Friday, June 17, 2022

Daniel Laurison's "Producing Politics"

Daniel Laurison is an associate professor of sociology at Swarthmore College and the associate editor of the British Journal of Sociology. He researches and writes on social class and political inequalities. His previous book was The Class Ceiling: Why It Pays to Be Privileged (coauthored with Sam Friedman).

Laurison applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Producing Politics: Inside the Exclusive Campaign World Where the Privileged Few Shape Politics for All of Us, and reported the following:
Page 99 in its entirety (from Chapter 4: The Room Where it Happens):
and subjective measures of merit are almost guaranteed to benefit people whose race, gender, class origin, education, and other characteristics resemble other staffers already in place. This is homophily in action.

One reason this is a problem is fairness and equity—ideally, anyone who wants to work in politics and is willing and able to do the work ought to have an equal shot at a career. Ideally, there would be clear paths to entry and criteria for good work (and reasonable working hours, while we’re at it) so that people from all walks of life might be able to make their living in politics if they’re moved to do so. That ideal applies equally to any field, really.

But politics is special, because politics by its nature affects all of our lives. It makes a difference to all of us what campaigns do, insofar as what they do matters for who participates and how, and how people see and understand politics and politicians and government. If campaigns are making ads that speak primarily to people like their staff, or even actively generate hostility against people unlike them, that affects us all. If campaign staff advise candidates that certain policies will never fly, or that they should tone down their feminism or play up their machismo, that constitutes a large part of American political cultural content. If campaign teams believe that the White working class loves racism and hates redistribution (they actually, on the whole, like both), or that nonvoters will never vote (when they can in fact be effectively mobilized), then they will craft campaigns based on those beliefs. (fn 11) When the people running campaigns are so different from the rest of us, chances are that many people will continue to see politics as something for “other people.”
The Page 99 Test worked a lot better than I thought it would. This page gives you a pretty good idea about many (of course not all) of the main themes in the book, and I wouldn’t be sad if someone used this page to decide whether to read the whole book.

Basically all of what’s on page 99 is part of one of the central things I want to get across in Producing Politics. The last paragraph makes the case that campaigns and what happens in them are important, and not only because campaigns culminate in elections that determine who holds political power; they’re also important because they deliver information about what politics, and who it’s for, and what it can do. And for the big swathe of potential voters who don’t pay much attention to politics or news, the messages created by campaigns, the contact they get or don’t get from parties, they may not be getting connected to politics any other way.

That paragraph also alludes to the fact that a lot of the decisions campaign professionals make are not (and in many cases can’t be) driven by research.

The middle paragraph alludes to another key point - that the way political work is set up makes it very difficult for people who aren’t white men from fairly well-off backgrounds to break in, and even more difficult for anyone who wants to have some semblance of balance or a family life to stay in politics. And the fragment at the top is a nice illustration of how work in sociology (along with political science) informs the book overall.

Another key point the book makes that’s not really present on page 99, though, is that campaign professionals too often view voters as simply data points in a war they’re fighting against the other side, rather than people who might be recruited into their efforts. That way of doing politics–combined with a lot of campaigning based on conventional wisdom and group-think–is bad for our democracy and part of, as one of my interviewees put it, “why people really hate politics.”
Visit Daniel Laurison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue