Why do we vote the way we do? Because we are stupid! That’s the verdict from Rick Shenkman who has written a book called Just how stupid are we – the truth about the American voter. The book concentrates on American politics and it does not just concentrate on George W Bush – the favourite bogey man for smart people. Rick Shenkman says that voters are voting in a stupid way always. People should weigh up all the issues and analyse policies and politicians, Shenkman says. Undoubtedly, this wise man would probably come to the same conclusion if he were writing about politics in Europe or Ireland. We would all be collectively stupid.
But elections are about the voice of the people and American journalist Bob Moser – an experienced guy out in the field – hits the practicalities on the head. He says that that ultimately, electoral politics do not come down to education but to winning votes, whether voters are well informed or not. His book revolves around political attitudes in the American South and how the Republicans have gained influence in these States for a long time past. The Republicans have done this, Moser says, by appealing to Southern whites who were put off “by the Democrats with long hair and liberal views that seemed to favour communist nations, racial integrations rules and opposition to prayer in schools”. And so for years the Democrats have lost out in the Southern states. But both these “experts” – as is often the way with experts - could be well of the mark. For they are forgetting something we always knew down by the seashore, up in the hills, and in the farmland of the west of Ireland. You have your politics in the blood! People were born Fianna Fáil or born Fine Gael – and they voted that way. Off course an odd stray would vote Labour…but you couldn’t account for deviant behaviour like that. The smart people like Rick Shenkman would probably say all that was stupid. Nobody was born to do anything and we should all have been educated into making rational and sensible decisions about voting. That’s where Shenkman shows up his folly. And some very smart guys have been finding this out. People’s brains are fairly well programmed as to how they will slant politically the day they are born; in fact they could be 50 per cent programmed. And is all this stupid talk? Certainly not.
Measuring the political brain waves
Kevin Smith, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska is quoted this week here in America as saying: “Political reactions are gut responses rather than a rational weighing of pros and cons.” Smith was the co-author of a study on the biology of why people vote they way they do. The research findings have appeared in the magazine Science. Smith continues: “Our research shows that these reactions (politics and voting ) are so deep-seated, they’re partly biological. Our biological makeup contributes to our political attitudes.” This far-reaching research is costing millions. If only they took heed of the home grown experts in the hills and farmlands of Galway?
There was one social commentator with Fianna Fáil in his blood in Connemara who used to speak at the marts and in pubs about matters like this…and he reckoned that you would actually know a Fine Gael supporter by looking at him! There was some sort of look about him, he said. Of course there were Fine Gael commentators who could probably spot a Fianna Fáil a mile away too. And they were never paid a penny for their expertise! So how did the scientists pooling all of their resources finally find out?
Well, they have a laboratory in the University of Nebraska and they can attach different gadgets to the head to gauge reactions inside the brain. Research groups at New York University and at UCLA (California ) have found “significant, measurable differences between the brain waves of liberals and conservatives,” according to Eve LaPlante writing in the Boston Globe. She is the author of a highly regarded work on various aspects of epilepsy.
In a laymans summary, the research work – known as “political physiology”- is carried out by subjecting people to noises like shotguns and various other tests. It appears there is clear evidence that those who react quicker, or more fearfully, to the surprise noises are more likely to be conservative leaning and would probably support strong measures against criminals, be in favour of stronger security, etc. The liberals or left wingers do not react in the same way inside their brains. And there is a twist in the tale.
The conservatives are the real nice guys
While it was believed in the past that the conservatives were the hardened and tough people and the liberals or leftists were the softer and more compassionate people, the exact opposite may be the case! This is what the researchers are coming up with. It appears that the conservatives want to protect people. The liberals and leftists may be more concerned with the arguments and debates rather than helping out in practical ways. But what about the group in the middle that do not fall into either category in these political groups?
They are the middle ground and they are likely to be found in the “undecided” category in political opinion polls.
Is all this of any help to us in the upcoming county council and city council elections in Galway? Well, Fine Gael has always been seen as stronger on law and order and more inclined to be worried about our national security. So if you notice anybody who gets shocked by a loud shout in the pub, he/she could be a target for Fine Gael. On the other hand, people who do not react at all (note of warning – drunkenness could also be a factor ) would seem more like Fianna Fáil voters. The people who are in neither camp would make an analysis of the psychology of anybody who would shout out loud and dismiss them as irrational. They could be floating voters – or Labour…or Green.
And as for that smart guy called Shenkman who said that politics should be judged on a rational basis and all the issues taken into account – he must be stupid!