Yoram Solomon, PhD
Politics, Ideology, Personality Compatibility, Trust, and Elections
It seems we are always in election season. We just had the mid-term elections in November; we are about to enter local elections in Texas for city councils, school district boards, community college boards, and more. Soon we will start the primaries, then the presidential elections. We’re always in election season. But how do you decide whom to vote for? I will assume that you only vote for candidates you can trust, but what makes you think you can trust them? The answer to this question varies and may surprise you.
We vote for those we trust
In my 2018 survey of the most important quality, trustworthiness was the most important quality for people 61.2% of the time. But when asked about their government representative, trustworthiness was above average at 65.5% of the time.
What is it that I trust the candidates with? Political office-holders are holding an office of influence over my well-being in many respects. In a democracy like ours, those offices inherently belong to us, the people. We trust officeholders in using that office to maximize our benefits and care about our interests.
In a poll I conducted (with 27 responses), I found that 19% decided whom to vote for based on their political ideology, 56% based on the candidate’s position on specific issues, and 11% based on their ability to keep an open mind and willingness to listen to their constituents.
When it comes to positions on issues or even values, we must remember that different levels of government (Federal, State, and Local) deal with different things and our priorities in selecting a candidate would vary. We may care about their positions on certain issues when we vote for our Congressman and care about their positions on different issues when we elect a school board trustee. Sometimes, those issues cross the lines between different levels, and we care about them at different levels. We must also remember that often holding a particular elected office gives a candidate a platform to run for higher office, which you gave them when you elected them to the lower office. You may not care about a school board candidate’s position on abortion (this position is typically non-partisan). Still, when that candidate uses their platform and influence to then run for the state legislature, and possibly to the U.S. Congress (or President), you might care and could regret not caring about their position on the issue when they ran to a lower office, to which the issue seemed irrelevant.
Can you be 100% in agreement with a candidate’s position on all issues? Most likely not. And that’s where the personality compatibility component of trust comes into play. We vote for those with whom we have the highest degree of personality compatibility.
In elected positions that are determined after party primaries, you are left with only two candidates (typically) at the end: the Republican and the Democrat candidate. When you elect one of them, you vote for 100% of what they stand for. You can’t elect some of their positions.
Therefore, you might be personally compatible with one candidate on specific issues and with their opponent on other issues. You chose between them by prioritizing the importance of those issues to you. Say I agree with one candidate on their position on gun control and the 2nd amendment rights, but you agree with their opponent on the right-to-chose vs. right-to-life issue. Which one would you vote for? It depends on what issue is more important to you at election time. You should consider that even your priorities might change during their time in office, let alone your positions on those issues.
We have not only different positions on different issues but also different priorities for the various issues. We may vote for different candidates for the same reasons, and we may even vote for the same candidates but for different reasons. That’s how the personality compatibility component of trust works.
What’s important to me in a candidate? On top is that the candidate would care about everyone, whether they voted for them or not, whether they agree with them or not. I’m a big proponent of a win-win rather than a zero-sum game. Office holders who “stick to their guns” and hold extreme positions at all costs, causing votes to occur along party lines, risk their positions to be overturned entirely after the next election cycle when the other party, holding the opposite position on the issue, would win the majority. That is an ineffective and inefficient government, in my opinion. MIT conducted a study of our political polarization. They found that in 1977, right after the Vietnam War, the level of cross-party-line agreements between members of the two major parties in roll-call votes was at its highest, with 12,921 such agreements. In 2007, even though the number of roll-call votes had increased by 75%, the number of such agreements dropped to an all-time low of 181.
This is why, in my opinion, the top quality important to me in a candidate is their ability to reach win-win compromises.
The other important qualities for me in a candidate include intelligence (both cognitive and emotional), curiosity and willingness to challenge “the way things are done around here,” and willingness and active listening to their constituents (whether they agree with them or not).
Low on my list are their political ideology and positions on specific topics.
Party affiliation override
Sometimes, the sheer number of political candidates in an election cycle makes it unfeasible to check your personality compatibility with each one of them. What do you do then? That’s when you resort to the 5th law of trust: trust is transferrable. If you trust someone who trusts another person, you are inclined to trust the other person too.
Part of that trust can be put in party affiliation. Even though I voted for candidates from both major parties, I’m generally more aligned with one party than the other. Because of that, if I don’t know enough about a candidate's higher-importance issues, values, and positions, I might assume personality compatibility (and positions on specific issues) based on party affiliation. That also plays along another component of trust: symmetry and being on the same side.
Often, others ask me for recommendations on whom to vote for. I’m happy to report that I’m being asked by friends affiliated with both major parties who still trust my positions on issues more than the simple party affiliation of the candidate.
Values vs. Positions
When I ran for office (for our local public school system board), I was interviewed by different organizations that considered endorsing candidates. One of those organizations demanded that I pledge to hold certain positions if elected. I refused. They explained that they could not support me without making those pledges. In return, I explained that making specific pledges on specific issues doesn’t make sense. Circumstances may change, and as a result, keeping those pledges might not make sense anymore, even to those who demanded I make those pledges. What do I do then? Take a different position given the new circumstances and break my promise, or keep the pledge even in light of the new circumstances? Instead, I shared with them what my values are. Values are rooted deeper in our behaviors. If my values align with theirs, they could trust me to take specific positions on specific issues when they arise, based on those values, even as circumstances change.
I gave two possible future scenarios in the third part of my 2018 book, Cause of Death: Political Correctness. One in which we bridge the gaps between us, and one in which our political divide becomes deeper. I predicted that we might split our United States in the latter scenario. A 2016 USC study claimed, "In a political world where polarization grows more extreme over time, dealing with the political issues of the day becomes more difficult.” The title of that article was “Political polarization at its worst since the Civil War.” I hope this will change.
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Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a two-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to HR.com magazine.