A goal

Political party heuristics

There’s only so much time in the day.  After working, spending time with your family, and doing whatever you do to relax, there’s simply not that much time to be able to pay attention to politics, unless you really care.  We use heuristics to help explain the world and how we interact with various policies.  That’s one of the major benefits of having a political party used for an identity.  If you do identify with a particular political party, you can rely on how your political party reacts to a particular set of policies before you decide how you feel.  For the most part, that works wonders.  You have a way to decide on policies that is particularly quick and easy to recite.

When a politician or a political party talking head talks about a particular issue, you can immediately agree or disagree with them as soon as you know their political affiliation.  We trust that only those who agree with us are the ones telling us the truth.  The ones that aren’t a member of our political party are practicing ways to deceive us and we are the ones who are smart enough to see through it.

This is a part of our cognitive biases at work.  The most prevalent one is confirmation bias.   Confirmation bias leads you to look for and notice information that confirms your original beliefs and discount or ignore information that contradicts our previously held views.  This especially holds true for beliefs that we haven’t researched thoroughly.  We will talk about this later.  Another cognitive bias that is prominent in reading and understanding politics is negativity bias.  This is an evolutionary trait that has helped us avoid predators.  In our brains, we prioritize bad or negative news over the positive outcomes.  For instance, the other day Amanda found bugs in her uncooked pasta similar to the ones that are found in flour.  I was eating a different pasta but I had to check every single noodle to make sure there wasn’t a bug there.  Consequently, I didn’t like the pasta very much.

These biases are particularly powerful.  They can convince us of things that didn’t actually happen.  The stimulus bill that was passed in 2009 contained almost $300 billion in tax reductions.  The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that 96.9% of households enjoyed a tax cut of an average of $1,200.  One of the larger tax credits was the Making Work Pay tax credit, it was designed for less tax to be withheld from people’s paychecks because the evidence suggested that more people would spend this tax cut rather than saving it.  The idea was to stimulate the economy.  Other portions of the tax cuts was to extend the Alternative Minimum Tax and to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  In 2008, George W. Bush proposed a tax cut that was about half as large, ($145 billion), and issued a rebate check to households.  The problem with Obama’s tax credits is that nobody noticed.    The New York Times and CBS issued a poll that found that half of those polled said that they thought the taxes for most Americans had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, fewer than 10% said that taxes had been lowered, and about a tenth said they did not know.  During this same time, there was a tremendous push by Republicans saying that Obama was raising their taxes with hikes that didn’t materialize.

Or let’s give a more recent example. Public Policy Polling (PPP) recently did a poll of North Carolina and polled a number of statements by Republican nominee Donald Trump.  The poll asked if you viewed the video of Iran collecting money from the US that Trump claimed to have viewed.  47% of Trump supporters agreed that they viewed the video.  The video, of course, doesn’t exist.  Trump also admitted he had never seen the video. In that same poll, 40% of Trump supporters believe the defunct organization of ACORN will steal the election for Hillary Clinton.  It’s not to say that Republicans or Trump supporters are the only ones guilty of it.

Or if we want to see a better example of both negativity bias and confirmation bias in action we can look at social welfare programs.  For some people, they know someone who has taken advantage of a social welfare program such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  Because they know of someone that took advantage of the system, they assume that most has taken advantage of it and that we should drug test those who receive welfare.  Despite that when they are implemented, 5% or less of welfare recipients fail drug tests that cost states money and suspicionless drug testing for welfare recipients has been ruled unconstitutional.

Political compromise

When I talk to other people about politics who don’t spend the majority of their personal time reading about politics or following politics outside of every four years for the Presidential election, they indicate to me their problem with government is that nothing seems to be happening with the federal government which is fairly true with the idea of passed and enacted laws.  According to a Gallup poll in 2013, 21% said that they are critical of Congress because they are not getting anything done.  Related to that is the idea held by 28% of those polled saying that they are critical due to party gridlock/bickering/not compromising.

During the years of 2009-2013 when Democrats controlled both the Senate and the White House, there were 307 motions to end a filibuster.  During the time period where Republicans held the White House under George W. Bush and the Senate, there were 130 motions to end a filibuster from January-May 2001 and January 2003-2007.  The filibuster is used by the minority party in Senate to halt legislation, appointments, etc. from passing the senate.  This requires 3/5 of the Senate to defeat each filibuster, or 60 votes.

I do believe that compromise is a good thing in politics.  I believe that having opposition to a party or a policy allows us to be able to view things in a new light.  It forces us to at least look at new evidence.  As we’ve seen, though, we do not necessarily embrace the new evidence.  It might lead us to ignore the evidence.  Perhaps the minority amendments to the bill would lead to actual reforms that help the bill.  It allows for progressive legislation to be shaped by a variety of voices and thoughts.  But most of the opposition that we’ve seen at this point is political grandstanding where one member holds up legislation to score political points.  Rarely, do we even see a talking filibuster.  And in the rare cases that we do see a talking filibuster, they are fun to watch but serve no real purpose.

Passing bills requires a large number of veto points in our Madisonian democracy.  Whether it is the subcommittee, the committee, the house where the bill originated, the house where it did not, the president, or the Supreme Court.  Progressive legislation is hard to come by.  It has to be able to pass each of these procedural hurdles (I am leaving some out, still).  Potentially each member of Congress (either house) can derail legislation from being passed.  It’s a wonder it hasn’t been so derailed before.

The typical response to this legislation is that we need to have outsiders to go to Washington to clean it up.  But this assumes that they have knowledge of how to write legislation, forge compromises, and to understand legislation.  Or maybe it doesn’t assume that, but this I believe necessitates more gridlock.

Where to go from here

I can’t change your mind.  If you are open to arguments that challenge your original beliefs, I may be able to give you some pause.  But if you believe that raising the minimum wage will destroy the economy and lose thousands  of jobs, my post about the minimum wage isn’t going to convince you otherwise.  If you don’t believe in progressive legislation, I’m not going to convince you otherwise.  If you believe that the death penalty is required to deter crime, I can’t convince you.  But I might be able to convince you that the death penalty is a drag on our state’s budget.  I might be able to convince you that we should think about the morality of those living in poverty and help them with a living wage.  I might be able to convince you that increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit helps lift people out of poverty, as well.

To quote Barack Obama:

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise – the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

In nearly every speech for the last 12 years, Obama has talked about the efforts to perfect our union.  This is an incrementalist approach to politics that if we take steps in the right direction, we can continually perfect this union that we have.  We might disagree on issues but there are steps that we can compromise.  You may not like the ACA but you certainly prefer that health insurance companies can’t discriminate based on pre-existing conditions.  You may not agree with any politician 100% about the policies that they are taking to make the country better but there are certainly useful allies across the aisles across political spectrums.  Instead of vilifying each other, instead of denigrating our opponents, we need to work together.

The founders wrote about the ways in which we can try to perfect our union and I believe we should continue.  We can’t continue this with one person dictating what is right or wrong or one party holding too much influence over our political lives.  What we need is healthy opposition, a way to challenge old beliefs, and work together to form new solutions.  That is my goal here to lay out what I believe should happen in policies and various politicians.

I certainly don’t believe that I hold all of the right answers.  I read a lot, I have worked with non-profits and members of Congress.  I am going to write about posts that interest me.  I believe in progressive legislation to help with a number of issues.  I’ll be honest and straightforward with what I believe and lay out the reasons for why I believe it.  I will back up my claims that I make with cites and links where I can.  If you disagree with me, that’s great.  Explain to me why you disagree.  I’m going to respect you enough to not just repeat talking points back at you why I support certain legislation and policies.  Have the same respect to me.  Don’t think that you can make unsubstantiated claims about politics without me arguing about it.  If you’re wrong, I’m going to tell you why you’re wrong.  If you think I’m wrong (and I certainly am some of the time) then explain why.  While we may have disagreements, I think we should work to find our common ground instead of focusing on the parts that we disagree about.