Political Ignorance and Partisan Thinking

WeAreChange.org did a very interesting video where they interviewed people who were voting for Obama prior to the election, read them a list of policies that Obama has already done but attributed them to Mitt Romney. Those voters expressed utter outrage at those policies when they thought Romney was proposing to do them, then reacted with denial, confusion or rationalization when they were told that Obama had actually already done those things.

Now I know that it’s easy to dismiss these political “gotcha” videos, but I think this reveals how several very common traits undermine the ability to make reasonable political choices. First, the ignorance on display; these people are completely unaware that the candidate they support has done the things they think are horrible. Second, how such ignorance is filled with presumptions of what the candidate they don’t support must want to do (basic tribal thinking — the people on the other side are guilty of every bad thing, while my side couldn’t possibly be). Third, how we rationalize away the cognitive dissonance once the truth is revealed.

Let me point out one thing that the person in this video blames Obama for that I would give him a bit of credit on, and that’s the NDAA. Obama did sign that bill into law, but he also signed an executive order saying that he would not exercise the power to put American citizens into indefinite military detention. What he should have done is vetoed the bill because such an executive order does not bind any future president (or even himself if he changes his mind and rescinds the order). So that particular item is bad, but not quite as bad as it is made out to be.

Everything else — the kill list, the vastly expanded drone campaign, the broadening of illegal surveillance, etc — is completely accurate. And while they may have cherry picked the folks they talked to here, those people are very much representative of a real problem.


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  • naturalcynic

    How many of these policies would Romney have continued? Most, if not all + torture. As it usually is, it was a choice between holding your nose while suppressing vomit and Ebola hemorrhaging.

  • This is exactly why I’m not an Obama supporter; the man’s a rightwing scumbag, whose only redeeming feature is that he’s not a smirking sociopathic theofascist like Romney. Most of the Democrats in office are no better, but at least some of them have both spines and principles.

  • “Those voters expressed utter outrage at those policies when they thought Romney was proposing to do them, then reacted with denial, confusion or rationalization when they were told that Obama had actually already done those things.”

    To be fair, Romney was also for (and against) all of those things, so some confusion is warranted.

  • UnknownEric

    My mantra through election season was: I’m not so much pro-Obama as I am extremely anti-Romney.

  • scienceavenger

    The big difference between the Democratic partisan idiots and the GOP partisian idiots is that the Democratic idiots are on the fringes, and their own side will criticize them. In the GOP, the idiots are mainstream, if not actually the office holders, and tend to march in lockstep.

  • LeftSidePositive

    Actually, I think most of the people shown in the video weren’t denialist as much as dumbfounded. I was impressed that at least two of them said they would look up the facts (whether or not they actually will when they get home is another story), and most of them expressed a lesser of two evils mentality rather than actually defending the actions.

    And seriously–why didn’t the guy have printouts of the various newspaper stories?! That would be such a clincher! (and I’d love to see them read them on camera!)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Kay Bailey Hutchison says GOP is “tainted” by candidates saying “very stupid things”

    Well not quite. Joe Biden says very stupid things. GOP candidates have been saying very alarming things which reflect their actual beliefs and political positions.

  • Seriously, this is a bad way to poll.

    Yes, I am aware that you have a caveat

    And while they may have cherry picked the folks they talked to here, those people are very much representative of a real problem.

    We really have no idea how many people they sampled and how many they cherry-picked.

    At best it shows that push-polling works.

  • In fairness, you could sample enough Romney supporters and find an equal amount of ignorance.

    And they have.


    Neither side has a monopoly on stupid followers.

  • acroyear

    Goes in all directions. Yesterday someone said they would preferred Romney’s position on Foreign Policy over Obama’s. I held back and didn’t directly point out that

    1) Romney has never actually said what his foreign policy would actually be, other than “Not what Obama has done”, and

    2) On any specific item he did answer (2nd debate, I think), his answer was, well, exactly what Obama has already done and is doing right now.

    One of those blunt cases where the two are indeed exactly the same, but the cognitive dissonance involved makes one insist their person is totally different and clearly the better.

    On the other hand, for the cynics who always go “they’re both the same”, I had to keep yelling at them “SUPREME COURT” to try to wake them up to what happens when Romney is forced to actually obey the party he’s supposed to be leading. Fortunately for my daughter’s future, it never came to that.

  • Scott Simmons

    I’ve never been happier to live in a resolutely red state as when I could vote third-party on Tuesday with confidence that I wouldn’t be impacting the election in any way.

  • F

    The rationalizing continues.

  • Kevin Dugan

    This is not a matter of stupidity. Tribalism is part of our cognitive structure along with a host of other biases and heuristics. They are very difficult to avoid even if you ARE aware of it because it’s the brain’s default mode of reacting.

    What we’re lacking is public education in the way the mind works and how to be more rational. Until a majority of Americans can think past political rhetoric, we’re doomed to have Politicians that pander to these biases.

  • paulg

    I disagree. There was definitely “denial” and “confusion” because they had never heard this before, and it sounds unbelievable if you’re not up on the issues (and that might be the most important take-home message, people DON’T know about it). But the rationalization I heard was exactly the rationalization I use, there are so many other reasons I’m voting for him that it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter because Romney would be worse. I am fully of the opinion that we must hold his damn feet to the fire about these issues (as gays have done successfully for marriage). I honestly don’t think he sees any resistance from the anti-authoritarian left, and I’d love to see an organized movement force him to confront these evils.

  • Yeah… naturally there are some really uninformed voters out there, but speaking only for myself, I voted Obama for the following reason:

    All the things Obama is wrong about, that decent people need to fight him on, Romney is just as bad or worse.

    Sadly this encompasses a lot of our foreign and domestic policy.

    However, there are some things where Romney is terrible and Obama is okay, or even good. So, that means, in practical terms, as someone who plans on putting a lot of effort into fighting for justice in the next for years, Obama is empirically the better choice.

    Basically, electing Romney reduces our chances of actually fighting for civil liberties to be restored, climate change to be addressed, transgender rights to be protected, because under Romney so many people will be 100% busy just fighting to preserve basic services like food stamps or Medicare or Social Security that they simply won’t have the time to worry about anything other than basic survival. Electing Obama means that some of these folks will have a minimum level of physical/economic security so that we can all devote our efforts to other, bigger issues.

    Really, I don’t see why there’s any discussion about this.

  • Kevin Dugan @ 13 said

    “What we’re lacking is public education in the way the mind works and how to be more rational…”

    Yes and yes. Starting at 2nd or 3d grade. And it would be FUN! The best part of your day in fact. Magicians coming in and doing tricks and showing the kids how your mind can fool itself. There are endless games and activities that could be centered around how brains fail at certain tasks. (all of them with a breathtaking ‘reveal’ at the end, especially if you’ve never encountered them before. Damn. I could come up with enough ideas for a full syllabus right now! Too bad I’m not a teacher.

  • criticaldragon1177

    Ed Brayton,

    I thought I commented earlier. It turns out I did not. How odd.

    Any way, I think this is pretty upsetting, but the more I come to think about it, this is kind of to be expected. People often make excuses for their party or their guy, that they wouldn’t make for candidates from the other party. Its really hypocritical and it often makes meaningful change much more difficult.