Political Candidates Are Extreme Because Campaigns Are So Damn Long

A mathematical model proves long campaigns make people care less about the issues.


Thursday’s GOP debate derailed in a wholly predictable way. There were cringe-worthy yoga jokes, insults about giving personal insults, and frequent use of the monikers “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted.” But what captured the brittle heart of America was the moment when GOP frontrunner Donald Trump let the country know that, despite what Marc Rubio says about his tiny hotdog hands, his schlong is plenty large.

This up-chuck moment happened after a very earnest demand, embedded along his tiny-hand insult, from Rubio that the candidates walk away from personal attacks and focus on having a policy debate. But according to new research published Thursday, Rubio shouldn’t expect that to happen any time soon. Research demonstrates that the rise of extremist politicians is directly correlated to our marathon election cycles. The longer the campaign, the more voters care about the personality of the candidate and the less they care about the actual issues.

Researchers from the University of Miami and Queen’s University tested this theory by developing a mathematical model that incorporated candidates, their policy preferences ahead of the campaign, and their overall personal characteristics. They inserted these factors into “strategic situations” that could be solved in a mathematical way, utilizing the tools of game theory. The researchers were able to predict how levels of extremism change with the length of political campaigns through the equations that the mathematical model generated.

“Our research shows real impact associated with longer, more informative campaigns, and perhaps a reason why we are seeing candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders doing so well within their parties this late in the game,” said co-author Raphael Boleslavsky in a press release. “Candidates base their platforms on how to capture the majority of voters relative to their opponent so our research suggests that extremism is likely something we will see more as campaign cycles continue to get longer and longer.”

Essentially, the fatigue of a long campaign season is enough to make voters check out and forget the issues. When everyone rolls up to vote come November, they’ll be thinking about whether or not they see the candidate as the sort of person they would want to hang out with, not their plans for federal reproductive rights initiatives. This whole process is steamrolled by each candidate’s desire to become the biggest, most unforgettable person.

The American campaign system isn’t going to change anytime soon, but this research is a reminder that if you don’t stay woke, you’ll fall into scientifically proven patterns. The polite candidate may have the high road, but the ruthless one gets the votes.