Hillary, Bernie, Trump, and …? Political Affiliation as Policies, People… AND Stories. (Or, What, Who… AND How)

Here’s my attempt at the elevator talk version of the article I’m currently writing. Okay, I’m assuming it’s a really tall building, but anyway…


Currrent View

The popular view of political affiliation is that it is driven by policies. People, it is assumed, pick  candidates based on the policies they support, or the policies they oppose. The standard corollary of this understanding is a lot of teeth-gnashing as people support candidates who favor policies that seem to be disadvantageous to their voters.

This view is largely wrong, or at least hugely incomplete. Most voters are much more likely to change their policy preferences to match their party’s candidate than they are to change their party to match their policy preferences.

The newer and better understanding is that political affiliation is an identity. People support parties that identify with people/groups/communities with whom they personally identify, or that identify against people/groups/communities they oppose. For example the Republican party identifies with “Christian,” and so those individuals who see themselves as Christian tend to identify as Republicans. Similarly, Republicans identify against (define themselves in opposition to) “big cities” and “urban” people (wink wink, nudge nudge). So individuals who also don’t like big cities and “urban” people tend to identify as Republican. And, of course, there are tons of these identity groups, and lots of them overlap (but as Mason points out, there are fewer and fewer that overlap with both the left and the right).

The corollary here is that changing people’s minds is really hard, because politics isn’t so much about what you believe, but rather about who you are.

My Addition

I am arguing that we need to also consider narrative; after all, you can tell very different kinds of stories with the same sets of characters. So, political affiliation is not only about policies. It’s not only about who people identify with or against. It’s also about how they view the conflict between the people who represent the self and those who represent the other. Or, phrased differently, politics is not just about what and who you support and oppose, but HOW you support and oppose.

So a chart of political identity would be something like this:

Identify with…

Identify against…

Policies Policies
People/Groups/Communities People/Groups/Communities
Narrative forms Narrative forms

Now it’s easy to fill in the first two rows—the policies and the people. We all know what kind of things to list there. Democrats identify with raising the minimum wage and the LGBTQ community, for instance, and they identify against a border wall and Big Banks. Republicans identify with tax cuts and gun owners, and they identify against environmental protections and Black Lives Matter. We could go on.

But what kind of narratives are there? What do we put in the third box.

Basically, I’m going to suggest that the big distinction is between melodrama and comedy. (I’ll do another post on the characteristics of each, as it isn’t intuitive.)

However, there’s a huge catch. While the policies and people of the left and right are quite distinct, the narratives are not. What I’ve found is that both melodrama and comedy are used by the left, and in fact this is one major point of contention between the Hillary and Bernie camps. On the right… lots of melodrama. Tons. Almost nothing but melodrama in the media and in the Trump presidency. But surely there are some comic Republicans out there? Right? I haven’t looked closely yet, but I will.

So anyway, here we are at the end of that long elevator ride, and the summary is this:

If you want to understand someone’s politics:

Policies matter

People matter

But how you describe the conflict between people matters too. A lot.


Tempo Runs Are The Worst… And I Clearly Need To Do Them More Often

It’s official: I hate tempo runs like I hate no other kind of run.

Long runs are, well… long, but not intensely uncomfortable. Put on an audiobook, take a turn through some unexplored neighborhoods, and all is good.

Intervals ARE intensely uncomfortable. Brutal, lung-busting, leg quivering. But they’re so so short. You may have a bunch to do, but by the time you start really hurting on any given interval, it’s almost over.

But tempo run? Speed up to the level of solid discomfort, and then stay there. Keep it at that pace. And no, you’re not almost done; you have miles to go.


But good practice for races, I guess. And for life.

Delayed Persuasion: Saving Rhetoric from The Backfire Effect?

Just a quick post about a project that’s been lurking on my “get to this someday” list for a few years now, and may just stay there forever.

There’s been a fair amount of research on the failure of facts to persuade, particularly when targeting strong elements of identity, such as political partisans. Nyhan & Reifler, (2006? – sorry I don’t have this handy) even suggest factual correction backfires at times, leaving people with a stronger incorrect belief. (I would add here that I know there’s been a lot of follow up research on this, and honestly I haven’t kept up on it, so I may be quite out of date.)

But, one thing that occurs to me is that while studies tend to measure “instant” persuasion (quite understandably), looking for an immediate turnabout in belief, I haven’t seen any that looked for delayed persuasion. Burke suggests that persuasion is only completed by the act of self-persuasion; others can show us the path, but we must walk it ourselves, so to speak. And this takes time–maybe even months or years.

It also makes sense from a schematic perspective. When our schema is challenged, our first response is to fight back. Only later, I suspect, when those raised hackles have subsided, can we really internalize the message of those who challenged us.

So I would offer a hypothesis that factual corrections (done well) might work pretty well after all, but “working” might take quite a long time. I’m not sure how you’d set up such a study, and it would obviously take a very long time to conduct (years?), and exposure to continuing corrections or “substantiations” people would inevitably get in the meantime might obscure any results, but it seems worth conducting.

Maybe persuasion, even of strong partisans, is more possible than we think. Maybe we just haven’t given it enough time?

Lungs, Then Legs: A Return to Running

This has been the year of injury.

Nothing horrific, of course, but as all runners know, anything that takes you off the road at all is at the very least “serious.” After a string of nagging little things (toes, knees, hamstring, regular old bronchitis), I finally encountered something that stopped me in my tracks. Literally, I was in the middle of a sprint (as per my much-loved 30/20/10 workout) and my  left hip went from absolutely-fine to can’t-possibly-run-a-step in one terrible instant. I walked home, and that was it for running for the next nine weeks.

Yep, nine weeks.

That’s the longest I’ve been off the road since I picked up the sport again three years ago.

Dr. Google told me it was almost certainly bursitis, and the symptoms fit exactly with the one strange exception of the instant nature of the pain. Regardless, I know the first thing any doctor will say is “stop running for a bit and see what happens,” so I figured I’d do that part myself and save some time in a waiting room.

But now, it’s 90% better and I’m back on the road. And, I’ve (re)learned a few things:

  • Shorter strides are better.My typical slight overstriding hurt when I started back, so while I’ve had a good 180 strides/min cadence when running fast, I’ve learned to do that when going slower. It’s more work (for my legs at least), but less pain.
  • My lungs get in shape far faster than my muscles.

And that last point is what I’ve logged on to say today, after an easy 7.5 miler left my legs strangely rubbery. A reminder to myself: getting back into racing shape will take longer than you think. And worse, your lungs will let you outrun the conditioning of your legs. This is prime injury time, so be patient.

Oh, and do your stupid weight training & plyometrics. It sucks, but it sucks less than nine weeks of nothing.

Bernie Bros, Deplorable, and Nasty Women: Politics as Identity, not Policy.

The running posts have ground to a halt because my running ground to a halt for a bit as a result of an annoying case of something an awful lot like metatarsalgia.

It’s less exciting than it sounds.

Basically, my right toes/top of foot were really sore, and the treatment, as it always seems to be, is to rest. So I cut back a little, which kept it from getting worse. Or better. Then I got sick for three weeks, and that mostly did the trick.

So now I’m back on the road, but in the pre-plan increasing-miles stage, and therefore have nothing interesting to say about running, except that it’s better than not running.

But, in the meantime, I’ve been working on two presentations. First, I had an hour-long talk at work on political identity geared toward an audience of college freshman. I’ll try to attach the PowerPoint (Politics Presentation_9). It’s a light overview of the subject, with an even lighter bit of some of my own research included, so along with the included notes the whole thing should be pretty comprehensible. Presenting it was a blast.

Now I’m off to deal with the last two weeks of classes, and to work on my much more advanced but much shorter presentation for the Rhetoric Society of America conference at the end of May. Yay!

Run For Your Life (or yet another reason why 5Ks rock!)

I’m not quite there yet, but I can imagine a time in the not so very distant future when I have to accept that I’ll never set another PR, and change my running mindset. There will always be age group awards, of course, and the general thrill of competition, but I’ve begun to imagine what it would look like if I were to eventually quit running for records and started running for health. Or, more specifically, what would my training be like if all I cared about was maximizing the health benefits of running?

Looking over some recent studies, I’d suggest that the answer is that it would look pretty much just like training for a fast 5k.


In other words, weekly workouts when running for health would include a close-to-even mix of high intensity intervals, weight training, and slow and steady running.


High intensity intervals have shown a huge range of benefits, generally beating slow and steady running in several areas:

But, intervals are hard and can take a toll on the body, so most people suggest no more than two (maybe three) such workouts in a week. I’m capping out at two. One of those will certainly be my all time favorite, the 30/20/10.

Weight Training

Maybe the biggest danger of any workout is injury, and intervals might be especially dangerous there. If you get injured, you’re off the road for a long while, and any running is better than no running. So the top goal of any plan must be to stay healthy. How to do that? Strength training.

Strength helps when you’re young and is one key to speed (by improving economy), but when you’re… not so young, strength training is absolutely essential. Sure, it’ll keep you fast(ish), but more importantly, if you don’t do it you’ll lose muscle mass every year, and sooner or later—probably sooner—you’re going to be staying home and nursing an injury instead of getting in your miles.

So to my two intervals per week I have to add two strength sessions, with plyometrics, (probably on the same days).

Slow and Steady Running (marathon pace)

So far we’ve got four workouts, but only two days per week. What about the other five days? Well, most of those should be the slow and steady runs, which do a few things.

  • They are “recovery runs” (kind of an oxymoron, but let’s ignore that), letting your muscles have a light day to adapt to the intervals
  • They develop slow twitch muscles, adding capillaries and improving lactate clearance
  • They prevent me from going insane. It’s nice to get up and know you’re scheduled for an easy run sometimes.
  • There is increasing anecdotal evidence that top runners tend to spend a lot of time (70-80%) at this pace.

And Don’t Forget to Rest

I’ve come to believe in a five day per week schedule. When I get hurt or busy, I don’t even mind dropping that to four (maybe a walk or a bike ride instead of a slow run). But days off of running are sacred. Not only do they keep you out of the doctor’s office, they are when your body actually improves. Exercise stresses; rest builds.

So the moral of all this, is that I don’t have to choose between speed and health. So long as I’m sticking to my favorite race, I can train from PRs for the rest of my life, and if I don’t get those PRs, at least I’m getting years of happy life.

Thomas Kuhn and Partisan Conspiracy Theories: What Paradigm Shifts and Normal Science Tell Us about Fox News and the FBI’s Secret Society

Thomas Kuhn is of course known for his notion of “paradigm shifts” in science: when one worldview gives way (reluctantly, slowly) to a new, as in the switch from Newtonian to Einsteinian mechanics in physics.

What was equally interesting to me, though, was his discussion of the periods of “normal science” that happen between shifts, when researchers are happily operating within an established paradigm. Here, he argues, the existing paradigm is useful in many ways as it guides inquiry, suggesting areas of study and framing observation. In particular, he says that one of the reasons “normal science” progresses so rapidly is that the paradigm tells researchers which “puzzles” should have answers, and so makes their time far more productive.

Of course, paradigms eventually break down. Researchers gather data that doesn’t fit or find questions that can’t be answered, and when there’s enough of this (and when the adherents of the old paradigm die out)… voila, scientific revolution.

Though he doesn’t address the point, I’ve always viewed these two scientific modes—“normal science,” and “revolutionary science” as I suppose one might call it—as correlated with deduction and induction respectively.  During normal science, the paradigm gives the major premises of the deductive syllogism. Scientists then fill in the minor premises through research and observation, and come to a conclusion. And, as with all deduction, the conclusion is inevitably contained within the premise in some sense.

On the other hand, revolutionary science seems inductive to me. Researchers have a pile of data that don’t fit with any major premise, and from this accretion of detail they must reach toward larger principles. If they do this well enough, and often enough, these larger principles may eventually become a new paradigm, and normal science begins again (for a while).

So what does all this have to do with partisanship? What does Kuhn have to do with Sean Hannity? Partisanship, I would suggest, is a paradigm, and as such it guides us toward particular puzzles (and away from others), and shapes how we look at data. Most of all, though, it gives partisans the foundational major premise of all their syllogistic reasoning: my side is right and good, and the other side is wrong and bad.

When one starts with that premise as a truth beyond question, the descent into conspiracy theories becomes almost inevitable. If one begins with the assumption that Hillary Clinton is evil and Donald Trump is good, and then the FBI clears Clinton but not Trump, it’s reasonable—perhaps even necessary—to believe there is a vast secret liberal conspiracy at the FBI. It’s only rational. Any other conclusion might challenge the paradigm.

I wish I had easy answers to this, but as Kuhn suggests, paradigms often change only when one generation born in that paradigm dies out and another takes its place. I would imagine political paradigm mat be even more resilient.

I would suggest, though, one idea: the enthymeme. If we must be deductive (and I do think we must, at least some of the time), perhaps we can step away from Platonic certainty and embrace the mere probability of the humble enthymeme. Let’s at least try not to begin with my side is right, and the other side is wrong, but rather with my side is probably right, and the other side is probably wrong. That’s not enough, really, but it might be a start.