Rajiv Sethi: Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and the Iowa Caucus

By Rajiv Sethi.

Lambert here. Readers, do you have other examples, from elections or other polling, that support the very plausible thesis of this post? And see the comments at the original post for an interesting exchange on reflexivity.

A few days ago Nate Silver made the following intriguing comments on the Iowa Caucus (emphasis added):

There are extremely strong incentives for supporters of Mrs. Bachmann, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Perry to behave tactically, throwing their weight behind whichever one appears to have the best chance of finishing in the top two. What that means is that if any of these candidates appear to have any momentum at all during the final week of the campaign, their support could grow quite quickly as other voters jump on the bandwagon.

This is also a case in which the polling may actually influence voter behavior. In particular, if one of these candidates does well in the highly influential Des Moines Register poll that should be published on New Year’s Eve or thereabouts, that candidate might be a pretty good bet to overperform polling as voters use that as a cue on caucus night to determine which one is most viable…

I’m not sure that this theory actually makes any sense… But it may not matter if the theory is true. If voters are looking for anything to break the logjam between these candidates, mere speculation that one of them has momentum could prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What’s most interesting about this is the possibility that even a methodologically flawed or misleading poll, provided that it is given credence, could coordinate expectations on one of these three candidates and result in a surge of support.

In fact, this seems to be precisely what has happened. A CNN/Time poll covering the period December 21-27 revealed Santorum to be in third place with 16% of the vote. This was an outlier at the time, and was sharply criticized by Tom Jensen of PPP and by Nate himself for surveying only registered Republicans:

What’s wrong with using a list of Republican voters for a Republican caucus poll? The answer is that it’s extremely easy for independent and Democratic voters to register or re-register as Republicans at the caucus site. Historically, a fair number of independent voters do this.

According to entrance polls in Iowa in 2008, for instance, about 15 percent of participants in the Republican caucus identified themselves as independents or Democrats on the way into the caucus site… Most other pollsters are making some attempt to account for these voters. They are anticipating that the fraction of independents and Democrats will be at least as high as it was in 2008 if not a little higher, which would make sense since Republicans do not have a competitive Democratic caucus to compete with this year.

The recent Public Policy Polling survey, for instance, estimated that 24 percent of Iowa caucus participants are currently registered as independents or Democrats and will re-register as Republicans at the caucuses. This month’s Washington Post/ABC News poll put the fraction at 18 percent. There is room to debate what the right number is but it will certainly not be zero, as the CNN poll assumes.

Since few independents and Democrats are inclined to vote for Santorum, the CNN/Time poll very likely exaggerated the level of support he enjoyed at the time. But despite this, it contributed to expectations of a surge which seem to have become self-fulfilling. The Des Moines Register poll released last night confirms this, with Santorum rising sharply from 10% on the 27th all the way to 22% four days later. This survey, conducted by the highly regarded Ann Selzer, has historically been among the most reliable of Iowa polls.

Did a misleading poll based on an unsound sample shift expectations in such a manner as to fulfill it’s own flawed forecast? Tom Jensen certainly appears to think so:

Selzer had Santorum at 9% Tu-W. We had him at 10% M-Tu. Surge quite possibly generated by CNN poll that was quite possibly wrong… If CNN had shown Perry at 15% and he got all the momentum stories, the buzz in Iowa might be all about him this weekend.

The CNN/Time poll may also have given Romney an expectational boost at the expense of Paul by excluding independents from the survey. As Tom Jensen noted in his response, Romney was ahead of Paul in the restricted sample of the PPP poll, but quite clearly behind overall on December 27. It’s an interesting example of how a seemingly innocuous methodological decision on a single primary poll could end up having major ramifications for the direction of the country.

The mechanisms at work here have some broader implications. They reveal the potential value to candidates (or their supporters) of manipulating prices in prediction markets such as Intrade, which have come to be closely monitored indicators of candidate viability. And they appear in all sorts of other contexts, from sovereign debt crises to speculative currency attacks.

In fact, any borrower who has financed long-dated assets with short term liabilities needs to periodically roll over debt, and the willingness of investors to facilitate this depends on their beliefs about whether other investors will continue to facilitate it in the future. These expectations are subject to capricious change, often as a result of small and seemingly unimportant triggers. The Iowa caucus illustrates the phenomenon, and the Eurozone debt crisis demonstrates its broader relevance.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

    t’s an interesting example of how a seemingly innocuous methodological decision on a single primary poll could end up having major ramifications for the direction of the country.

    I don’t know about that. The moneymen have wanted Romney all along. And the G.O.P. gives the moneyman what they want.

    1. Because

      Actually, they wanted Perry, but there was a problem: The Bush’s.

      Once the Bush’s said no, Perry stupidly tried to sell himself for Koch money. But they went with Cain. Then Perry collapsed.

      So the “money men” have been fluffing around the Republican party for a Candidate.

  2. F. Beard

    Can the Republicans win without the South and will the South vote for a Mormon?

    I suppose it depends on Southern preachers. I suspect their economic views will overrule their Christian doctrine.

    1. sleepy

      I think most republicans in the South will vote for a mormon, just as I believe most republicans elsewhere will vote for a mormon.

      While I think his religion will be a factor for some, what I suspect will happen is that republican turnout will be relatively low–not because of his religion–but because of his suspected political “moderation”.

      It will be interesting though to see the democrats raising the mormon issue in the general election–it will be a “leave-no-fingerprints” effort, but it will be there.

      1. F. Beard

        –but because of his suspected political “moderation”. sleepy

        Ah yes, the hidden assumption that a sound economy requires injustice.

      2. Jim

        Romney may or many not win. But it will have nothing to do with his religion. If the US can elect an African-American man, if Chicago can elect a Jewish mayor, then certainly the US, with strong support from the South, can elect a Mormon for President.

        1. Jane Doe

          I am from the South. I grew up there, and have family still living there in various states.

          Your comment false. Religion matters a great deal. Some portion of Republicans will not vote for him, and, at the very least this will dampen the enthusiasm that one might expect in an election like this for the GOP candidate.

          In other words, will it prevent Romney from getting the bulk of GOP voters? No. Will it mean that he may not get that massive number of voters out like a George Bush did to vote for him? Yes. And that can make all the difference in an election like this.

          1. sleepy

            I am from the south as well.

            As I said in an earlier post, Romney’s religion will affect some voters in the South and elsewhere, but I think the overall impact on republican southern voters will be his perceived “moderation”, not his religion.

            I think Romney will still carry the vast majority of southern electoral votes so the issue is probably academic anyway.

          2. LucyLulu

            Also born and raised in the South and don’t think Romney’s Mormon faith will be a deal breaker. The economy, jobs, and his level of conservatism, and his ability to beat Obama are more critical factors. While religion is important to southern evangelicals, they are aware that they are electing a president, not looking for a new Sunday preacher.

            Best new bumper sticker for 2012 elections, courtesy of Barney Frank:

            Us Democrats may not be perfect, but we aren’t crazy.

    2. Yves Smith

      I flew back through Atlanta on New Year’s Day, which scarily had ON THE MONITOR IN THE AIRPORT what looked to be a “Christian” station. Discussion was on whether Mormonism was a no go (remember Huntsman is a Mormon too) and how it didn’t seem to be as big an issue as it was in 2008. Didn’t hear the conclusion but that did seem to be the message.

  3. sleepy

    “The recent Public Policy Polling survey, for instance, estimated that 24 percent of Iowa caucus participants are currently registered as independents or Democrats and will re-register as Republicans at the caucuses.”

    I live in Iowa and if you are saying that democrats and independents will be able to re-register at the caucus site, I believe you are mistaken.

    Re-registration closed in Iowa on December 23rd as far as I know.

    1. Paul Johnson

      As far as you know is wrong. From the Des Moines Register caucus coverage on December 30: “On Tuesday, campaign aides will try to get same-day registrants and party switchers in the door. Republican Party of Iowa officials have thousands of voter registration forms and cards to change party affiliation ready to go.”

      1. sleepy

        Yes, I was apparently looking at pre-registration deadlines, not same day registration. It’s odd that my county registrar’s website doesn’t mention same day registration, yet the secretary of state’s website does.

        I guess their argument is that same day registration does not take place through the registrar’s office (at least initially), so why mention it? A bit misleading.

  4. patrick

    The concept of a candidate’s apparent momentum causing voters to switch to them in order to beat someone they don’t want to win is well known in UK politics. It’s called tactical voting, and has been used for decades to punish the unpopular Government of the day in any special/ by-election that occurs. So it is entirely logical that supporters of Perry and Bachmann will switch to Santorum in order to beat Romney.

  5. Ignim Brites

    What’s the point of this post? Polling has always flirted with if not in fact being captured by a mentality of bourgeois bolshevism. Everyone knows this.

    But methodological biases are always interesting and the post makes some interesting points in this respect. Mostly people take the polls that confirm their biases and have biased opinions about polling organizations. For example, left stream media like NBC/CBS/ABC/CNN (and probably the Des Moines Register) will almost always tilt to the money Republican. They prefer not to run against a candidate the might appeal to parts of the DP base (like older government workers trembling at the prospect of radically reduced pensions).

  6. Foppe

    I think there is some broken html in the front page code for this post, Lambert.. The comments aren’t loading properly there.

  7. indio007

    I often wonder why the media’s serious conflict of interest in making a race appear close is never exposed. The closer the race is the more drama, The more drama the more viewers of political chatter, the more viewers the more dollars from advertising. 3/4 of CNN’s shows are driven by politics. A 40 point blow out isn’t exactly conducive to increase in viewers of political programming . I truly think the left right divide is a construct manufactured by the media. All the talking heads need a close game otherwise people voluntarily switch to Heidi.

  8. Eureka Springs

    Good lord, I feel like the Chris Matthews show just invaded one of my favorite blogs. /s Like Matthews, this type of jive talk, poll-dancing addressees nothing of substance. The industry of elections and poll manipulations, which treats everyone like blind fan of a football team is best greeted with contempt and efforts to abolish it!

    Don’t look into this particular light!

  9. Paul Tioxon

    I am glad to see NC delving into deep political discussion. And by that I mean, having the character to recognize the import of the political process whether or not you are trapped in some juvenile revulsion of attending to adult responsibilities. No matter how vacuous the candidates, no matter how likely your ideals will falter in gaining public policy status, no matter the polls favoring you or invalidating your existence altogether by being manipulative gamesmanship of the media and the paid agent of capitalists from the commanding heights of the ruling class itself, no matter, it is imperative to remain engaged with the political process, to pick a side, to vote, because that too can be taken away in its entirety leaving us with something even worse than the worst aspects of what we are currently living through.

    The depths of human cruelty have no lower boundaries, but there are some networks of humanity, of civilizing influences that allow us a good measure of life that is decent and bearable, even joyful. Our democratically controlled republic still stands, populated by whoever wins the struggle for public office. The even worse possibility is that the chance for any change in policy through the ballot is completely wiped out. Just as they attempt to take away social security and the welfare state, they will take away the vote, and any other channel to voice our consent or our disapproval. This is never more so than in the outright rejection of voting and of following partisan politics and in thinking that action drive by politics is a verbal variation of child molestation or murder. The boredom with life must not be confused with consumer dissatisfaction extended to political apathy, another form of voter suppression, deliberate political suppression and dispossession by other means. They don’t just sell us candidates like toothpaste, they market world weariness as some sort of Casablanca brand of romantic coping. Pick a side.

    1. sleepy

      But if nothing is left of the electoral process but the pretense and trappings of democracy, I’m not really certain why that should engage someone.

      I am not talking about every single election. There are many local, even state-level races, where grassroots input can make a difference–not just in what candidate gets elected, but what issues actually come to the fore.

      But for most elections and, since this article is in reference to a federal presidential election, I think it is worth saying that participation is unfortunately a sham.

      Having said that, I will most likely drag my pessimistic rear end to a polling place in November to cast a vote for a 3rd party. That will be a meaningless vote.

      1. F. Beard

        That will be a meaningless vote. sleepy

        Writing in Ron Paul seemed meaningless in 2008 but I did it. Now a mere 4 years later, he’s a real contender.

        People need to think past the next election to the one after.

      2. different clue

        Such a vote would only be meaningless if it gets Diebolded instead of counted. If it gets counted, then it adds one more number to the number of third party votes. Any such votes not Diebolded have to be admitted to. If other disatisfied people see rising numbers of third party votes being admitted to, they might decide that third party voting registers a visible protest against the One Percenter frontparties.

        Another protest-vote might be to leave a targetted line or office-choice blank. If such ballots are not Diebolded or slandered as “spoiled” and discounted, targeted blank votes may also add up. That too could spark a movement of visibly expressed discontent. I’m surprised no one has tried to organize a “vote for nobody for President” campaign, for example. “Had enough? Call 1-800-IVO-TENO.”

        Then too, adult engagement might require modification of personal purchasing/nonpurchasing consumption/conservation behavior in one’s own life on all the days beTWEEN elections. Perhaps people ought to think about what a Leaderless Mass Economic Rebellion might look like and what an individual’s role in such an LMER (pronounced “elmer”) might be.

  10. Glen

    Here’s to hoping Republican voters keep revolting from the Republican elites and Paul wins in Iowa.

  11. Jib

    I dont know. Santorum was the last of the social conservatives to get his time in the sun. They have tried everyone else, did anyone think Santorum would not get his turn as Romney slayer? The interesting thing is why it took so long.Why did Cain got his turn before Santorum? You know that had to be killing Santorum.

    There is one poll that matters, the caucuses tomorrow. Caucus structure allows for second choices. There will be a social conservative that will emerge out of this to challenge Romney. Bachman, Cain, Gingrich, Perry, Santorum, does it really matter? So what if a late poll vaults Santorum into 3rd. One of them was going to be 3rd and none of them seems to be able to take a lead and hold it. Nonestly, any of them will do.

    Reporters need a narrative to tell a story. They cant spend the endless hours of analysis on TV or feet of columns in print or online saying ‘we dont know why this is happening’. Right or wrong, they have to give a reason or there is no story. When things are this volatile, anything can be credited as the explanation for why something occurs.

    Hows the weather in Iowa? Watch, I bet tomorrow night on TV the weather will get credit from some for who finishes 3rd. Good or bad, it wont matter. It is an old standby, dont know, blame the weather.

  12. Foppe

    In an attempt to combat the suggestion that this kind of political discussion is “deep”, allow me to paste a bit of text that isn’t directly relevant, but which I read last night and found interesting.
    David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology

    An hypothesis.
    Majoritarian democracy was, in its origins, essentially a military institution.
    Of course it’s the peculiar bias of Western historiography that this is the only sort of democracy that is seen to count as “democracy” at all. We are usually told that democracy originated in ancient Athens—like science, or philosophy, it was a Greek invention. It’s never entirely clear what this is supposed to mean. Are we supposed to believe that before the Athenians, it never really occurred to anyone, anywhere, to gather all the members of their community in order to make joint decisions in a way that gave everyone equal say? That would be ridiculous. Clearly there have been plenty of egalitarian societies in history—many far more egalitarian than Athens, many that must have existed before 500 BCE—and obviously, they must have had some kind of procedure for coming to decisions for matters of collective importance. Yet somehow, it is always assumed that these procedures, whatever they might have been, could not have been, properly speaking, “democratic.”
    Even scholars with otherwise impeccable radical credentials, promoters of direct democracy, have been known to bend themselves into pretzels trying to justify this attitude. Non-Western egalitarian communities are “kin-based,” argues Murray Bookchin. (And Greece was not? Of course the Athenian agora was not itself kin-based but neither is a Malagasy fokon’olona or Balinese seka. So what?) “Some might speak of Iroquois or Berber democracy,” argued Cornelius Castoriadis, “but this is an abuse of the term. These are primitive societies which assume the social order is handed to them by gods or spirits, not self-constituted by the people themselves as in Athens.” (Really? In fact the “League of the Iroquois” was a treaty organization, seen as a common agreement created in historical times, and subject to constant renegotiation.) The arguments never make sense. But they don’t really have to because we are not really dealing with arguments at all here, so much as with the brush of a hand.
    The real reason for the unwillingness of most scholars to see a Sulawezi or Tallensi village council as “democratic”—well, aside from simple racism, the reluctance to admit anyone Westerners slaughtered with such relative impunity were quite on the level as Pericles—is that they do not vote. Now, admittedly, this is an interesting fact. Why not? If we accept the idea that a show of hands, or having everyone who supports a proposition stand on one side of the plaza and everyone against stand on the other, are not really such incredibly sophisticated ideas that they never would have occurred to anyone until some ancient genius “invented” them, then why are they so rarely employed? Again, we seem to have an example of explicit rejection. Over and over, across the world, from Australia to Siberia, egalitarian communities have preferred some variation on consensus process. Why?
    The explanation I would propose is this: it is much easier, in a face-to-face community, to figure out what most members of that community want to do, than to figure out how to convince those who do not to go along with it. Consensus decision-making is typical of societies where there would be no way to compel a minority to agree with a majority decision— either because there is no state with a monopoly of coercive force, or because the state has nothing to do with local decision-making. If there is no way to compel those who find a majority decision distasteful to go along with it, then the last thing one would want to do is to hold a vote: a public contest which someone will be seen to lose. Voting would be the most likely means to guarantee humiliations, resentments, hatreds, in the end, the destruction of communities. What is seen as an elaborate and difficult process of finding consensus is, in fact, a long process of making sure no one walks away feeling that their views have been totally ignored.
    Majority democracy, we might say, can only emerge when two factors coincide:
    1. a feeling that people should have equal say in making group decisions, and
    2. a coercive apparatus capable of enforcing those decisions.
    For most of human history, it has been extremely unusual to have both at the same time. Where egalitarian societies exist, it is also usually considered wrong to impose systematic coercion. Where a machinery of coercion did exist, it did not even occur to those wielding it that they were enforcing any sort of popular will.
    … All this is not to say that direct democracies—as practiced, for example, in medieval cities or New England town meetings—were not normally orderly and dignified procedures; though one suspects that here too, in actual practice, there was a certain baseline of consensus-seeking going on. Still, it was this military undertone which allowed the authors of the Federalist Papers, like almost all other literate men of their day, to take it for granted that what they called “democracy”—by which they meant, direct democracy—was in its nature the most unstable, tumultuous form of government, not to mention one which endangers the rights of minorities (the specific minority they had in mind in this case being the rich). It was only once the term “democracy” could be almost completely transformed to incorporate the principle of representation—a term which itself has a very curious history, since as Cornelius Castoriadis notes, it originally referred to representatives of the people before the king, internal ambassadors in fact, rather than those who wielded power in any sense themselves—that it was rehabilitated, in the eyes of well-born political theorists, and took on the meaning it has today.

    1. Paul Tioxon

      All discussions of power are relevant. Especially here, on NC, where the interesting never sleeps. Supposedly one man one vote schemes of deciding vs consensus are not as problematic as you think, considering the fragments that
      Graeber offers up. The cartels of Third Reich used democracy, majority rules decision making, but just a majority of a different class. The leadership principle ruled the political state, but not economic production. The larger the production or sales quotas, the larger the voting power. This regulated the issues of pricing, labor, expansion, investment etc. Also, studies of power show a different unit of analysis than that of society. The assumption of a unitary society or social system can be dispensed with altogether using Mann’s Network Theory of Power. For example, in WHO RULES AMERICA, William Domhoff uses this theory to enlightening purposes.

      “The theoretical starting point for power structure research is a seemingly mundane one, but that’s what makes it very useful: power is rooted in organizations. From that humble beginning we can soon reach classes, states, the military and the ideological organizations that provide the basis for the collective search for meaning and forgiveness (organized religions).

      Organizations at their most basic are simply sets of rules, roles, and routines developed to accomplish some particular purpose. They are ways of doing something together that people agree on, or at least accept for the time being. Religious rituals, for example, are routines that become the basis for the institutions called churches. The established routines for face-to-face economic exchanges become one basis for the more complex economic system of markets.

      This too sounds very banal. But organizations can quickly become hierarchical and/or fierce when they begin to grow larger or face an outside threat. People will fight to hold on to their organizations. They like their roles and routines, which often become rituals.

      Since human beings have a vast array of “purposes,” they have formed an appropriately large number of organizations. But only a few of these purposes and organizations weigh heavily in terms of generating power.

      According to sociologist Michael Mann’s theory — in my opinion, the theory that best suits power structure research — the power structures within Western civilization, and probably other civilizations, too, are best understood by determining the intertwinings and relative importance at any given time of the organizations based in four “overlapping and intersecting sociospatial networks of power” (Mann, 1986, p. 1). These networks are ideological, economic, military, and political — “The IEMP model” for short.

      It is important to stress right away that the theory is not derived from any psychological assumptions about the importance of different human purposes. Instead, the point is strictly sociological: these four networks happen to be the most useful organizational bases for generating power. In Mann’s (1986, p. 2) words, “Their primacy comes not from the strength of human desires for ideological, economic, military, or political satisfaction but from the particular organizational means each possesses to attain human goals, whatever they may be.”

      In focusing on these four networks, Mann’s concern is therefore with the “logistics” of power (1986, pp. 9-10, 518). In terms of human history, no one network comes first or is somehow more “basic” than the others. That is, each one always has presupposed the existence of the others. However, that does not mean that the networks are usually equal in their importance. Generally speaking, one or two networks usually are more dominant than the others. For example, as I explain later in this document and elsewhere on this website, the economic network is predominant over the others in the United States, leading to class domination.

      Furthermore, one kind of organizational power can be turned into any one of the others. Economic power can be turned into political power. Religious power can generate military power. Military power can conquer political power. And so on. In that sense, power is like the idea of “energy” in the natural sciences: it cannot be reduced to one primary form. Thus, there can be no “ultimate primacy” in the “mode of production” or “the normative system” or “the state,” as in rival theories. Mann’s summary statement on his overall framework is as follows:

      A general account of societies, their structure, and their history can best be given in terms of the interrelations of what I call the four sources of social power: ideological, economic, military, and political (IEMP) relationships. These are (1) overlapping networks of social interaction, not dimensions, levels, or factors of a single social totality. This follows from my first statement. (2) They are also organizations, institutional means of attaining human goals. (Mann, 1986, p. 2.)

      The four networks vary in size and reach at different times in history. For example, military power had a greater range throughout most of history than either political or economic power, but economic networks became even more extensive in recent centuries. Since the four networks are not encompassed within a larger social framework or any one physical territory, there is no need for concepts such as a “bounded society” or a “social system.” Since there is no “totality,” there can be no “subsystems,” “levels,” or “dimensions.” Instead, social organization must be understood in terms of the four overlapping networks of power that run off in different directions and have varying extensions in physical space.

      Since the emphasis is on people acting through social networks, the distinction between “social action” and “social structure,” is cast aside. There no longer needs to be a periodic revival of the “agency vs. structure” debate. Because the four networks have different and constantly changing boundaries that vary with the invention of new technologies and the emergence of new organizational forms, the old division between “endogenous” and “exogenous” factors in the understanding of social conflict is discarded as “not helpful” (Mann, 1986, p. 1).

      Mann underscores his general point about the interacting and intersecting nature of the four power networks by noting “the promiscuity of organizations and functions” (1986, p. 17). That is, the four networks can fuse and borrow from each other in complex ways. There are always power structures, but they vary from time to time and place to place in how the four power networks are interrelated. For example, medieval European states were “overwhelmingly, narrowly political” (Mann, 1986, p. 17) and they were autonomous, but states in modern capitalist societies are both political and economic, and they usually are not autonomous (Mann, 1993).

      Mann defines the ideology network in terms of those organizations concerned with meaning, norms, and ritual practice (1986, p. 22). It generates “sacred” authority and intensifies social cohesion. Its usual manifestations are in organized religion, and its most prominent historical power actor was the Catholic Church. In all cases, it gains loyalty and financial support by providing answers to universal concerns about the origins of humanity, death, the purpose of life, the reasons for guilt feelings, and other existential questions.

      The economic network is that set of institutions concerned with satisfying material needs through the “extraction, transformation, distribution and consumption of the objects of nature” (Mann, 1986, p. 24). The economic network gives rise to classes, which can be defined as positions in a social structure that are shaped by their power over the different parts of the economic process. The most powerful economic class is called a “ruling” or “dominant” class if it “has successfully monopolized other power sources to dominate a state-centered society at large” (Mann, 1986, p. 25). Geographically extensive classes arose only slowly in Western history, because they were dependent upon advances in infrastructure made possible by developments in the other power networks. For the first 2500 years of Western civilization, economic networks were extremely localized, especially in comparison to political and military networks.

      Because economic classes are also social relationships between groups of people who often have different interests, the economic network can generate class conflicts, which are disagreements over such matters as ownership, profit margins, wage rates, working conditions, and unionization. Class conflicts can manifest themselves in ways that range from workplace protests and strikes to industry-wide boycotts and collective bargaining to nationwide political actions.

      However, class conflict is not inevitably present because both owners and workers, the most likely rival classes in recent times, have to have the means to organize themselves over an extended area of social space for conflict to occur. For much of Western history, there have been well-organized dominant classes, but class conflict has been important only in certain periods of Western history, such as ancient Greece, early Rome, and the present capitalist era. That’s because non-owning classes usually find it very difficult to organize themselves.

      The military network is defined in terms of organized physical violence. It is the power of direct and immediate coercion. As already noted, military power had a greater range throughout most of history than either political or economic power. Even so, we often forget that until very recently an army could only carry enough food for a 50-60 mile march, which forced it to rely on the local countryside in extensive military campaigns.

      Historically, many armies fought for the benefit of their own leaders, who created “empires of domination” by taking over newly arisen civilizations based on the economic, ideological, and political networks. In more recent centuries military networks usually are in the service of a political network, but they still can be separate from it, as seen with guerrilla armies based in subjugated ethnic groups and terrorist organizations based in ideological networks.


      That excerpt is Domhoff summing up power. Or you can read from the Vol 1 of Mann: THE SOURCES OF SOCIAL POWER, A HISTORY OF POWER FROM THE BEGINNING TO 1760A.D.


      1. Foppe

        Supposedly one man one vote schemes of deciding vs consensus are not as problematic as you think, considering the fragments that Graeber offers up.

        Right. Could you please explain the thinking behind this assertion? Because I don’t really see how it follows from what you write after.

        The cartels of Third Reich used democracy, majority rules decision making, but just a majority of a different class. The leadership principle ruled the political state, but not economic production. The larger the production or sales quotas, the larger the voting power.

        Sorry, but this makes no sense to me at all. Are you saying that you find a fascist state just as democratic as any other? That political voting is irrelevant so long as the politicians “stay out of” the market? How do you rhyme this with modern experience?

  13. Skippy

    Electronic voting machines and regional shenanigans make much of above moot… eh.

    Skippy…Christians ran off the Mormons, whom then became Bankers (the MOB in Vegas says thanks!), next stop President of the USA? Is/has voting become an exorcize (snicker) in choosing ones own jailer?

  14. brian

    for all his faults newt said it best
    romney is a new england moderate in a conservative party

    from wonkette

    Iowa GOP caucus-goers may already know tragic loser Rick Santorum as a viciously anti-gay, anti-lady-rights sad sack of defective dildos, but do they know where he stands on that third portion that makes up the all-important trifecta of Republican qualifications for presidential nominee, racism? Do not WORRY, bitter white idiots (but still FEAR, always fear), our frothy fiend has sensed your concern and has this to say about welfare in response: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money.” Good to know! More money for all the poor white people who make up the majority of welfare recipients then, we guess? READ MORE »

  15. LucyLulu

    Lambert wrote: >>Readers, do you have other examples, from elections or other polling, that support the very plausible thesis of this post?

    Isn’t this why they never report the results on election night until after the last poll has closed?

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