Which Political Team Do You Support?

By Steve Saville

Most people support a political party in the same way they support a sports team. The support is through thick and thin, regardless of the policies that are being proposed/enacted. And criticism of their team is not tolerated, because, well, it’s their team. People love to be part of a team.

One consequence of the team-spirit aspect of politics is that the average person doesn’t decide the appropriateness and efficacy of a policy by objective analysis, but rather by who is proposing/implementing the policy. If the policy is put forward by Party A then the supporters of Party A will claim it is a good idea and the supporters of Party B will be critical, whereas if the identical policy is put forward by Party B then the Party B supporters will be in favour of it and the Party A supporters will be critical. In some cases a policy put forward by a particular party will be so obviously bad that the more rational supporters of that party will be unable to come out openly in favour of it, in which case they usually will remain silent. They are like the one-eyed sports fans who shout abuse when the referee makes a bad decision in the opposing team’s favour but turn a blind eye when the referee makes a bad decision in their team’s favour.

Another consequence of the tendency towards blind support of a political team and the associated unwillingness to objectively analyse the merits of policies is that people tend to embrace a set of beliefs covering many different socioeconomic issues, even if the beliefs are not consistent. This is because the set of beliefs is associated with their team and advocated by the leaders of their team. A knock-on effect is that if you know where someone stands on one hot-button issue, examples of which are climate change, gun control, immigration and abortion, in most cases you will know where they stand on all hot-button issues. That’s even though it doesn’t logically follow that a particular belief on, for example, gun control should be linked to a particular belief on, for example, climate change or abortion.

One of the most curious aspects of the strong identification with a particular political team and the animosity that members of one team often feel for members of the opposing team is that in practice the teams are very similar. At each election a sizable proportion of the population will vote for what they believe is a change of direction, but regardless of the outcome of the election nothing will really change. The leaders of the different teams will spew forth different rhetoric and there will be some differences in the policy details, but regardless of the election result there will be no meaningful change in the overall governmental approach. The main reason is that in a typical modern-day two (or more) party democracy, each of the major parties will be in favour of a powerful, intrusive government. In effect, when people vote to remove the team that’s currently in power they are voting for a change in the facade, not a change in the structure.
It would be great if the average person, instead of labeling himself/herself as a member of a particular political team (Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Labour, etc.) and blindly supporting that team’s policies, either impartially assessed each policy proposal and railed against bad policy regardless of its origin or simply admitted to not being well-enough informed to have an opinion. Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen.

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