People have strong preferences to pick leaders similar to them instead of on merit.

But why?

Why does race and religion matter in politics? Why in most other things we care about what's best. Yet in politics, we seem not only care about the quality of the offer, but normally irrelevant things, such as the race of the producer.

People call it identity politics. People pick those similar to them instead of what max out their interests.

  • 3
    I have cut a lot out of this question in an attempt to make it less of a rant. I think there is an interesting question here, but it was not asked in a way that will attract high quality answers.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 17:50
  • Perhaps this would be a better question for a psychology site. Though we have evidence from recent US elections that it's hardly a universal tendency.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 18:42
  • It is or it isn't? Race and religions play a major role in last Jakarta election
    – user6063
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 18:59

2 Answers 2


Political leaders are representatives. They are not just administrators creating a "product". Part of their role is to express their voter's opinions in government.

Because of this people want a person who shares their opinions on a range of matters. They want a person who thinks and feels the same as they do. It is unsurprising that a white businessman in America would think that another white businessman would share his thoughts and opinions. Similarly, a black christian teacher may feel that another black christian teacher would be a better representative, as they would share the experience of racial discrimination, have a similar set of moral viewpoints and a similar opinion on the role of education in society.

In Indonesia, it would be unsurprising if a Muslim felt that another Muslim would represent them better. It would be unsurprising if that voter considered religion as an important factor.

Other factors correlate with religion. For example abortion policy is an important issue in American politics. There is a correlation between some forms of Christianity and particular opinions on abortion. If you choose a representative based in part on their position on abortion, you will implicitly be choosing based on religion.

Essentially, choosing a representative is not like choosing a phone. Its not even like hiring an employee. Who is "best" is not an objective fact.

  • It's a very good answer. The thing is, say one guys is very corrupt but share the same religion. Say another is very efficient. It can build far more infrastructure with less budget. Most of the population of course want efficient governments. And yet they sill choose those similar to them. However, I think it should be a different questions.
    – user6063
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 18:13
  • Okay so it's okay to be racist in voting? That's how it works I guess.
    – user6063
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 18:25
  • 5
    If by "Okay" you mean I don't have the right to tell you how you decide to vote... then yes.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 18:28
  • 2
    "Okay so it's okay to be racist in voting?" Many things are "legal" without being morally correct. It is legal to be racist in voting.
    – Thern
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 8:07
  • I understand. Good answer.
    – user6063
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 11:22

Apart from the nice answer of James K, there is another, more subconcious factor: Similarity is seen - and felt - as sympathetic. It is known from behavioral studies (I will add a link later on if I have time) that white people find random white faces more sympathetic than black faces, and vice versa.

Note that it is not well known why this is the case. It may be genetic, but it may as well be a result of society and its often inherent racism. With religion, it is most probably a result of society, as long as people from different religion do not also look different.

However, since votings are often decided on an emotional rather than a rational basis, feelings of sympathy matter very strongly.

And yes, you may correctly say that this is stupid, and that people should reflect more about their voting reasons. But there remains a certain share of people who does not reflect about them.

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