Political Psychology of Mass Behavior


Mass behavior has always intrigued social scientists in time and across space. One of the central social science concerns has been the motivations of people to act in a particular way. In other words, what informs how people react to situations or behave? Specifically, political scientists have intensively studied different aspects of mass behavior. Notably, other disciplines have had immense contributions in the overall political science understanding of the behavior of people as political beings. In a special way, psychology has helped in understanding the issue of human motivation as well as the concept of symbolization in making political choices. Further, certain conditions are known to determine how people process information on specific issues. This is a reflection based general observations made up on readings on political psychology of mass behavior. By scrutinizing Larry M. Bartel and Wendy M. Rahn’s arguments, several issues are salient. Indeed, it appears that political images are responsible for the creation of relatively static opinions in voters on what candidate to select on the basis of voters’ preferences or the outlook that they form after interacting with outside sources of information including other candidates.


Key claim and clarification: After a careful scrutiny of Bartel and Rahn’s articles, one central claim appears to come out. The two seems to agree that political behavior is not only patterned but also predictable. Particularly, on the basis of theories of the mind, people are known to behave in a particular way in a group. Therefore, if a particular stimulus is introduced, a certain result is expected. It is as is there is a cause-effect complex that operated in the electorate. This is well illustrated by the assertion that electorates are affected by stereotypes and propaganda that other candidates spread about their opponents. This brings this reflection to the next level; that if voters really think about how or who to vote, why does such a ‘cheap’ statement, mostly untrue, about your preferred candidate make one shift goals and vote for another especially the one who spreads the propaganda? Then, it looks as if all voters think in a similar way; whether educated or not very educated.

Questions and critical review: By briefly reviewing the propositions by the writers, the following are realized. First, there is no doubt that stereotyping affects how voters select their candidates at the ballot. Moreover, there is a need to do more research on the subject. What are the exact processes through which stereotyping affects voters’ decision making? Is there differential impact if the stereotypes come from particular types of media? For instance, it has been found out that television messages create a more lasting impression than radio or other media. This is because television combines audio and visual components. Moreover, the radio reaches more people. So, does the stereotype image’s effect depend on the ‘intensity’ that depends on the channel of communication? The author is not very clear on the issue.

There are also questions surrounding motivations of electorates to vote. Do they vote because they like candidates, because they support the issues candidates stand for or on no basis at all? Do they actually think about what issues inform their voting? According to the scholars, the American voter votes on the basis of other ideals but not real issues. If this is true, then should that be referred to as irrational voting? Or is the author being simply pessimistic? Was this the case since the beginning of voting in America? Even if this were true in the beginning of voting in America, it is expected that it should have completely changed by now following cultural and ideological evolution. Indeed, a lot of things have changed and voters do not just vote blindly but on some basis which may appear irrational or stupid from a bird’s eye view but quite meaningful from a closer scrutiny.

Application and comparison: Understanding voter behavior is very applicable in the structuring of campaigns and choice of campaign words and propaganda for the candidates. Additionally, stereotyping should not be conceived in the strict sense of labeling of other candidates but also dwelling on erroneous statements that other candidates make in public. In cases, the other candidates use this as a campaign tool in explaining to voters how the candidates can do better than those who uttered certain words. However, by comparing the stereotyping article with the one on electorate irrationality, it appears that for a political scientist, the latter is easier to measure than the former. Although stereotyping plays a role in voter decision-making, there is a greater need to determine the exact process in which that is achieved. Although it may not be a political science concern, such an understanding could broaden the understanding of the issue. This means that it may have to be psychological or physiological analysis. It is only through such analyses that a complete understanding of the mental processes that take place in the ballot booth during processing.

Implications in political thought: Rahn’s discussions are useful because they would inspire the relevant agencies to take the right measures when extralegal stereotypes are advanced. Indeed, Rahn’s findings were reliable because depending on the avenues that the electorates get the information from, such as radio or television, it would definitely have an impact especially for the undecided or not-so-sure voters. Studies in voter irrationality and role of stereotyping are one of the most visible junctions between political science and psychology. Since political scientists’ study political behavior and psychologists study mental process, the two aspects cut across both disciplines. In this case however, there is a more inclination on psychology than political science. Wendy M. Rahn sought to explore further the role that stereotyping plays in influencing the decisions that voters make. He found out that partisan politicking and labeling was positively associated with voter information processing (Rahn, 1993).

Bartels offers several evidences to support his proposition. He mainly bases his arguments on Rick Shenkman’s post-2008 elections Just how stupid are we? The writer also explores historical researches into the phenomenon of voting practice. Beginning 1950’s, studies have generally shown that the American voter does not vote a candidate exclusively on what is contained in their manifestos but on other ‘un-important’ basis. According to Shankman, American voters are ‘stupid’. Bartel calls the same voter ‘irrational’. This is a serious claim to be said over American voters even having been some of the oldest democracies of the world. However, there is a need to reflect on these assertions at a closer range. Bartel himself observed that there has been a marked improvement in what makes voters to vote (Bartel, 2008).