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Using presidential predictions to understand local loyalties

Welcome to Wednesday. Have you written the date out on a check and still used a seven instead of an eight? Because I have. Probably not, you’re like “Bobby, who still writes checks?” Got a great one for you today because I’m doing something that is unavoidable when talking about politics, but that I try my best to stay away from. That’s right. Today, we’re talking about the presidential race.

But it’s only going to be as a broader framework to help describe a phenomenon that is happening locally as well – sort of like how the Chronicle, the newspaper that prides itself on all things local, starts with national news in the A section, has a national story front page above the fold today, then and finally gets to local news in the B section, because, you know, a focus on local is their priority. That’s enough jabs at the Chronicle, though, because since it is Wednesday it means that their new well being section is published and it does look great. It covers many afflictions that the older generation faces, touches on some stuff for parents of toddlers which I appreciate, and as someone who fluctuates about 40 lbs depending on my current lifestyle but who is, I’m blessed to say, currently in the best shape of my life because of a focus on health, I can in all seriousness say I think the well being Wednesdays is a slam dunk so big time thank you to the Chronicle staff for your ingenuity in starting that.

Today’s editorial was back to being local after yesterday’s Tampa Bay Times guest piece and it was a shout out to long time coach and athletic director Larry Bishop. This is a solid work of local journalism, one I can especially appreciate as in another life I was a sports reporter for the Tampa Bay Times dating back even pre-name change when it was still the St. Pete Times from 2008-2014 before moving to Gainesville from Tampa so I have a particular affection for these kinds of stories. The Chronicle front page below the fold had a news story about suspended tourism director John Pricher appealing his first disciplinary ruling that sided with the decision to terminate him. Pricher’s appeal will be Friday but he will almost certainly be terminated then. Currently our economic development director is filling in, but smart people tell me there’s a deep bench over there at the visitor and convention bureau and while I have argued against hiring internally with things like WTC and the Crystal River City Council, I do hope someone over there is given the chance at the top job.

Just Wright Citrus wrote about the ground breaking at the Inverness airport industrial park yesterday, which was also the lead story in today’s Chronicle. This project has been talked about for about two decades and is still around two years away from seeing construction as the county prepares utilities for it but it is a big step forward and congratulations to all involved there. There was one part of reading Mike’s piece this morning though when something so obvious finally clicked for me and I want to share that with you today as my main topic.

In one of my classes, I show my students the docu-drama film the Social Dilemma, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s on Netflix – I suggest you check it out. But I have to preface the film the same want to preface this topic: somethings in learning are exploratory and somethings are explanatory. Sometimes you don’t have to learn something new. Not everything is exploratory into the unknown. Somethings just need to be given a name, like looking up your symptoms on WebMD and realizing you might have non hodgkins lymphoma which would be objectively terrible but you suddenly feel better because at least you know why your extremities could be going numb. That’s explanatory. So with the mindset that today is going to be explanatory about a phenomenon you’re probably already familiar with, let’s dive in.

I’m going to start at the end and then we’ll jump back and work our way though. Mike Wright and I are both arguing from familiarity bias, a term that I dropped in at the end of Monday’s introduction but didn’t explain, but the purpose of today’s show will be to demonstrate just how powerful familiarity bias can be. With that established, we can jump back to the beginning and, as promised, we will discuss the presidential but I need to get into the mind set. *music*

Ladies and Gentlemen. Let’s get ready to federalllllll. I typically don’t make predictions because they are usually so entirely wrong although I did call former Vice President Biden being the Dem nominee in 2020, but I’m calling it now that former President Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2024 and there will be a rematch of the 2020 election. No! But Bobby, why? There’s polling evidence to suggest a third of Americans don’t want that! If that large of a percentage doesn’t want it – that’s not how our electoral system is supposed to work!

I love this last argument because my age makes me so perfectly situated to argue against it. Really? We don’t want the same people running? I was born January 20, 1989 at 12:34 p.m., that means I missed living in Reagan’s America by 34 minutes but was likely one of the first babies in America born into the President George H.W. Bush administration. In my lifetime since, we have had as president a Bush, a Clinton, a Bush, Biden as vice president who first ran for president the year before I was born, a Clinton as a major party nominee who lost to possibly the most public figure of the last four decades, and lastly Biden again who has been in Washington for over five decades having first been elected to the US senate in 1972 – 51 years ago – and you are going to sit there, with a straight face, and tell me the country is one about new faces? Literally my entire life, the country has been led by a handful of families. Oh, so this must mean our political system is now broken. Except, no.

In our county, we have a street named for Grove Cleveland, the only president to serve non-consecutive terms in 1884 and 1892 but he also won the popular vote in 1888 but lost the electoral college. We elected Franklin Roosevelt to four terms from 1933 to his death in 1945 and his cousin Teddy is the youngest president having assumed the office three decades before FDR when McKinley was assassinated in 1901, then won a full term himself in 1904, then groomed his successor Taft who won in 1908, then grew upset with Taft and ran against him in 1912 but lost in the Republican primary, then founded his own political party and ran again in 1912 general. I think you’re starting to see my point. But I’m not even close to done.

John Quincey Adams was the sixth president of the US in 1825 which was about a quarter century after his father John Adams was the second president of the US in 1797 and of course John Adams predecessor was George Washington who was at the forefront of people’s minds for his abilities as a general just like Dwight Eisenhower would be over a century and a half later with, of course, General Ulysses S. Grant serving about halfway in between them. So you’re going to tell me, with all of these examples ranging from the first to the current president, that a Trump vs Biden rematch is not what people want or not what the system intended? I think it’s exactly those things. But it’s not a system problem. It’s familiarity bias. The source of why this keeps happening is explained in us, not in the system.

Academics will call familiarity bias the familiarity heuristic. To simplify this word as much as possible, apply a heuristic to the word heuristic, think of it as a shortcut. And what the familiarity heuristic says is that at an individual psychological level, we prefer the known to the unknown regardless of other circumstances. We don’t have to complicate this. Explanatory learning today. But suddenly the above list of presidents starts to make sense.

I know I just gave you a history lesson, but here’s a pop quiz question: what do you think the strongest heuristic, the strongest short cut, is in voting behavior? What is the strongest shortcut people use when deciding to cast a vote? Got your answer? Let’s not overthink this: political party affiliation. And this heuristic demonstrates just how powerful familiarity bias can be in overpowering critical thinking.

New York’s third congressional district is the wealthiest in the state and fourth wealthiest congressional district nationally, which also means its population is well above the national average in level of education as those two demographics are often correlated, and they elected George Santos in 2022. Santos has been forced to resign from committee assignments as he battles campaign finance and allegations of lying on his resume, for saying he was proficient in Microsoft Excel? No. For misleading voters about his education, work history, religion, and possibly even his sexuality, but the wealthiest, and highly educated, district in New York sent him to Washington anyway, why? Because he had an R next to his name and that is the strongest political heuristic. That’s the power of familiarity bias and how it can affect anyone.

Okay let’s steer this in for a landing. I have to pivot to how this relates to local, my Ah-Ha moment of today. Here’s a quote from today’s blog post, “My point is, the experts are solidly behind this project. Some, like Chamber CEO Josh Wooten, have waited a very long time to reach the point of Tuesday’s ground breaking. Why would people keep with that kind of dedication if they didn’t think the community benefited from the end result? It’s simple for me. I trust ‘em.” That’s familiarity bias! The flip side to that is that Sheriff Mike Prendergast has always been considered in Mike Wright’s outgroup as someone who ran against Phil Royal so familiarity has never developed. So when a question of trust, as explained on Monday, came up – Mike Wright didn’t side with “the experts” as he does here but rather with the pajama people of social media and that inconsistency is human, it’s familiarity bias.

And I’ll end on this, I know what you’re thinking. But Bobby. You’ve worked for the sheriff on and off for 13 years, your own familiarity bias makes you unable to criticize him. Well, he looked pretty goofy in that hard hat at the ground breaking. So there – ability to criticize and critically think achieved. From here on out, don’t trust anyone else falling for familiarity bias, except me, trust me with everything I say, beyond that – it’s garbage.


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