Institutional Style in Carlin and Love’s paper ‘Political Competition, Partisanship and Interpersonal Trust in Electoral Democracies’ #words350

Carlin and Love’s paper ‘Political Competition, Partisanship and Interpersonal Trust in Electoral Democracies’ discusses the way in which democracies create a system within which conflict can be regulated in a non-destructive by functioning on trust. However, due to the inherent size of these democratic systems, and the fact that they split up populations across a spectrum of larger factions, trust tends to build more easily within factions while mistrust grows between the factions themselves. They focus specifically on a variety of political systems, and whether there are any unique qualities to those systems that create larger degrees of partisanship between factions. Their key question seems to be: how does this observed interaction between partisanship and trust affect how democracy functions? For their method they attempted to synthesize research done on trust games, as well as a more specific assessment of a single political event, America’s reaction to the Osama Bin Laden killing in 2009.

Due to my lack of experience with high level psychology papers, I actually found the background section very informative, despite how dense it seemed at first. Particularly the section discussing how political psychologists weigh most political decisions made by people as being done in a low-information environment. This is something explained very clearly that I was able to bring into my own observations on how politics tend to function on the level of most voters, and even myself at times. It also brought me to understand something else about how the paper was structured. No doubt because it was meant for an audience already familiar with many of these concepts they didn’t delve into citing much evidence for these claims, the annotations and fact that someone else had already done this research in depth was enough. But, for myself to be able to engage myself in this research paper, I would probably have to go back to their sources to build my own understanding of them.

Another aspect of the paper’s style, that I found fascinating, was how much of an effect institutional style must have on accessibility. I didn’t find any aspect of the paper that hard to understand, but the language it used could have easily made in inaccessible or frustrating to many. For example the sentence: ‘As a corollary, does partisan trust discrimination hew to changes in the salience of intergroup competition?’ I understand the dogmatic maintenance of terminology within a discipline, it is what allows for them to grow consistently within a literature. It is, for example, one of the biggest issues in philosophy, where every philosopher seems to want to build concepts and terminologies from the ground up, despite the fact that they are often similar or identical to that of their predecessors. Despite my appreciation for the artistic flair of writing ‘if partisan trust discrimination hews to changes,’ I also wonder about the efficacy of writing this way when such studies and information should probably be made accessible to the very same ‘low-information’ audience that it could be educating. I know that they are aware of their own audience, and writing to a very specific one, but these choices narrow that audience even further. After all, they put great effort into making their methodological choices clear, why not do the same for their prose as well? These stylistic choices, across an entire discipline have the cumulative effect of intimidation for many of the same people it could be helping. Maybe that work needs to be left to the more populist writers that synthesize these studies for mass consumption, but there’s something to be said for the fact that I have many very intelligent friends whose eyes would glaze over trying to parse this paper.

In the paper I also appreciated the discussions on the various political systems they studied, to account for the socio-economic differences between the various countries. At first I believed that this would be the biggest hurdle for the study to overcome, particularly in attempting to analyze the research done in South Africa, and the shadow that apartheid’s history cast over that political system. However, it was interesting to learn that not only did they account for it, but it was a highly useful and integrated aspect of the study, that reinforced their initial theories. They were so successful, in fact, that I hope that their study is more often replicated, because it seems like a highly useful barometer for political climates in general, and a useful tool to wade through the latest paradigm of high information density politics that the digital era has brought on. It would also be interesting to read about these theories applied to different historical eras, such as the Great Depression in 1930s America or the French Revolution.

Ian Mrozewski

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