Why the left right heuristic in politics is no longer accurate

Def. Heuristics: Heuristics can be mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision. Examples of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, stereotyping, profiling, or common sense. A method of reaching a quick solution, but not necessarily the optimal result.

After Donald Trump’s successful populist campaign the old left – right two dimensional heuristic for determining political power and influence seem to be non operative.

The growing independent movement is reaction to the shift of power from Democratic and Republican Party members to the monied narrow special interest groups. I believe that many voters are quitting the Democratic and Republican Parties exactly because they feel “the Party” no longer represents them.

And they are largely correct. When power and influence within a Party moves to special interest groups, it can alienate those with a basic membership.  Voters feel no reason to join, or stay, with a party.

I’ve been working on creating a visual depiction of the relative power, and liberal/conservative positions of the important factors in our political outcomes here in Oregon. A national depiction would look different with different power bases. I think it helps one understand why decisions are made the way they are, why voters are opting to leave the Republican and Democratic Parties (and why it may be unwise to do so) and reasons to join a major party.

I think it’s pretty self explanatory but here are some interpretive guidelines.

  • The Larger and higher on the chart, the more influential that power center.
  • The shapes depicting the groups lay on what people may feel is their position on a left to right axis. The wider the shape, the more diverse the group on the axis.
  • The larger the shape, the more influential the group.
  • The orange triangle (inverted pyramid) is an even more raw and base depiction of the power chart. Which is why you could call this the inverted political food pyramid. Those at the top are the fine diners.

Where have I gone off track here?

Some important relationships

  • The Public employee unions (PEUs) are a special interest for government. Outside of protecting and expanding state bureaucracy, they have little liberal/conservative bias on social issues. Big business is similar to the Public employee unions. They have little interest in social issues, they are focused on smaller government and lower taxes. These two behemoths are 90%  economically driven.
  • Private unions should straddle the political divide as they have no interest in social issues and their members are conservative and liberal.  However, they benefit from certain government spending and feel solidarity with the public employee unions.
  • Business and private unions can join in common cause sometimes. For instance transportation spending. It creates a lot of private union jobs and a lot of business for construction and supply businesses. (Whether Oregon passes a transportation package will depend on the power the private unions can assert in Salem. There is some, though little, profit for public employee unions in transportation spending. It does create a few public jobs, but much of the spending goes to non public workers and for things like steel and asphalt. PEU’s prefer spending on schools and DHS, since employee compensation makes up the vast majority of those budgets.)
  • Party activists are much more influential than “basic membership” party members. Phone banking, walking districts, letters to the editor, small donors, are hard to find. And in the Democratic Party, the activists are dominated by public employees, LBGTQ, racial rights and environmental activists. In the Republican Party the activist core is social conservatives.  Catering to this second most powerful part of the structure has pulled the parties policies further right and left.
  • The “basic party members”. Are necessary but reliable tribal voters. They are reliable for various reasons, largely because in our two party first past the post voting system, they usually feel they have no viable alternative choices. The party leaders and financiers can easily dismiss any objections the basic party members have knowing they will remain good reliable voters.
  • The minor parties on the left and right have probably even less power than depicted here. But my space was limited. However, they can in some locations hold significant influence over policies. In Multnomah County the minor parties were instrumental in passing campaign finance reform. Even though Democratic voters, and many activists, supported the reforms, Democratic elected leaders oppose such reforms. But the power and organization of the Green, Progressive, Independent Party and Working Families Parties- as well as some support from Democratic activists carried the day. And they won the election with over 89% of the vote.  In deeper red Districts the Constitution Party can have some influence. And minor parties are a factor in promoting new ideas that a major party may later adopt if it becomes popular.
  • The Independent Party has proved that it has some growing influence. It was instrumental in helping Republican Ron Noble defeat Democrat Ken Moore in HD-24 by acting as a neutral arbiter of fair and honest electioneering by calling out Moore’s campaign on misleading hit pieces. And Independent Chris Telfer earned 9% of the vote in the race for State Treasurer where the Democrat beat the Republican by only a few percentage points.
  • As I’ve said before in more detail, being a non affiliated voter in Oregon is the worst decision a voter can make. Oregon is a “strong party” State. And even when basic party members have little influence, NAV’s have even less. The Parties recognize that 99% of NAV’s will not vote for far left or far right a minor party candidate, and will basically split between the Republican and Democratic choices. This is why political operatives are so keen on “getting out their base”. Except in unusual elections or situations, NAV’s are easily dismissed  and appeased with a few platitudes by a political campaign.




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