In the 2012 election, 78% of Mormons voted for Romney (fewer than the 80% who voted for Bush in 2004), but 93% of blacks voted for Obama (down from 95% in 2008).  71% of hispanics backed Obama.  Whites voted for Romney more than Obama by 20% (more than the 12% disparity when McCain opposed Obama in 2008).  Men preferred Romney by 7%.  Married men preferred Romney by 22%.  Married women preferred Romney by 7%.

Is it identity politics or self interest?

Do we vote for a candidate simply because their appearance is familiar or because we assume that familiarity (being “one of us”) will equate to empathy for our situation and more likelihood that our unique needs will be given preferential treatment? Is it accidental bias or savvy self-interest?  On the flip side, is it prejudice against the “other,” the one we assume would be less likely to have our back because, just maybe, we would be less likely to have his or hers?

When we judge the “rightness” of others’ voting, there seems to be a graduated scale:  at one end, we decry the craven selfishness and bigoted bias of the identity voter, the person so narcissistic that only the candidate that resembles him or her is attractive enough.  We criticize politicians who lazily pander to their constituents, using the public coffers to bestow unwarranted gifts on their favorites.  Theoretically, we prize only the seemingly disinterested voters who deliberately vote for the candidate with whom they least identify.  We admire the Mormons who vote for Obama and the blacks who vote for Romney, assuming they must be special to rise above their bias and first inclination, finding qualities to evaluate beyond the obvious.  We conclude they must have been very thoughtful to break the stereotype of the identity voter.

In reality, how much are any politicians like the rest of us?  Despite our egalitarian rhetoric, being comfortable drinking a beer with someone isn’t really a qualification to rule the free world.

Which identity?

Like everyone else, I have yet to be confronted with a candidate who is just like me:  a politically independent white, upper middle class, married Mormon female executive who has lived abroad.  Whenever I consider the candidates, there are aspects with which I identify and ones with which I don’t.  Factors other than identity always come into play.  Is it identity that I chickened out over a Sarah Palin vice presidency because I thought she was too stupid to govern and McCain too old to guarantee she wouldn’t?  (I have a “smarter than me” rule about POTUS, and she didn’t make the cut).

In some ways, I identified with Romney.  He was articulate, fit, smart, and straightforward.  He was always composed.  You could see a sangfroid guy like this pushing the button if needed, then getting eight hours of sleep.  To me, that seemed presidential and executive-like.

When it came to Romney, I identified with him more on the basis of being a business person than being a Mormon.  Our mutual religion just made me understand him better and not be taken in by some of the criticisms that seemed based on a misunderstanding of Mormons.  For example, I never bought Romney as a Thurston Howell III type.  He’s a Mormon, and Mormons are cheap to the bone no matter how rich.  This is a man with hundreds of millions in assets who spent hours searching the ocean floor for a lost anchor that cost less than $50.  If that’s not a Mormon trait, I don’t know what is.  I also understood his extreme reluctance to talk about his faith or to tell others about his service and don’t find it suspicious.

How identity informs our views

Recently, it has been observed that ALL the heads of all the Congressional committees are white men.  Although the committees include females and other races, will non-diverse leadership result in outcomes that are biased or lacking in diverse perspectives?  Even the general authorities of the church have more racial diversity than this bunch.  As any woman who has ever used stood in a really long queue for a public toilet knows, when female input isn’t considered, women suffer. I imagine this to be the case for any ignored group with unique needs.  Diversity leads to creativity and more effective solutions with a broader application.

Let’s discuss the key points:

  • Is it pandering to focus on identity politics?  Is it necessary?
  • As voters, is it possible to avoid identity voting?  Does identity voting protect our interests?
  • Do you like a candidate more the more you identify with that person?