Fundamental attribution error
Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the best basketball player in the history of the NBA. When he took over as owner and general manager of the Charlotte Bobcats, many people were excited to have the world’s greatest player make personnel decisions. After all, he should know what to look for in a player. It turns out that Jordan’s track record as a sports manager has been one of the worst in the league and can be epitomized by the number one overall selection of Kwame Brown in 2001 while serving as team president of the Washington Wizards. Most agree that Brown never lived up to the hype.
This same type of error can be seen as Romney’s business resume is touted as evidence of his ability to turn this country around. Success in the business arena does not guarantee success in the government arena — and this is especially true with Romney. First, as a master of private equity, Romney’s responsibility was to maximize shareholder value even at the expense of other stakeholders like employees. If Romney planned a buyout of America, it would look like this.
Black people should be concerned by Romney’s interview with Black Enterprise, in which he admittedly knew very little about the Minority Business Development Agency. So, even if Romney can successfully transfer his business skills to government, that does not mean that black people will benefit. Our issues might just come out on the expendable end of a cool business calculation that renders us inconsequential.
Mitt Romney’s 47 percent video may have a ring of truth to it — if you fall prey to the psychological pitfall of the confirmation bias. This is the tendency for people to favor information that confirms their beliefs. People display this bias when they remember information selectively or interpret it in a biased way. Although 47 percent may be a stretch, there is a percentage of the population that will vote for Obama no matter what new information is presented to contradict their beliefs, as Romney stated. However, Romney’s video was misleading in two ways.
First, his characterization of the 47 percent was not accurate in many ways (for example, many of the 47 percent pay other forms of taxes). Second, he left out that there is a large portion of society that will also vote for Romney no matter what based on their biases. Ironically, he was speaking to the target audience who would be most likely to vote for him under any circumstances, because of their unsubstantiated beliefs.
Median voter theorem
On my Facebook page I commonly read terms like “Myth Romney” and “Willard Wonka and the B.S. Factory” to describe Mitt Romney. With the reputation of being a flip-flopper extraordinaire, it is hard for many people to ever trust anything that comes out of his mouth. However, flip-flopping has had a long history in politics, as it is inspired by the median voter theorem. This states that the outcome of an election is the outcome preferred by the median voter.
To make it through the gauntlet of the Republican primary, Romney had to commit to policies that appealed to the center of his party. Now, the median that must be appealed to has moved with the addition of new voters from the mainstream for the general election. Now you see Romney desperately trying to move to the new optimal position.
Unwavering individuals like Ron Paul may have the respect of Americans for his steadfastness (despite his other questionable tactics), but are unlikely to win a national election due to not moving to the median — wherever it may be. This might not be great for maintaining your integrity, but it can win votes.
Big data and one-to-one marketing
Last week, statistician Nate Silver was on The Daily Show sharing his insights about the election. Nate mentioned how campaigns are investing a lot of money in understanding the psychographic nature of voters. In business, the use of intense data mining to uncover buyer personas has been around for a couple of decades to increase financial capital, but politicians have entered the game for political capital. The new information uncovered helps candidates determine whether they should spend dollars to sway undecided voters or if they should spend the money mobilizing their base to show up at the polls on election day.
Ultimately, the constituents are the losers as more political candidates are running their campaigns like corporate brands doing whatever it takes to increase market share instead of promoting their actual beliefs and values. Currently, many candidates feel the need to use every trick in the book to win the election, even if it means having a harder time governing in the end without a political or moral compass. It is up to us to become wiser voters as we have the most to lose — especially when average-performing elected officials try to transfer their business methods into the public sphere.
Lawrence Watkins is the founder of Great Black Speakers, Great Pro Speakers, and co-founder of Ujamaa Deals, which is a daily deal site that promotes black-owned businesses. He graduated in 2006 from The University of Louisville with a B.S. in electrical engineering and earned his MBA from Cornell University in 2010. Lawrence currently resides in Atlanta. You can follow him on Twitter @lawrencewatkins.