Political Decisions and the Power of Identity

Hello! My name is Andra Metcalfe and I am the student blogger for a class I am taking that focuses on something already at the forefront of most people’s minds this block: elections! The class is being taught by the wonderful Dana Wittmer Wolfe!

The goal of this class is to provide a political science framework by which students can begin to make sense of recent and upcoming elections—with a particular focus on the 2016 and 2020 elections. Throughout this course, I hope to better acquaint myself with the various theories as to why people make voting decisions, why candidates make campaign decisions, and the implications of these decisions on broader society. I also hope to understand some of the reasons behind the outcome of the 2016 election, and soon make sense of the outcome of the upcoming 2020 election.

Each day, the class will be conducted in several ways: through small group zoom discussions, full class zoom meetings, and pre-recorded interactive lectures. I have grown to enjoy the variety this structure offers, as I have found that the same type of long zoom class every day can be quite monotonous!

I got started as the class blogger for this class a bit late, so I will spend much of this blog recounting some of the most important things I learned during week 1:

We spent the first week of the class focusing on the power of identity, and I think most of my classmates would join me in saying that I was surprised to learn about the enormous impact that our identities can have on political decision making. By “identities,” we refer to categorizations such as a person’s political party, race, gender, religion, etc. Believe it or not, our personal identities are often even more impactful in determining our political decisions than the actual policies upon which they are based. In class, our readings and discussions focused on the unique political impacts of mega-identities, racial identities, and rural identities.

In recent years, American partisans have grown increasingly identified with their party identities – to us, it means a lot more to identify as a Republican or Democrat today than it did 20 or even just 10 years ago. Much of the reason for this is that party identities are becoming increasingly associated with other identities (racial, religious, ideological) held by party members. Racial identities and issues, in particular, are driving much of the fundamental conflicts between Democrats and Republicans in recent years. Until Obama’s candidacy, voters were largely unclear as to where the Democrat and Republican parties stood on race and racialized issues such as immigration. Obama’s nomination and presidency as a Black American, paired with decision of Trump and Clinton to make race a central campaign issue, have made racial attitudes held by each party much more salient to voters.

Such conflated personal and party identities could be the reason why we are currently experiencing extremely high levels of polarization. The decision to identify as either Republican or Democrat has become an all-encompassing “mega-identity,” under which so many of our ideological, religious, racial, and other identities rely upon. This is likely why, when our political party loses, we feel like we have lost everything important about ourselves. Our self-esteem is damaged.

Our first week wrapped up with a writing day, for which we were assigned to write a one-page essay that ties one or some of the theories we have learned with current election events. I now know that writing a one-page essay is much harder than it sounds! In order to do so, one must deeply understand a theory and be able to argue about it in a way that is extremely concise, yet understandable.

In the coming days, I will recount the second week of class that was just completed —in which we focused on the 2016 election. Beyond that, with the election only 4 days away, things will begin to get even more exciting very quickly!

Published by Andra

I am a junior at CC majoring in Sociology and minoring in Political Science with a focus on American Politics and Government. Over the past few years, I have held several public policy internships both within the public and nonprofit sectors, and am currently working in a position that I love with the Collaborative for Community Engagement as the Assistant Director of Community Partnerships! I am especially passionate about law, politics, social inequality, and best practices for community organizing and development. I also love lifting weights, being outdoors, and playing the piano!