Tribalism Trumps Cash In Politics?

The campaign is done, over, Nate Silver can go get drunk, and the formerly confident members of the Republican Party are asking “what happened?”  Also they’re asking “What the hell did all that money go for?”

Now I could go deep into some of my own theories about political groups, which are roughly that a lot of lobbying and political organizations are just lucrative fronts to part donors from cash.  But still there was a LOT of money sloshing around this election, and many is the time I hears someone predict it would break in the Republican’s favor.  Doesn’t look that way.

I think there is an issue that money can only buy so much, and it’s worse in a time of highly “tribal” political divisions, as explored by Salon.

Political scientist Lilliana Mason notes that our identities and our politics are highly intertwined in America.  I could answer “duh” to that, but she’s got studies to back up the duh, and explains it quite well.  Still, It comes as no surprise that our political identities are so tied to our personal ones.

So how does money being poured into campaigns affect that?  My theory: not too damn much.

If I am strongly identified with a political group or view, then ads promoting someone I’m already prone to vote against aren’t going to change my mind.  I’m unlikely to wake up and say “oh, I’m wrong” – and it seems most ads are aimed at rallying the already decided, demoralizing the “enemy decided”, and hopefully picking up enough of the few undecideds to win.

But the money can’t produce massive shifts in highly tribalized races and areas because the “decides” are so, well, decided.

So what good is all of this in the end?  It’s moving a few percentage points at best, and that may not be enough in many races.  Certainly we’re seeing demographic changes that are favoring Democrats over Republicans.

Maybe we’re too polarized for huge amounts of campaign spending to be as effective as people think.

If that’s the case, what’s next?

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at