Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What is it with some "Conservatives"?

I have noticed that several of the supposed Conservative members of the rarefied atmosphere of Washington and the Northeast have become a bit enamored by Obama despite his believing in everything a Conservative abhors and wondered why. The only thing I can come up with is that it is a manifestation of what was shown in the Asch study by Soloman Asch of Swarthmore College and has been called normative conformity.

Imagine yourself in the following situation: You sign up for a psychology experiment, and on a specified date you and seven others whom you think are also participants arrive and are seated at a table in a small room. You don't know it at the time, but the others are actually associates of the experimenter, and their behaviour has been carefully scripted. You're the only real participant.

The experimenter arrives and tells you that the study in which you are about to participate concerns people's visual judgments. She places two cards before you. The card on the left contains one vertical line. The card on the right displays three lines of varying length.

The experimenter asks all of you, one at a time, to choose which of the three lines on the right card matches the length of the line on the left card. The task is repeated several times with different cards. On some occasions the other "participants" unanimously choose the wrong line. It is clear to you that they are wrong, but they have all given the same answer.

What would you do? Would you go along with the majority opinion, or would you "stick to your guns" and trust your own eyes?

If you where involved in this experiment how do you think you would behave? Would you conform to the majority’s viewpoint?

Zombietime has a lengthy essay on what he considers The Left's Big Blunder and talks about this experiment among other topics as a strategy of the left as it well might be.

The seemingly minor and esoteric difference between normative conformity and informational conformity is actually not esoteric at all -- it is the key factor which defines this campaign and this election. Because it all boils down to this: Obama supporters presume that increasing Obama's perceived support will induce informational conformity in the American public. In other words, Obama supporters operate on the assumption that individual McCain supporters or undecided voters will in actuality change their minds about who to vote for if they perceive that a majority of people are supporting Obama. The imagined line of thinking is, "Gee, if so many people like this Obama guy, then my impression of him must be wrong; I trust the group's wisdom more than my own impressions."

I submit that this assumption is a catastrophic blunder. To the extent that there is any conformist behavior being exhibited by McCain supporters and undecided voters, it is much more likely to be normative conformity. In other words, people who are confronted with apparent overwhelming support for Obama may indeed announce that they too support Obama, but do so only in order to avoid ostracism or accusations of racism. Inside, however, they have not changed their minds. On November 4, they will go into that voting booth, and in total privacy and anonymity, they are free to vote for whomever they want, without fear of social condemnation for doing so. And in such a setting, normative conformity disintegrates, because there is no "norm" to conform to when your vote is anonymous.
Zombie also goes into the "The Bradly Effect" and what it is possibly doing to the polls. His take on it mirrors my own as I have stated before in other forums. Regardless of why you are voting against a black politician, whether it is because you are conservative and he or she is liberal and you don't share any of his political views, you are still going to labeled a "racist".

Despite being a well-known phrase, the Bradley Effect is quite often misreported by the media and misunderstood by the public to mean that whites who are racist will refuse to vote for any black candidate yet will lie to pollsters about their intentions for fear of having their racist attitudes exposed. As a result, polls sometimes over-report support for black candidates in elections when they are running against white candidates. But this is a gross misapprehension of what the term means. First of all, the phrase "Bradley Effect" originally only referred to a bare-bones description of what actually happens in such races: White voters tell pollsters they intend to vote for the black candidate, but on election day they either vote for the white candidate or don't vote at all. Left out of this original definition was any notion of why this happened. But over the intervening decades since the effect was first noticed (when black Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley lost the 1982 California gubernatorial election to lesser-known white candidate George Deukmajian, despite Bradley apparently having a substantial lead in the polls), additional layers were added to the definition in which the motivation was assumed. The causes are in fact not so clear, and are impossible to study directly. While the media and the general public often assume that the Bradley Effect is caused by actual racism, some astute analysts point out the real cause is more likely to be something much more subtle: That white voters who are in fact not racist will pretend to support a black candidate due to fear of being falsely perceived as racist.

The Bradley Effect seems to have gradually evaporated over the intervening decades since 1982, as black politicians became more commonplace and it was no longer automatically assumed that if you voted against a black candidate you did so only out of racism. That is -- until this election. Until this year, accusing your ideological opponents of racism -- a.k.a. "playing the race card" -- was for a while a taboo strategy, which only served to highlight that your campaign was becoming desperate and had no other valid lines of attack. But as election day 2008 draws near, accusations of racism have escalated exponentially, and now it seems the majority of pro-Obama pundits, journalists and bloggers routinely state as fact that all McCain supporters are racists who refuse to vote for Obama simply because he is black (and not because of his policies). The situation is even more extreme in social interactions in liberal areas, where in casual conversation the race card is played almost continuously. I live in the San Francisco area, in an artsy/intellectual/academic circle, and never once have I heard anyone professing support for McCain. If your boss mocks McCain supporters, if all your co-workers express a desire to for Palin to be raped on national TV, if your family are all Obama volunteers, if the media tries to shame everybody into voting for Obama by stating implicitly and explicitly that only a racist would do otherwise, could you have the nerve to come out of the closet as a McCain voter?

In such an environment, where admitting to disliking Obama in the interpersonal sphere has become the equivalent of social suicide, it seems very likely that the Bradley Effect is not just back, but back with a vengeance. The more that Obama supporters go unchallenged in their blanket accusations of racism against McCain supporters, the less likely anyone will publicly admit to dislike of Obama. Hence, the Bradley Effect is not an artifact of racism, but rather an artifact of false accusations of racism.

So, when the phone rings and the pollster calls -- and your Clever Hans social antennae tell you the pollster is young and liberal and likely an Obama supporter -- would you have the nerve to tell the pollster the truth that you wouldn't vote for Obama in a million years? I mean, they called you; they know your number. They know who you are. Can you be absolutely sure they aren't putting a check mark in the "Racist" box next to your name in some mysterious database?

As for what some call the Bradly Effect, Wilder Effect or even the Whitman Effect, it is mostly bunk about these effects being covert racism or misogyny as written about and repudiated by Daniel J. Hopkins
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Government, Harvard University titled
No More Wilder E ffect, Never a Whitman Eff ect:
When and Why Polls Mislead about Black and Female