Why Progressivism Continues to Lose to Moderates

Although there seems to be very vocal support of progressive ideas, when it comes down to voting, it would seem like the progressives always loses to the moderates.

While the political pundits want to overanalyze the reason why a certain candidate failed, from the lack of voter turnout to the different demographics that supported them versus their candidate, I believe that there is one overarching core idea that supercedes all of these other demographical factors.

*People do not want to change. *

We can generalize a candidate’s platform into three basic buckets:

  • A change candidate - often labeled progressive, their platform embodies changes for improvement. These changes require thoughtful consideration as buy-in is required.
  • A status quo candidate - a candidate whose messaging is simple, that a vote for them would mean a continuation of the status quo. If you’re happy with the current state of affairs, this is the most neutral vote you can make.
  • A return-to-the-past candidate - a candidate whose messaging is simply that he will return the country to its former glory.

People generally do not want change. They fear change and they fear to change. Change represents the unknown. People have an inherent fear of the unknown. This is why progressive ideas require the voters to buy-in to the idea through thoughtful consideration. Most people have neither the time nor want to spend the effort to consider these ideas thoughtfully. Thus, these ideas are spooky and scary. We can be sure that it is the minority that would every vote for a change candidate.

Candidates that represent the status quo or a return-to-the-past allow the voters to picture easily in their minds what it is that they’re voting for. They’ve lived through the present and the past, thus it’s easy for them to picture what such a promise might entail.

In times of strife, a return-to-the-past candidate would do better than a status quo candidate, otherwise, they would be on a leveled playing field, and this is where the other demographics may come into play.

If we considered all of the different types of candidate, the efficacy is as follows: return-to-the-past > status quo > change.

Consider the recent US Presidential elections. In the Democratic Primaries of 2016, Hillary (a status quo candidate) beat Bernie (a change canditate) by a percentage difference of ~12%. In the Democratic Primaries of 2020, Biden (a return-to-the-past candidate) beat Bernie (a change candidate) by a percentage difference of 25.5%, significantly greate than Hillary v. Bernie, suggesting that my assertion above is correct.

Then if we considered the general elections, Trump in 2016 promised to “Make America Great Again” whereas Hillary’s message non-committal and obvious that she represented the status quo. However in 2020, Trump’s message was “Keep America Great”, pigeonholing him to the status quo candidate, while Biden’s “restoring the soul of our nation” markedly made him the return-to-the-past candidate.

Additional evidence against change.

Most people are against change even when they are faced with undeniable facts that change needs to happen.

Consider the case of health. Metabolic disorder is an endemic issue in the United States. Many people have either high blood pressure, high cholesterol, are pre-diabetic, or have diabetes type II. And with these disorders, if they do nothing to reverse course, they risk suffering some adverse health event which will leave them incapacitated or dead. However, even with obvious evidence to people; consider the case of an obese man whose parent died of a heart attack due to high blood pressure; even when the evidence is clear that that is his future, he will most likely choose not to do anything about it. Or consider the person who is fit and healthy but continues to eat unhealthily reasoning that he’d rather live a short life doing what he enjoys than a long life having to compromise. However, an unhealthy person will most likely suffer an adverse health event rather than passing peacefully, so then that person must also consider whether they are willing to endure the suffering that such a lifestyle may bring about. Most of these people would rather not think about it, choosing to life in blissful ignorance.

Then why do we have change sometimes?

If people genuinely do not like change, then why do we have change sometimes?

Acts of god

We all risk suffering from “acts of god” or things outside of our control. Most people are resolved to that idea that any event is potentially an act of god, thus outside of their control.

When an act of god happens, we would just consider the result situation our new normal. Consider the case of the pandemic. The pandemic lockdowns did more for climate change than years of protests. The pandemic and people deciding to furlough themselves, did more to force companies to increase their minimum wage than years of protests. We succeed in progressive change not by actively protesting, but by the benevolence of the act of god.

Today’s trash is yesterday’s treasure

There will be incremental change, not because of anything we actively do right now, but because the boomers will eventually die. Every generation has their own concepts of what is normal and acceptable. The views of the boomers are of a time gone by whereas Gen-Z’s normal is markedly futuristic to the boomers. Eventually Gen-Z will become the majority voter bloc, and thus, their views will be enacted. From our perspective, we would have made progress. However, by the time this progress happens, it would be viewed by the generation after Gen-Z as moderate.

So it’s not as if progress will not be made, but this progress will be extremely slow. The question is whether our society can survive a turnaround time of a generation (especially when the life expectancy is going up)?

The outlier? And additional thoughts

Obviously, this view is very limited in scope. While the most recent election cycles seems to fit this theory, it starts falling apart when considering the 2008 and 2012 elections.

I believe that an inalienable factor is the fact that most people are incapable of providing thoughtful consideration. This might be expressed through not wanting change or the change must be something that they can have total faith in (not requiring them to buy into the idea)

The other factors that are variable and questionable is whether people really want to return to the past. I believe that nostalgia is a contributing factor. Presently, we all can reminisce about a time gone by, and thus, I think it’s more palatable to us to want to return to the past.

Rosey retrospection and the reminiscence bump suggests that every generation would only progress to the point of their reminiscence bump as they nostalgically want to return to a time that matches their most remembered memories.

However, there are situations where nostalgia is not a factor and those situations are when the past was fill with strife. I believe that, this is why countries like Japan or China has outpaced the US in the past and present respectively. After WWII, Japan was in shambles. They rejected the status quo and no amount of rosey retrospection would have them wanting to live in the past only to relive the war. Therefore, they were, through the act of god, forced to begrudingly move forward. And this was the case more recently with China as well. However, we are falling behind because we, as a majority, will always want to return to a time gone by thus inherently slowing down the pace of progress.

A way forward?

I believe that messaging and marketing is the lynchpin to enact progress. Knowing the flaws of the human mind, we must use that to our advantage to position ourselves both nostalgically, but in a way that suggests progress. This would be the way to make such progress tolerable without falling into the trap of needing the voters to be bought into the idea.

Marketing is even more relevant now than ever before as our society moves away from capital. It’s theorized that fiat capital is no longer relevant in our modern world. In a world where there is so much noise compared to signal, to be able to be the signal (attention) amounts to wealth. Certainly, we can still convert this sort of wealth back into fiat currency, but now fiat currency is only representational similar to gold when currency was backed by gold. Is it because attention is the new capital that Trump was so well funded as opposed to Hillary. Whereas Hillary had the donations for ads, Trump spent hardly any money on ads because he was flushed with the new capital.

This is why social media companies like Twitter and Facebook are so dangerous. They are essentially the new hedge funds. Their banning of Trump is akin to manipulating this new attention market. Youtube’s recommendation algorithm or Google’s search algorithm is akin to high frequency traders manipulating this new market.

Thus it’s important to acknowledge this new capital and how we can manipulate it to our benefit, otherwise, we will end up being the 99% and Big Tech being the top 1%.