Political lies could function similarly to the gang tattoos. By going on record as saying that we should seriously consider the possibility that climate change might not be real, you exposure yourself to a lifetime of ridicule. But that very exposure might prove that you’re the real thing, hardcore, really on the team, to a partisan audience who might otherwise be inclined to question your conservative bona fides. After all, if you were really a cuckservative or RINO, would you really have been willing to risk your reputation in the media world or in East Coast intellectual circles just to spread some FUD about climate change?

Now, this implies a conscious decision to lie. In a lot of cases, that’s probably not what’s going on; instead of deliberately uttering falsehoods, most people probably just say things they wouldn’t be willing to bet on. For example, it’s a well-known fact that when you ask Democrats and Republicans how the economy is doing, you get vastly different answers based on whose party is in power; Democrats tend to say the economy is doing great when a Democrat is in the White House, and poorly when a Republican is in power, while Republicans say the exact opposite, regardless of real economic data. These survey responses probably aren’t outright lies, since they’re given in private. But when you pay people to get the answers right, the partisan gaps diminish substantially. In other words, on some level, people don’t believe in the partisan beliefs they express — at least, not in the sense that economists define “belief”. Signaling could therefore be operating at a subconscious level — something people learn to do in order to secure membership in political tribes, but which doesn’t feel like lying when they do it.