Whatever they reveal, the new Weiner emails probably won’t hurt Clinton — tribalism still reigns

Jamelle Bouie writes: Could the mere mention of “emails” change perceptions toward Clinton? When the news first broke, conservative commentators were sure that this would change the shape of the election. “This is not good for Team Clinton,” said Josh Kraushaar of National Journal. One vocal commentator, Matt Mackowiak, insisted that this “must be very serious” and that the uncertainty of it all was “politically lethal.”

At this stage, we have no idea how this development will shape the last 11 days of the presidential race. Tens of millions of Americans have already voted in battleground states like North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Nevada. Given the effect of past email news, it’s possible this will turn off independent or undecided voters from Clinton. It’s also possible that her negatives are already baked in and won’t budge. And it’s possible, perhaps likely, that it won’t matter at all.

Everyone agrees that American politics is more partisan and more polarized than it’s ever been. But not everyone grasps why that’s important. It’s not just Congress and the ability of our institutions to make progress and accomplish their goals. It’s also our elections.

The folk theory of American democracy is that citizens deliberate on the issues and choose a candidate. That is false. The truth, as political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels describe in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, is that voters are tribalistic. Their political allegiances come first, and their positions and beliefs follow. We’ve seen this with Donald Trump. Support for free trade is a longstanding belief within the GOP, but Trump is a major opponent, slamming most of the trade deals of the past 30 years. You would think that this would depress his support among Republican voters. It didn’t. Instead, those voters changed their views of trade. Their beliefs followed their affiliations, not the other way around. [Continue reading…]

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