a renewed extreme since the 2008 election, but it certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. The Civil War comes to mind as an easy example: moderate Republicans, “radical” abolitionists, peace democrats, copperheads… Political differences became intensely personal, and not just across the Mason-Dixon line.

          And to lay the blame for our current polarization squarely on the shoulders of the Left is delusional. On day one of his presidency, Republican leaders publicly announced that they would do their utmost to ensure his presidency would be a failure. Their focus was not on Obama’s policy positions, but on his person. The preference for ad hominem attacks is one of the few things that the left and right seem to share in common.

          • KDM says

            The (pseudo right) definitely has a history of this. A great example is after 9-11 at the start of the Iraq war when dissent within the ranks of the right was still to be found, the neoconservatives stood on their self righteous soap box handing out cards of which opinions were and were not acceptable.

            David Frum (erstwhile neocon) in his essay “Unpatriotic Conservatives”:

            “They began by hating the neoconservatives,” Frum wrote. “They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.” He continued: “War is a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides. The paleoconservatives have chosen—and the rest of us must choose too. In a time of danger, they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them.”

            Frum and his gang o’ neocons purged all of the anti war conservatives from their ranks straight into the margins. So, the left definitely doesn’t have the patent to purity spiraling.
            Just saying!

          • Paul Ellis says

            @Luke Hulm

            That’s why I said ‘so do we’. Nothing of what you write disproves my remarks; it simply points out that in many respects the UK is even worse. Hard to disagree.

        • peanut gallery says

          Trump and Hillary were signs of a much greater problem. I voted T as a big “F you” to the political class. In hindsight, it would have been better to leave the presidential vote blank that year, but this thought occurred to me after the fact. I voted in CA anyway, so… drop in the Hillary ocean.

          Right now we have a crisis of faith (in America). I don’t know what the solution is, I should have foreseen the progressives doubling down in intensity on a Trump win. At least the schadenfreude has been delicious.

    • Caligula says

      A vote is a vote is a vote. Your vote counts exactly the same whether you’re wildly enthusiastic or just barely convinced the alternative is worse.

      And that, arguably, is the essence of electoral politics: the politician with lukewarm but wide support will usually defeat the politician supported by a few wildly enthusiastic supporters.

      The historical reference here is the 1936 Literary Digest poll, which predicted FDR was going to lose. The reason seems to have been that although FDR had wide and broad support (and thus the electoral victory), there were a significant number of people who just couldn’t stand him and his politics. And (of course), these were the very people who were differentially motivated to respond to the poll.

      As for Pres. Trump’s performance to date, those who voted for him as the least bad alternative are presumably pleased with the effect on the Supreme Court, disappointed that Obamacare has not been replaced with something bettter, and perhaps waiting to see the outcomes on trade, Korea and border enforcement.

      Pres. Trump does seem to have a public personality that produces a visceral “I just don’t like that man!” response in many that just seems to overwhelm reason to a point that precludes most rational discussion.

      • Paul Ellis says

        @Caligula

        “A vote is a vote is a vote. Your vote counts exactly the same whether you’re wildly enthusiastic or just barely convinced the alternative is worse.”

        Yes, and this is exactly what democracy should be. The problem though, is with politicians and parties thinking and claiming they’ve been voted *for*, and that thereby they’ve been validated and granted a mandate. No they haven’t; they simply got lucky because they’ve ended up being the majority’s least worst option. A very different kettle of fish.

        This is one reason we’d all probably be grateful if many politicians would wind their necks in a little bit.

        • peanut gallery says

          What doesn’t help is that folks vote in very low % for local politics, which actually mater a lot. Lack of faith in the system…

    • donald j. tingle says

      I wonder if Trump’s policies, where it counts, that is, monetary and fiscal policy, is any different from the policies of the “left” which his voters supposedly repudiated.

    • Wilson Hill says

      Not to counter you at all, but my perception is that it had a great deal to do with leftist activism c.2015 than anything else. While people could have celebrated a two-term black president, they saw him out with riots, highway closures, die-ins, #Xissowhite movements, “teach men not to rape” (???), rabidly tearing down statues, deplatforming, protesting everything, firings, death threats, assaults, eggings, arson, campus tantrums, and dressing it all up in the media as civil and righteous. It still escapes them that they lost because they somehow managed to OUT-CRAZY TRUMP. Turns out people don’t like sitting in traffic just because some angry teenagers are laying in the street. Surprise!

      • Pradeep Prakash says

        out-crazy Trump. Is that even possible?

    • Ram says

      What, in your mind, are the top 3 infeasible policies that Obama implemeted in his 8 years?

      Separately, if folks agree that Trumps policies are just as infeasible, why did Obama voters then turn around their vote for Trump?

    • Joey Tranchina says

      THIS IS AN ATTEMPT TO CMMENT ON THE ARTICLE NOT THE ABOVE POST…jt

      This article is far worse than than it seems. By repeating absurd false equivalencies like, “Most Americans are not impassioned ideologues, neither coopted by Soros nor swayed by Koch,” as if the political positions of the two teams were equally outside of the mainstream of American thought. George Soros has stood for democratic values public education, public participation in elections (the right to vote), the voice of labor in negotiations, demand for science-based public policy, while the other supports the right to buy politicians, flood elections with high-proced propaganda while seeking the destruction of a social safety net and the right to pollute public spaces for private profit.

      This folly stands in the shadow of facts. Donald Trump is corrupt, a notoriously cheap chiseler, who is, in fact, a career criminal (the dishonest things he did with his non-profit alone would be enough to put you or me in prison); someone who lies almost every time he opens his mouth. while pitching to the lowest common denominator of US society. He is a man who despises democracy and admires dictators; a man whose policies have demonstrated that explicit ahistoric preference in his despicable version of racist and corrupt American policy. Trump is engaged in an attack on the press and on federal investigators who are gathering evidence of his unfitness for public office. These are facts.

      What the criminal investigations will eventually turn up is a subject for speculation, but those investigations — being conducted by some of the most conservative Republicans in America — are an object of constant attack, that only a target with full knowledge of his own guilt would attempt, is beyond obvious. Unless you were born under a turnip truck, you know, from experience, that innocent people do not act like that.

      Pablum such as this sane sounding nonsense, misrepresents the gravity of the threat that the corruption of Trump & Trumpism represents to the future of America’s beleaguered Republic, which will only progress with the study hand of a rule of law that is currently under the most extreme assault since the Civil War.

      PS. Before anyone lights their hair on fire, I spent most of my adult life in the Republican Party. I publicly supported my Republican Congressman, Tom Campbell (one of the most economically conservative members of congress, with a Ph.D. in Economics from U. of Chicago), in his senate bid against Diane Feinstein. For the record, Tom Campbell, left the GOP when Trump was nominated on a platform of treason (see changes in policy toward Ukraine), racism and lies. There is nothing “conservative” about Donald Trump’s corruption.

      • Paid for by Koch says

        @Joey, How much did Soros pay you to post that?

  2. Gee says

    I’m from a province in Canada where the dominate narrative is the province is totally screwed and on the verge of bankruptcy. People complain about rising power rates, unemployment rates and government debt, and the aging population. I point out that our power rates are around the middle of the pack in the country with the increase in rates, unemployment rates and the age of the population are actually only really bad in rural areas, and aren’t so bad in the city, and I point out that our government is not going to go bankrupt because it’s income is so high on a per capita basis, it is not eligible for equalization payments. I express these, really very moderate views publicly at dinner parties and around the water coolers and whatnot when the topic comes up. You would be amazed at how often I get shouted down. This article is really hitting on a very real thing. People want you to join your camp, and if you don’t a very small group of people loudly try to debase any of your arguments publicly without backing their own argument up with any facts whatsoever, citing instead opinion pieces in the local media by political insiders that do not cite any facts or figures. It’s getting bad.

    • Gee says

      This should have read join “their” camp. I apologize for the typo.

    • Mike says

      I’ve faced the same thing here in the US. I’m generally right-centrist in my political outlook, but during the Obama years I participated in a blog which was largely populated by folks much further right than I am. On a few occasions I exposed logical fallacies in their anti-Obama positions which resulted in me being “shouted down” (at least in an internet sense). It really is a shame when people refuse to alter their opinions even in the face of hard evidence that they’re wrong. I guess all you can do is to keep trying and risk being shunned.

      • gda says

        Well it seems as though their fears about Obama (though perhaps not those SPECIFIC fears) have been realized.

        I mean, even ignoring Trump, the man weaponized the alphabet agencies against his political enemies, spied on his opponents and the media who opposed him. This was going on almost from the very moment he figured out he could use the powers implemented after 2001 to his advantage. Certainly it was a factor in the 2012 election. Poor old Mitt never knew what hit him.

        When you add in the attempt to install “crooked” Hillary and frame Trump, the sky was the limit of how BIG this scandal is (will be).

        Sit tight.

    • Michael Krizanc says

      Gee, I’m not sure which province you’re describing but it clearly isn’t Ontario. Here, power rates have gone from among the lowest in North America to almost the highest resulting in the loss of around 300-thousand manufacturing and resource jobs in recent years. We’ve also achieved the dubious distinction of having the highest sub-national debt of any jurisdiction in the world. And, for the first time ever since equalization payments were introduced, we began receiving them several years ago.
      Fortunately voters last month chose the “least worst” option, and we have a new government promising to reverse some “progressive” decisions of the past and introduce some “populist” policies which may begin to restore our position as Canada’s dominant province.
      BTW, your typo apology might have included another correction; a narrative which dominates is the “dominant” narrative, not the “dominate” narrative. Like Ontario’s economy, literacy has also been a victim of “progressive” policies.

      • Mark McRae says

        Bravo!! Great rejoinder.
        (I, an Ontarian, inferred the same)

  3. TJR says

    At the small scale, you see this on the interpersonal level too. I’m sure we all know someone who tends to lose their temper when they don’t get their own way, so the rest of us go along with what they want, for a quiet life.

    At the larger scale, this seems to be how religions spread as well.

  4. Ad Francis says

    Interesting ideas. I certainly agree with the authors’ concerns about polarization, echo chambers, and the dominance of extreme viewpoints in our political discourse. But there are a few unstated assumptions that I think are worth questioning.

    First – and this is nit-picky, but so am I – that mention of the 43% of Americans who identify as independents. The authors seem to assume that these independents are moderates, being pulled to left and right by the radicals. While it’s probably safe to say that a significant portion of these folks are moderates, there are also bound to be a number of libertarians and socialists in there, even further to right and left of the two parties. To grant that all 43% are in the political center overstates the case of moderation in the US.

    Secondly – and this gets more to the point of the article – I think it demonstrates a lack of rigor to simply assume that the apparent polarization of moderates comes from “preference falsification.” While I sure that people often throw shade on their politics to avoid uncomfortable scenes at family gatherings, I see no evidence (here or elsewhere) that this is happening on a wide scale. A more plausible explanation, to me, is that as our national discourse is becoming more polarized, individual views are genuinely moving to left or right. At least, this has been my experience in the past few years.

    I think it’s worth noting that our opinions are often quite easily dictated by the course of history. A few years ago, the Cubs had the loyalty of perhaps a third of the city of Chicago. Another third were Sox fans, and the remainder couldn’t care less either way. Suddenly, as the Cubs entered and then won the 2016 World Series, they became the darlings of the entire city. Fair weather fans such as myself weren’t feigning our enthusiasm – we were just easily swayed. I think that most Americans have a similarly shallow relationship with politics.

    • max says

      I appreciate the comparison to fair weather fans. Except in politics it’s fair weather protester.

    • “While it’s probably safe to say that a significant portion of these folks are moderates, there are also bound to be a number of libertarians and socialists in there, even further to right and left of the two parties”

      Even more accurate, many people who could be described as libertarians and socialists or other terms *are* moderates, in the sense that neither party appeals to them and they prefer the Rs on some issues and the Ds on others, even while disagreeing with each other.

      If Trump makes the Republicans into the party of trade restrictions and tariffs (which has been the position of Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, and others on the Left recently), *and* the Democrats respond by moving towards free trade, that ends up putting libertarians in the middle instead of being “further to the right.” If Trump makes the Republicans into the party of getting along with Russia, *and* the Democrats respond by wanting to get tough with traditional enemies like Russia, that makes neocons into moderates. Etc.

  5. GentMach says

    I echo the interpersonal sentiments. I pointed out that school schootings were on the decline.

    One person asked “Where did you find that? Fox News?” (The specific article was from NPR.)

    Another two disagreed based more on feeling than facts.

  6. John Samsonite says

    As a psychological genius, I clearly explained all of these dynamics years ago.
    Predicted the rise of Trump, the fall of Hillary, the reactions of the Democrats nearly to a T, because I am a cynic – a misanthrope, which means I deal in reality while others deal in their fairy tales and narratives.

    “Political activism” is almost entirely a retarded virtue-signaling display by people who are not individually interesting, or who do not yet feel comfortable in their own interesting nature.

    Followers are losers* (* we are referring ONLY to those who become arrogant in their ignorant activism. ie. unfortunately many, if not most). Pathetic, sheepish losers whose lives and beliefs will be determined by what they perceive as the rulers of that cool club forever. It’s pathetic. It’s childlike, but worse, often because it comes with gray hair and the bitterness of divorce and rejection.

    All of these displays are comical to someone like myself, because they are all completely psychologically transparent.

    You know nothing.

    The dumb broad next to you knows nothing.

    The dumb dude next to her knows nothing.

    You’re all pretending.

    It’s embarrassing to watch.

    You’ll never be capable of better, because you are too cowardly.

    Social truths are the most untrue.

    Except for this one:
    Everyone is clueless, and everyone is a liar, and everyone is a fraud. Your activism IMPLIES YOU BELIEVE OTHERWISE (with only the most historically unique exceptions… see: President Donald J. Trump) and as such is embarrassing to watch. You are being laughed at, but you are so desperate for connection that you delude yourself into believing something else is going on.

    Embarrassing.

    And most of you will never escape.

    in most of your cases, kindly gfy and just stay out of my way until we meet on the other side.

    The world goes on, life goes on, everyone around you is having a great time, and your childlike whining simply gives them some added entertainment in the process.

    Cheers and salutations to my sad, pathetic, cowardly, scared leftist friends in their Nazi-esque roaming mobs of intimidation and violence.

  7. Why hasn’t a third party yet grabbed the moderate middle? Is there a demand for political leadership that transcends left-right division?

    • Because many, in fact according to some studies most, of the people in the “moderate middle” don’t really hold moderate positions. What they do hold are a grab-bag of extreme positions, some of which are extreme “left” and some of which are extreme “right.” In the pre-Trump era, that could mean favoring tariffs (a “left” position for the last thirty years, beloved of Sens. like Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, old Dick Gephardt) together with, “right” positions on guns. Because the parties define “left” and “right” in ways that involve a lot of nearly independent issues, you can end up with a bunch of people all of whom say “neither party really speaks to me” — yet all of whom disagree with each other. The socially conservative union member versus the libertarian, for example.

      By this measure, it’s no wonder that people viewed Trump as a particularly “moderate” Presidential candidate (with a mix of extreme positions plucked from the different parties). Similarly, Trumpifying the Republican party has made some people that used to be “extremely conservative” into “moderates” – if you want to be hard on Russia and are a gung ho free trader plus want to cut corporate taxes, that used to slot you into the “extremely conservative” camp, but now it puts you in the position of being between the two parties.

      In short, when a party “grabs the moderate middle,” what they generally do is redefine what is Left and what is Right, and changes who feels left out by the existing party duopoly.

      • JT, Your analysis makes sense, especially what a mish mash of characters comprise the middle. Coming from a rural area, I see a large chunk of the middle made up of individualists, which can range from a retired hippy living off the land to a fourth generation ranching family. We agree to disagree on social issues but find common ground in our distaste for government control. I assume that’s how Trump became so popular here.

    • TarsTarkas says

      1. The two-party system is deeply entrenched (which IMO is a good thing, considering the examples of the Third and Fourth Republics of France). 2. With such a large country and such a diverse populace you need a good deal of money/public exposure to make yourself or your faction politically visible, and no one with lots of money or the ability to heavily promote is going to waste their time and resources on a sure loser. And as HRC showed even great gobs of money can’t overcome arrogance, stupidity and utter carelessness combined with a criminally rotten and corrupt character. If money were all that mattered Steven Forbes would have been a two-term president.

      I would argue though that effectively Trump WAS a third-party candidate who got elected with a great deal of unintentional help from the MSM. But knowing the eventual fate of third-party insurgencies in the USA (See the Populists and the Socialists) he and his faction are now Borging the Republican Party. The mid-terms result will show how well they have succeeded.

  8. dejake says

    A poll conducted by The Daily Best revealed that Republicans were more favorable to Kim Jong Un (19%) compared to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (17%). Similarly, Democrats viewed Kim Jong Un (82%) less unfavorably than President Trump (88%).

    I expect the results of these type of polls reflect more along the lines of what the responder expected or hoped the subject person would turn out like, not something based on an absolute scale of 0 to 100 of humanity.

  9. AA says

    The reason that people are so susceptible to conformist behavior is that they have not taken the time to sit down and think through a coherent and distinctively political ideology for themselves. Survey research shows that a startling low percentage (25%) of Americans can actually tell you what the differences are between progressives and conservatives, even though they are more than happy to spew knee-jerk opinions on every so-called political position imaginable.

    People who are not capable of deriving their issue positions from a set of fundamental political principles are entirely dependent on elite cues do tell them what they need to think about a given politician or issue.

    One of the forces contributing to increased polarization not addressed by this article is the politicization of private and social life. As you multiply the number of issues people must take a political stance on, you multiply the domains of political conflict and create the sense that an increasing amount of your life outcomes are dependent on political outcomes. A great example of this is the introduction of historical racial grievances into formal legal institutions and doctrines in the form of “affirmative action.” What was previously a social issue that was more or less intractable is now a political issue every voter must consider when going to the polls. This makes the stakes infinitely higher for politics. Those racial groups that are hurt by affirmative action policies must ask themselves if they want to vote for a progressive that is going to support policies that directly discriminate against their children and potentially deprive them of meaningful opportunity.

    It would be interesting to do a controlled social experiment to determine the extent to which people recede behind preference falsification and group conformity depending on the degree to which an issue intrudes into the social and private lives of the participants.

    • Rob says

      Coherent political ideologies are often simplistic dogma. X is the essential conflict in society and Y are the real enemies.

      However, the modern world is a surpassingly complex place. A thorough and fair-minded consideration of most issues will reveal nuance and difficult trade-offs. But few want to recognize nuance when they’re anxious, and we pretend trade-offs don’t exist in order to free ourselves for decisive action.

      In short, when people embrace ideology and partisanship, they sacrifice the truth in the interests of an emotionally satisfying narrative and identity. Some of us hold the truth in too high regard to make that trade-off.

  10. Urusigh says

    With all respect, I think the author commits an error of domain by treating policy preferences as simply a variable derived from the most charismatic partisan and in-group conformity. It’s fair to say that those are factors but policy preferences don’t exist in a purely social reputational context, they also exist in the relevant domain the policy affects I. E. economics, criminal justice, foreign relations, etc.

    As such, policy preferences also reflect changes in conditions and knowledge, I. E. The prior consensus on “Free Trade” was forged with the assurance of all the “experts” that the jobs lost to outsourcing would be replaced with new, better paid jobs and that the disruption would be both minor and very temporary. Given that the disruption proved both severe, geographically concentrated, and has largely endured to the present day, it doesn’t require a charismatic partisan to convince those who lost their jobs to outsourcing that “Free” trade wasn’t entirely “Fair” trade as promised. Likewise, many positions on immigration have shifted due to the simple fact that both the numbers and composition of illegal immigration have changed by a magnitude or more even as the economy into which they seek to enter has also drastically changed. Citizen entrepreneurs in a booming industrial economy seeking affordable workers have a much different perspective on cheap undocumented labor than unskilled citizens competing for jobs against the illegal aliens in a depressed and highly concentrated economy.

    Sure, social media has been highly efficient in sorting people into echo chambers, but so has the increasingly partisan tilt of certain educational institutions and professions. We were geographically and institutionally “Coming Apart” and “Bowling Alone” in “The Great Sort” well before Facebook poured fuel on the fire. That didn’t reduce contact with the out-group, it also collected people who actually did have more interests in common together.

    It’s possibly missing the point to argue that people whose views mildly lean one way go further toward that direction when they group if you don’t first establish why their views leaned that way and what assumptions were confirmed or denied by exposure to those with similar views. Upon examination, you might find that an Abilene Paradox isn’t being created, it’s being corrected.

    For example: each resident in a neighborhood thinks that crime in their neighborhood is generally low but may be getting worse because each had a recent break in. Without community communication, each assumed that theirs was an isolated incident and therefore adjusted their initial view of “completely safe” to “mostly safe”. However if they all attend a neighborhood meeting and each learns that all the others were also burglarized recently, all of them are going to shift their view to “very unsafe”. That’s not echo chamber amplification or small group polarization, that’s simply the accumulation of relevant information leading to an update in view to more accurately reflect the change in situation.

    Politics is particularly prone to this problem because both sides tend to “fearmonger” as a way to motivate negative partisanship, but it does matter whether the material used to provoke fear is objectively true. I. E. Left-leaning sources made many wild claims during 2016 that Trump would “Declare Martial Law”, “Start a Nuclear War”, and “Crash the Economy”! Hasn’t happened yet. On the other hand, Conservatives who opposed the Obergfell decision by claiming that federal recognition of Gay Marriage would lead to state and federal persecution of businesses and processionals with a firm faith commitment to traditional marriage…well, it didn’t take long for the florist and the cake maker to find themselves living examples of that now institutionalized hostility to sincerely held religious beliefs. Given that the democrats really have moved far left and grown increasingly authoritarian about enforcing their radical social engineering, is it really a wonder that more moderates have had to shift right simply in self-defense of their own freedom? Since Obama’s “fundamental change”, it’s no longer the Left vs the Right so much as the Radical Left vs everyone else.

    • AA says

      Very well stated and I believe a necessary correction to the authors’ underlying assumption.

    • EEA says

      Excellent points until the final sentences of the last paragraph. Taking a longer view on polling data, for example, would point to the emergence of a more extreme Left in response to a more radical Right growing in the 1990s and early 2000s. This would be consistent with your argument absent the final assertion that Obama and the Democrats were a real problem and everything else was rhetorical.

  11. Kessler says

    I’m curious about the effects of the media – would the people delivering the news be disproportionately influential, due to their control over the narrative? A lot of the current conflict seems to center about Media.

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  13. I posted two identical posts in similar places. One of the posts received a very positive comment followed by a preponderance of positive comments the other identical post received a strongly negative first comment followed by many more negative comments.

    The entire comment streams seemed to repeat the initial comment.

    This would appear to be consistent with the article and could be a way of running trials on the hypothesis.

  14. I grew up outside of Chicago. On any given Saturday during the summer, I could walk down my block and there, ensconced under a hood or pushing a 2×4 through a table saw, would be the neighborhood burghers downing their Blatz/Hamms/Stroh’s beer while listening to either the Cubs or White Sox. It seemed as if every other garage had on a different game broadcasting the (then) lovable losers of their choice. The baseball arguments at the neighborhood picnics were legendary and often heated… but all in good fun. Americans love to bicker about just about anything, but at the end of the day both sides could admit to a love of baseball. I think this is what moderates are all about… a willingness to embrace a cultural preference, but not at the expense of good manners and the innate toleration when walking in the other guy’s spikes.

    • ga gamba says

      I thought Chicagoans drink Old Style – seems each bar had its sign hung above the front door. Did that brewery go bust?

      • er… “outside of Chicago” as in Skokie. No one I knew drank it (or admitted to) and everyone I knew thought Dick Daley was a knob… and we were Packer fans.

  15. ga gamba says

    Similarly, our polarized politics encourages preference falsification. The best evidence of this stares us right in the face: President Trump.

    Whilst I don’t discount the Shy Tory Factor, I’m unconvinced Trump is the best evidence of this. Voter participation by blacks fell by seven percentage point from 2008 to 2016. When 10% of your most loyal base don’t show up to the polls on election day it’s tough to overcome. Few desire to delve into this issue because it’s taken by some blacks as an attack on them, and to do so will likely meet accusations of racism and the like. Further, pollsters and campaigners have a very hard time finding mobile phone users with unpublished numbers and no landline. Obama’s grab-Facebook-user-data app of 2012, variants of which were used by Clinton and Trump in 2016, was driven in large part to identify and contact this ‘hidden’ population. Non-coverage bias may distort any number of estimates; the choice of survey modality, consequently, may introduce different types of survey errors. To the extent random-digit-dial (RDD) surveys systematically exclude people without landline telephones and also how those with landline telephones are different in important ways from those without landline telephones, then traditional RDD survey estimates may not represent the general population.

  16. John says

    My take on this starts with three analogies:

    Hegelian dialectic of (1) thesis, (2) antithesis, and (3) synthesis

    The classic World Series: Two untested and independent leagues brought the best together; they never met before the big show. When this happens, many cherished beliefs are shattered.

    Wile E. Coyote from the Road Runner cartoons — he walked off the cliff for several steps and hovered in the air, then fell down after looking down: There’s a LONG history of flawed, bad, and unworkable ideas lasting well past they are known to be impossible failures. This applies to everything from 20th century Communism to the original NASA plans to get to the moon with a huge secondary rocket. The theory of plate tectonics was ridiculed during the creator’s lifetime as well. It all relates to costs vs. benefits of change — in the absence of hard proof the status quo continues.

    During the post WW2 Cold War era, the US was largely united by the obvious flaws of non-western governments. The unity fell apart during Vietnam, but lasted until the fall of the USSR (early 1990s; see timeline in the original article). Following this, the only viable leftist model was that of softhearted social democracies (i.e., Sweden). And they had seemed to work fine for decades during the Cold War. In contrast, the right shifted attention to those who were plainly the most violent and hostile to the West (i.e., Islamic governments and groups), and returned to the conventional right-wing priority of law and order.

    The George W. Bush wars and the abject failures of recent immigration policies in softhearted Europe revealed the genuine flaws in both ideologies. But NO ONE LIKES TO BE WRONG.

    So, we are experiencing opposite-day whereby the peacenik anti-gun crowd is calling for hostility and/or violence toward conservatives and the religious right moralists have suddenly stopped caring about extramarital affairs, sexual freedom and whatnot. They prioritize law and order and economic functionality. The conservatives are past their Wile E. Coyote moment on sex and abortion. The left is just waking to the need to toughen up, take personal responsibility, and consider individual psychology rather than very tired Marxist sociological narratives (hence the irrational hostility toward the meat-and-potatoes intellectual moderate Jordan Peterson). The left is hanging over the canyon, just starting to look down before the long fall. [And they are terrified and screaming right now.]

    And so the Hegelian dialectic proceeds. At some point people must rethink right and wrong — Trump is likely the final stage of the sharp division between Thesis and Antithesis. Next phase: moderates reassert functional, practical, pragmatic survival strategies [as happened for 40 years after WW2]. And the radicals will be pushed to the fringes until the next intellectual cycle needs them to recalibrate the meanings of good and bad. Or we have a generation of war before moderation begins…

    • Andrew Roddy says

      What, in God’s name, are you talking about?

  17. Andrew Roddy says

    If you you feel you might have something to say, then just fucking say it. What is this shite?
    I stand in the middle of the betwixt and between of language. I will use as many words as I possibly can to say absolutely nothing about anything.
    And the subtext is – We have language and it makes us important. The more impressive the language the more important we are…and the more correct.
    If there is something actually being said here then what the fuck is it.
    I enjoy some Quillette pieces but is this the Rosetta Stone?

  18. D.B. Cooper says

    Here’s a question: Do most people legitimately agree with one another?

    By that, I mean, are most people really morally indifferent about suicide, affairs, gambling, etc.? Do a majority of people really have moderate views on polygamy, capital punishment, human embryos, etc.?
    Is that really true? Or is a state of moderation (indifference) only true when the given behavior (or social policy) doesn’t directly affect a person, or their self-interests? A degree of naïve realism may be at play, here. I’m just not sure a majority of people are as inherently simpatico as the authors presume they are.

    Take for example the social policy of ‘No Taxation Without Representation’. Having at one time spilt a great deal of tea over the matter, I doubt very seriously pollsters could find a meaningful divergence in the majority of view on the subject, notwithstanding those held by the residents of Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico – a regrettable situation, to be sure. For everyone else, this policy would be about as moderate a position as one could take, right? Okay, now take the corollary of no taxation without representation – NO REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION – and then see what kind of moderation pours out the backside of that poll. Not-so-much. Not-so-much, I guarantee you. Why? Self-interest. Social political polarization has been realized on the back of individual self-interest.

    Of course, this doesn’t call into question the validity of preference falsification; which seems to merely reaffirm humanity’s herd mentality as well as the ability of mass media platforms to manufacture consent with unqualified efficiency. As an aside, I’ve often thought this was the catalyst behind people who claimed to like pineapple pizza.

    Just a thought.

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  20. Dana Peck says

    Oddly unsatisfying article, starting with the first paragraph where the closing sentences don’t seem to follow from the opening.

  21. Bubblecar says

    “When Barack Obama openly supported gay marriage in 2012, his view not only became the de facto position of the Democratic Party but also produced preference changes across the US.”

    In what sense is this an “extreme” or “polarised” position? Marriage equality is an example of an issue (and there are many) in which there is no intelligible “middle ground” position – you’re either for it or against it.

    Social resolution of such issues will always take the form of one side winning, one side losing. If the conservative side has no substantive case and is simply obstructing progress, they lose.

    Once their defeat on this or that issue becomes undeniable, the next generation of conservatives incorporate the changed perspective into the latest version of “conservatism”.

    Many of today’s ordinary mainstream conservatives would be regarded as left-wing radicals by their grandparents.

  22. Catl says

    One of the most important concepts for understanding social behavior is preference falsification. Developed by economist Timur Kuran, preference falsification occurs when an individual publicly misrepresents their private views to fit into a social group. It is conformity for the sake of social self-interest.
    This is nothing more that the street poet saying “To get along you have to go along.”

  23. ADM64 says

    The late Ayn Rand used the term “social metaphysics” to describe the phenomenon of preference falsification. Her view was that most people think in social terms (i,e. in terms of people and their reactions) rather than in terms of objective facts and causality (whose operation may take some time to work).

  24. Curmudgeon says

    @Bubblecar

    The history of marriage and Civil Partnerships in the UK is curious.

    As I understand it, in the UK’s Judeo-Christian culture, marriage was until recently a religious as well as legal construct defined as ‘the union of one man with one woman’. Pressure from secularists led to the introduction of a civil version of the ceremony with the religion removed.

    Homosexuals then complained of discrimination, pointing out that as there was no way in which their stable relationships could be formalised, they were deprived of the social status, legal, and tax advantages bestowed upon the married. In consequence, Civil Partnerships, legally marriages in all but name, were introduced for them. This didn’t satisfy their desire for the social status of marriage, and under further pressure, marriage for couples who identified as other than male/female was introduced.

    But that left Civil Partnerships dangling, as they were only available to couples who identified as other than male/female. A male/female couple has recently succeeded in getting our Supreme Court to declare this to be discriminatory, and soon, Civil Partnerships will be available to all.

    This now leaves us with three distinct states of formal partnership: the full-fat religious version; the secular version; and the Civil Partnership, marriage with most of the marriage taken out. A bit like alcohol-free beer.

    Once upon a time people either wanted the discipline, social and legal status of marriage, or the ‘freedom’ of cohabitation. Now that three recognised partnerships are available to couples of all kinds I can’t help thinking there’s one too many, but I’m damned if I can put my finger on which.

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  26. Bubblecar says

    The reason there are three types of state-endorsed marriage in the UK is because unlike most Western democracies, you have an “established church”, a state-endorsed religion that maintains some theocratic powers.

    Here in Australia, marriage is marriage, and the relevant legislation was secular from the start. Churches can conduct weddings but the paperwork they have to lodge with the government is the same as that used in secular weddings.

    Unlike in the UK, Australian churches that wish to conduct weddings of same-sex couples are free to do so.

    “Civil partnerships” arose in the UK as a result of pressure for legal recognition of same-sex marriage – it was a halfway house designed to reassure conservatives that it was a second-class arrangement, because it didn’t include the word “marriage”.

    It was inevitable that the campaign for true marriage equality would not be satisfied with that. Nonetheless, some people (both gay and straight) prefer the Civil Partnership category because it apparently comes without the historical sexist baggage attached to “marriage”.

    This is somewhat illusory as it was really an attempt to provide an alternative category in preference to dragging “the institution of marriage” into a more equalitarian era. “Marriage equality” is a more significant progressive milestone.

  27. AliRadicali says

    I strongly resent the framing of this headline, whereby moderates’ and centrists’ willingness to compromise is presented as “lying”. What the hell guys.

  28. Heather Johnson says

    Once again, these studies rely heavily upon left/right political belief or middle. It doesn’t consider enough of the other parties and political ideologies out there. It also doesn’t quite count the people who don’t care, are fed up with the system, or completely ignorant and don’t pay attention at all. There are numerous political ideologies that run the spectrum of belief more on a grid that a line of left to right. It’s like the study was done with limited data to get a specific result.

  29. Martin28 says

    @Urusigh
    What you say rings true. There is never one factor, and in a free society with free elections, open media, and open intellectual dialog there are important correctives to the tendency to extremists getting control of policy, culture and politics. What the author is describing is particularly relevant to our times and social justice. The academy and the mainstream media are not open today, which is the entire reason for Quillette. The punishment for disagreeing with extremists is being branded a racist, sexist, alt-right or otherwise bad person and losing social status and sometimes outright isolation. This has financial, social, and career repercussions. This is very real and in the face of that, most people will remain silent or pretend to agree.

  30. Wilson Hill says

    Just to put a pin in that transmission example – and this may very well go without saying – for one it’s mostly just business. If automatics are what people are buying, it’s what dealers will sell. That hardly amounts to group dictatorship. But beyond that there’s a pretty solid argument for the objective advancement of the automatic transmission, and the archaic whimsy of a manual transmission, for commuters (less so for commercial truckers or race car drivers). Safety is always a top priority with regard to automobiles, and any means to make driving less complicated almost certainly makes it safer, at least to some degree. And finally, it’s not like you can’t buy manual transmission vehicles. Your options may be more limited, but again that simply reflects the marketplace, which is among our best examples of democracy.

  31. Mike van Lammeren says

    Many tech companies follow a process called Planning Poker, where team members estimate effort required to complete a task. All members of the team secretly pick a playing card that represents their personal estimate, then reveal their cards simultaneously. This avoids the corruption of other people following the lead of outspoken and influential peers. It forces honest, independent input from every individual. It follows that an important mechanism to enforce such honesty in democracies is the secret ballot.

  32. But the polls failed in the US presidential election? My impression is that what most polls were trying to predict/measure was the popular vote, and in that point the results were very similar to most polls (Hillary wining by a small margin)..

  33. AZBill says

    “Moderates who agree with the gist of what the group stands for will often support fringe positions for the sake of group solidarity and reputational preservation.”

    Well, they’re really not “moderates” then are they?

    I’m fairly moderate and argue conservative positions to Liberals and Liberal positions to Conservatives. If I take a fringe position I really don’t give two hoots if anyone agrees or disagrees with me. One can argue that I’ve been “influenced” or captured by some ideological wing despite my protestations but at that point you have me trying to prove a negative. So it becomes pretty useless attempting to convince you that what I think is actually what I think. Which is a huge problem for discourse since no one apparently believes anyone is being honest. And that suspicion is what leads to our currently uncivil discourse.

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