Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Confused / Confusing

Kevin Drum reads the poll results and frets at the asymmetries between the two major parties in electoral politics:
About 40% of the electorate self-identifies as conservative and getting their votes is critical for any conservative politician. If you piss off a few moderates in the process, that's life. After all, if you win the conservative base convincingly, then on average you only need to hold on to the most conservative 10% of moderates to win an election.

But only 20% of the electorate self-IDs as liberal. So the math is exactly the opposite: you need to win nearly all the moderates in order to win an election. If you piss off centrists by playing too hard to the base, you'll lose.

This is a bummer, but it's reality, and lefties really need to suck it up and get less annoyed by the fact that politicians react to the world as it is, not as we wish it were. [emphasis mine]
It's funny he should put it that way -- "react to the world as it is, not as we wish it were" -- because the truth is almost exactly the reverse. The poll reveals that people who self-label as "conservative" outnumber people who self-label as "liberal," but this is nothing more than the outcome of rhetoric going back at least to the 1960s and escalating during the Reagan years under which "liberal" became a term of abuse. This rhetoric has succeeded through sheer repetition and in no small part because of a genuine asymmetry in wealth and resources powering the rhetoric.

The proof that this is nothing more than rhetoric comes, curiously enough, from other instances in which Kevin Drum frets over poll results. His summary:
[P]eople hate Democrats but hate Republicans even more; they're unsure if Obama has a clear plan for solving the nation's problems but they're absolutely sure Republicans don't; they think Democrats have better ideas than Republicans; they think Democrats are more likely than Republicans to help the middle class and small businesses; they blame George Bush and Wall Street for the crappy economy; they think the stimulus package probably improved the economy; they support Obama's plan to allow Bush's tax cuts for the rich to expire; they think Obama is doing more to improve the economy than congressional Republicans; and they hate Sarah Palin and are less likely to vote for anyone she supports. Oh, and they're going to kick Democrats out of office this November anyway.
So even if you don't accept the familiar elisions I've thrown in here (i.e., liberal equals Democrats and Obama, conservative equals Republicans and Congressional Republicans), which I admit are problematic in many ways, there is clearly a sort of cognitive dissonance operating at a mass scale.

The disconnect happens between the general and the particular, or, if you like, repetitive blabber and factual reality. You can practically hear the ceaseless chatter from Talk Radio and FoxNews lurking behind this result:

In fact, President Obama reduced taxes for 95% of Americans, but this fact can't compete with constant mewling amplified by gold-plated megaphones.

Discussing still more poll results, Kevin Drum pulls up another instance in which the generalities and the specifics part ways:
So: 49% of Americans disapprove of healthcare reform. That's not good. But wait! Only 40% actually want it repealed. The rest figure it should be given a chance even if they don't like it much. That's better. And if you tell them that repeal would also mean repealing the preexisting condition provision, only 19% want it repealed. That's better still. Now, none of this changes the broad political fact that "healthcare reform" as a standalone campaign pitch seems to be a loser. That's not what I expected this far after the bill was signed, but other polls confirm it. However, it's also the case that what the bill actually does seems to remain pretty popular. This poll only asks about one particular provision, but previous polls have gotten similar results for most (though not all) of the bill's other provisions.
There are details and slogans, self-labels and principles, rhetorics and realities. Americans have the right to vote whether or not they can tell these apart.

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