Kansas Progress Institute

Ad Astra Per Aspera ~ To the Stars Through Difficulties

Problem With Irrational Voter Theory

Posted on October 25, 2016

By David Burress

Citing this article, esteemed Kansas University Professor in Political Science, Burdett Loomis claims that voters are “irrational.”
Let us suppose that voters are truly “irrational” in the sense that they follow the opinions of the groups they belong to in a knee-jerk partisan manner, and they rationalize doing so as to persuade themselves they are thinking.  For understanding the meaning of elections, that actually changes almost nothing. If groups respond to rational leaders then voters will vote “rationally.” If not then they will do something else.
Therefore attacking individualistic rationality theory gets us almost nowhere. We still need to come up with a theory of group motivation, which at the macro level of election outcomes is hardly distinguishable from a theory of individual motivation.


Moreover even if group leaders and/or collective group minds are what you call “irrational,” you still don’t have a useful theory. Exactly how do “irrational” people vote?


And I will go further. As soon as you formulate a predictive theory, the odds are good I can reformulate it as a type of rationality.
For example, if a particular group makes any effort to dominate political outcomes by imposing public markers identified with that group, then that constitutes a de facto effort to increase the power and status of that group. That can certainly be understood as a “rational” activity, insofar as:
1.status conflicts appear to result from a biologically given motive or end of status advancement; and
2. identity politics can be an effective means towards the end of increasing group status.


So let’s go back to arguing about motives and stop smearing particular motives as “irrational.”


In any case, the proper term for some major motives of Trump and his followers is “evil,” not “irrational.”

1 thought on “Problem With Irrational Voter Theory”

  1. I was raised as a social gospel Christian, so I’m perfectly comfortable with the concept of “evil.” A lot of progressives aren’t. They think it is intolerant to call someone or something evil. I think they are wrong. I’m willing to tolerate evil people as long as they are not in power. Recognition of evil is part of how we keep them out of power. “Tolerance” means we do not contest their free speech rights. It does not mean we need to say nice things about bigots.

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