Massive Voter Disconnect Between Candidate And Policy

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Nov 06, 2007 at 14:41


After spending three hours standing outside my local polling place and only fifteen people showing up, this is going to be one of those "I don't like the voters" posts. And, after seeing these numbers, you might not like the voters, either. Consider the following numbers on desired Iraq policy from New Hampshire primary voters (page 9, emphasis in original):

Respondents were asked which of the following comes closest to their view toward the war in Iraq: you support continued military involvement at current troop levels, you support continued involvement at current troop levels, you support efforts to end the war and gradually withdraw troops or you support efforts to end the war and rapidly withdraw troops. Among Democratic Primary voters, 69 percent support gradual withdrawal, 26 percent support rapid withdrawal and three percent support continued involvement at current troop levels. Among Republican Primary voters, 48 percent support gradual withdrawal, 29 percent support continued involvement at current troop levels, 15 percent support continued involvement at increased troop levels and two percent support rapid withdrawal.

Overall, Democrats support withdrawal by a 95%--4% margin, while Republicans support it by a 50%-44% margin. Democrats have a consensus in favor of withdrawal, while even Republicans have a slight majority in favor of it. Now, let's see which candidates these same voters would be best suited to carry out this policy (page 7, emphasis in original):

When asked which candidate-among all candidates running for President-would do the best job handling the situation in Iraq, Democratic Primary voters identify Clinton (42%), Obama (24%), Richardson (15%), Edwards (14%) and McCain (12%). In contrast, Republican Primary voters identify Giuliani (36%), McCain (33%), Romney (29%), Huckabee (9%) and Thompson (7%)

Surge architect and ultra-hawk John McCain is apparently the voter's favorite candidate to carry out their desired policy of withdrawal from Iraq. Even 12% of Democrats consider him the candidate who would do the best job of handling the situation in Iraq, even though only 1% of Democrats favor McCain's policy of increased troop levels in Iraq. This massive disconnect between candidates and policy makes me want to scream.

How can voters favor a policy of withdrawing from Iraq, and yet think that a candidate who wants to send more troops to Iraq would be the best suited to handle the situation in Iraq? I suppose it is possible that voters don't know candidate positions on Iraq, but how can voters, especially likely voters in New Hampshire, not know McCain's position on Iraq yet? That seems virtually impossible. Instead of ignorance, I think it is more likely that many voters don't trust themselves on Iraq, and are willing to defer their judgment on the subject to someone else. I find that obsequious attitude to elite authority figures repugnant.

This is very disheartening. If voter education in one of our smallest and most heavily targeted states on the biggest issue of our time is this difficult, or even rendered impossible because of the willingness of so many people to set aside their own judgment, then what is to be done? Perhaps I am over-reacting, but even if I am it doesn't make me all that excited to go stand outside in fairly cold weather for another several hours. Quite frankly, any notion that voters make decisions based on rational connections between candidates and the policies they espouse needs to be abandoned.

Chris Bowers :: Massive Voter Disconnect Between Candidate And Policy

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yup (0.00 / 0)
Quite frankly, any notion that voters make decisions based on rational connections between candidates and the policies they espouse needs to be abandoned.

Policies don't matter, because policies are different than priorities. 


so then why do you and Chris (0.00 / 0)
keep saying there is little difference between Clinton, Edwards and Obama?

I don't know how to address this issue of primary voters thinking Hillary is best able to handle the situation in Iraq.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.


[ Parent ]
Hillary and situation in Iraq (0.00 / 0)
I agree with Chris Bowers regarding John McCain, but when it comes to Hillary Clinton, the issue is not at all as described in this particular post.  According to the poll, 42% of Democrats in New Hampshire prefer Clinton on handling Iraq.  Obama receives 24%, Bill Richardson 15%, Edwards 14%.

  When you look at the poll closely, you find that


Among Democratic Primary voters, 69 percent support gradual withdrawal, 26 percent support rapid withdrawal and three percent support continued involvement at current troop levels.

Bill Richardson's pretty good showing ahead of Edwards in regards to withdrawal from Iraq comes from the 26% of Democrats who support rapid withdrawal, his position.  When you add the Richardson preference and the Edwards preference up, you get 29%, which is very close to the 26% of Democrats who favor rapid withdrawal. 

  But, 69% of Democrats support gradual withdrawal, which is the position associated with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  If you add up the numbers Clinton and Obama got on handling Iraq, they total 64%, which is close to the 69% of Democrats who favor gradual rather than rapid withdrawal.

  What those numbers tell us is that most Democrats don't want rapid withdrawal, but the type of gradual withdrawal favored by Clinton and Obama, and the preference numbers shown here match the preferred withdrawal method. 


[ Parent ]
That's a thought (0.00 / 0)
so support for McCain and Guliani might correlate with the 'maintain current troop level' and 'increased troop level' with the GOP?

[ Parent ]
Voter Behavior (4.00 / 1)
"Quite frankly, any notion that voters make decisions based on rational connections between candidates and the policies they espouse needs to be abandoned."

Quite frankly, I think our understanding of voter behavior is actually far more limited than most politicos are willing to admit. We can know what voters think (opinion polling). We can know how voters vote (election results, exit polls). But we don't really have much grasp of why voters vote the way they do. The metrics that we do have, like opinion exit polls and candidate polls ahead of the election, are poor tools for really understanding voter behavior.


Yeah (0.00 / 0)
That's true. It is difficult to figure out, and the real answer is probably multi-faceted and extremely complex. I always wanted to see polling before the Iraq war on why people supported or opposed the war, for instance, but it never came. We don't really know why people do things. I guess it is one of the oldest questions in philosophy.

[ Parent ]
Because it's more emotional than rational (4.00 / 1)
Most voters choose candidates based on the personal qualities of the person, not on meeting a checklist on policy issues -- except, perhaps, for 1-2 no-compromise issues (pro-choice, anti-war, etc.) 

But they're looking for leaders they can trust to use their own judgment in a changing world.  They crave authenticity. 


[ Parent ]
Lakoff would agree with you (4.00 / 1)
in his book "Thinking Points" he discusses what Richard Wirthlin discovered while being a strategist for Reagan: it is all about the candidate and whether the candidate coveys: authenticity, trust, integrity

The amazing thing is the electorate overwhelmingly disagreed with Reagan on issues but that they liked him and trusted him that he believed and acted upon his values.

The Republican Party has internalized Wirthlin's discovery since 1980 and subsequently the elections on their side have been to paint our candidates with a negative image so that the voters distrust them. They do not focus or care about issues:if it was about issues I think they realize that they'd lose every time.

I agree with Lakoff who seems to agree with Wirthlin about what motivates people to vote for a candidate.


[ Parent ]
Political Psychology (0.00 / 0)
My hypothesis on political behavior is that it is more of a psychology question than a political or economic one. Look for my theory of political behavior to be published sometime in the mid 2040's once I've figured out what it is.

[ Parent ]
Focus Groups (0.00 / 0)
One purpose of focus groups is to get a sense of how people think about politics that is more nuanced than you can get from polls alone.  Ideally, one would then take the qualitative info from small focus groups and devise polls that would sensitively test how many people follow the different general paths of reasoning turned up in the focus groups.

I'm not aware of anyone doing this, but why wouldn't the GOP being doing this with all the money they've got and all their concentration on micro-manipulation?  And why would they ever tell us they were doing it, even if they've been doing it for years?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Focus groups snark (0.00 / 0)
What I've mostly seen focus groups used for is to impress candidates and their policy wonks with how very different public understandings and emotional attitudes are from their own issue-oriented concerns. Works every time: consultant sets up focus groups. Candidate, etc, sees through one way mirror that voters don't give a damn about the policies they care about, in fact, maybe hate government and politicians. Candidate turns to consultant and becomes dependent on consultant for communication with incomprehensible, ignorant masses. Consultant pockets campaign cash.

Does anyone learn why people vote the way they vote? Maybe really good door to door canvassers, but that is about it.

Can it happen here?


[ Parent ]
That's Not What Well-Conceived Focus Groups Do (0.00 / 0)
We all know we have a rotten consulting class, so pretty much everything they do tends to be corrupted. But focus groups really can give valuable information about how people think.  They just have to be done properly.

There are also very effective polling techniques that are very rarely used, but have been known about for quite some time.  In combination these can be very powerful tools.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
another possibility... (4.00 / 1)
"How can voters favor a policy of withdrawing from Iraq, and yet think that a candidate who wants to send more troops to Iraq would be the best suited to handle the situation in Iraq?"

another possbility is that voters don't think anyone is going to do anything about iraq other than what bush wants to do. therefore it makes sense to vote based on other issues wher it might be possible to actually influence policy.


1968 (4.00 / 2)
This just feels like 1968 to me.  Voters wanted out of Viet Nam but they wanted the person that could "win" the person with a "secret plan" to bring us "peace with honor".  Chaos and losing the war just did not sit well.
I don't think there is a "disconnect" at all.  People want us to win, get out in an orderly fashion and leave Iraq a better place than when we went in there. 
The disconnect is that the probability of that happening is pretty low but they are looking for someone that will tell them they have a plan to achieve those goals.  The narrative is that Bush is incompetent and that we have just not given it enough time. The right person in charge with the right equipment and troop levels can and will make a difference.
In some respects I feel Clinton is closest to this on the Democratic side but the Republicans are far and away ahead of her.
We all now know that the secret plan was to increase the troop levels and that it did not work.  Several more years of war raged on and what was Johnson's war quickly became Nixon's war.
  A Republican friend of mine recently said he wants the Democrats to win because then Iraq will be their fault not the Republican's fault.  Bush is ready to pass off this hot potato and there are several people waiting in the wings to receive it. 

To answer you obliquely ... (4.00 / 1)
On a policy level, I would prefer Edwards, Obama, Gravel, Richardson, Kucinich, Dodd, etc. to Hillary.  In the voting booth, that's how I would vote.

But on a gut level, well, I look forward to Hillary being the Dem nominee because I look forward to her stomping the shit over whatever idiot the Republicans tie to the stake.

The problem isn't that many people have a gut positive response to the Republicans.  It's that progressives aren't very good at appealing to people's guts (see further the Ron Paul matter).  We can't attack the Beltway Bandits with any fierceness, not in public, we hedge we hedge we hedge.  And the voters can smell it.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...


Its like Applebee's America... (4.00 / 1)
People vote based on Gut Values Connections, policies are only useful in getting the "sigh off" by the Traditional Media and pundits, and occasionally wonkish primary voters.  Otherwise its about creating a brand that people like and they feel connected to.

I honestly think that the reason for this.... (0.00 / 0)
"How can voters favor a policy of withdrawing from Iraq, and yet think that a candidate who wants to send more troops to Iraq would be the best suited to handle the situation in Iraq?"

Is that the voters do not know what the candidates posititions are. That's in direct disagreement with what Chris says so I will attempt my explanation based on what I see and read.

At this site front page posters continue to assert that Edwards has no plan for immdiate withdrawal even though he clearly says on his website and  there are clips of him saying, 'All combat troops out in nine months...'

The same thing happens at dKos.

At my meetings with folks at Drinking Liberally, Oakland we have numerous folks who are much more informed on the issues of the day than the average person who assert that Hillary plans an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

I clearly remember watching local video of Joe Lieberman campaigning in CT and in clip after clip asserting that he was for immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

I think that we in the blogosphere really do not understand the difference between our narrative of events on this issue and the narrative that mass media has saturated the country with.

None of this is meant at an attack on anyone here or 'out there' it's just what I see and read.

The voters are not getting the facts even now six years in because the mass media has determined to support The MeatGrinder no matter what.

So I do not blame the voters.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.


No big deal (0.00 / 0)
I read your post three times, and I think you're over-reacting.  So 12% of Democrats pick John McCain--I'm surprised it's not more.  A lot of people still like him, especially Joe Klein-types.  As far as Republicans go--besides Ron Paul, who's not a warmonger?

Part of the problem (0.00 / 0)
might be reporters (and bloggers) who basically argue that all the leading dems have basically the same policy.  When people are told that enough times, they begin to believe it, so they'll pick whoever the perceived leader is as the "best."  Not that surprising.

John McCain doesn't think kids need health insurance



Voters also know they're being lied to. (4.00 / 1)
I think a lot of these comments are right -- voters don't really know the policy statements of the candidates, voters evaluate "personal credibility" rather than policy stuff -- but I think voters also know better than to take politicians at their word.  Oh, Richardson says immediately, and Clinton is here saying practically indefinitely.  Whatever.  I honestly think they would both do practically the same thing if they were whisked into office right now.  What politicians say they're going to do just isn't that relevant.

What matters is sortof "who they are", where they come from, who they belong to, who they've sold themselves to now, all of which predict how they're likely to act better than anything they say while jockeying for votes does.  Some kind of understanding of "who the candidate is" matters much more to most voters than anything about what the candidate says, I think.

Incidentally, if true this shows how to go on the attack.  The way to destroy your opponent would be to show to his supporters that his is not really who they think he is.  Actions that are violently counter to the voters' perceived image of the candidate are the ones that could really shake their understanding of and support for that candidate.  That's why all those moments that showed John McCain NOT being principled, and NOT being moderate, and NOT being independent (the Jerry Falwell event, the Bush hug) were so devastating.  They weren't policy statements, but they showed McCain being a kind of person other than the kind of person everyone thought he was, and that just crushed him.  Among the independents that were his second base, that is.

Anyway, I think voters find a few symbolic issues that tell them who the candidate is as a person, and that's what they go with.  That's why Hillary is worried about fundraising fiascos, because the counter to her being experienced and competent would be her being shown to be filthy corrupt, taking laundered money, etc.  That would hurt her more than any attack on any policy question would ever be able to, because it goes to "who she is" rather than what she's saying.


I Think This Needs To Be Put Into A Different Perspective, Chris (0.00 / 0)
There's been so much nuance, so much micro-jockeying, and so much attention to other stuff floating around that I think most voters are genuinely confused.  And I think that's actually part of what the candidates themselves intend.

The enthusiasm for Ron Paul--evident over at Glenn Greenwald's blog toady--is the flip side of this.  He's so damn clear about a small handful of things that folks who support him are in overdrive denial about anything that doesn't fit their dreams.

I take these both as symptomatic of the overall brokenness of our political system, and simply misplaced to blame individual voters for systemic breakdown.  Sure, it's inspiring when individual voters triumph over all the BS thrown at them, but we should quite reluctant to go the other way.  When they don't overcome the obstacles, we should be asking what we can do to help them.

You, know, Stand And Deliver for democracy.  If it works for calculus...

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


They are told to think of the race as a horserace (0.00 / 0)
Not what candidate thinks what on which issues. Poll numbers, likelihood to win, fund raising, etc are more likely to be something they know through the osmosis of the press and online blogs than what a candidate X's position on Iraq is. Vote this team- rah, rah rah because they are up by a hair. That's one.

THere are other reasons, the slow pace of actually disseminating information on a subject about which voters don't actually spend their lives (politics), the reliance on party politics as short cut to issues and positions (girl came to work yesterday says she voted straight down the ticket for a particular party without knowing a single person down the line or issue, but knew the party), the reliance of identity politics, the apathy toward the process (for whatever reason- sometimes its not a matter of corruption, just lack of interest even when they vote). That and more

All this is to say it requires a lot of focused effort to change this dynamic. THe blogs have been diffused in their efforts since late 2006 when it became a) about the Democratic Presidential race and b) trying to become a part of the established wisdom in DC.


[ Parent ]
Iraq (0.00 / 0)
I don't think it's complicated at all.  Most of the people in the country would like to have our troops home immediately.  For Thanksgiving!  Every one of them.  That's the first and most natural human response to Iraq. But then logic sets in.  If you have listened to some of the foreign policy and military experts it's not logistically possible to move them all out in 3 months (Bill Richardson's promise); or 9 months (John Edwards promise).  People are not stupid.  They don't buy pie-in-the-sky promises; and they do want it done right, meaning responsibly.  Enter Hillary -- backed by Wesley Clark, Madeleine Albright, Joseph Wilson, and Big Dog himself.  They trust this band of sensible leaders.

When asked in polls who is most trusted on national security, dealing with terrorism, ending the war in Iraq and managing the Iran situation, Hillary is far and away the one most trusted. 

Right now some of Hillary's Democratic rivals are trying to paint her as corrupt, dishonest and not worthy of trust. But she has already proven herself and her supporters are pretty loyal.  I'm one of them, and proud to be. 


You are right its not complicated (0.00 / 0)
but then you spin it as a sign of 'trust ' in Clinton. It's ignorance about what Clinton stands for and what she has said. How you can seriously spin this as trust is beyond me other than you seem to imagine this is CNN or Fox News, and that you are pundit talking to an ignorant audience. The reality is that the same dynamic which says people have no idea where McCain stands is the same as Clinto. The same dynanmic that back in 2004 told MS voters that Bush supported important of drugs from abroad is the same forces as Clinton. Party is this regard does not matter so don't bother to ask do I trust the Democratic Party primary voter to be more informed. If anything, what I finally get this year is there maybe differences in policies between the right and left, but the same types of behaviors occur on both sides. There are just as many faith based voters in the Democratic primaries relying on voodoo politics to make their decisions rather than actually knowing that the hell is going on. It's really that simple. In other words, given the number of times voters have been hoodwinked in recent years despite the available information, your theory seems a lot less likely than the more obvious one- they simply are voting their faith based reality (which isn't, nor was it ever about religion- it was about using belief over factual and reason based assertion).

[ Parent ]
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