Voting Based on Social Identity

African Americans were criticized in both the 2008 and 2012 elections for voting for Barack Obama on the basis of race. Pundits baulk at the idea of Hillary Clinton being elected on the basis of gender. And an interviewee in Bill Maher’s Religulous was mocked for the following comment:

“I don’t know that much about politics, I’ll vote for President Bush because of his faith.”

But if one’s social identity (race, faith, sexual orientation or other ideological proclivity) is a priority, what is so illogical about basing voting decisions on it? Historically, minorities have been criticized for swaying an election by contributing to this phenomenon. As if there is something unfair about a candidate garnering support because of their social identity.

If all other factors are held constant (such as economic status, religion, etc.) voting based off of social identity, say race, may be the easiest way to identify a candidate who will keep the voter’s best interests in mind. It provides a certain level of comfort to the voter, an insurance policy that the candidate will protect their demographic. This is especially important to groups who have been marginalized in the past (People of color, women and members of the LGBT community, etc.)

We can extend this idea to voting based of social issues. Young voters are criticized for choosing a candidate because of their stance on gay marriage, abortion or immigration. Social issues are “distractions” that draw attention from the “important issues” like tax reform and unemployment.

But tell me, what does the unemployment rate mean to me if I can’t hold a job because I am discriminated against on the basis of my sexual orientation, gender identity or race? What does tax reform mean to me if I am an undocumented immigrant, brought here illegally by no fault of my own and unable to get a job that affords me enough compensation to even worry about income tax? What do I care about your “important issues?”

To me, this idea that social issues and identities detract from a “fair election” is a perfect example of privilege. Privilege that allows my father brush off gay marriage as a “distracting social issue.” Privilege that allows politicians to dismiss legislation promoting equal pay as a “financial burden” for corporations. Privilege that allows me to wake up every morning, look in the mirror and see myself as “a woman” rather than “a black woman” or “a Hispanic women” or “a transgender woman.” Privilege that remains invisible to those graced by it.

And I am interested in tax reform. I am well-versed in economics. I am capable of engaging in informed debate on either of these topics. But when I prioritize a candidate’s record on equality, I have been dismissed as young, naïve and too mentally incompetent to concern myself with “real issues.” I would be delighted to cast a vote that weighed more heavily on economic ideology, but I am too busy worrying about walking home in the dark. I am sure my transgender peers would love to focus more on unemployment, were they not so fearful of being arrested for using the “wrong” restroom. And I know my African American friends have other issues they would like to investigate when they are not worrying about the wage gap that devalues them against their white peers.

I agree with you, majority, on one thing; these issues are a distraction. But they aren’t a distraction to you, as they take up 5 minutes of valuable airtime on your favorite newscast. They are a distraction to the people you allow to be victimized, each and every day.

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Categories: Esther Grace | Leave a comment

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