By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science.
Yes, there is a lot of talk about the level of negativity in politics and the hyperpartisan/tribal/groupish nature of political dialogue, but as my graduate school advisor, John Hibbing, used to say, it is important to remember that for many people, politics is a “low stakes game.”
Interviews by the New York Times with prospective voters in the fall of 2019 and this past month perfectly capture this often-overlooked gap between people who are able to pay attention to politics and those who are not:
Speaking to the Times in September of 2019, Ali Ahmed, a resident of Scranton, Pennsylvania commented, “You have to have a lot less problems to worry about politics.”
Similarly, Fannie Sanchez of New York told the Times just this month that her reason for not participating reflects a general frustration and disconnect with the political world: “They [politicians] rent space in my brain and they frustrate me, but in the end, they do what they want anyway.”
These two quotes also neatly capture research by two political scientists, Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan, highlighting the gap between activists and non-activists in the political arena. As Krupnikov and Ryan summarized recently, “For partisans, politics is a morality play, a struggle of good versus evil. But most Americans just see two angry groups of people bickering over issues that may not always seem pressing or important.”
The next time you find yourself frustrated by what you are reading or hearing about the 2020 election, remember that such frustration is a luxury. For many people, there are more pressing concerns than the daily back and forth of campaign politics, and for these potential voters, there may be more agreement than disagreement.