America = idiocracy?

Shockingly, voters who are averse to thinking about things are more likely to support Trump.  I know, hard to believe.  From the Monkey Cage:

Our research finds that Trump has attracted a disproportionate (and unprecedented) number of “low-information voters” to his campaign. Furthermore, these voters are more likely to respond to emotional appeals — whether about the economy, immigration, Muslims, racial relations, sexism, and even hostility to the first African American U.S. president, Barack Obama. They are the ideal constituency for a candidate like Trump.

We define low-information voters as those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues. Those with a low need for cognition, on the other hand, find little reward in the collection and evaluation of new information when it comes to problem solving and the consideration of competing issue positions. They are more likely to rely on cognitive shortcuts, such as “experts” or other opinion leaders, for cues.

Drawing on data from the 2016 American National Election Studies Pilot Studies, we measured the need for cognition based on whether respondents agreed or disagreed that “Thinking is not my idea of fun” and “I would rather do something that requires little thought than something that is sure to challenge my thinking abilities.” [emphases mine] We measured knowledge of government based on a question asking how long senators’ terms were and a question on which of four policy areas the government spends the least (the answer was foreign aid; the other options were Medicare, national defense and Social Security). We focused our analysis on whites because nonwhites were not supporting Trump in sufficient numbers.  

Both of these measures were correlated with how much whites liked Trump, relative to Hillary Clinton, This was true even after accounting for education, income, age, gender, partisanship and ideology.

For example, we found that people who did not know either of these questions about government evaluated Trump 20 points more favorably than Clinton, compared with those who knew both of those questions. This was not true in 2012: Knowledge of politics had little relationship with people’s views of Mitt Romney and Obama.

And, a great post from Chait:

Then there are the voters, whose behavior provided the largest surprise. It was simply impossible for me to believe that Republican voters would nominate an obvious buffoon. Everything about Trump is a joke. His orange makeup and ridiculous hair, his reality-television persona, his insult comedy and overt bragging — they are neon-bright signs that he is not (to use a widely employed term) “presidential.” Trump did not even seem to be an especially effective demagogue. He is not eloquent, not even in a homespun way. He stumbles on his phrases, repeats himself over and over, and his speeches consist of bragging and recitation of polling results so dull and digressive his audience often heads for the exits well before the conclusion.

In the previous election cycle, joke candidates like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann briefly caught the fancy of Republican voters but collapsed in the face of scrutiny. Republicans did rally around Sarah Palin after her vice-presidential selection was unveiled, but eventually her lack of qualifications became so impossible to deny that she didn’t even bother running in 2012. It was natural to expect a similar collapse from Trump, who cut an even more absurd figure (and certainly carried more ideological baggage on issues like abortion, health care, past support for Democratic candidates, and many other things).

Unlike Bachmann or Cain, Trump had an even weaker grasp on intro-level Republican dogma, instead ranting like a drunk on a bar stool (“Bomb the shit out of ISIS!”). In debates, rather than use the standard tactic of mouthing pabulum that sounded vaguely like a substantive response before pivoting to his preferred message, he dispensed with the pabulum altogether, relying instead on vague, repetitive bragging and grade-school-level personal insults of his opponents. He puts down his opponents’ beauty or their height, or simply smirks at them. His appeal operates not at a low intellectual level but at a sub-intellectual level.

Trump University is a business venture that seems to have relied on a business model of fraud — exploiting an asymmetry of information between the operators of the business and its customers, allowing the former to take advantage of the latter. The Trump candidacy, though its fraud is more transparent, operates along roughly similar lines. Its premise is a customer base that lacks sophistication and can be manipulated with gut-level appeals. In their hearts, I think most anti-Trump Republicans agree with me on this.

Most voters don’t follow politics and policy for a living, and it’s understandable that they would often fall for arguments based on faulty numbers or a misreading of history. But a figure like Trump is of a completely different cast than the usual political slickster. He is several orders of magnitude more clownish and uninformed than the dumbest major-party nominee I’ve ever seen before. (That would be George W. Bush.) As low as my estimation of the intelligence of the Republican electorate may be, I did not think enough of them would be dumb enough to buy his act. And, yes, I do believe that to watch Donald Trump and see a qualified and plausible president, you probably have some kind of mental shortcoming. As many fellow Republicans have pointed out, Donald Trump is a con man. What I failed to realize — and, I believe, what so many others failed to realize, though they have reasons not to say so — is just how easily so many Republicans are duped.

Actually, I think Chait is being Chait and a little harsh (no, not all Trump voters have mental shortcomings), but, yes, many of us really did over-estimate the sensibility and reasonableness of Republican voters.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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