James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Values and Presidential Elections

People have different and often-conflicting values, especially in politics. I would place them into these value categories:
  • ideology: what do you believe are the best ends and best means for a better world?
  • patriotism: what's best for my country and people as a whole?
  • economic analysis: would my idealistic principles actually work in a given situation (e.g., "I'm for open borders, but not flooding of immigrants into a welfare state.")
  • cultural affinities/identity groups: What voting "bloc(s)" are you in? Are you a Christian who believes Christians are being persecuted? Are you a woman who believes you're falling behind in a sexist culture? Race, sexuality, and domestic resentments come into play here.
  • local interests: e.g., "if they close down the nearby base, a lot of jobs will be lost!"
  • individual/family economic interests: e.g., "We just couldn't afford the taxes this candidate wants to raise, or will be hurt too much by the programs he wants to cut."
  • fears of foreign threats: in which idealistic principles are ignored in the face of particular perceived threats, like "Islamic extremists."
These values kick in at different times. In the early stage of a war, for instance, the fear factor might override all. But then anti-government feelings may awaken again. I haven't done a study on this, but my guess is that when casting a vote for President the average person would unconsciously rank their value categories like this:

1. individual/family self-interest: If you think a candidate's policies will cost you your job or health care, you may feel you have no choice but to vote against him. And if another will give you a big tax break, you'd probably vote for him.

2. patriotism: people want to be inspired by their President and proud of their nation, to make it "great" again.

#3-5 may jump higher depending on the situation:

3. cultural/identity group: one candidate will make you feel he's "one of us" while his opponent is "one of them."

4. fears of foreign threats: may jump higher depending on the closeness and severity of the latest attack.

5. local interests: factory closings or high crime rates will cause many voters to look for national solutions.

And at the bottom:

6. ideology: most people don't have a well-developed or thought-out ideology.

7. economic analysis: most people probably neglect this, thinking that it depends on having the "right people" in charge.

The Libertarian Party's problem is that it focuses most where voters focus least: ideology and economics. The challenge is to nominate someone (and they'll be nominating someone this weekend, in Denver) whose positions are right and do make economic sense, but who can package them in a way that persuades people this is best not only for themselves, but also for the American people as a whole. If Bob Barr is "libertarian enough," I hope he gets the nomination, because I think he may be the best one to package the message in the most persuasive way and get the most votes in the general election.

1 comment:

  1. James, This analysis is quite good and deserves both a label/brand and more coverage. I hope you write an entire column about this at some point.

    I haven't seen the problem you're referencing described exactly that way.

    Harry Browne spoke about the importance of benefits and describing those benefits using the word "you."

    Some members of his team, including me, think that the LP candidates have gone backwards since then (including all the ones who debated on the stage in 2008) in failing to utilize his insight. The LP candidates communicate at your levels six and seven.

    These same Browne Team members also think that more work remained to be done, because as you point out, people care about more than themselves. They are concerned about their neighbor. So the next degree of progress/evolution in this area was to find ways to communicate that included BOTH "you" and your neighbor.

    That work remains to be done. But to get a good handle on how to do at least as well as Harry Browne did, I recommend his final book, "Liberty A to Z."

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