1. Ian Leslie, today, on Obama's speech:
even though the policies he laid out are, on their own terms, popular, the signal they send about his position is that he's a traditional tax and spend Democrat. During the British 2005 general election the Tories took a hardline on immigration because polls told them it was a popular position. But the signal it sent was 'same old Tories'.
2. Erica Greider (at the Economist's American politics blog) on the popularity of "compromise":
What I find striking is the staggeringly high number of people who say they want politicians to compromise: fully 85% of respondents (even though the alternative to compromise, as the poll frames it, is "not getting as much done" rather than "falling into gridlock, dissolution, and despair"). [...] In practice, politicians do tend to defer to the voters on such questions [...] but you rarely hear them put it that way. Is that because they're worried that they'll look weak?
3. Yglesias on the weird behavior of German voters:
The mainstream center-left political parties in Germany, the Greens and the Social Democrats, are substantially more Europhilic than the governing Christian Democrat/Free Democrat coalition. [...] Given that these measure are deeply unpopular with the German electorate, you might expect the Greens and the SPD do be suffering at the polls. In fact, the reverse is happening [...] I was inclined to do an “everybody’s wrong and actually Germans love fiscal union” post based on these election results, but I looked up the poll data and it’s just not there. Germans prefer Merkel’s (wrong) view to the opposition’s (correct) one.
Her problem is roughly the problem President Obama is facing. The vast majority of people just vote for the same party every year. “The voters” don’t care about the economy, they’re mostly committed Republicans or committed Democrats. But elections are swung by the relatively small minority of people who don’t have firm partisan allegiances and they vote—whether in Germany or in the United States—largely on the basis of whether or not the incumbent is producing good results.
4. John Holbo on Rick Perry (qua Republican) not meaning what he says:
5. Grobstein, passing along an article about Michele Bachmann and vaccinations, remarks:
The deeper question, I think, is why it appeals so much to so many Americans that conservatives constantly say things that they don’t really mean. Let’s go back to that oft-quoted line from Free and Cantril (The Political Beliefs of Americans: A Study of Public Opinion). Americans are “philosophical conservatives but operational liberals”. [...] what Free and Cantril found is that when Americans say Big Things about American politics, whose consequences they aren’t really prepared to affirm, in practice, they say conservative things. Whereas when you find out what they really want, in practice, they are liberals. [...]
This creates a problem for liberals: they get branded as utopian even when they are not utopian in the least. (Which they never are, in practice.) They can’t use any utopian rhetoric or systematically exaggerate what they intend to do or any of that stuff. If they do, they suffer for it. Intellectually, this is mostly a good thing. But it makes you think small, policy-wise. Because any bold thing you propose, even if it isn’t utopian, will be denounced as utopian. And electorally it’s a source of endless frustration. But the real source of this frustration is not conservative politicians but, per the title of Free and Cantril’s book: the political beliefs of Americans. Or rather, their political beliefs plus their political non-beliefs.
Perhaps this kind of epistemic warfare shows up on the right wing especially because it is a money-cheap response to areas where the left wing has a money-expensive strategy. It's a natural division of territory in the space of politics. Or do you think it's just an anti-sex signal?As in any such discussion one should also link to Chris Hayes's old piece of reporting on swing voters, which suggests (consistently with other data, as far as I know) that true swing voters skew low-information and unreflective-about-politics, so have a somewhat exaggerated version of these common dissonances -- in what follows I shall use "people" to mean something like "swing voters." Perhaps what is interesting about all this, though, is the conundrum it poses for people who see democracy as a means for some sort of aggregative preference utilitarianism. (I'm unsympathetic to this view but I don't want to propagandize here.) The general problem is that people like politicians for appearing to be above [some subset of] common desires, but also happen to have these desires and to want them gratified. So clearly these sets of preferences have to be weighed against each other. I can think of two limiting readings:
- People elect politicians who want what the people want to want, so we should let them have said politicians even if they don't want what the people want, for the same reasons as we are happy selling people salad greens. I.e., the system works, and representative democracy leads to better outcomes than direct democracy. (This is not far from Leslie's reading.)
- Most political discourse consists of shibboleths in the Biblical sense; people do not want, or want to want, or want politicians to want, what politicians are universally expected to vaunt to want. Political discourse is a complicated charade (or perhaps a collection of shibboleths in the Biblical sense). People want what they want; they don't trust politicians to want what they vaunt; therefore they use shibboleths to confirm that the politicians aren't just pandering. The system is inefficient as drowns finer distinctions, erects artificial barriers to entry, and also provides cover to extremist politicians who hold the symbolic positions literally; one should cut the Gordian knot and restore power to the people (e.g., via ballot initiatives).