3 Post-Election Problems (and Solutions?)

Did your candidate or party lose an election? That’s disheartening. It really is. But I hope you’ll eventually be turn your attention to deeper, more pressing problems . For instance, we are not reasoning well, we are doing a bad job of reassuring those who feel neglected, and we are letting our political parties determine what we care about. 

1.  We Are Not Reasoning Well

We are not naturally great at reasoning, especially when we guard ourselves from other perspectives.

First, we quickly accept claims via poor reasoning (and sometimes on the basis of no reasoning at all). We probably do not realize when we do this (because we are not likely to carefully reason about something when it seems correct right of the bat).

Second, all sorts of demonstrably false and bad conclusions seem correct at first (Frederick 2005). So we’ll accept all kinds of demonstrably false and poorly argued claims without realizing it. And so we’re often overconfident about all sorts of claims (Keil, Rozenblit, and Mills 2004; Rozenblit and Keil 2002). Indeed, we’re so overconfident that we’ll share the claims with other like-minded people, and they’ll share it with more like-minded people. And sooner or later loads of people believe something on the basis of bad (or no) reasoning.

[More on this is in “Is post-fact reasoning redeemable?“]

What do we do? We find ways to challenge our unreflective, unreasoned acceptance of claims. One way to do this is to go out of our way to subject our beliefs and world views to criticism. This is difficult and even painful — which might be why we don’t do it. But if we don’t do this, then we will continue to live in a society in which people continue to vote for candidates and policies about which they are overly confident.

2.  We Aren Not Reassuring Many People Who Feel Neglected

The concerns of many people (from multiple parties, including those without parties) have not been sufficiently addressed by either major party. So many (many) people feel neglected. And these people are — not unreasonably — upset. Some of them are so upset that they’ll vote for anything that upsets the status quo. Anything.

What do we do? We (a) acknowledge these peoples’ concerns, (b) find ways to devise (or point to extant) policies that address their concerns, and then (c) clearly identify the mechanisms of progress (or lack thereof) about their concern.

A couple disclaimers. First, blaming the other party does not accomplish (a), (b), or (c). Second, some concerns are ill-conceived.† And you might think that we shouldn’t acknowledge an ill-conceived concern because that would legitimize it. There’s something to that claim. But there is more to say. We can acknowledge the reasonable part of an ill-conceived concern. And that can go a long way in creating the conditions for fruitful dialogue. (Consider the person who fears certain policies because the person erroneously believes that such policies have caused of a variety of their negative experiences. We can acknowledge the psychological impact of their negative experiences without thereby endorsing the hypothesis that certain policies cause these experiences. And once we’ve acknowledged the gravity of their experience, the person is far more likely to appreciate  (b) our devising (or pointing to extant) policies that address their negative experiences and (c) any subsequent improvements in their experience.)

3.  We Let Others Decide What We Care About

We are often more loyal to political parties than to our own values (Noel 2014). So when our political party abandons our values, so will we! And we usually won’t even stop to consider our values. Instead — and this is where we go wrong — we simply look for new reasons to continue being members of the group. So long as we continue to perform this ad hoc rationalization of party membership, political parties can become whatever they want and we will follow — for better AND for worse.

The 2016 US presidential election was a clear example of how that can happen. Republicans’ free market, hawkish, and morally traditional values were trumped by protectionist, isolationist, and amoral values (pun intended). And the vast majority of Republican voters remained loyal. I.e., they abandoned their values.

Something similar almost happened with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party in 2016. Some of Clinton’s economic and foreign policy views were closer to Republicans than Democrats. (There is a reason that SNL joked about Hillary Clinton being more like a Republican than Donald Trump). Were it not for the support of more progressive policies and figures (e.g., Bernie Sanders), the Democratic party might have also trumped their constituents values.

What do we do? Stop registering with political parties. Stop describing oneself as a Democrat, a Republican, etc. Instead we should identify ourselves by what we value. That way we are less inclined to supplant our values with the values of whatever political groups with which we identify.

Final Thoughts

First, there are probably other post-election challenges that deserve our attention. These are just the ones that have been on my mind a lot this year.

Second, we maybe disagree about precisely how to handle 1-3. That’s fine. As long as we can agree that 1-3 are a problem, we’ll have made progress. But hopefully we can do even more than that.

Third, no matter who you are, how you voted, and how you feel about the outcome of the election, I hope that we can work together to address 1-3 in the future. And I hope you will remind me of my commitment to work on 1-3 if I forget (or waver). We’re in this together. Here’s to a better tomorrow.

Related Posts

Voting Third-Party: A Wasted Vote?

Is post-fact reasoning redeemable?

Fact-checking is not enough. We need argument-checking

5 Responses To The ‘Liberals Aren’t Inclusive’ Complaint


† Thanks to Jenna Kilic-Somers for motivating this second disclaimer.

The featured image is “Voting in Hackney” by Alex Lee. Licensed under CC by 2.0



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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog

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