Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Donald Trump and Collective Behavior Thresholds #FB

I was reading an article about football strategy not long ago. The article was on football referred to a podcast on basketball, which itself referred to a sociology paper from 1978. But as I was thinking about the presidential election and how things have evolved over the last week -- I thought the theory made a lot of sense as it relates to where Donald Trump currently finds himself.

The thrust of the football article is about how a construct around individual behavior thresholds might apply to NFL coaches. In short (and probably summarizing in a way that doesn't do justice to the academic paper), the typical model of how coaches would make 4th down decisions is a little too simplistic. In this simplified version, coaches are either aggressive or conservative, and this trait is fixed.

In considering the impact of thresholds, there's the thinking that it's not necessarily a binary condition. You aren't firmly conservative or firmly aggressive...rather, there are conditions where you'd decide in a conservative way and conditions where you'd be aggressive. Seems pretty logical.

Those conditions include (and for the purposes of discussion only consist of) the behavior of the collective body of coaches around you.

Think about a coach with a relatively high threshold for aggressiveness. He needs to see a lot of collectively aggressive behavior in order to be persuaded to take aggressive action himself. Maybe he needs 20 other coaches to make aggressive decisions.

Then there is a coach with a low threshold. Maybe he only needs 2 or 3 other coaches before the actions of the collective are enough for him to make an aggressive choice.

Chase Stuart explains this all much more clearly than I can in the article...but the model is interesting to think about in consideration of lots of collective action situations (example most commonly used would be riots/looting -- it's not that everyone becomes a maniac when their team wins the Super Bowl, it might be that select individuals with low thresholds for rioting start something, which creates a snowball effect as the broader group crosses their respective individual thresholds)

So as I'm reading article after article about Trump, it occurred to me that this may be a useful construct with which to view the collective actions of Republican office-holders at large.

Trump has done a bunch of, let's put this diplomatically, wacky-ass-shit, over the last few news cycles. Most recently, he subtly raised the idea of his supporters shooting Hillary Clinton (or her designated judges). Whether these individual comments were beyond the pale or not is not what I'm thinking about. At this point, Trump is a fairly known commodity.

But Republicans continue to waver in their level of endorsement/support -- and if we think about each of them as having a threshold for their support based on their collective behaviors, there are some interesting implications.

The first incumbent congressperson to come out against Trump (i.e., say they wouldn't vote for him), was Richard Hanna from NY.

Ok, the first one, someone with a low threshold to going public with his lack of support (in part, because he's retiring. That's a different conversation around what might influence your threshold)

Then, if I remember correctly, came Adam Kinzinger of IL. Kinzinger, as far as I'm aware, still plans to serve in Congress.

After that, it was a Senator, Susan Collins.

In each of these cases, it's interesting to consider whether it wasn't a particular soundbite, action, or polling number on Trump's part that drove the legislators to come out and announce their opposition, but potentially the acts of others who had preceded them pushing them beyond their internal threshold for action.

If that is the scenario, there are obvious implications about an impending death spiral of a campaign. As more Republicans abandon ship, they embolden those that remain.

It's an interesting way to think about their collective action (and one that I selfishly hope comes to fruition).

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