Friday, June 10, 2016

The importance of cue-giving: Sanders' voters will embrace Clinton

A few weeks ago, I had an exchange with a fellow political scientist who is a loyal Democrat so averse to Sanders that I look like a 20-year-old stoner by comparison.  My fellow political scientist asserted that Sanders was undermining Clinton's campaign, and thereby helping Trump.  My response was that it was too early to tell, but signs indicated that Sanders would come around, and so would his voters.  Yesterday seems to vindicate that view.  This is all about cue-giving.

So, here's some political science to start your weekend.  I keep referencing an article that really is the best thing ever written on public opinion-- Philip Converse's "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics."  One of the many important observations in the article was that most people don't think directly about political issues in terms of abstract principles.  Rather, even the most comparatively sophisticated of voters have to rely on cues from elites whom they trust, and regardless of what people say now, everyone has elites whom they trust.  Even the tin foil hat crowd, if we can use the term, "elite," for those who deal in conspiracy theories.  (Hey, a major party is nominating one of them...)

As cue-givers turn, then, so do the recipients of their cues because those recipients don't really have abstract principles to guide them.  And that brings us to Bernie Sanders.

The question for Sanders has always been whether he would be Ted Kennedy in 1980, or Hillary Clinton in 2008 after losing because, no, he never, ever had a chance.  Originally, he even knew it.  Then, he convinced himself otherwise because when you surround yourself with adoring throngs who are too stoned to give you a reality check, you start believing them.  Regardless, Kennedy never really closed ranks around Carter in 1980, leaving the Democratic Party relatively divided.  Clinton did in 2008, despite the fact that many of her supporters-- the "PUMA's" (Party Unity, My Ass)-- asserted that they could never back Obama.

And yet they did.  Why?  Because voters don't really have abstract principles.  They follow cues.  When Clinton gave her people the cue to support Obama, they did.  Sanders will give his people cues to support Clinton.  They will.

Why will Sanders do this when Ted Kennedy didn't?  Maybe pot makes him more compliant than the booze did for Teddy, but more likely, Sanders started out as a protest candidate trying to pull Clinton to the left anyway.  Once reminded of that, he could declare victory based on changes to HRC's campaign rhetoric, and back her out of fear of a Trump presidency.

Sanders will back Clinton, his supporters will do as they're told, and Phil Converse is still right.

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