Glimmering 2020: "Electability"
We need to be able to recognize when sexism or racism is at play in political commentary, and even our own thoughts about a candidate. Implicit bias is a helluva drug. If you don't think that you are operating with implicit biases, you are more likely to be driven completely by them.
I've been asked to write about the Democratic candidates in the 2020 primaries race, and I have a list of resources I'm compiling that I will publish soon. But before we start weighing out the specific candidates, I think it's important than we all take a step back and consider how our perceptions get skewed.
First, I want us to rethink polling. I don't think people realize just how subjective it is. We tend to place way too much value on it, and as a result, it sways voters and subsequently, elections.
Next, we need to be able to recognize when sexism or racism is at play in political commentary, and even our own thoughts about a candidate. Implicit bias is a helluva drug. If you don't think that you are operating with implicit biases, you are more likely to be driven completely by them.
If that makes you feel defensive, please know I don't think you're a bad person for having implicit biases! Everyone does; it's just the natural state of anyone who is socialized by a larger group. Becoming aware of our socialized unconscious prejudice is the first step to being more equitable in our thoughts and choices. Onward!
It's really easy to get caught up in the emotional highs and lows of early polling. The dangerous thing about polling is that it can become (as Rebecca Solnit points out, below) a self-fulfilling prophecy: whoever is "polling better" gets more attention and support, thus gaining traction.
It's also important to realize that polls are really specific and shouldn't be applied as generally as they are. Just because one candidate polls well with voters in one part of the country (or with a certain group) doesn't make them "more electable" on the whole.
"There is no crime — not a news crime, not an analysis crime — in guessing wrong. But there is an irresponsibility in presenting guesses, even educated guesses, as definite knowledge of the future. The error is in behaving as though there is a class of people — journalists, or Democratic consultants, or pollsters, or party elders — who have some particular, some special and correct prognostic ability, people who know how things are going to turn out, and that a general public should listen to them and act accordingly."
Rebecca Solnit on Facebook - "we are in the self-fulfilling prophecy stage where what people say is what shapes the future"
"[people] think that stuff like "charisma" is an objective standard, rather than "I'd rather not discuss the reasons I see this male candidate as exciting and not this woman candidate, and I am not aware of the subjectivity of my judgments and the role that unconscious bias plays, or that my notion of looking presidential might have to do with the fact that every last one of our 45 presidents have been men." Progressive votes and the Democratic party are majority women and people of color and what white men find charismatic is not what will win the day."
"We need to be wary of assigning value to information simply because it agrees with us, because that makes us assign a lack of value to information that's on equal footing just because it doesn't."
Sexism & "Electability"
It may come to no surprise to anyone who listens to our podcast that I am not a big fan of the white male candidates. I'm especially not keen on how media coverage on them is eclipsing the far more qualified/experienced women candidates.
I think it is important for any voter claiming intellectual integrity that they consider their implicit biases around sex, gender, and race. Rebecca Solnit's article below is a thought-provoking call for introspection. If you only click one link in this post, let it be that one.
Rebecca Solnit's must-read - "Unconscious Bias is Running for President."
“Electability isn’t a static social fact; it’s a social fact we’re constructing. Part of what will make someone unelectable is people give up on them in a way that would be premature, rather than going to the mat for them.”
"Despite all the evidence that the single most important determinant of getting elected president may be whether a candidate can excite their own party’s voters, we never treat that as a factor in electability. We discuss the electorate as though it has a fixed number of voters, and there will be no one who either stays home because they’re uninspired or turns out when they otherwise wouldn’t have because a candidate excites them. If that’s your assumption, then naturally you conclude that all that matters is whether someone can pull votes from the other side.
Not only that, you're actively discouraged from thinking that the person whom you really like might be electable. After all, if you're a partisan, and you love a particular candidate, that must mean they won't be able to appeal to those magical swing voters."
Crooked Media - "Democrats: Don't Fall into the 'Electability' Trap"
The fact is, we don’t know who is electable, and in absence of empirical meaning the term has come to reflect our collective biases—a euphemism for things we would rather not say, but want, consciously or otherwise, to imply.