Political ideologies often develop in a manner that is independent of logical continuity. Political parties adopt platforms that hold philosophically inconsistent policy positions. Can an exponent of the death penalty or a hawkish foreign policy be sincerely “pro-life”? Can a pro-choice activist honestly defend bodily integrity if they support vaccine mandates? Both examples display some of the most salient normative incongruencies of the American conservatives and liberals. This phenomenon is a formal category in observations asserted in Peter Clark’s micropaper The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling (2021):
“…The process of Implicit Logrolling (Buchanan & Tullock,1962) is a form of indirect vote-trading that heavily relies on the bundling of wedge issues. By way of tying specific groupings of policies to attract targeted demographics of voters to a political platform. This political strategy is especially effective in capturing the commitment of single-issue voters. These voters need to tacitly accept the rest of the policies on the political platform to have their one area of interest acknowledged. This is why implicit logrolling is such an effective mechanism in shaping the American political landscape.
Most analysts ignore how voters reconcile selecting programs and political candidates that hold logically inconsistent views. For example, an individual that defends abortion rights on the grounds of a bodily integrity argument concurrently favoring vaccine mandates. Here is where the Paradox of Implicit Logrolling comes in; voters then must rationalize these discrepancies due to the lack of logical consistency. In vote trading, the individual voter expects to make some concessions. However, when these concessions present logical and philosophical contradictions, few people question the conflict. In short, the paradox describes how people are willing to accept contrary political positions if parceled with a party or policy they favor..”
The bundling of various “wedge issues”; might force many voters to justify supporting positions they would not usually. Even if these disjointed amalgamations of policy positions logically cancel each other out. What about voters that consider themselves diehard partisans? The role of implicit logrolling is much more salient on singe issue voters than on unwavering party members. It is difficult to assess if the bundling of opposing political positions does generate some cognitive dissonance among entrenched members. Typically, these political actors only outwardly convey rhetoric consistent with party loyalty, displaying the tribalism of contemporary politics.
The recent article Political Preferences and Public Policy, written by economist Randall Holcombe provides some insights into how party loyalists end up getting locked into advocating for specific policy platforms. Holcombe suggests that political elites contrive the policy positions that a party endorses; voters merely attempt to conform to these sets of political beliefs. Per his article:
“…Citizens and voters anchor on political identity. It might be a party, a candidate, or an ideology. Most of their political preferences are then derivative of that identity. People don’t think: I support a woman’s right to have an abortion, I support more gun control, I believe the government should be more involved in health care, and I think impediments to voting should be relaxed. Therefore, I am a Democrat. The reasoning goes the other way. People identify as Democrats; therefore, they support a woman’s right to have an abortion, more gun control, and so forth.
Citizens and voters adapt their public policy preferences from the political elite–the people who determine public policy…”
Some may interpret Holcombe’s observations as invalidating The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling, but it supports the theory. Why? It is easy to perceive this article as conveying the top-down nature of advocacy selections by formal political parties superseding all over mechanisms for cultivating political preferences; there are a few points to consider. For one, single-issue voters are taxonomically a sub-ideology. It may be true that a dedicated Republican, maybe a party member first and then adopt all the views held by the GOP. In contrast, a single-issue voter is (e.g.) a gun-rights activist first; their party affiliation is merely a second-tier political identity for this individual. Since the gun-rights activist will side with whatever political movement is most advantageous for their ends, they naturally have to acquiesce to policies they have no interest in or may even personally oppose.
Holcombe’s article also supports this theory because his observations imply that most voters do not critically evaluate the positions held by the party they conform to. In many cases, ride-or-die party members never give themselves a chance to ascertain whether they possess conflicting views by labeling themselves a Democrat or a Republican. These voters are preoccupied with aligning their discourse and beliefs to the tenants their self-professed political affiliation. Demonstrating the folly of an individual picking their label before choosing the core philosophical values guiding their political decision-making, they allow party designation to rule their decision at the ballot box.
Overall, Holcombe provides a conceptual bridge for the connection of the Implicit Logrolling Paradox to hardline partisan voters. In most cases, these strongholds within various subsets of voting Americans assimilate to political factions with little consideration of the long-term consequences since partisan loyalties take primacy. Further exploring the mechanisms of issue bundling in party platforms might shed more light on America’s currently contentious political climate.