Friday, July 22, 2016

Issues, framing, elections, and Trump's speech

OK, you know where I stand on "issues" and presidential elections.  I'm a fundamentalist.  Elections usually turn on the "fundamentals."  The economy, and such.  Issues usually don't matter.

Last night's speech, though, tells us something important about how the campaign will proceed.  Trump will try to "frame" the election in terms of issues that he thinks will be favorable to him and the Republican Party.  Specifically, crime and terrorism, which he connects to the broader level of security.  Social science time!

First, let's have some terminology.  "Public good."  This one is from good, old-fashioned economics.  A public good is something that is "non-depletable" and "non-excludable."  That means 1) me taking advantage of the good doesn't prevent you from taking advantage of it, and 2) once it exists, you can't stop me from taking advantage of it.  

The trick is that if it is optional to contribute to a public good, no rational person ever would.  My contribution, as a lowly, underpaid university professor, has no effect on the level of safety in this country, and if we have safety, I can benefit regardless of whether or not I pay, so why contribute?  Same for everyone else, so no one contributes, so no police or military.

Wanna know what that looks like?  Somalia.

Safety is the primary "public good" that Republicans/conservatives traditionally want government to provide.  And, it encompasses both police/crime, and the military/national security.

What Trump is doing, then, is actually kind of interesting, in tying them together more closely than Republicans have done in a long time.  Republicans have been running on terrorism since 9/11, but Trump is bringing back crime, which Republicans haven't really talked about since the '90s.  Why?  Because crime rates have declined dramatically, and most have acknowledged empirical reality, and mostly moved on from crime as a major national issue.  Trump is bringing it back as an issue by, well, let's just say... cherry-picking some crime statistics.  Yeah, let's call that... interesting.

Built into this strategy is an idea that I have mentioned repeatedly, which is that there are certain issues about which voters are just more likely to trust one party:  "issue ownership."  Crime and national security are "owned" by Republicans, traditionally.  In social science terms, they're the same thing, though.

Of course, if the political science fundamentalists are correct, then this is all sound and fury, so to speak.  Nevertheless, there is interesting social science behind last night's speech!

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