As it turned out, virtually all of the polling in recent weeks had been wrong. In the end, the vote wasn’t very close: it was a clear and decisive No. Whatever poll respondents had said – or been afraid to say – about their intentions because they felt coerced or intimidated by the aggressive tactics of the other camp, when it came to it, they were free to do as they pleased.
This is a salutary lesson in the limits of militant political activism: you can bully people in the street, shout them down at public meetings and dissuade them forcibly from displaying posters or banners you don’t like. You can, with the help of your friends and comrades, create what seems to you, inside the bubble of mutual congratulation, to be an unstoppable momentum.
But making people afraid to voice contrary opinions just reinforces the delusion into which political tribes so easily fall when they are waging war. And, even more dangerously, it leaves them utterly out of touch with the slow-burning resentment they are creating in the opponents they are so determined to crush. The inviolable privacy of the polling booth puts paid to all that: the ordinary citizen, who may well have had his anger and resolve strengthened under fire, gets his revenge.
One sees this dynamic in other political campaigns as well. A good example is the US gun-prohibition movement. Here’s a quote from Dan Baum, a self-described political liberal and gun enthusiast:
I personally have met very few gun owners who oppose background checks. But very few of them, even the ones that don’t want an AR-15 with a 30-round magazine, believe that limiting the amount of rounds in a magazine is going to contribute materially to public safety. What worries them is being told you are not to be trusted with these things, and that is really offensive because gun owners derive a tremendous amount of pride from being able to live alongside very dangerous things, use them effectively, and not hurt anyone. When a politician or a pundit who obviously has very little experience or no experience with guns, like Charles Schumer or Dianne Feinstein, says to your ordinary gun owner, “You cant be trusted with more than 10-round magazine,” it really strikes the wrong chord.
It’s difficult to convince people to trust you by insulting them and making clear that you do not trust them. It’s even more difficult if you use these tactics more than once. Most people eventually catch on. Many activists, especially those on the Left, don’t seem to understand this political dynamic. Perhaps that’s because they are accustomed to winning political disputes by means other than logical persuasion and evidence.
(Thanks to Jim Bennett for the Janet Daley link, and to Isegoria for the link to the Baum interview.)