Left and Right

The Strength of Political Tribalism and the Weakness of Fusionisms

By Daniel Larison

Paul Pillar points to the role of political tribalism to account for why certain groups of views tend to be associated with one another in American politics:

To the extent that the views of most voters on different issues do tend to be grouped into recognizable clumps, this is not because they are all going through the same coherent thought process—or any coherent thought process. It is because they are taking cues from groups with which they identify [bold mine-DL]. The groups might be organized interest groups or identifiable segments of society or the economy. They might be friends and neighbors—and if so, this would accentuate the regional patterns that Pinker addressed. Most of all, the cues come from political parties [bold mine-DL]. Most voters identify with Republicans or with Democrats, and because of this they tend to adopt most of the views that go with their preferred party. A person’s views on some issues might underlie the party identification in the first place, but once identified, the rest of the views in the clump associated with the selected party are usually taken on as well [bold mine-DL].

It’s easy to see how this works in practice, since national party coalitions in the U.S. are to some extent accidental and opportunistic alliances organized around common goals or, more often, shared opposition to the interests of other groups. The alliance comes first, and then come the arguments that seek to mobilize the various allies to work together on the grounds that they want at least some of the same things. For example, there is no logical connection between being a pro-life Christian and being reliably supportive of an activist U.S. foreign policy. There are many contradictions between these two, which a doctrine of “preventive” warfare only makes more glaring. Because supporting activist foreign policy has usually been presented as support for “strong defense” or a “strong military,” and because it is something that members of the Republican coalition are expected to support, pro-life voters have ended up supporting candidates that have been more inclined to favor large-scale “preventive” wars.

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