Opinion | Being informed is more important than being red or blue
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 22:10
An article published on Yahoo! News earlier this month indicates that new voters registering as independents has risen in all battleground states except Ohio since 2008, and this trend has been accompanied by a concomitant decline in voters registered as affiliates of either the democratic or republican party.
While this is great news (I’ll explain in a minute), other reports suggest that close to half of voters that claim to be independent reliably vote for one party or the other, and a realistic estimate of the voting population that is actually up for grabs in this election is somewhere between 3 and 5 percent.
Hopefully these statistics mean that we at least realize the danger of labeling ourselves as one thing or another, even though we might ultimately lean in a particular direction. Without a doubt, affiliation with political parties clouds rational judgment and objective assessment of issues by creating expectations with which a person should conform to in order to fit in.
In much the same way that subscribing to a religion requires a person to submit to a set of beliefs, political affiliation assumes that one buys into certain values, principles, and ideologies that are characteristic of that political party. For instance, if I told you that I considered myself republican, you might assume that I am pro-life, wealthy, and in favor of decentralization of governmental power.
While the preconceptions on your end caused by the labeling are a problem in their own right, a much bigger issue lies in the social pressure of the belonging to the a group.
The power of social influence on judgment is difficult to underestimate. People want to belong, and unfortunately, acceptance into many groups is contingent upon accepting the culture. This translates into buying into beliefs and subscribing to values despite incomplete information, or worse yet, evidence to the contrary. It seems like we are willing to defend many of our opinions to the point of ludicrousness before admitting that the other side makes a good point. This needs to change.
We chastise government leaders for their unrelenting partisanship, especially of late in the wake of the near failure to reach an agreement on conditions for raising the debt ceiling, but the truth is the general public is hardly any different.
I wish I could find a statistic to reference here about how many people only ever vote for a single political party, year after year, but based on personal experience, I would imagine people falling into this category constitute an overwhelming majority.
Perhaps the proportion is close to 95 percent, as is suggested by the statistic in the first paragraph that indicates this is the percentage of voters that already have their mind set on who they will vote on, whether they claim to be independent or not. If so, it would be difficult to argue that a significant contributor is stubborn allegiance.
If the past few years of my scientific training have taught me anything, it is the virtue of objectivity in decision-making and, along with this, the danger of presuming certainty. The presumption of certainty discourages healthy discourse during which ideas can be discussed and analyzed, with the emerging product being a deeper understanding of the truth.
To assert something as a scientist, your claims must be supported by sufficient reasoning and evidence, so as to provide a rational argument that is consistent with prior findings. It would serve us well to hold claims and opinions outside of the scientific arena to the same standard, and to strive for objectivity in entertaining conflicting opinions. To immediately shun an idea because it is contradictory to your current belief is to cheat yourself out of an opportunity to learn. To truly understand what you do believe and why you believe it, you must understand what you don’t believe.
I imagine it comes as no surprise to tell you that I cringe at mention of people belonging to groups such as College Democrats or College Republicans.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nobility in applying oneself and working toward a cause, but there is danger in giving something a label. By identifying yourself as a member of a group, you inevitably change the way both you and others perceive yourself, and this will be accompanied by pressure.
This constrains the flexibility, objectivity, and problem-solving skills necessary to make the best judgments possible, which is hopefully goal we all have in common.
Don’t be a democrat, a republican, or even an independent. Be independent.