Friday, January 29, 2016

Why Trump and Clinton Lead in the Polls

Related to my last blog (“The Sound, the Fury, and the Important”), just what is driving Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to in the polls? That I can answer in one word: Media. Each gets so much media attention that they have an advantage with voters.

Both Hillary and Trump were already celebrities, well known and with lots of media coverage. Trump had been famous for his so-called business success (though an examination shows that success to be overblown, since he inherited his business, then faced multiple bankruptcies). Hillary rode to fame on the coattails of her husband. Both enjoyed celebrity status long before they even announced their candidacies. The news media, which fawns over movie stars and other celebrities, naturally gave them more valuable publicity than it did to less famous people.

The other effect, the reason that extra media coverage is so important, is that it is human nature to trust the familiar more than we trust the unknown. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know. That is a well documented fact, cognitive psychologists have long understood the phenomenon. It affects everything from race relations to food preferences – and it affects voting. Similarly with politicians. If we recognize a politician's name and face we can develop a trust in him, a trust lacking in his less well-known opponent.

That is the reason we see so many political ads that emphasize the name of the candidate but say nothing about his qualifications. Candidates know that many voters tend to support someone they recognize, even if they really know little about him. That is a dangerous tendency in any democratic government. The demagogues use it to manipulate voters.

What can we do about it? I know of no solution other than to understand the problem and make deliberate efforts to overcome it. As citizens, we must look beyond the surface of political campaigns. We must learn about each candidate's honesty, ability, commitment to our way of government etc. We must vote on the basis of those qualification and do our best to ignore name familiarity, physical appearance, etc. Only by so doing can we reject the demagogues and elect men and women who will serve us well.

No comments: