The Politics of Party Tribalism

Hindered investigation 2


When doing political analysis, I rarely, if ever, quote a piece of laundry.

Yet, I’m going to do so now because I saw a comment on Twitter recently from someone who calls himself “Ed the Sock”, which perfectly illustrates the mindset of what I’d call a “political tribalist.”

The tweet in question was posted just a few days after the Ethics Commissioner released a bombshell report which ruled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his attempts to influence how to prosecute a legal case involving SNC-Lavalin, was guilty of violating Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act.

In short, Trudeau broke the law.

And while many in the media and in the punditry class saw this report as a big deal, for Ed the Sock it was a ho hum affair.

He tweeted, “Ethics Commissioner says #Trudeau broke rules.  I find that I don’t care.  Looking at the level of lying & corporate toadying from #Scheer combined w/actions of his ideological buddies #Ford & #Kenney, this breech doesn’t bother me nearly as much as their vision of Canada.”

Needless to say, his viewpoint generated some negative responses.

For instance, Seyed Ali Taghva, editor-in-chief of the Post Millennial, tweeted “This sock seems to be off his rocker.  I guess some folks just love corrupt politicians.”

And noted journalist and editor, Jonathan Kay, remarked on Twitter: “But the US has a 2-party system, so it makes a certain kind of reductionist sense to say ‘your guy is evil, so I don’t care what my guy does.’  This makes zero sense in Canada, which has >2 parties.  The parties that should be furious at this Ed the Sock attitude are NDP & Greens…”

Who knew a sock could generate such controversy!?

At any rate, the point I’m making here is that Ed the Sock’s cavalier dismissal of the SNC-Lavalin scandal is exactly how a Liberal political tribalist would respond, i.e. “I’ll support my side no matter what.”

Please note, I’m not saying Mr. Sock is a Liberal tribalist, but he certainly resembles one.

So what is a political tribalist?

Well, it’s a person who has emotionally identified with a particular political party to such a degree that nothing in the world will ever shake their loyalty; they see their political party as their community, as their family, as their tribe.

They’re Liberals who will always vote Liberal, Conservatives who will always vote Conservative and New Democrats who will always vote NDP.

An American political consultant friend of mine, who worked on campaigns all over the world, once told me that depending on the society in which you’re in, tribalisms usually take up anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the vote.

If true, that means a large chunk of the Canadian electorate has already decided who they will vote for in the upcoming Canadian election and that decision is steadfast and unshakeable.

Not even the SNC-Lavalin scandal will deter Liberal Party tribalists from voting Liberal.

Indeed, I suspect they’d still support Trudeau even if a video emerged showing the prime minister throwing a weighted sack full of kittens into the Rideau Canal.

Maybe Ed the Sock would tweet something like, “Better to have a cat hater in power than a planet hater.”

And ironically, tribalists rarely understand the tribalism of other tribalists.

I’d bet dollars to doughnuts, for example, that Ed the Sock is totally mystified at how US President Donald Trump’s tribalists will stick by their champion despite all of his infamous flaws and scandals.

Another even bigger irony is that the loyalty of political tribalists often goes unrewarded.

As a matter of fact, every political party actually has an incentive to betray their own tribalists.

After all, since tribalists are totally locked on side, political parties will always be sorely tempted to take that support for granted and focus instead on winning over undecided or non-aligned voters, which often leads a party to dilute some of the principles their tribalists embrace.

This is the cynical reality of politics.

So maybe Ed the Sock won’t be damned for his loyalty to the Liberals, but one day he might be darned.

(Get it?  Socks are darned.  OK, so it’s lame wordplay but give me a break it’s August.)

Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics

More from Gerry Nicholls.     @GerryNic

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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