Arnold Kling  

Insiders, Outsiders, and Voting Behavior

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Tyler Cowen writes,


real world political debate is not fundamentally a macro-cosm of the thought processes of a smart person, or of one smart person debating another. The politics of confrontation usually turn ugly.

Since my father's death, I have been trying to think about how to articulate his views on politics. Insider politics, as exemplified by Congressional earmarks defended here, struck him as normal and rational. Outsider politics, coming from libertarians or other radicals, struck him as irrational.

For the public at large, he took seriously the results of studies of voting behavior. Based on those, he predicted that Obama would not win the nomination, much less the Presidency. Historically, one's vote can be predicted quite well by one's parents' party affiliation, by one's ethnic group, and by one's economic class, in that order. I don't think my father took into account the Democratic Party's rules, which worked out this year to the detriment of Clinton by putting caucuses in states that she might have won as primaries, by negating a state with a large elderly population (Florida), and by negating a state with a large blue-collar population (Michigan).

My father also believed very strongly in Murray Edelman's view that insider politics and the public are mediated by symbols. That is, insiders use symbols to try to keep the public quiet while the insiders divide up the spoils of power.

Thus, once all of the symbolic dust between Clinton and Obama has settled, the core interest groups of the Democratic Party are bound to unite behind the nominee. The spat will be remembered by individuals who had something at stake (members of the immediate entourage of the loser) and by a small number of irrational outsiders.

Moreover, many interest groups transcend both parties. Investment bankers, for example, will be able to exert influence with any of the candidates.

My father would have viewed Obama vs. Clinton as anything but a threatening confrontation. It is simply a competition between two insiders. There are some Obama supporters who fit the "outsider" model (radical, intense), but he himself seems to me to be more comfortable as an insider than as a radical.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/822
The author at Liberal Values in a related article titled Voting Behavior and The Losing Candidate writes:
    Megan McArdle and Arnold Kling consider voting behavior by Democrats should their candidate lose the nomination. Megan writes: Arnold thinks that as soon as the dust has settled, the party will unite behind the nominee. I would guess that this will ... [Tracked on April 27, 2008 3:48 PM]
COMMENTS (4 to date)
Todd writes:

Your father sounds like a smart guy. Seems to have known what was going on, known it was beyond his power to change, and content to leave it at that. Wish I could view things from such a remote location. Alas, it seems I'm doomed to dwell among the irrational outsiders. Lying, cheating, stealing, and spending other people's money just seems too wrong to let pass quietly.

Matt C writes:

It looks like you're using "insider" in a slightly different way than the last time you posted about your father's views.

Does "insider" mean anyone who aligns with the basically-status-quo political channels, and who is not attracted to radical views? Or does it refer to people who involve themselves with politics to gain immediate specific benefits (congressional earmarks etc)?

The first time you posted on insiders/outsiders, you seemed to be using the first sense, and talked about how "outsiders" are weirdos attracted to radical politics for essentially personal reasons. (no pejorative intended, we'll all weirdos here)

Now you seem to be using "insiders" in its second sense, people who are able to exert control over political resources.

I think it is worth making a distinction between the two. The president of N.O.W. doesn't have mainstream views, but she can leverage spoils from the system. A store clerk who volunteers weekends for Obama isn't radical, but his activism is still best viewed as a personal hobby rather than a way to gain material benefits.

Arnold Kling writes:

I think from my father's point of view, insiders were those who played the game from the inside. Outsiders would be radicals of all stripes, or "true believers," in Eric Hoffer's term. People who neither participate in interest groups nor engage in activist radical activity are just part of the general public. The general public are the ones that the insiders try to use to their advantage.

People who support Hillary and Obama without having any particular interest at stake fall somewhere on the spectrum between radical outsiders and the general public, closer to the latter in most cases.

Matt C writes:

Thanks for the clarification.

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