Voting for Someone Who Looks Like Me - Island of Sanity

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Voting for Someone Who Looks Like Me

Candidates often suggest that voters to vote for them because they share some background characteristic, like sex or ethnicity. At least, women and minority candidates do. For example, this article in Time magazine encouraged women to vote for women candidates.

And many voters follow this advice. Saturday Night Live even did a skit where a black talk-show host bemoans that Obama's support among black people has plummeted to "only 99.2%". He then asks his (black) guests what Obama would have to do to lose their vote, and no matter what he says, "repeals health care", "raises middle class taxes", "is caught cheating on his wife", etc, they all say no, they would still vote for him.

It's a joke, of course. But it has a lot of truth in it. Many black people voted for Obama just because or at least partyly because he was black. Many women vote for a woman just because she's a woman. Etc.

I find this curious. My ancestors are from Norway. I can't imagine saying, "I'm going to vote for Svensen because he's a Norwegian-American just like me." Even if I was looking for a tie-breaker in the closest of cases -- two candidates had practically identical positions, seemed equally competent, equally above scandal, etc -- I can't imagine looking to their ethnicity to help me decide.

Or if you want to make it broader, I can't imagine saying, "I'm going to vote for so-and-so because he's a white male like me". Or "because he was born in New York like me". I just don't care what color a candidate is or any other accident of birth.

Okay, "Norwegian-Americans" do not normally think of themselves as a group the way black people or Hispanics do. We don't normally talk of Norwegians as "us" and everyone else as "them", while black people and other groups often do. But maybe that's the point.

© 2020 by Jay Johansen


Lishan Sep 14, 2023

And catching up. My thoughts:

I'm curious about actual numbers on candidates suggesting someone vote for them because of a *shared* characteristic: even the article you cited mentions that "female voters have often rejected the idea that women should vote with gender in mind".

Anecdotally, I'm a woman, I've never voted for a candidate just because she's a woman, and I don't personally know anyone who's voted for a candidate just because she's a woman, particularly not crossing political parties, and as I mentioned before, I've generally lived in areas of the country that are more liberal, and liberal voters care more about having women in office than conservative voters do (I'm happy to provide data to back this up if you're interested).

I have prioritized female and/or minority candidates in races where I'd otherwise be equally happy with each candidate's representation. As for why, there are a number of reasons, but probably the most fundamental one is to make it easier for there to be a meritocracy. When women attempt to enter male-dominated or even just male-coded fields, they encounter bias *even if* they're equally qualified, or even more qualified, than their male counterparts (I'm again happy to share some data on this with you). The most straightforward solution seems, to me, to do the best I can to fight against that current and make the field a little less male-dominated so that the most qualified candidate can actually win as often as possible.

One final, more frivolous tidbit: you mention that your ancestors are from Norway and you can't imagine voting for someone because of their Norwegian-American heritage. That made me curious about their representation in US politics, proportionally, compared to women, so I looked it up, and it's way higher. Given the relative unimportance of the topic, my "research" on this one is a quick browse through Wikipedia, the first page of Google, and napkin math, so grain of salt, but: there are "over 4.5 million" Norwegian Americans and have been 20 Norwegian-American Governors; there are 167.5 million women in the USA and 54 of them have been Governors/the mayor of DC. (There is an overlap of two women who are also Norwegian-American governors.) As for U.S. Representatives, women fare a little better, but not much; 20 Norwegians, 5 of whom are women, and 375 women total.

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