“Tribalism is more powerful and dangerous than any political party. People choose to follow and support someone, not because they are good as leaders or they have good credibility, but because they are from the same tribe.” ~ De philosopher DJ Kyos
If you were to list all of the problems with politics as practiced in America today, what would be at the top of your list? If you said partisanship and tribalism, you would be right on the money.
Political tribalism is a pervasive problem in American politics. It refers to the deep-seated, almost rabid loyalty that exists within political parties and among their supporters. Whether through discussions online or on the house floor, we've seen how such a mindset hinders compromise and constructive discourse while promoting violence and stagnation in government.
However, for independent candidates who are trying to penetrate traditional party lines, understanding political tribalism is crucial.
Political tribalism relates to feelings of intense loyalty and identification with a particular political group or party to the point where individuals become deeply entrenched, almost intractable, in their views. This often comes at the expense of rational discussion, open-mindedness, and cooperation.
The result is an "us versus them" mentality where people are inclined to support their party's positions and candidates regardless of their merits or flaws.
Not all forms of tribalism are bad. The tendency to cling to our people, whether relatives or the families we claim, is part of human nature. In fact, we’re hard-wired for tribalism as a survival instinct. Uniting with neighboring clans or tribes is how we survived outside threats.
In modern times, we’re conditioned to adopt a divisive mentality that encourages us to root for “our team,” too often at the expense of the other. We see it all the time in sports and in movies or TV shows. But nowhere is this mindset more pronounced than in modern American politics.
In a way, both sides of our current ideological divide feel that they are in a battle for their very survival and our media, both establishment and social, plays on that perception because it’s in their financial interest to do so.
How bad is the problem?
One need only watch the news or a session of Congress to get a feel for how far we’ve fallen. Talking heads phrase their opinions or news stories in language that deflects from bad behavior on one side while exaggerating it on the other. Politicians are more apt to stall policy debates and votes in an attempt to score victory against the other side than they are to actually pass legislation that benefits their constituents.
Meanwhile, their supporters cheer them on and continue to vote for more of the same.
This leads to a polarization cycle that is exacerbated in periods of great socio-economic upheaval and transformation. Ask anyone why they voted for Trump, and they won’t be able to name a single policy. They just like that he “tells it like it is” and disparages the same strawmen they’ve been conditioned to hate.
None of us are immune to such behavior.
Researchers from Temple University conducted an experiment in which two different groups of subjects were asked to view video of a protest. One group was told that the protest was in front of an abortion clinic, while the second group was told that the protest was against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy outside a campus military recruitment facility.
In reality, it was neither.
However, researchers discovered that the opinion of whether the protest was peaceful or aggressive was based on what participants were told the protest was about and whether that information aligned with their own political ideology.
It’s not all bad news. Although the downside of tribalism seems to halt at a hill too steep to climb, it does have some merits.
On the plus side, political tribalism can lead to:
Strong Party Identity: Political tribalism fosters a sense of belonging and identity among party members, creating a dedicated voter base.
Simplified Decision-Making: For some, sticking to party lines can simplify political decision-making by providing clear stances on issues.
Mobilization: Parties can mobilize their members effectively during elections, leading to higher voter turnout.
On the other hand, political tribalism encourages:
Polarization: It fuels deep divisions between parties and makes it difficult to find common ground or compromise on important issues.
Closed-Mindedness: Political tribalism can make individuals less receptive to new ideas or alternative viewpoints, hindering progress.
Partisanship Over Policy: Voters may prioritize party affiliation over a candidate's qualifications or policies, leading to the election of less-qualified candidates.
Now that we’ve identified the problem, what's the solution?
Believe it or not, it is possible to engage politically and stand firm in your beliefs without demeaning others or becoming tribal. Candidates and voters alike need to become mindful of their own behavior and learn how to listen to what the other side is really saying rather than simply waiting for their turn to talk.
First, it’s important to check your own tribal tendencies. Do you:
Recognize the propaganda of your own tribe and resist repeating it?
Understand that every campaign event can be viewed from multiple POVs and that your tribe's perspective is just one of many?
Try to understand multiple perspectives on important issues?
Act with intellectual honesty, or only view issues through the lens of your own tribe's political perspective?
Call out members of your own tribe for bad behavior as often as you call out members of rival tribes, or do you rationalize and ignore their transgressions?
Attempt to understand other points of view and act with compassion, or react with judgment?
Next, it’s important to understand basic human nature and put supporters in a receptive state of mind so they can really hear your message.
In psychological terms, people take in new information in one of two ways. They either become curious and approach or cognitive dissonance kicks in and they avoid the person or situation at all costs.
This is known as an Approach or Avoid dichotomy.
When people feel at ease and unthreatened, they enter explore mode and approach with curiosity and a willingness to learn more. In avoidance mode, they become defensive and unwilling to listen or consider another point of view. They dig in their heels and cling to their beliefs.
At that point, the only thing that matters is preserving their perspective at the expense of the other team, regardless of the personal, professional, or political cost.
Independent candidates face an uphill battle when they run up against political tribalism during a campaign. However, there are several strategies they can employ to navigate this sometimes treacherous landscape and win support:
Find Common Ground by Emphasizing Shared Values and Goals. Encourage voters to focus on shared values and common goals rather than party labels. Emphasize how your policies can benefit a broad spectrum of the population.
Promote Nonpartisanship. Deploy nonpartisan candidate strategies like emphasizing a commitment to problem-solving and a willingness to work across the aisle. Highlight your status as an independent candidate and the benefits of nonpartisanship.
Engage in Grassroots Outreach: Build support at the local level by engaging in grassroots coalition building activities. Connect with community organizations, leaders, and activists who are willing to look beyond party lines and support candidates based on their merits.
Focus on Issue-Based Campaigning: Issue-based politics are rare these days. Stand out from the crowd by focusing on specific policy issues rather than broad party platforms. Present well-researched and innovative solutions to address these issues.
Run as a Unifying Figure: Unity in government is rarer still. Emphasize your independence by positioning yourself as a candidate who can bridge the gap between parties and bring people together to find practical solutions to pressing problems.
Utilize Social Media and Online Platforms: In the digital age, social media campaign tactics are the best way to engage a broad spectrum of support. Leverage social media and online platforms to reach voters directly. Engage in respectful discussions with constituents on all sides of the issues and address their concerns openly.
Collaborate with Independent Organizations: Independent candidate support networks are essential. Seek endorsements and support from independent organizations and advocacy groups that align with your policy objectives.
Host Town Hall Meetings and Open Forums: Conducting voter outreach through town hall meetings is a great way to meet and interact with your constituents. Hold town hall meetings and open forums where voters can voice their concerns and engage in meaningful dialogue with you, the candidate.
Educate Voters on the Dangers of Tribalism: Voter education on political tribalism is also important, but it should be done without condescension. Launch educational campaigns to inform voters about the negative consequences of political tribalism, emphasizing the importance of considering candidates on their merits and policies.
Maintain Civility and Respect: Civility in politics seems quaint in an age of extreme tribalism and politics as reality TV. Lead by example by maintaining a civil and respectful tone throughout your campaign, even in the face of divisive rhetoric from opponents.
Political tribalism is a complex challenge in American politics, especially for independent candidates. But, it's not insurmountable.
By employing these strategies, emphasizing common values, and promoting nonpartisanship, independent candidates can effectively navigate the political landscape, build coalitions, and offer voters an alternative to traditional party politics.
It will take dedication and persistence, but doing so can lead to more cooperative, constructive, and inclusive civic engagement.
Tribalism, in and of itself, isn’t bad. It provides us with a sense of belonging and comradery with like-minded people. Some of us, especially those in marginalized communities, don’t even find our tribe until later in life.
However, when tribalism leads to oppression and violence against some mysterious “other,” when it closes our minds to other viewpoints and solutions, then it is destructive and dangerous to a free and open society.
You can become part of the solution by joining Good Party. We’re dedicated to dismantling the status quo by supporting independent candidates who want to transform the American political system.