More Doom: Partisanship Explained

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101 Responses

  1. Avatar Kim says:

    You should meet more GOP candidates then.
    We had DeSantis a while back here, and he was a decent fall guy.

    You mean you wouldn’t even vote for a Republican to be the fall guy for a Recession?

    Republicans tend to be decent academics around here (Santorum notwithstanding), and I’ll gladly vote for them… so long as it’s for a judgeship.Report

  2. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    I am reminded of Leo Strauss describing Carl Schmitt’s philosophy:

    “Because man is by nature evil, he therefore needs dominion. But dominion can be established, that is, men can be unified only in a unity against – against other men. Every association of men is necessarily a separation from other men…”

    Seems on the nose.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Tribalism has been part of politics for a long time.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

      What’s more, the research seems to point at, but largely ignore, the fact that the current level of partisanship looks a lot like the level of partisanship that existed pretty much forever except during the period between WWII and the second Bush administration. Something about the U.S. between 1952 and 2004, or perhaps even earlier (maybe 92?) made political partisanship less intense.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chris says:

        The need to maintain a somewhat united front on foreign policy issues because of the Cold War and the unprecedented prosperity after World War II decreased partisanship and moved it to the sidelines. Both parties still had conservative and liberal groups so the tensions over issues like Civil Rights, how to fight the Cold War, and welfare state measures existed in both parties.

        I’d argue that our current level of partisanship began over the struggles during the Counter-Culture and the decline of economic prosperity during the 1970s. Reagan’s high levels of popularity and the last years of the Cold War kept the post-War partisanship going for longer than expected and Bush I’s presidency was the last hooray. The Republican war against Bill Clinton was the first sign that the post-war bipartisan era was over. It was finalized by the time of Bush II’s administration.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

          I agree, which is somewhat depressing. The 50s and 60s were some of the most socially and politically volatile times in this country, certainly the most volatile since the end of the Civil War, yet a large perceived existential threat resulted in relative political unity anyway. So all it takes is the threat of the bomb.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

            ” yet a large perceived existential threat resulted in relative political unity anyway.”

            I feel this was not the intention, though it was the result. The post WW2 party system found the left most wing of the Democrats effectively purged and expelled, starting with Henry Wallace and continuing through the AFL-CIO merger, on top of a party where Southerners. who ran the ideological spectrum, were key power brokers – and had Jacksonian tendencies in their political DNA. On the other side, the Republicans were the right wing party and naturally anti-communist, but they themselves marginalized their isolationist members during the immediate post War period.

            So you had two parties that had broad areas of agreement in foreign policy – *by happenstance*. They would, though, still exploit differences, real or perceived, for political gain. Ike took advantage of Korea ennui, JFK out red-baited Nixon, and Vietnam blew up ‘foreign policy unity’ to the extent it existed at all.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

              Yeah, that sounds right.

              It’s interesting, too, that a major party realignment in the South began at the same time (in the late 40s) and ended about the time that the political unity began to dissolve (according to the paper discussed in the OP, the late 90s or early Aughts).Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kolohe says:

              Hubert Humphry, Clairborne Pell, and others were expelled from the Democratic Party? Scoop Jackson might have been a hawk but he also talked about economics and seriously talked about nationalization.

              Would today’s GOP have tolerated a Jacob Javits?Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                The difference between Humphrey, Pell, and Jackson is that neither them wanted anything to do with the Soviet Union while Wallace thought our wartime alliance could continue. For all his admirable qualities, Wallace was one of the liberals that tended to be blind to what was actually happening within the Soviet Union.

                Republicans had liberal and moderate members like Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits but were still a party that presented themselves as the businessman’s party since the 19th century with some exceptions. Many of them might have made some peace with the New Deal but we never had New Deal Republicans like the United Kingdom had Red Tories. Its why Nelson Rockefeller developed an overly complicated re-insurance plan, basically like an FDIC for health insurance, when Eisenhower had him look into national health insurance rather than a more simple national insurance plan, which would be too socialist. If I’m remembering the details correctly, Rockefeller’s plan involved the Federal government insuring health insurance companies so they would provide coverage to everybody. The system would still officially be private but in case of big payouts, the federal government would give insurance companies their money back.Report

          • Avatar j r in reply to Chris says:

            The 50s and 60s were some of the most socially and politically volatile times in this country, certainly the most volatile since the end of the Civil War, yet a large perceived existential threat resulted in relative political unity anyway.

            Maybe political unity and social cohesion are just not the same thing. The political unity of the post-WW2 period strikes me as characterized by the fact that there were hardcore racists in the south and in Northern cities who still voted for Democrats and relatively socially liberal Republicans in the North and West. Not sure that is something to which we ought to aspire.

            Said another way, the present partisanship is more a sorting than a growing divide. As I’ve said before, I’m not convinced that the parties are all that far away ideologically. How many Republicans want to bring back Jim Crow? How many Democrats want to crank the highest marginal tax rate back up to 90%. Mostly what partisans are fighting over these days are marginal policy changes and a whole range of issues related to identity politics.

            People have stopped voting party lines purely out of demography and geography and started rooting for political parties the way some root for sports teams.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:

              “As I’ve said before, I’m not convinced that the parties are all that far away ideologically.”

              I agree and disagree.

              In the immediate aftermath of Bush V Gore, a 17-year-old Kazzy argued that in many other countries — where your party losing an election could mean a dramatically different quality of life for you — an election like that one could have yielded rioting in the streets. Instead we had some gnashing of teeth and internet snark but the vast majority of people went on living their lives because the vast majority of people weren’t dramatically effected by the outcome.

              At the same time, there exists a subset (or various subsets) of society who would be very dramatically impacted by some of the very large differences that exists between the parties on certain key issues. And as someone who doesn’t really occupy any of these subsets, it feels a little tone deaf to hang on my hat on this argument.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy says:


                We may be talking past each other here; although it’s hard to say outside of a specific issue. I assume that you mean something like gay marriage, where Democrats are largely on the right side and Republicans are largely on the wrong side. If so, then I would say that this actually supports my point.

                Think about the present debate over gay marriage and compare it to the range of ideas that existed in regards to gays forty years ago. I would say that, objectively, the space between those who support gay rights and those who oppose has closed significantly. Today we’re arguing over whether the state should recognize gay marriages and whether gay people ought to receive the protections of civil rights law. Forty years ago, people were arguing over whether gays should be arrested, thrown in jail, and generally driven from public life.

                More relevant to this conversation gay marriage didn’t happen because the Democratic Party made it happen. It happened, because of a whole bunch of grassroots political action and because the number of people supporting gay marriage reached a tipping point relative to the number of people dead set on opposing it. The Democratic Party, by and large, came to the issue, because its constituency is largely composed of people who support it or who don’t care enough to actively support it. In other words, the issue moved the party and not the other way around.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:


                I was thinking something more along the lines of abortion.

                But, yea, I largely agree. I’m just not going to try to tell a woman in, say Alabama, who wants an abortion that it really doesn’t matter if her state government is run by Dems or the GOP.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy says:


                I am not saying that you should. It is perhaps more rational for people to have a strong affinity for one party over the other today, but not because beliefs have become more radical and the range of opinions wider. Rather, it is because people have sorted themselves into parties more efficiently.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:


                Do you think that sorting efficiency is the result of more perceived partisanship though (i.e., culture wars)? If we’re only looking at tax or foreign policy, I’d think party affiliation would be more fluid. But when the GOP is all, “They want to kill babies!” and the Dems are all, “They hate all women!”, I’d think people would feel more strongly about which side they choose.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to j r says:

                I think this is a really cool comment and agree with your example. But what historical examples do you have in mind where the party moves the people? National Democrats moving away from single-payer is the closest I can come up with, but that’s more compromise than party platform.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to trizzlor says:

                Most wars.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:

              I agree and disagree as well. There are probably people in both parties that vaguely or sorta want to bring back what you described but they are on the fringes and will probably never have power in their parties.

              That being said, I think that the parties and their supporters really disagree on a whole swath of public policy issues that are pretty serious. Including but not limited to: Extending the Civil Rights Act protections to LGBT people, Climate Change, Health Insurance and the Welfare State, Police brutality and civil rights, the Death Penalty, what should be taught in our schools, access to birth control and abortion, etc.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                I said this above, but I will reiterate. I happen to think that the difference between the Rs and the Ds is like the difference between Coke and Pepsi. That doesn’t mean that people don’t or shouldn’t have a preference; it just means that they are both fizzy brown sugar water.

                There are plenty of meaningful differences between the two parties. My point is only that the differences between acceptable policy positions is closer today than they were in the past, which, of course, doesn’t mean that people won’t fight over them just as bitterly, if not more so.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Chris says:

        If I were to guess? The unique post WWII confluence of organized labor plus the US being the only developed economy left standing combined with the quixotic phenomena of Jim Crow causing the parties to have this bipartisan strain running through them.

        Neither of those phenomena are things we can or should desire to return.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I am a rabid member of the Anti-Masonic Party, myself.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “Tribalism has been part of politics for a long time.”

      It’s been a part of human nature since the dawn of our time.Report

  4. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    “Fear is the lifeblood of the state.”Report

  5. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    In a different time, I could imagine finding tolerable: John Kasich, Marco Rubio, or even Jeb Bush (though his campaign has really not impressed me.) The main objection to them is their SCOTUS nominations, which will of necessity have to please their base.

    Yet, I too, am driven by this calculus. It is yet another example of a psychological principle known as “Bad is stronger than Good”Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Kasich, I could consider a tolerable President but the problem is his party. The GOP is on record saying that the only thing they need in a President is a hand to rubber stamp what the House and Senate passed (and with these GOP turkeys you can bet that the filibuster would go out the window faster than you could say “minority rights” in the event they secured the White House as well).Report

      • Avatar gingergene in reply to North says:

        Yes, that’s the other concern I have for any Republican candidate (besides SC vacancies). However tolerable I may find them personally, legislation does not originate from the executive branch. I have very little faith that any of the current nominees would stand up to fellow Republicans in congress. Look at how quickly W. Bush folded on social security reform[1]- and he was a strong president facing a much weaker congress than the current one. Hilariously, the one Republican candidate who might be inclined to tell congress to take a long walk off a short pier is Trump, who I could see getting into p*ssing contents with congress purely on principle[2].

        [1] Not to say I endorsed his plan, just noting how difficult it was for him to get any traction on it with his fellow Rs in congress

        [2] The principle being “I’m in charge here, and all ideas get re-phrased it so they sound like mine and I get the credit or I’ll make sure it never happens.”Report

        • Avatar North in reply to gingergene says:

          Yes, if some evil genie appeared and informed me that the GOP nominee WOULD be elected President but that I got to decide which one it’d be I’d seriously consider making it Trump. He might actually buck his party and not just roll over once ensconced in the White House; anyone else would just rubberstamp whatever rolled up from Congress.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      I know a guy who was a Republican member of Congress. I call him my Republican Friend. Everyone should have one. Would I vote for him for President? Absolutely not. The party carries too much baggage. Would, were we to live in the same town, I vote for him for Mayor? Absolutely. He would make an excellent mayor. I might even volunteer for his campaign.Report

      • Well now let it be noted that the National GOP =/= to state level or lower level GOP. There are a lot of really good politicians and sensible groups within the GOP especially on the state or lower level.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to North says:

          @north Yeah R’s at the state level can be different, however there are also sometimes worse and in thrall of the national party. This kind of thing is what they are to often pushing with the clearly predictable consequences.

          • Avatar North in reply to greginak says:

            Well yes, granted, you can find certain regional fiefs for both parties that are atrociously worse than the national party. No doubt about that.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

            “in thrall of the national party.”

            It’s the reverse, imo. The more ideologically committed Republicans at the state and local level have their own power base (and safe electoral maps) and are the ones pushing for ideologically purity from national figures.

            e.g. this is how you get Christine O’Donnel kicking Mike Castle to the curb. Or, more famously and recently, Brat kicking out Cantor.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Kolohe says:

              Oh come on, thrall is a great word and it’s hard to fit it into conversations that often. I guess parties can go both ways sometimes, even R’s, so to speak.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

                thrall is a great word, I just think that, if anything, it’s the national party that’s in thrall to some of the more ideologically out there local officials.

                (and I don’t think that’s quite fair to Reince Priebus, who’s done a good job* of managing the national party apparatus in the maelstrom that’s enveloped the GOP since Bush Jr. left office. )

                *or, at least, a much better job, with a score based on degree of difficulty, than Debbie Wasserman Schultz has done.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

                the thralls are the various talk radio and internet acolytes that buy into an angry voice that nonetheless makes sense – until you start listening too closely (or for too long).Report

        • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to North says:

          That’s what I was thinking when i voted for Pat McCrory. Oops.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:

          I am not so sure. CA seems to be a state that could elect a person that was socially moderate or liberal but economically on the conservative side. The GOP in CA has gone just as red as anywhere else.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            There’s a country beyond California, Saul ol’ boy, and plenty of them have serious competant state level GOP parties. I wouldn’t say that California is one of them though.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

              What I think Saul meant was that there is probably a constituency for a Rockefeller Republican in California. Economically right, low taxes and regulation, but liberal on social issues. The California GOP seems to have adopted the same cultural war attitudes as other Republicans. What works in Kansas does not necessarily play well in California.Report

              • Avatar Autolukos in reply to LeeEsq says:

                California is a big place; leave the coast and you’ll find plenty of places where what plays in Kansas plays well.

                Even on the coast, Conservative with a capital C Republicans do pretty well in parts of Southern California. The San Diego and LA suburbs consistently send Republicans to Congress and can be won by Republicans in statewide races (see, for example, the 2010 gubernatorial race).

                The Bay Area is the real Democratic core out here: Democrats dominate both the cities and the suburbs, and the Republicans show little inclination or ability to contest this. The suburbs would be the place for the Rs to make inroads, but I’m not aware of any evidence that they would go for the kind of candidate you describe. They seem pretty happy electing quite liberal Democrats by overwhelming margins.Report

      • Avatar gingergene in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Last time our DA was up for election (and can I say how much I hate that DAs are an elected position?!), I voted for the Republican challenger over the Democratic incumbent because the incumbent was an incompetent creep, flubbing slam-dunk murder cases, sexually harassing co-workers and driving a number of good prosecutors to neighboring jurisdictions. I knew my prosecutorial priorities probably lined up better with the (D), but that was a rather academic issue given how unlikely he had made it that any actual prosecution would happen under his watch.

        But the reason I felt comfortable voting for his opponent is that I know there are other checks in the system, and that is not something I feel at the national level.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      This is it for me too. I’d love to give any of the non-grifter Republicans a shot at the job for 4-8 years, but not if it means their agenda shapes the SCOTUS for a lifetime. I’m thinking back to all the times I told my liberal friends “McCain/Romney seem like decent guys and would probably be capable conservative presidents”, and how in that alternative universe my gay friends would still be second-class citizens.Report

  6. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Partisanship gets a bad rap.

    Parties are composed of many varied individuals but share a common outlook and general goal.
    Moreover, they share a willingness to compromise and advance each others goals.
    Hilary may not feel strongly about regulating Wall Street but she would cooperate with Warren on the issue.

    Fear of an opposing party doing awful things is a perfectly valid reason for voting the party ticket.

    I can intellectually understand the conservative base, why they hold the positions they do. I just believe that their preferred policies would result in catastrophic immiseration of millions of people.

    I do agree that the best way to fight evil is to demonstrate the better.crafting a convincing vision of a better, more just world is the task liberals have to undertaje.

    But we shouldn’t feel the need to soften our critique of evil.Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Partisanship is evil.
      (Hardening my need to critique evil. Ha.)Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Partisanship isn’t bad in a political system designed to handle it like most parliamentary systems. The American system is not designed to handle partisanship at all.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I disagree.
        Partisanship was fully anticipated by the Founders.
        The parts that were not expected are: 1) political parties on the national, rather than regional, scale, and 2) entrenchment of interest groups.
        It was intended that interest groups disband once their purpose is realized. Mobilization of interest groups changed in the 1970’s and institutionalization occurred. Now it’s constant warfare.
        Things that should remain at the interest group level now rise to the party level. It’s bad news.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I actually believe in partisanship and political parties and see them as natural. Lee is right that our system is not completely designed to handle it though.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Natural is silly, when you’re talking a manmade game.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        A system built on factions should not survive in a republic.

        If your going to faction, faction all the way down to the individual or don’t faction at all.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Joe Sal says:

          Faction-based systems seem to do fine in other republics. The Founders did not believe in political parties and were mired in British thought about class. They imagined the Constitution as creating an idealized version of the late Stuart monarchy except you call the King a President and the peers, Senators. They thought that the gentry and best educated people would run for election independently and without being part of a formal group. We would call this Congress filled with independents.

          It obviously didn’t work out that way. The Electoral College never worked as it was supposed to from Addams election onward. People were supposed to vote for electors, who would convene on Washington and debate amongst themselves who would be President before making their decision. In stead, people basically tell their electors who they want to vote for. Likewise, political parties just make too much logical sense in representative democracies because they provide a lot of short hand information for voters. This short hand information may or may not be accurate but people generally know that a Democratic politician is going to be more likely to support LGBT rights than a Republican politician. Factions and republics go together simply because of how elections work.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to LeeEsq says:

            If a republic stands in the supreme power is held by the people, then power vested in factions over people would disqualify it as republic.

            When representatives are elected under faction, this thing shouldn’t work, and be called something else.Report

  7. Avatar Stillwater says:

    The study provides evidence that partisanship is driven more by fear and hatred of the opposition than by supporting the policies and politicians of your own party.

    This strikes me as the functional definition of partisanship, for whatever that’s worth, so the study doesn’t really tell us anything interesting about the world but rather semantics. But it does highlight something that really isn’t news to anyone actually in politics, or paying attention to politics: that engendering a fear of the other – be it a party or an ism – is the biggest of many engines that make the socio-political wheel go round.Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “The study provides evidence that partisanship is driven more by fear and hatred of the opposition than by supporting the policies and politicians of your own party.”

    Or, to put it another way, it’s the single-issue voter.Report

  9. Avatar Autolukos says:

    I’d be interested to see what similar studies would find in countries with different electoral systems. My hypothesis is that a smaller number of parties would be associated with voting patterns based more on loathing of the opposition than on affection for a party.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Autolukos says:

      Go Pirate Party!!
      Way better than “promise you the same things that everyone else promises” party…
      [Iceland got infested by trolls. Don’t blame me, it wasn’t my fault.]Report

  10. Avatar notme says:

    “To answer the question, Abramowitz and Webster test a host of political characteristics to see what best predicts party loyalty. The real key, they found, was fear of the other party: “Regardless of the strength of their attachment to their own party, the more voters dislike the opposing party, the greater the probability that they will vote consistently for their own party’s candidates.”

    It’s worth saying that a bit more clearly: you’re more likely to vote Democratic if you hate Republicans than if you love Democrats, and vice versa. What parties need to do to keep you loyal isn’t make you inspired. Rather, they need to make you scared.”

    This explains why the Dems keep yammering about a “war on women” and that all repubs are racist. They have resort to fear mongering to keep folks loyal. Or why Hillary said that repubs were the enemy she was most proud of. I was glad to see Joe chide her for that remark.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to notme says:

      I’d be proud of having enemies that see fit to ruin innocent bystanders.
      Of course, I’m not talking about elected Republicans.
      Merely the People In Charge.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to notme says:

      And *CLEARLY* only the Dems do that. It isn’t like the GOP is constantly banging the drum about immigrants or Muslims or brown folks or poor folks or…Report

  11. Avatar aarondavid says:

    “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”

    – G.K. Chesterton

    “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

    -Ambrose BierceReport

  12. Avatar Will H. says:

    Methinks you simply find the basket cases on the Left to be more palatable than the basket cases on the Right.
    Not such a bad lot between baskets.Report

    • Avatar rmass in reply to Will H. says:

      “Our left hand baskets are hand woven from only the finest fair trade wool, and 100% of the profits go to Peruvian dirt farmers to keep the forest intact. Those terrible right hand baskets are made from the souls of the dammed by slave deamons under the watch of the most cleverly evil man ever, earth president nixon”Report

  13. I didn’t read the Vox article, so I’ll just comment on what Saul says it is, and it seems to ring true. One reason I find it really hard to vote for Dems is that I have very bad associations with Dems I have known. Not all of them, but a lot of them, to make me *feel* (not *think*) they come across as, well, elitist snobs. That’s a very unfair characterization, even for those people who seem to fit the stereotype. But I can’t or won’t shake it.

    In other words, I’d probably be a Democrat if it weren’t for the fact that I dislike (“hate” is too strong a word and “fear” is too psychobabbly) the Democrats as a party. Still, I can no longer really support Republicans at more than the local level. I might occasionally vote for the GOP candidate in Congressional elections, because my Dem representative has a safe seat and is unbeatable and I don’t want him to take it for granted. But I don’t really want the GOP to win.

    If Hillary gets the nomination, she’ll probably be less bad than the Republican, or even if she’s not the less bad, her party is less bad. So I’ll probably root for her but I’ll probably also just vote for a 3rd party or write in a candidate. It won’t affect the outcome anyway.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


      Again, I find this deeply curious. In what ways were they elitist snobs?

      This seems like something right out of the Palin playbook. What is it about someone like Mitt Romney or Rush Limbaugh that shields them from being elitist snobs even though they come from elite backgrounds and live very expensive lifestyles. How is it that upper-middle class liberals are the snobs but the really rich are not?

      I’ve known plenty of Republicans that try hard for the upper-class aristocrat thing. There is a strange thing I see in GOP-partisan writing where they decry Democrats for being upper-class snobs but then also show their own fantasies of snobiness usually wishing they were Toffs at Oxford or Cambridge in the 1920s and 30s and going on hunting parties in the country over the weekend and being all so very tweed.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I think snobbery is less about one’s actual preferences and more about how they communicate those preferences.

        “I enjoy high tea, fine art, and classical music,” feels no more or less snobby than, “I enjoy Budweiser, monster trucks, and Garth Brooks.”

        Issues arise then personal preference is presented as objective — or even moral! — superiority. And while segments of the right often present their choices as being “better”, they tend to do so by tapping into something other than “elitism”. If anything they go the opposite route, claiming that their preferences are superior because they are “of the people” and “truly American”. The former set of preferences, when communicated as “better than”, often get the “snobby elitist” level because they tend to be less accessible for one reason or another and are held to be only for people of a “certain class”.

        So, I think judgement flows in both directions. But different forms of judgement. And the issue is not where someone is from or what they actually like to do but, again, how they communicate their preferences and how they view those preferences in relation to the preferences of others.

        “Snobby” and “elitist” are adjectives that describe attitudes and behaviors.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

          Maybe. I hear plenty of snobbery and elitism from corners of the right when they complain that liberals don’t have a sense of humor. Usually these complaints are when conservatives get shocked at pushback to jokes that are racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, sexist, etc and other generally boorish behavior. The Yale Party of the Right scandal that Gawker covered is a perfect example of conservative hypocrisy.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            How is that snobbery? Saying, “You have a shitty sense of humor” isn’t snobbery. It might be objectionable for any number of reasons. But it ain’t snobbery.

            And think about the irony of calling others snobs while describing their behavior as “boorish”.

            Let’s look at a definition of snob: “a person with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who seeks to associate with social superiors and dislikes people or activities regarded as lower-class.”Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy says:


              because casual bigotry (especially when it comes to jokes rather than how you actually treat people*) is a lower socio-economic class thing. A big part of this is going to university and meeting different people. Another big part of this is going to university and having enormous social pressure against saying racist, sexist, homophobic stuff. So, if you separate the population into college and non-college goers and college goers are almost invariably more likely to be against such jokes and almost invariably likely to be from the upper and upper middle classes, you are going to associate anti-racism/sexism/homophobia as a matter of an elite’s preferences (because in a narrow sense it really is**). Moreover, you are going to see the elite as wanting to and in many cases successfully imposing their norms and preferences on the non-elite***.

              *I’m fully prepared to admit that when it comes to treating other people well, the upper classes are as bad as the lower or middle ones.

              **This is not to say that being anti-racist etc is merely a preference. It may turn out that it is also the right way to be, but racists, sexists and homophobes don’t know that.

              ***Really, it seems really odd that people do not find it obvious that when you look at the most powerful wing in each party, the most powerful wing of the democrats is socio-culturally elite in a way that the most powerful wing of the republicans is not. The aristocrat’s contempt for the peasant and the working man’s contempt for the idle rich may both be contempt, but are still distinct kinds of contempt. The latter is mixed in with resentment as well.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

              Of course the left has no sense of humor. That’s why all the best humorists are conservatives, like P. J. O’Rourke and, umm, maybe some other people I’ve never heard of. Steve Doocy, perhaps, if we give him credit for being a deep-cover performance artist.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Again, I find this deeply curious. In what ways were they elitist snobs?

        Saul, is there any evidence you would accept to demonstrate that some liberals are snobs? By that I mean, do you think the claim “some liberals are snobs” can actually be shown to be true or false, or is it something which no evidence could ever support?

        The reason I ask is because I’m a liberal, I travel in liberal circles, and I have absolutely no problem with people saying that some liberals (and depending on where you’re at, lots of liberals) are snobs. It just strikes me as so obvious as to be not worth disputing. So I keep wondering why there’s so much push-back on what appears to me an undeniable fact.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Stillwater says:


          There are liberal snobs. There are snobs everywhere. Everyone (or almost everyone) is snobby about something whether they admit it or not. I’ve admitted that I can be snobby on OT.

          I just think that the GOP has a fair share of snobs as well and I think they get too much of a false free ride on the issue so I am pushing back.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Ah, OK. Thanks.

            So you’re good with the claim that some liberals are snobby, but object to the view that liberals are more snobby (in numbers or extent of snoot) than conservatives? Is that correct?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            As stated above, that doesn’t fit the definition of “snobbery”. You’re looking for “judgemental” which is absolutely something that can happen in all directions. But snobbery is a particular type of judging that flows in a particular direction.

            Do you think populism can exist among all segments of society? Or only certain ones?Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

              But snobbery is a particular type of judging that flows in a particular direction.

              I disagree. Back before blogs were a thing, I used to hang out on Usenet, most often in a group called rec.arts.sf.written. (That’s where I first met Richard, and I think we used to talk baseball back then too.) And it was the consensus there that what people really enjoyed reading was genre fiction like SF, that literary fiction was a scam cooked up by the teaching profession, and that anyone who claimed to like it could be dismissed as a phony or too dumb to know any better. (I am not exaggerating, for effect of otherwise.) That’s snobbery, pure and simple, even if you can argue it’s aimed “upwards”.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I admit that just the phrase “literary fiction” bring out the snob in me.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

                It’s not my term. It’s something Heinlein-worshippers call the works of e.g. Joyce, Faulkner, and Salinger.

                And it’s not like I enjoyed Catcher in the Rye much, I just don’t insist that nobody ever has.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Oh no, it’s an actual genre used by publishers and sellers.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

                Yes, you’re absolutely right. So is “science fiction”, and it includes books about Star Wars. Enough said about marketing categories.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Right, but this one is particularly bad. But I’m holding my snobbery in abeyance.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                Perhaps. But that “snobbery” also exists in a context (a micro environment) where those espousing it are “in power”. So it is still sort of flowing downwards in that particular context.

                Snobbery is essentially saying, “This is wrong and doesn’t belong here.” To say it and it to mean anything, one must have the power to exclude.

                When Billy Bob says, “NASCAR is for real Americans,” he’s being judgmental but not snobby.

                When Benedict III says, “NASCAR is boorish. Polo is the sport of kings and reserved for those of the purest lineage,” he’s being judgmental and snobby.

                If either says, “Well, I just prefer the one over the other,” I say no harm, no foul.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:


                I just wanted to say I think your definition of snobbery is pretty good. But to be fair to Saul and others, I was probably using the term incorrectly. I probably meant something more like “judgmental” or “self-righteous.”

                And to repeat, for Saul’s others, I do not say that my feeling is justified or fair, just that I have a hard time shaking it.Report

              • “for Saul’s others”

                Err…”for Saul’s benefit”Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think there’s also a signaling component to snobbery. It’s not just that what you like is (supposedly) objectively superior, it’s that liking it means you are objectively superior. You don’t just enjoy chamber music; you’re a superior person, as evinced by the fact that you enjoy chamber music, which it takes a superior person to enjoy.

                You do make a good point about snobbery being a mark of those in power, as a way to reinforce their power. r.a.s.w might have been the domain of marginalized nerds, but in that domain they were in charge.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

                That there is a significant number of persons who define themselves by what one consumes is one of the worst traits of the current age.

                I think it’s married to the phenomenon described by Andy Warhol here, though:

                What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

                Not only are all the Cokes the same, the music is the same (insofar as the records/tapes/cds are identical to each other), the fast food is the same, the movies are the same, and everything is the same.

                (Yes, there is a difference between Chez Waldough and Mickey D’s but every Fast Food, Fast Casual, all the way up through Chili’s is the same.)

                And now we define ourselves by whether we drink Coke or Pepsi. And those other people who consume differently than we do are outgroup. Not because they can’t choose as we do. But because they choose not to choose as we do.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                “Do you think people defining themselves by what they consume is a problem with our society?”

                “I’m a vegan.”Report

      • @saul-degraw

        “I find this deeply curious. In what ways were they elitist snobs”

        As I tried to make clear in my comment, I realize that my characterization is unfair. But I indulge it anyway. That’s on me. But it also seems to support what the Vox study (as explained by you) claims.Report