Listen: Sociologist Andrew Perrin '93 "Reads" the 2016 Election
This fall, Andrew Perrin '93 delivered a lecture, "Culture, Public Opinion, and Representation: Reading the 2016 Election." In his talk, Perrin, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, examines the election season as both cultural ritual and deliberative event.
Perrin graduated from Swarthmore with a B.A. in sociology and anthropology and earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of American Democracy: Toqueville, Town Halls, and Twitter (2014).
Andrew Perrin '93: What I want to start with is the idea that we need to think culturally about politics. And it's that that really animates the way that I work with material in my work. So I start, of course, with who else to think culturally about politics then Tolkfeld. And Toldfeld writes about the American election season.
Oh, I'm sorry, this isn't Tolkfeld. My apologies, for all of you. You should have corrected me.
This is how to think culturally about anything. This is Durkheim talking about the influence of ritual on cultural life. He reports on a probably fictional observation of Spencer and Gillen. It says
"All sorts of processions, dances and songs have been underway by torchlight since nightfall and the general effervescence was increasingly intense. At a certain moment, 12 of those present each took in hand a large lighted torch and, holding his own torch like a bayonet, one of them charged. The smoke, the flaming torches, the rain of sparks, the massive men dancing and screaming, all that created a scene who's wildness cannot be conveyed in words.
It's not difficult to imagine that a man in such a state of exaltation should no longer know himself. Feeling possessed and let on by some sort of external power that makes him think and act differently than he normally does. He naturally feels he is no longer himself. ...
In one world, he languidly carries on his daily life. The other is the one that he cannot enter without abruptly entering into relations with extraordinary powers that excite him to the point of frenzy.
And then we have it in, in the truly and proud presaged Tolkfeld. "Long before the appoint election date arrives, the election becomes everyone's major, not to say sole, preoccupation. The arter of the various factions intensifies and whatever artificial passions the imagination can create in a happy and tranquil country" - that's ours - "make their presence felt. As the election draws near, intrigues intensify and agitation increases and spreads. The citizens divide into several camps, each behind its candidate. A fever grips the entire nation. The election becomes the daily grist of the public papers, the subject of private conversations, the aim of all activity, the object of all thought, the soul interest of the moment. Immediately after fortune-" - fortune, by the way, not the voters, but fortune - "renders its verdict, of course, this arter dissipates, calm is restored, and the river, having briefly overflowed it's banks, returns peacefully to it's bed."
"But," Tolkfeld asks. "Is it not astonishing that such a storm could have arisen?"
And so what I want to suggest today is we think culturally about politics. We keep in mind this way of understanding how people interact with the cultural world in politics. I like to think about democratic voice by referring back to another of the images that many of us think about. Norman Rockwell's town meeting. Here, just a number of things to point to on this painting.
An apparently working class man, right? We see he's the only one not wearing a tie and he's blue collar. Apparently a working class man standing at a rail in a town meeting. He's disheveled a bit, right? His hair is a little tussled, but he's determined, that he's confident but respectful. Hat literally in hand, he looks up, grasping the rail, while a cadre of more respectable looking folk right all around him, they're sitting down. They gaze up at him as he prepares to make a point. The speaker's mouth, along with those of everyone else in the picture, are closed. Town meeting, the speaker, the mouths are closed, presumably in deference to an authority located outside the painting.
So a town meeting and moreso, in it's famous successors, freedom of speech, right? This is where the speaker appears more confident and defiant. He and his audience have gained copies of the town's annual report, so the dialogue is now more about fact and more about information. These illustrate, I think, the ideals of defiance, individualism, the erasure of class privilege and communicative competence that run through our common sense ideas about deliberative democracy.
Okay. Now let's talk about some of the ways that deliberate democracy actually happens. These are just two items from the comments sections from the Raleigh News and Observer, my local newspaper. Georgia and North Carolina will be test cases. If they go blue on the strength of a massive turnout of unidentified third world voters, it will be clear the fix is in and we are Mexico. Henceforth, the ruling party will never lose another election. The Marxist Muslim from Mombasa and the stroked out dement he intends to foist on us as puppet president will rule by decree in a one party presidential republic, in quotes, and the only way to change government policy will be by revolution. We are one election away from Venezuela or Zimbabwe, and only Donald Trump can now head that off peacefully.
Alternatively, Trump is an idiotic, inarticulate, immature, impulsive, petulant, disturbing, deranged, distasteful, dangerous, limbic brained, immoral, swindling, hypocritical, mentally ill, narcissistic, fascist, [inaudible 00:05:46], ignorant, traitorous, lying, irresponsible, arrogant, stupid, bigoted, misogynist, [inaudible 00:05:51], orange man baby.
This is what passes for deliberation. Now, I'll actually want to be a little more serious about this for a second. They're wonderful quotes, and they're kind of crazily easy to find, but I want to be a little more serious because they actually both contain substance as well as form. And it's really easy to write both of them off because the form they take is so outrageous. We talked about this a little bit in Daniel's class before. I actually think that there are pieces of this kind of hosted deliberation that we ought to take more seriously, even though the form is so nuts.
Okay, but returning, then, to this idea of election as both ritual and deliberation at the same time, what I want to suggest is if we think about the election season as a cultural ritual and as a deliberative event, then we can actual make some progress beyond seeing it only as one or the other. And remembering [inaudible 00:07:00] means caution against anesthetizing politics, but I think we need to recognize that in some ways, politics actually is, at it's essence, aesthetic. And so when I say deliberation, I actually mean in the broadest sense of the word, that I'm not interested in particular rules about whether a given utterance is sufficiently calm or rational or deliberative, but rather that, while there are better and worse ways of engaging in such public communication, what I really want to look at is just when do people engage with disagreement at all and what are the processes of their engaging with that disagreement.
And just to make this point a little more clearly that ritual and deliberation fulfill some of the same functions in terms of holding groups together, bridging between groups, and creating and conveying meaning across those groups. So I wanted to suggest that they're related in some way.
All right, so, let's start then with the very simplest act of citizenship, which is also the most individual act of citizenship, which is voting. In fact, this is for many, many people the most public that they get. Voting seems very individual and indeed we work really hard culturally, as a ritual, to make it very individual. I don't know about here, but in North Carolina it is a felony to use a cell phone inside a voting area, which is clearly a ritual taboo.
So we consider a voting machine like the one here, I don't think these are actually in use anymore like this, but to prepare for that most public of activities that many citizens engage in, a voter had to enter this steel box, and you took that big red lever right there and you pulled it this way, and what happened is that curtain that's there closed behind you. So you're in a symbolic ritual of isolation. So you are being told you're separate. What better way to convey you are an isolated individual than the process itself closes you off? And then you cast your ballot by pushing the buttons, you push the lever back open and the same process of reentering the social world was the process that counted your vote. And more modern machines, like the ones we use today, they all continue to feature physical barriers to separate citizens from one another. They're more likely to be cardboard instead of metal, but the symbolic isolation remains the same.
Voting in this way teaches voters that their vote is their individual property, right? Voting using a secret ballot provided by the government that we all assume to be normal is actually a early 20th century innovation, one of several rationalize reforms brought about by the Progressive Movement. And like those other reforms, it made politics fairer, certainly, but it also teaches us something about how we conceptualize the act of engagement in politics. And that's the repeating theme of the talk [inaudible 00:10:18].
Economist and political scientists, sorry to those of you in the room, worked really hard to figure out why an individual would spend any time, energy, or money to vote when the chance that her vote will be decisive is either vanishingly small or zero, and we can have that argument, but it's essentially zero. And the bottom line is that if most citizens decided whether or not to vote based on an individual cost benefit analysis, far fewer would vote, not far more.
So, instead, what I want to argue, is that we can't understand either voting ... I'm sorry, we can't understand voting without a social and cultural component. None of us can hope to meet every other citizen with whom we share a political community, or even a significant portion of those citizens. Right? We can't meet the polity that we understand we're a part of. We need a technology, if you will, some kind of practice who's job is to connect us socially to that polity, a practice that allows us to imagine ourselves as part of a political community who's contours we can't actually conceptualize or estimate without it.
I took this particular picture, this is a picture of a rural voter in the first free election in Zambia in 1991. I love the expression on this guys face as he spent all day waiting in line to cast this ballot. And, to me, it feels like he has the weight of the world off his shoulders, right? That this vote in his sense, in his mind, among the most important things that he will do. He deposits his ballot, it joins the stream of millions of ballots to be counted, each one by hand in Misaka, and I actually rode on the truck from the Copperbelt to Misaka with these ballots.
So, what is this thing, the public, of which voting reminds us that we're a part? And let me take just a really quick detour, you all probably are already all over this, but of course the term democracy means rule by the people. But here, the people is actually the demos, or in German, the folk. It's the collectivity of the whole people. It is not the aggregation of all the individual people. That's what a public is and you need that ritual process to make people feel like they're part of the public because there's no other way to have that work out.
So a public is a collectivity, not just a collection, constituted by a common interest, a technology, or an idea. And citizenship is about participating in publics. That is, about being a public person, which in turn constitutes and shapes those publics.
Here are a couple of pieces of data to think about here. These are graphs of voter turnout rates over the last half century or so, there's 1960 to 2008. The left hand one is for presidential elections, the right hand one is for off year elections. As you can see, these are not changing all the much. Although, there is a significant uptick around the Obama election in 2008. The blue lines are the proportion of the eligible population who actually voted. The red lines are the proportion of people who said they voted when they were asked by the American National Election Study, which is a very well respected survey of voter participation. So I'm sure some of you are surprised that the rate actually hasn't declined all that much over that time period. We talk a lot about voter participation being a crisis. It's honestly not really much of a crisis.
So you may be surprised to see that it hasn't gone down all the much once we account for the increasing number of ineligible voting age people in the United States, and that's probably a minor piece of good news. Turnout in 2008 was the highest since 1960, and that increase actually wiped out all those years of people whining and complaining about decreasing voter turnout. But I want to actually call your attention to the difference between the red lines and the blue lines. As you can see in this graph, vote over-reporting has bounced around between 12.5% and 22.5% of the population. 22.5% of the population at the peak didn't vote, but lied to an anonymous survey taker, protected by laws of anonymity, to say that they did vote. 22.5% of the people.
So somewhere between an eighth and nearly a quarter of the population is in that category. Frankly, this is more perplexing than the fact that people vote in the first place. We do have a name for this in polling, it's social desirability bias, the tendency to over-report doing things that are socially desirable. People over-report church attendance, they over-report safe sex practices, they under-report illicit drug use and prejudice attitudes as some other examples. In a recent survey of California non-voters, 93% of infrequent voters agreed that voting is an important part of being a good citizen, and 81% of non-voters agreed it's an important way to voice their opinions on issues that affect their families and the communities. All right, the question then is this - why is voting socially desirable? Why over-report it at all? Why go through the trouble of lying to a survey taker when you didn't go through the trouble of actually voting? Because if there's anything with less benefit to your outcome than voting, it's lying about voting.
So, of course I'm delighted that people think it's embarrassing, they're embarrassed enough to want to lie to the survey taker, but why not just vote to begin with? Now, most people who don't vote say it's because they forget or they don't have time, but I think it's actually a more interesting issue than that. And to talk about that, I want to turn to how we think about public opinion, polling, and the effects of polling on the public. And, for this, let me go back to that critical modern social theory class.
Let me start with a kind of elaborate metaphor. When Adorno was writing about the advent of the long playing record, which at the time was a high technology way of listening to opera, Adorno worried that the advent of the long playing record would make it possible for people to listen to opera, particularly housewives, to listen to opera while they were doing the dishes and they wouldn't pay it either the necessary attention to truly understand and appreciate it, nor would be part of the right cultural ritual to allow the music to be as its authentic self was.
In a different text, he also identifies the distinction between the liberal and the democratic technologies. The democratic technologies are those like the radio, that create a public bi-common address, that is they create a demos. Where as the telephone is a liberal technology, and again in his time, it individualizes, right? It prevents that kind of public creation. Now, of course, last week I was mowing the lawn at my house, I had my iPod playing, and we switched from Public Enemy to Rihanna to Beethoven's Ninth just like this, which would have made Adorno turn over in his grave, but it's also a way in which the technologies of listening have changed, right? Just as radio and the long playing record and eventually the iPod actually changed music itself by changing the rules of listening. I want to argue that the representative public opinion poll changed the rules of opining, and thereby changed opinions themselves.
So imagine a world without public opinion polling. This is Adorno, this world without the long playing record, right? Without polling, having an opinion, opining that is, means deciding an issue is important, finding an audience to broadcast that opinion to, and actively expressing a view. It's difficult, its time-consuming, but it's potentially very rewarding, right? Doing it is a rare experience and a privileged experience, but a meaningful experience. However, with polling ... Let me try that again. However, with polling, the pollster decides what issues are important and delivers that audience ready-made, right? Expressing a view means making a selection among predetermined choices. This is another of these cases where what I want to suggest is that there are no easy answers. Polling does democratize opinion. It gives many more people the opportunity to participate and to have an opinion, but it also changes those opinions.
So I don't think it's just a generational difference that leads me to say that listening to Rihanna or Lady Gaga on my iPod while jogging or mowing the lawn takes virtually no cognitive effort whatsoever. And it transforms listening, therefore, into an entirely passive activity, albeit a fun, an enjoyable activity. This ... And I like Rihanna and Lady Gaga. This listening technique, in turn, encourages Rihanna and Lady Gaga to make music that suits that same low attention listening, right? The uniformity and the length of the track, the style of music, right, it works because it's made for that technology.
Likewise, answering a public opinion poll takes little cognitive effort. It transforms opining into an entirely passive activity. It also encourages pollsters, the media, and politicians to produce politics that suits low attention citizenship. In place of an active, imaginative, expressive citizen, we become choice-making citizens whose principal task is selecting among the preordained options presented. Of course, this pattern is far from monolithic and many citizens crave and actively look for ways to express and discuss ideas and views within publics, and many of these publics are technologically mediated through television, talk radio, social media, and so on. And many of these spaces are so intensely partisan that they're really very inspiring and emotionally charged, even as they offer relatively little opportunity for engagement with disagreement. So sort of good and bad pieces of this.
But the main thing that I want to say is polling has taught us particular ways to opine. And let me talk about another technology that is very similar to this. This insight, that polls don't just measure public opinion, but work to shape it, is an important case of that general principal, that people learn how to behave from the techniques and technologies that we use to ascertain that behavior.
So another important case that I want to mention just briefly is the increasingly popular role of fact checking in politics. And, of course, Brendan Niehaus, another Swarthmore alum, is one of the great scholars and proponents of fact checking. He's done tremendously good research on it. There is certainly no shortage of truth stretching and outright lying going on in the campaigns, so I grudgingly acknowledge the relevance of simply asking whether each candidate is speaking accurately at all, but I think the obsession with fact checking also teaches us something else. It prevents us from paying attention to the most important questions, which are differences in values, analysis and leadership style that make the decision a legitimately democratic moment.
Fact checking has an unintended consequence when it takes over the coverage, the publics fear of talking about the election. Citizens consuming the media don't just learn the answers, they've also learned what questions are worth asking. The obsession with fact checking teaches citizens that the important thing to pay attention to is truth versus falsehood, not the matters of moral difference and emphasis that should be at the heart of any major political decision.
That problem is actually exacerbated by something else, which is the increasing tendency to [inaudible 00:23:04] social networks by preexisting political preferences. This is not a new thing, as we talked about in the class earlier today, it's a tendency that's certainly been around since the advent of cable television in the 1970s. The graphics here in A and B, you can find these anywhere. These are force directed network labs of retweet networks for the tweet collections of the 2012 election, that's in A, and the 2014 Super Bowl, that's in B. Each note ... You don't even need to know the particular thing. The main thing that you can see is that when we talk about politics, suddenly we are only talking with one another. The networks are almost completely separated. And when we talk about the Super Bowl, not so much, right? We are interacting with one another much more broadly.
So the other piece of this puzzle is that networks that are almost entirely homogenous with respect to people's political preferences mean that the same dynamics that hope to work in the public don't work in the same way that we think they might. These are all ways of just reinforcing what ... Two decades ago, Nicholas Negroponte called The Daily Me, a technologically insulated world that allows us to avoid the mess and discomfort of honest disagreement. So, on the one hand, most people know someone they disagree with, but on the other hand, once they know they disagree with them, they tend to talk about something else, something other than politics. Right? And the media environment is certainly a major culprit in this process and there's all kinds of good evidence showing this, but it's also the case that there are some interesting new findings, particularly former post-back at Carolina, Gordon [inaudible 00:24:58], but more educated conservatives have less trust in science now than before because political identity colors how education works, right? It's a multi-stage identification process.
So, what that means to us is a number of, I think, important theoretical challenges for thinking about public opinion polling and the public. First, it's really important to try and get contextual responses. Get people hot cognition so they are angry and emotionally responding to a particular question. Second, we need to recognize that belief clusters and fragmented publics mean that the same thing, the same cultural object, means different things in those different kinds of sub-publics. Skip that for a second and move on straight to this question.
This is one example of thinking about how to think about public opinion polling. This is simply support for same-sex marriage 2001 to 2016. This is a real anomaly in public opinion research because it's one of the very few times that opinion has changed much more quickly than cohorts. So that means real people changed their minds as opposed to just the people who disagreed died and new people were born. And you can see, this is not a surprising curve here, we know this is how this process has played out.
What's really important and interesting to take a look at, to me, though, is this yellow line, which is nearly constant from 2001 to 2016. And anyone who has been following this political environment knows that what it means to support same-sex marriage has changed completely between 2001 and 2016. In 2001, it's a radical position, it's a position that is essentially identified with a social movement, and it's something that the Republican party uses to fragment the public against and sort of in favor of the Republican party. By 2016, it is nearly a consensus position, or as close as we get to consensus positions in the contemporary world, and yet the same, roughly the same number of people say they don't know.
Okay, so what I want to point out about this is simply we don't know what don't know means. Daniel has some ideas what don't know might mean, but we don't know what don't know means in these situations. So we need to be suspicious of even what the yes and no positions are because we don't know how to interpret those don't knows.
I have a way of suggesting this, and this is an interesting study that two of my graduate students did a few years ago with a really big data set. And the data set was bifurcated into two pieces. Half, like 33,000 people were asked the same question, and half the response were asked whether they supported or opposed allowing gays or lesbians to marry a partner of the same sex, and the other half were asked whether they supported allowing two men to marry each other or two women to marry each other. These are treated as essentially the same question because, in a content level, they are the same question. But the graduate students do what you do, they threw every possible co-variant into the mix and they simply couldn't make this difference go away. There's a robust and statistically significant 3% difference between these two ways of asking the same question differently. Right, once again, this is hot cognition. This is people responding in an aesthetic, and emotional way to this question, and that explains the difference between those two positions.
So, how to think about this. Well, what I want to suggest is we start with these belief clusters, and we can talk about where they come from, but I think essentially we start with belief clusters, groups of people who basically think the same way. That leads to the media selection, and when I say media, that includes social media as well. And that leads to knowledge clusters, people who belief the same thing, look for the same information in the same places, they end up with knowing the same thing. This is the Ronald Reagan line about the problem with liberals is not that they don't know enough but that they know too much that isn't so. Right? People know stuff that's different from one another, and that leads back around to belief clusters. It also leads, separately, to a real scorn for disagreement because this is what people know, not just what they belief. And that, in turn, all of these are learning processes. They're not just kind of worn lightly. They're processes where people are learning stuff about the world. And that explains, I think, this distinction of the bifurcated networks.
So, some conjectures then about this public. It's fragmented and self-satisfied, that is it thinks it knows what's going on. It's dismissive of others who disagree. It is low-attention in general to the public. It is culturally bound, right, it's about ritual and identification with itself. And it's suspicious of pollsters and poll, it's suspicious of any kind of measurement. And so that means that we need some different ways of researching that public. We need some different kind of sampling strategies, which I won't pay attention to right now, that's a little too technical, but we also need ways of aggregating, that's what you 538 can do to predict well. But we also need something that I would call a cultural assays, that is we need ways of assessing the culture of those separate kinds of cultural worlds, political cultural worlds.
So what I want to suggest is that we think about vague questions as cultural assays. If the public is culturally bound, culture is encompassing and obvious, and then vague questions can force people to engage in cognitive work. And I want to show you some outcomes here. This is a poll that I've done in North Carolina and Tennessee. This is aggregated data from 2010 to 2012. And we asked the respondents which group they liked lease: Nazis, gay rights activists, the Ku Klux Klan, atheists, or communists. And what you can see is ... Sorry, the x-axis here is the same people's attitude to our tea party: negative, no opinion, or positive. As you can see, those who were negative towards the tea party right there, nearly 45% say that they dislike Nazis the most, then the next 32% they dislike the Ku Klux Klan the most, and the others are much, much lower. The no opinion is a similar pattern but less dramatic, and those who are positive towards the tea party are statistically indistinguishable among all the other groups that they might dislike.
Now, I don't want you to go away saying tea party people don't dislike the Nazis any more than they dislike gay rights activists. I don't think that's the right way to interpret this data. They're not walking around with a list in their heads of how much they like or dislike these different groups. In fact, I get calls on my voicemail every time we field this questions, saying I can't believe you're making me decide between these groups, right? Because it's frustrating to them. And because it's frustrating, they're doing quick hot cognition. So I think we can think about this as a really interesting pattern, but I don't want you to walk away interpreting this as we might a much more standard public opinion question that these are actually attitudes that are held.
I'm running long, very long, so I'm going to skip the next piece and just move straight to here. So up to this point in this talk, I could have given this talk pretty much any time in the last five years or so, right? They're basically, the situation is basically as it is and in fact I have given it at kind of a similar time. So what are we to make of this election season, which has given us so many unusual developments, of which by far the most interesting is this guy, Donald Trump, and how should we understand Trump. And I actually feel a little guilty by saying he's so interesting. I find him, actually, quite fascinating. My wife, also a Swarthmore alum, is a physician and they have a term called a fascinoma. Does anyone know what a fascinoma is? So fasci- as in fascinating and -noma as in like a cancerous growth. When they're rounding, they talk about this idea of a fascinoma, which is a fascinating thing but a really negative phenomena.
So I think Trump is kind of a fascinoma. He reveals a lot about the cultural environment of the public and a serious analysis is really worthwhile, but I don't want to suggest that there's sort of nothing problematic about it. In some ways, Trump's rise has been conceptualized as fundamentally unique. It's been conceptualized as an American case of European style fascism. It's been conceptualized as a comic phenomenon, spun out of control, as a diagnosis of straightforward bigotry and misogyny among a large swath of Americans, as the logical next step in Republican growth of ideology, and more. As I think about this, I like to be mindful of the socialist [inaudible 00:34:40] admonition of quote "avoid falling into one or the other or two opposing errors, the illusion of the never been seen before, and it's counterpart, the way it always has been." So what I'm trying to see if we can sort of tease apart this phenomenon based on where I've been thus far.
Here are a few examples of the never been seen before mode of discussion. Eric Claneburg, my graduate school colleague, says "I so wish we could call the election for this Tuesday and end this national nightmare. 30 more days of this will be a living hell." There we go, right here, you're a colleague. "This is the worst humiliation this country has suffered in it's modern history, I cannot think of anything comparable." I actually think these interpretations have real merit to them. I am not arguing that these are false. I'm arguing that they're culturally interesting, as interventions in this conversation, and sorting them out will help us in understanding what's happened thus far in the Trump phenomenon. And here Daniel, the wonderful Daniel, "Donald Trump is a walking, talking example of the tyrannical soul" she wrote in her Washington Post column recently.
So I want to suggest a couple things. One, that Trump really is a uniquely American fusion of wealth and populism that's just not available in other countries, at least those that are like ours. And that uniquely American fusion, it blends with this long tradition of what Hoffsetter called the paranoid style in American politics. So this is on the sort of nothing new under the sun side of this dialectic, right, that Trump really represents a long-running tradition in American politics and there's something interesting about the fact that he has risen to this level, but that the content is not all that new or different.
I want to suggest that the fragmented public that I've talked about before leads to paradoxical effects of exogenous events. And this has been all over Twitter and Facebook, it's been all over the conversations. So here's the thing, right, so we find these really, sort of over the top examples of straight-forward sexual assault on the part of Donald Trump, and these create tremendous outrage on the part of people who are already opposed to Trump, and they create even a sense of smug self-satisfaction among people who are basically positively disposed to Trump. There was a picture, it's too late to put in here of a person saying "Finally, someone who has balls." So there's a sexualized positivity. And so the point that I want to make about this, though, in these bifurcated social networks is that when we think about public opinion as being common in some way, we miss the fact that the same stimulus means very different things in these two different social networks.
And so we can talk about, ultimately, the election measures the aggregate level of positivity or negativity across the entire electorate, but these two publics are actually functioning in different ways from one another, and they're functioning in ways that are actually paradoxical to one another, so it's more like a siphon shifting up and down in counter-distinction to one another than it is a common stimulus with different amounts of response.
We also have to, I think, recognize the global rise of xenophobia, right? There was a huge, enormous amount of xenophobia going on in Africa over the last couple of years, with migrants from outside the southern African region. Certainly, all over Europe there's been a huge rise in this, and so in that sense, in a national context, Trump is a piece of the kind. But we also need to learn, finally, from this, the 1964 coalitions that make up American politics in the context that all of us have known them for a long time. And the 1964 coalitions gave us the modern parties. In the wake of the civil rights act and the voting rights act, we got the alignment that has made the current coalitions of the political parties.
Partisans experience these parties as coherent and constraining and for those of you who feel you are a Democrat or a Liberal or a Conservative or a Republican, you probably feel that that whole coalition fits together because you believe some underlying principal that fits it all together. But in truth, these things have histories, and the history came from that 1964 coalition and those coalitions are in fact unstable in the same way that any kind of coalition would be.
So technology and culture since about 1980 have provided these kind of feedback loops so people learn from the coalitions they're a part of. They understand themselves as being constrained by the ideologies of these coalitions, but the coalitions ideologies themselves are just fragments pulled together in 1964. And so, under those conditions, the incentive is for partisans to be ever the more polarizing. Part of that is because of gerrymandering, but a lot of that is actually because coalitions demand that kind of cultural power to keep holding together and that Trump has made this conversation essentially cultural.
Now, I want to offer one quick caveat and then open up for some conversation, but I want to point out that, unlike most other people, I was totally wrong at the beginning of the Republican primaries. My lie at the time was I don't know who's going to be the nominee but it's definitely not going to be Trump. So, having been totally wrong a year ago, I'm a little bit gun shy about overly strong predictions right now, but I am happy to talk about the cultures and the meanings and the ideologies that surround this election and the others.
Thanks for paying attention for so long, and let's talk.