Lawmakers (and Media) Assume Voters More Way Conservative Than They Are

Along with the recent studies on the Fox Effect and how Fox News has skewed political opinion to the right, we have more evidence that lawmakers overestimate their constituents conservatism by as much as 20 points!

On three issues — universal healthcare, same-sex marriage, and welfare — lawmakers’ assumptions about what their constituents believed were “15-20 percent more conservative, on average,” than the actual base of public support for such issues.

Those aren’t the only issues by a long shot:

The vast majority of Americans of all stripes oppose any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or other social safety net programs. The GOP keeps on proposing cutting, changing or privatizing these programs.

Raising the minimum wage garners wide popular support wherever it appears on the ballot or in polls.

72% of voters (NYTimes/CBS poll spring 2009) supported a medicare for all option or the so-called “public option” in the Obamacare debate, and yet it was considered so politically poisonous that Obama unilaterally took it off the table.

Americans were way ahead of the politicians in turning against the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and for that matter, the drug wars. But the two wars in the middle east were accelerated for political purposes before they could be “ended” and the drug wars go through predictable expansions and contractions even though most people would just be happy to have it over with.

Prison reform, drug law reform and decriminalization of marijuana are all, again, ideas that the public embraces in polls, but politicians, with few exceptions, tip toe around them.

Abortion is extremely accepted in this country as something that should be “legal, safe and rare” with very few actual restrictions on a woman’s ability to access it. And yet lawmakers keep pushing legal restrictions and tricks to appeal to the minority.

Many very reasonable and rational gun/ammunition control laws famously enjoy overwhelmingly large majorities of public opinion but cannot be enacted because of the opposition of the NRA. The will of the public has been thwarted by a lobbying organization with under 10 million members and a shrinking power base.

Politicians and the media act like these and other issues are “progressive”, “liberal”, “far left” issues and immediately discount the majority opinion. Why?

As the beginnings of an answer, the co-authors note that many scholars have found “politicians feel much more accountable to the wealthy, party leaders, or interest groups than to rank and file voters’ preferences,” and that “politically active citizens tend to be wealthier and more conservative than others.”

That does answer some of it, especially on the economic issues of inequality, low wages, anti-union activism, outsourcing, taxation, etc. i.e., the issues that the wealthy care about most. The selfish wealthy care more about inflation than unemployment because the former directly effects their bottom line. In the age of Citizen’s United, this has been exacerbated, but doesn’t account for every skewing of the political spectrum.

Going back to the Fox Effect, we can also cite the squeaky wheel or “the loudest, angriest voice” doctrine as a factor. Like the difference between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, conservative influence groups are much better funded and organized, much more open and vocal about their wants and needs and very simply have no shame about screaming in the public square, even when they don’t know what they’re talking about. The media and politicians feel they have to respond. In the ’60s the left demanded a voice and changed things. Ever since, conservatives have pro-actively sought to have the ear of the media and lawmakers on issues at a grassroots level.

Media and politicians today have internalized 35 years of liberal bashing on right wing talk radio that metastasized into GOP acceptance of demonization of their opponents as not just people with bad ideas, but bad people. Consider how accepted it is to believe that social safety net programs have failed to have an impact on poverty in the U.S. Or how government itself is reviled as a failed institution that not only can’t solve problems, it IS the problem. The people that defend government and its “failed” policies are fuzzy headed liberals who blame America first, coddle criminals, pander to the poor for their votes and ultimately hate America and freedom. All are disrespectful, immoral, anti-business, anti-constitution and probably in line with the socialist forces of Big Government, Big Union, Big Environmental, Big Poor, etc.

These were once fringe ultra-right-wing ideas promulgated entirely by out there organizations like the John Birch Society. By the mid-80s they became accepted policy points in the GOP, not just the ideas but the characterizations of the other side. Since then the ideas and the characterizations were inserted into the wider debate which cowed liberal voices into being that much quieter.

It’s no accident that a moderate Democratic president like Bill Clinton, who governed as if he’d bought into the entire Reagan menu of conservatism was nevertheless attacked and savaged as if he held the beliefs of Bernie Sanders.

Barack Obama too has governed very moderately, constantly compromising with himself and bending towards conservatives despite the hopes and dreams of his supporters. Kick a hippie (a/k/a the “professional left”) was the policy of the administration in the first term. Moves back towards the middle since Nov. 2012, like immigration reform and acceptance of gay marriage have been approached as surprising successes. Hm, really? The country hasn’t collapsed because a popularly accepted political position was actually embraced by the president? Whoda thunk it?

During the Bush administration we reached a point where news coverage had become a constant episode of Crossfire in which everybody searched for the middle between a lie and the truth, as if that’s a legitimate debate. Media, for fear of being e-mailed to death by the right, treats every issue as if it’s a controversy even when it’s not, thusly no, 92% of the public can’t get limits on the size of magazines for semi-automatic weapons of war, 97% of climate scientists might just be on the payroll of Big Environment so we can’t address climate change. Funny how when 40% of people want something viewed as conservative it’s mainstream (abortion restrictions, balanced budget amendments) but when 60-90% of people want something viewed as liberal, it’s fringy.

The fact is, liberal ideas about government, taxation, fairness, education, crime, race, healthcare etc. are the mainstream. Our media has enabled certain politicians to argue against reality and win.

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