In response to this post of mine on Beto O’Rourke from March 14th, Marc Hetherington wrote this response. Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler are the authors of this ground-breaking study, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.
You might not be thinking about Beto’s potential base of support the right way. Those of us who follow politics closely always tend to think about the world in terms of ideology. But decades of research in political science suggests that most Americans do not think in ideological terms.
This innocence of ideology manifests itself in both inter- and intra-party contests. The latter is important as it relates to Beto. Remember that the folks who supported Bernie over Hillary were, on average, less, not more, liberal. This suggests that Bernie attracted his supporters on grounds other than ideology.
Our research suggests that the other thing is something more fundamental, what we call worldview. Those who supported Sanders have a worldview that values niche things over mainstream things. They stream rather than using cable. They drive hybrids rather than gas powered cars. They like underdogs and are repelled by the establishment.
This crowd not only voted for Sanders in 16, it voted for Obama in 08, and Bradley in 00. For reasons that have nothing to do with ideology, we think they are going to love Beto in 2020. He’s niche. He’s not establishment. This will be what devastates Sanders’ candidacy. When it was Bernie against the establishment, these people all went for Bernie. But Bernie against Beto will be different. That vote will be split, and I suspect an 80 year old guy from New England will struggle to win that much of it against a 40 year old guy from Texas who used to play in a punk band.
Here’s a quick back and forth from our subsequent exchange …
JM: “On this, these are very good points. Thinking about it I think what I’m getting at is less ideology in the formal sense than the way this group in the party tends to identify itself as positioned apart from the party. Different kind of Dem, triangulation, common ground etc. Democrats who are most focused on critiques of Democrats. Perhaps more gestalt than ideology. But still I take your point.”
MH: “I like your use of the term gestalt here. Politics is increasingly driven, I think, by people’s general sensibilities about life rather than their specific sensibilities about politics That is source of the polarization. It comes naturally to people. They don’t so much need cues from their elites to make sense of things. It’s visceral because preferences come from an understanding of life rather than politics.”