Perspectives on Political Identity: Do These Readings Really Make Sense Together? Where is the Disconnect?

In recent class discussions and presentations, we engaged in conversation on two papers: Political Competition, Partisanship and Interpersonal Trust in Electoral Democracies by Carlin and Love, and Electoral Competition and the Voter by Bowler and Donovan. Although we may have talked about politics on Thursday and not this week, it is still extremely relevant. As young adults coming of age or already of the age of majority, it is our responsibility to vote for the government that we want in the countries that we are from or that we live in. Furthermore, with the AMS elections underway we have further incentive to learn about how voting for our representative governments impact, influence, and reflect our identities as individuals. This blog post reveals that Carlin’s and Love’s findings are relevant to our society as a whole as well as our daily lives. It then develops the reading we saw in the presentation and discovers, through examples in our society, women are less likely to be comfortable with political competitive environments, and it is expected that they would be less likely to engage in competitive politics or elections. Then, it reveals how these two papers seem to contradict each other while still seeming to be true.

The first paper focuses on the fact that political identity influences trust relationships over any other aspect of social identity, yet the second reading from the presentation seems to show that women and African-Americans seem to be less involved in political elections. Yet, if our political identity is most prevailing in interactions than other parts of our identity, why are there massive parts of the population (women and African-Americans) that seem disinterested in developing it?

The paper by Carlin and Love determined for us that political distinctions and values shape and guide decisions of trust more effectively than race and underlying social identities. This is extremely interesting when navigating our own lives because we all identify to numerous social categorizations. I myself identify with a number of titles including but not limited to: woman, female, student, mixed-race, invisible minority, and conservative. According to Carlin and Love, my associations and interactions with others regarding trust in relationships is shaped by the fact that I am conservative, to a greater extent than other elements of my social identity.

To some extent, I feel that the findings of this paper are really true. Sometimes I walk into discussions and do not contribute to charged conversations because I will be judged and mistrusted compared to others who support a majority ruling perspective. I fear the threat of a developing an in-group vs out-group mentality in the class that even surfaces within universities, that is, institutions that are meant to be accepting of all perspectives and ideas. In contrast, calling myself a student, a woman, or a mixed-race individual is something I would feel comfortable with expressing in almost any situation I encounter in everyday life.

This political distinction is prevalent even in places we do not expect. In a video I watched on Youtube called “Black Conservatives Debate Black Liberals on American Politics” an African American conservative gay man that was part of the interviews expressed that he had never felt such discrimination from any group in the way that he was treated by other gays in the community. This is incredulous in my perspective, because I would expect a marginalized community, such as that of gay people, would be more likely to support each other than to discriminate against one another, no matter the partisan affiliation. The man explained that the discrimination started when he publicized that he was a conservative and that he was surprised and taken aback as well. Again, the us vs them mentality prevails in this situation as well with political competition influencing over other social identities.

The second paper talks about how women and African Americans are less likely to get involved in politics surrounding elections. It was mentioned after the presentation and in ksteu’s reading response that these people react in this way because they have a lack of trust in politicians today and feel like their views and perspectives are not being represented.

My perspective is that the lack of participation stems from the very institutionalized structures of our society. The competitive us vs them mentality is reified in our constitutional structures and there are a plethora of examples we can explore. We have political rules set in place that make it extremely hard, almost impossible, for smaller independent parties to compete against our primarily dual party environment (Liberals vs Conservatives). The very economic system in which we have implemented (capitalism) thrives off of this zero-sum game mentality where it is a fight in which one person wins and the other person loses. When looking at the group of women in particular, we discovered in my group presentation that women are less confident than men to compete against others. Every example here, and throughout life, we can see that competition, and consequently trust, is reified on our actions and interactions.

This individualized perspective that has carried down from earlier Western ideologies into today’s societal values reflects the actions of these disinterested women and African Americans. The white male sitting in the seat of power does not understand the struggles of these people, does not have the same concerns as these people, neither does he look like these people. There is a divide and lack of trust in this situation. Why would he have the same values as these women and African Americans and why would he look out for the values of other groups that they cannot relate with when society has highlighted the importance of self.

While both readings that are discussed in this blog post have been explored and found to be true, there still seems to be a disconnect between the salience of political identities is society and the lack of interest by large groups of people to develop these identities. One might say that these people just are not that interested in developing their identity, but as a woman, I really do not think this is the case. This question definitely provides grounds for further research. In the meantime, let me know what you think the answer is down in the comments below.

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