The U.K. election – lessons for the U.S.

Britain’s political system is quite different from America’s, but Americans can still draw some lessons from the recent British election.

1) Politics is often tribal

No matter what the circumstances, there are people who will remain steadfastly loyal to their political party.  It’s not that they vote Labour – it’s that they are Labour, or Conservative, and would no more change that for economic reasons than they would convert to Islam because the local mosque had some nice biscuits.  See “I hate Tories.  And yes, it’s tribal” for an example of this.  You can’t argue them out of it, because they weren’t argued into it – often there was some pivotal event that set up their allegiance for life, and they kept it, even long after the original battle (e.g. anti-apartheid protests).  This tends to work against the centre – who can really be viscerally moved by moderation and “reasonableness”?

The lesson for the U.S.?  From Alaska to Arizona to the Daily Show, the GOP is busily convincing a generation not to be Republican.  Not a big concern for now, but it will set some views for life, and the problem will get worse as they get older and vote more.

2) Beware of being a blank slate

The Liberal Democrats’ leader, Nick Clegg, was compared to Obama at one time, but failed to live up to the promise of “Cleggmania”.  Why?

Both Clegg and Obama were, to a certain extent, blank slates – you could imagine that they would do all sorts of things if they got power.  In Obama’s case, this worked excellently – everyone knew that he would not be Bush and was free to make up their ideal candidate.  But Clegg ended up with Fear rather than Hope – if you leaned left, would voting LibDem let the Tories in?  If you were a Tory, would Clegg keep Gordon Brown in office?  With no clear guidance from the LibDems, people projected their own personal fears on the blank slate, and reverted to the devils they knew.

The lesson for the U.S.?  You can be an independent, but you need to say which side you’re on.  Joe Lieberman was able to do this successfully, winning CT as an independent, but basically promising to vote with the Dems, as does Bernie Sanders, from the other wing.  What will Charlie Crist do in FL?  If he avoids committing himself, he may find no-one committed to him.

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2 Responses to “The U.K. election – lessons for the U.S.”

  1. Scott Locklin Says:

    You’d be surprised at how conservative most young people are (not younger than us: like really young). I think part of it is a selection effect: pretty much only conservative people reproduce these days among the middle classes. Part is reacting to the establishment, which is pretty universally very liberal these days. As a result, you get stuff like encyclopedia dramatica, which I think is the Future a lot more than the Daily Show. Most of the young people I know make the GOP look like politically correct centrists. Partly selection bias to be sure … but I live in Berkeley.

  2. erehweb Says:

    Thanks for the comment and pointer to Encyclopedia Dramatica. I’ll agree that the picture is somewhat more nuanced than I make out in the post. Still, what data I see on a cursory glance http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1031/young-voters-in-the-2008-election shows the young as being generally liberal. On a couple of specific points, I’d imagine citizen children of illegal immigrants will take a dim view of attacks on their parents, and the young are generally more in favour of gay marriage.

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