Dividing by race and religion

I’m in the middle of reading Sasha Issenberg’s fascinating book, “The Victory Lab”, which purports to expose the ‘secret science’ of winning campaigns. In fact, it’s not so secret, but instead discusses (gasp) evidence-based actions resulting from randomized experiments. To an academic (and, apparently, especially a non-political scientist), this comes as no shock. It makes a great read, however, and emphasizes a few things I hadn’t previously considered.

One thing that really bothers me, though, is that campaigners and pollsters continue to identify groups of people based on race and religion. In an example given in the book, one candidate sends mailouts that read differently to Christians and Jews, with the Jewish mailout claiming that the candidate “speaks our language”. Although it’s clearly effective, this disturbs me deeply. I’ve been struggling with it for a few days and I think that it’s actually related to conversations that I’ve been having regarding #idlenomore. 

Many of the responses I’ve received related to my support of #idlenomore have mentioned the deep racism that is exposed in commentary on articles by major news outlets. Although I know people who I consider to be intolerant or misinformed, blatant racism is actually quite hard to find in my circle of friends and acquaintances (although ingrained and unconscious attitudes are more pernicious and possibly more dangerous). This makes it quite hard for me to actually believe that there are people out there with these attitudes, despite the evidence.

This is why I find it so difficult to tailor messages to voters along racial or religious lines. I don’t really want to believe that there are messages that resonate with particular ethnic groups or religions, because I want to believe that we’ve moved beyond this kind of self-identification for political issues. Obviously, that’s not the case, but I remain uncomfortable about perpetuating it by targeted messaging. I have been feeling that perhaps if we all avoid discussing these divisions for a few generations, they would go away. There are lots of other divisions between people that are more pertinent to their day-to-day lives, such as income disparity, health issues, and education levels, that seem in many ways, a more valid method of determining voting behaviour.

I’ve realised that this is naive of me and it makes me sad.

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