What these books (and the massive amounts of research undergirding them) will show you is that for most voters, politics is not about policy or ideology. Most voters do not know what their party supports. They do not subscribe to their party’s ideology. They do not support their party for ideological or policy-based reasons. Instead, people vote for who they are, not what they want, to paraphrase Appiah. Different identity groups get attached to different parties for what are essentially arbitrary historical reasons, having little to do with policy, and not even usually because particular parties are good for those groups. (Has Trump actually made Southern evangelicals lives better?)
A better metaphor for political behavior is sports fandom. Bostonians are Red Sox or Patriots fans because that’s a way of showing we’re good, loyal members of our local community. Loving Tom Brady and hating the Yankees is a way of demonstrating this loyalty, and such demonstrations help pay social benefits. (In the same way, we can get rewarded for anti-Trump hyperbole.) For most voters, voting for Donald Trump or Joe Biden is roughly equivalent to waving the Terrible Towel at a Steeler’s game. It should not taken to demonstrate genuine commitment to their candidate per se, the candidate’s ideas, or their policies. Pats fans want their team to win regardless of who’s wearing the uniform. The same goes for political fans, at least the overwhelming majority of them.
But surely, you say, having not yet read the books I mentioned, don’t lots of voters have explicit ideologies and policy preferences? Well, no, most don’t. But even most of those who do don’t hold them sincerely. What the more seemingly ideological voters generally do is learn what their party says it stands for and then say they agree. How do we know? The following example from Trump generalizes, as the research shows. Before Trump came along, most Republicans who had any consistent opinions on trade would say they were pro-free trade (as all reasonable people are). When protectionist Trump became the presumptive nominee, these same Republicans started saying they were protectionist, switching almost overnight. (Ugh.) Did Trump convince them to change their minds? No, when asked, they would say, “No, I’ve always thought this way.” In the same way, Jimmy down at the Lansdowne Pub said Tom Brady is the GOAT two years ago, but today will tell you (now that Brady left) that he always though Brady was overrated.
So, sure, there’s something terrible about the fact that so many Republicans support Trump and that Trump just got 71 million votes, more than Obama got. But the good news about this bad news is that it probably doesn’t indicate legitimate ideological support. It’s closer to the mentality that people are willing to root for their team’s quarterback during the big game, even though he’s a scumbag off the field. The typical Republican voter just wants the Republicans to win, but doesn’t actually care whether the Republicans accomplish anything on their platform.