How To Avoid Bandwagon Politics
Few spectacles in the world exceed the energy, vibrancy, and outrageousness of U.S. presidential campaigns. Although Americans consistently tell pollsters of how angry and dissatisfied they are with their elected leaders, they continue to send the same kinds of people to the White House. Personally, I remain unconvinced that Americans are as angry as they are reported to be.
Disenchantment has been the characteristic quality ascribed to the electorate in every election since 1992. If you watch news clips and Sunday morning programs from that year, you will hear some of the same language that is bandied about in our current campaign season. Are we to believe that the public has been angry with its elected representatives for 24 years and not done anything about it?
If you argue that the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump represent an effort by Americans to do something about it, you must still explain why most Sanders supporters are young and new to politics and most Trump supporters are old and also new to politics. In other words, why should we believe that people who have stayed out of the political process or are newly arrived to it are beside themselves with anger because of it?
It seems to me that people say they are angry with Washington and politicians because they believe everyone else is. The rage and fury we hear so much about is an insidious form of bandwagon politics—that is the bandwagon effect as it applies to politics. The bandwagon effect refers to the tendency of voters to support a candidate, accept an idea, or nurture a feeling perceived as popular.
It is seen in presidential primaries all the time. Political strategists and consultants depend on it to propel their candidates to victory. A candidate that wins in the early states gains what is called momentum going into the rest of the states because he or she is seen as acceptable. Voters in the later primary states come to feel better about the winners of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina because, they begin to believe, if so many people voted for them they cannot be so bad.
Here in Britain, the bandwagon effect was seen most recently in the Scottish Independence referendum. People who had never taken an interest in the referendum, in politics, in the world in general became almost overnight the most ardent and vigorous supporters of independence. The explanation for such sudden conversions was quite obvious. Everyone they knew and came into contact with supported independence: how could they not both accept the validity of that position and advocate strongly for it?
Avoiding this kind of reasoning is essential if you are to keep command of your mind and stay true to what you sincerely believe.
The first force to contend with is the media. The news is appropriately named: its purpose is not to reinforce what you think you know; it is to tell you something you don’t know. You should not expect a news article to verify your view of the world.
Most news sites dedicate large amounts of space to opinion writers. It is the job of opinion writers to take a position and make a persuasive argument in defense of it. You are not obliged to agree with everything said by opinion writers. Indeed, such writers pursue their trade with the express purpose of provoking debate. You should not merely repeat what you read or hear from commentators who share your politics. Nor should you spend time fulminating against those whose opinions are opposed to yours. Use the arguments of the latter to sharpen your own reasoning and convictions.
The next force to contend with consists of your friends, family, and colleagues—the many-sided elements of your social world. One of the hardest things for anyone to do is to stake out an independent position among people whose values they share. Doing so may put you in a position of near complete isolation. Refusing to simply go along with what a consensus of your friends believe is the “correct” view may make you an outcast within your own tribe. Take heart. If the warmth and comradery of those you call friends ends because you refuse to get on the bandwagon, then you should question the authenticity of the feelings that brought you together in the first place.
The bottom line: keep off the bandwagon—know your mind, your heart, your conscience.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.