If Democrats are so damn smart, how come they lose so damn much?

This is the first of a series of articles that I am going to write exploring factors that influences people’s votes in elections.

Over the next few weeks I hope to answer the questions of why people vote against their self-interest so frequently? How does the way we perceive the world effects how people vote?; and more.

There has been a historic perception that liberals are the more ‘educated class’. Those those who graduate from post-secondary education have a far greater tendency towards liberalism and voting democrat. (Even as I was writing this piece the New York Times Published this).

So if Democrats and liberals are so smart, why are they not winning every election in a landslide? In the US the balance of the Supreme Court has been conservative for years, the Senate and House are both controlled by Republicans. In Canada the Conservative party ruled for the better part of the past decade and it wasn’t until this past year that there was a power shift.

There seems to be an obvious disconnect, one where there is not a single correct answer but can be boiled down to an overarching theme. Republicans and conservatives understand how the human brain processes and perceives information.

The link between emotion and reason: The Democratic Party and liberal thinking can be traced back to the enlightenment era. One of the prevailing thoughts at the time is that reason is universal to everyone — this type of thinking is all over the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence “We the People hold the following truths to be self evident”.

The ideals of the Enlightenment thinkers were:

  • Since all people have the capacity for reason, we can govern ourselves, without bowing to higher authorities like Kings, Popes or oligarchs;
  • Reason makes us equal, and so the best form of government is democracy;
  • We use reason to serve our interests, and so an optimal government would serve the interests of all;
  • Since we all have the same reasons, the same laws can apply to all; thus, we can be governed by general, rational laws, not individual whims;
  • Our inherent rational nature accords us inherent rights and freedoms. As such government should be dedicated to rational interests of all citizens, and must be structured so that no authority can overwhelm them;
  • Science is based on reason, and so our government should recognize honour, and develop scientific knowledge.

There is nothing wrong with these ideals, in fact they sound excellent, unfortunately there are many fundamental flaws in them — namely reason was assumed to be conscious, independent of perception and action, logical, unemotional, interest based, objective and value neutral.

If the ideals were how people truly thought then people would be made aware of facts and figures and naturally draw the right conclusions (starting to sound like a college / university exam?). Voters should then only vote in their interest; it would be a simple calculation of which party offers them the greatest amount of their interest and then vote for them. Alas voters don’t act that way.

The old dichotomy between reason and emotion being two separate facets of the mind is incorrect; emotion and reason are inexorably intertwined. Science (one of the guiding principles of Enlightenment thinking) has shown that reason requires emotion. People with brain damage that makes them incapable of experiencing emotion or detecting emotion in others cannot make ‘rational choices’. This is because they cannot feel what the decisions will make them — or others — experience.

So back to original question: why do democrats, despite being well-educated and smart individuals, lose so much? Well those with higher-level education tend to forget the emotional aspect of an argument. In fact, it is encouraged that emotion be removed from the argument as much as possible. As many debate coaches will tell you, all you need to do is give people the facts and they will reach a conclusion where there interest lies. Democrats and liberals (often thought as wimpy) have from the inception of their party believed in Enlightenment ideals and parties. They do not consider themselves wimpy or weak, they see themselves as upholding the Enlightenment democratic ideal — committed to fact, truth and logic, and to inform those ‘ignorant’ of those self-evident truths to the facts.

In short, cold hard numbers, do not frame the facts, and trust people will vote for you. Yet the two most successful democrats of the past 35 years were also the most emotional stirring (Obama and Bill Clinton). The democrats who have failed to use emotion are often thought of as cold, calculating and manipulative (ex: Hillary Clinton). Hillary has other disadvantages besides the fact that she does not exude emotion but those can be discussed at another time.