Identity and Ideology


I found a lot to agree with in Chris Bowers’ post on identity and ideology in primary politics, but I do think he goes a bit astray in acting as if the “ideology” of a candidate is a simple, easy-to-determine thing. I have nothing better to do all day than to try to figure out which candidate I think would do the best job of handling Iran and . . . I really couldn’t say.

I end up resorting to this kind of tea-reading that, ultimately, doesn’t have a ton of probative value even if done right. It’s perfectly plausible that a candidate with a more hawkish political persona would feel more able to take political risks and de-escalate tensions. It’s perfectly plausible that the campaign rhetoric is totally meaningless — George W. Bush didn’t implement a “more humble” foreign policy and Bill Clinton didn’t take on the “Butchers of Beijing.”

Most people aren’t going to take the time to figure out exactly where the candidates stand, and even people who do take the time to try to figure it out tend not to be all that successful. By contrast, it’s easy to determine someone’s basic socioeconomic background pretty easily with a great deal of accuracy. Identity also seems like a not-entirely-terrible proxy for a person’s priorities. Politician behavior is kind of unpredictable, especially when you’re talking about someone moving into a new office, so I think it’s totally understandable that people don’t put tons of weight on trying to scrutinize where people stand on the issues.