Collapsing The Ideological Overlap: The Gulf Between Issues and Candidates

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 20:55

Note: I had originally intended to discuss the process of partisan sorting of ideology in this diary. But for various reasons, I've decided to break up the discussion a little more, and do a relatively short diary this evening that sort of sets the stage for that discussion, which will go live early tomorrow morning.

In the previous diary, "The Myth Of A Polarized Public", I showed that polarization of views on the issues between liberals and conservatives is relatively modest.  On any issue you chose, on any question you chose, you will find more net agreement between liberals and conservative than you will find disagreement. This includes both liberals taking "conservative" positons and conservatives taking "liberal" positions, though the later is by far more common.  Still, both forms of overlap count toward reducing the degree to which liberals and conservative are polarized over the issues.

There is, however, one well-known area in which the liberal/conservative overlap drops significantly-voting for President.  In the 2004 election, liberals favored Kerry by 85-13, while conservatives favored Bush by 84-15. The overall difference: 70 percent. It's not 100 percent, but it is significantly higher than the differences found on the issues just mentioned-or any other issues one is likely to find.  For example, it's more than double the 31.9 difference in attitudes toward homosexuality found by the GSS during the 1990s-one of the highest differences GSS ever recorded.

Paul Rosenberg :: Collapsing The Ideological Overlap: The Gulf Between Issues and Candidates
This vast split is typical of a much broader phenomena: self-identified liberals and conservatives differ much more on who they vote for than in what they believe. There is a vast gulf between the realm of issues-where there is a surprising degree of consensus on issues across ideological lines-and the realm of electoral politics, where polarization comes to the fore.  Liberals dominate in the issue realm, conservatives dominate in the electoral realm.

This gulf produces an enormous gap between issue attitudes of the electorate as a whole, and the positions of the politicians it elects.  Let's take the issue of abortion as our benchmark-a high-profile polarizing issue that could hardly be accused of over-stating consensus.  If the liberal/conservative split on Bush and Kerry reflected the liberal/conservative split on abortion, what would have happened?  Using the GSS question above, it would have shifted 5.8% of the vote from Bush to Kerry, giving him the election by a margin of 3.3% in the popular vote, rather than a 2.5% loss. If this shift were evenly distributed across all states, it would have given him a broad 325-213 victory in the electoral college, rather than a narrow 286-252 defeat.

Two things should be obvious from this analysis: First, there is a huge gap between the public's attitudes on issues and the sorts of candidates it elects. Second, without that gap, the Republican Party would be deeply in trouble at the national level. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the GOP's state of dominance prior to the 2006 midterms is entirely dependent on preventing people from voting their values-if we understand values to mean all of their values, all the things that people believe in, and not just a narrow subset of them.

Value Illusions

What's more, this disjunction between values and candidates is so extreme that people are even reduced to systematic misperception as a means for shielding themselves from inconsistencies between the two realms.

For example, in 2004, the Project on International Policy Alternatives noted that Bush supporter mistaken saw him as a multi-lateralist, much like themselves.  In "The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters" (October 21, 2004), PIPA reported:

Bush supporters have numerous misperceptions about Bush's international policy positions. Majorities incorrectly assumed that Bush supports multilateral approaches to various international issues-the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the treaty banning land mines (72%); 51% incorrectly assumed he favors US participation in the Kyoto treaty-the principal international accord on global warming. After he denounced the International Criminal Court in the debates, the perception that he opposed it increased from 24% to 38% among Bush supporters, but a majority of supporters (53%) continued to believe that he favors it. Only 13% of supporters are aware that he opposes labor and environmental standards in trade agreements - 74% incorrectly believe that he favors including labor and environmental standards in agreements on trade.

In all these cases, there is a recurring theme: majorities of Bush supporters favor these positions, and they infer that Bush favors them as well. For example, in PIPA's September 8 - 12 poll, 54% of Bush supporters favored participation in Kyoto, 66% favored participation in the land mines treaty, and 68% favored a treaty prohibiting testing nuclear weapons (CTBT). Apparently in the absence of evidence to the contrary, Bush supporters assume Bush feels as they do.

In two cases Bush supporters had a better understanding of the president's positions. They were divided between those who knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now (47%), and those who incorrectly believe he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven (41%). However, majorities were correct that Bush favors increased defense spending (57%), and wants the US, not the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq's new government (70%).

In contrast, PIPA noted:

Kerry supporters were much more accurate in assessing their candidate's positions on all issues. Majorities knew that Kerry favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (81%); the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (77%); the International Criminal Court (65%); the land mines treaty (79%); and the Kyoto Treaty on climate change (74%). They also knew that  he favors continuing research on missile defense without deploying a system now (68%), and wants the UN, not the US, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq's new government (80%). A plurality of 43% was correct that Kerry favors keeping defense spending the same, with 35% assuming he wants to cut it and 18% to expand it.

Of course, politicians have been fooling peole for a very long time, and people have been fooling themselves, as well.  But what we're seeing here is evidence that is anything but random, and anything but insignificant.  Bush's shift toward extreme unilateralism was arguably one of the most pronounced developments in world politics since the end of the Cold War, it was something that neither the Congress nor the American people actually debated and approved, and this evidence from PIPA shows that it was not even recognized by a majority of those who voted for Bush.  This is a classic--perhaps, the classic--example of an issue on which Democrats clearly ought to seek polarization, and intense debate.

Tags: , , , (All Tags)
Print Friendly View Send As Email

What if the conservative voters don't watch the debate? (0.00 / 0)
When you get a bunch of people who vote for Bush and have no idea what he stands for, haven't you just proved those people are incredibly lazy?

Either that, or you proved they really do not care about the issues they were asked about where they took "liberal" positions. Sure, they say they're for multi-lateralism, but how many have even the slightest clue about these fancy international treaties? How many Americans do you think could quote you two or three of the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? I can see that now on Leno, with hilarious (and sad) results.

It would be interesting, for example, if PIPA had asked the Bush supporters who approve of Kyoto where that issue ranks in their heirarchy of things that need to get done (my guess is somewhere below watching the latest episode of Survivor or tuning in to watch Hannity and Colmes)

So is it politicians fooling people, or people not giving a damn about anything except their immediate surroundings? The main "values" being expressed by these voters, it seems to me, are laziness and lack of interest in the global. Which means if you put more debate on tee-vee about Kyoto, they're going to change the channel.

You Need To Tune In To My Ongoing (I Promise!) Discussion of Populistm And Progressivisim (0.00 / 0)
You are expressing a classical progressive lament over the people as they are.  But there are some rather sensible populist rejoinders.

The bottom line is: would you rather be right, and lose badly, or would you rather win, and find some way of doing that which you can live with morally?

"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 ]
Right and lose....I'm sick of it. (0.00 / 0)
If we lose, we get screwed.  If we win, we get screwed by a Democrat (insert Bill Clinton), instead.  This is about democracy, little d.  Talk about a victim mentality, what is this?  "find some way of doing that which you can live with morally? "  If I'm being robbed blind, I can morally justify a hell of a lot more than not.

Maybe if Democrats weren't so damned mommy party, the hang em high crowd (who you claim shares our values) would vote for them. I don't see any gates crashing anywhere.  All I see is  "doing that which you can live with". 

I would rather die on my feet, than live on my knees. - Emiliano Zapata

The problem with the Democratic Party in general is that they've been so afraid to lose they're willing to say whatever it takes to win. And once you're willing to say whatever it takes to win, you lose. ~~Howard Dean

Quit capitulating, triangulating, compromising, reaching across the aisle.  Stop with the kumbaya!  I am no kid, this is no campfire, there is no Santa Claus, and the meek will not inherit the earth. 

[ Parent ]
I'm Saying There's A Difference Between Moral Compromises And Strategic Ones (4.00 / 1)
I think you're completely misreading what I said.  I was addressing his progressive ideals of how an informed citizenry should conduct itself, and I believe those ideals, while noble, are entirely unreasonable.  They just don't correlate with human nature.

We evolved in small nomadic bands.  We aren't wired to think in depth about remote activities that have little bearing on our lives.  There is plenty of evidence, seen in outpourings of voluntary aid, for example, that Americans are generous and caring about people in need on the other side of the world.  This does not translate well into our foreign policy, but it's not because Americans lack concern.  That's a misdiagnosis, as the spontaneous outpourings of aid clearly show. What they lack is a clear sense of connectedness, orientation and effectiveness.

In short, what I'm saying is that it's not a problem of individual morality, but of systematic information flow.  And I'm saying that the progressive's idealized information flow is not going to happen. It contradicts millions of years of evolution. So if you want the morally ideal outcome, you will have to decide what information design compromises you can live with.

That's it. Period.

"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 ]
Apparently, I'm touchy. n/t (4.00 / 1)

[ Parent ]
I've been thinking about a project (0.00 / 0)
I've been thinking about writing a series of diaries with book summaries of political science books to introduce people to some of the research conclusions out there.  Some of the books would answer your questions.

One idea out there is that people use heuristics, cognitive shortcuts, to reach political decisions.  Despite being ill-informed, they often enough reach the conclusions they would probably have reached if they thought things through more. If the extent of your political activity is going to be voting, from a cost-benefit analysis point of view, is it worth spending hours per week to stay informed on political news?  For most people, it's not.  They're not necessarily lazy; it's just not always in their self-interest to pay attention to politics on a daily basis.

This is just the way that people are.  Expecting more from voters is the domestic equivalent of thinking that people are going to throw you ticker-tape parades if you march into Baghdad as alleged liberators.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
i think i understand the cost-benefit analysis point of view... (4.00 / 1)
but it's not really compatible with the progressive ideal of a world with justice.

For example, it doesn't really cost me that much (other than my soul) that I pay some taxes to help kill 1 million Iraqis (give or take a few hundred thousand) who are no threat to me. So the poly science papers are going to say not to give much of a hoot one way or the other about dropping cluster bombs on Fallujah or training a death squad here and there. From the incredibly limited let's-use-(freak)economics-to-look-at-everything perspective that might be "correct".

Regardless of how they get to these conclusions, it does say something about people's true values, i.e. whether it's a cost-benefit analysis or laziness doesn't alter the fundamental conclusion that the answers to the poll ("we have liberal values, honest") are not reflective of the real values. They're just answers to a poll that contradict the answer to the poll that mattered (the one where they picked George W-is-for-Wrong-Direction Bush)

[ Parent ]
My point is (4.00 / 1)
The progressive ideal is unrealistic.  So, it's not always useful to complain about how people don't act the way you that you think that they should.  The conservative response is to constrain freedom so people don't make as many mistakes.  The liberal response is to permit people the freedom to make mistakes.  However, along the way, we seem to have lost the ability to label those mistakes as actual mistakes.

Paul Rosenberg had it right, we can either be 100% right and lose or we can figure out what compromises we are willing to make to win.  My criticism of the left has been that there doesn't seem to be any sense of prioritization among issues, with no sense of where we compromise in order to get our way on other issues.  My own personal preference is to compromise with cultural conservatives and stand firm against corporatists and neocons.  I don't mind people who disagree with the compromises I am willing to make, but I would prefer they be realistic and point out other areas for potential compromise because progressive policies are going to require the support of some non-progressives.

Right now, it feels like the lefty blogosphere is operating in a culture of outrage where every single disagreement is painted as some big betrayal.  That wears people down emotionally over the long run, because some of the things that progressives want to change are things that won't change because of basic human nature.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Good points... (0.00 / 0)
That last one is very apt. But it's also true that there has been a whole hunk o' betrayal goin' on.

Your earlier point about folks using heuristics to make quick decisions has been discussed here and there. One thing that wold be interesting is more discussion of how heuristics can be 'fooled' or spoofed so the voter votes against their own or societies best interests. There is I know a lot of research out there about this.

One interesting case from the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell explained how the problem of males choosing new members for large orchestras, they were not choosing any women, was dealt with.

Fascinating story that was!

As I was reading that I had to think I sure hope Obama supporters don't get a nasty surprise come primary time.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
The progressive ideal is unrealistic (4.00 / 1)
Which ideal would that be?  The constitution, justice, liberty?  I am so sick of people who would rather give the bully their lunch money and then rationalize it into something pragmatic, centrist, realistic.  Hogwash!

[ Parent ]
I Think Anthony And I Disagree About This Somewhat (4.00 / 2)
So I'm only speaking for myself here.  This gets back to the progressive/populist distinction regarding the nature of democratic engagement.  This relies on a definition of "progressive" rooted in the early 20th Century, not the post-1960s use of the term as an alternative to "liberal" which had been tainted by the Cold War liberals who brought us the Vietnam War. See "Populism & Progressivism-Pt1: Obama As Classic Progressive", in which I draw heavily from a paper by ConLaw professor Jack Balkin:

Although populism and progressivism share a desire for reform, they diverge most significantly in their attitudes towards the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of the mass of ordinary citizens. They take different views about ordinary citizens' private activities, their cultural attachments, and the possibility of their participation in mass politics.

To put it succinctly, progressives tend to think that people need fixing before they can be decent citizens. But populists have a sensible counter-argument, Balkin explains:

Yet populism also demands recognition that citizens may have good reasons to neglect politics. This inattention may reflect the comparative urgency of the demands of everyday life, or a belief that government adequately albeit imperfectly serves their interests. However, it may also reflect the growing judgment that government is the seat of corruption, privilege, cronyism, and injustice. At some point, this indignation will surface in popular political action, and when it occurs, it must be given its due. From a populist perspective, an alternation between periods of relative inattention and episodes of popular uprising is not a pathological but a normal feature of democratic life. It symbolizes the people's simultaneous recognition that they ultimately rule and that their government is usually in the hands of people who systematically forget this fact. The model of populist democracy is not prolonged dialogue but periodic revolution.

In contrast, post-1960s style progressives started off with populist roots in the broad social movements of the 1960s and early 70s, though these often atrophied over time.

What is needed, I would argue, is a new ensemble of paradigms for integrating progressive and populist approaches, that would make the term "progressive populist" more than just a vague label of hope to advance inclusive, economic populist ideals, as opposed to regressive, nativist/xenophobic ones.

"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 ]
the unrealistic ideal (4.00 / 1)
The one where wee have an active, informed, rational participant democracy which is like the blogosphere on a wider scale and in the flesh.  That doesn't mean we can't have justice and liberty; it just means that progressives sometimes have a rather romantic notion of how democracy works and don't always know how to appeal to voters who don't fit that image.

Also, there's nothing wrong with being pragmatic, centrist, and realistic.  However, I much prefer the Howard Dean model of centrism to that of the DLC.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Isn't this also a predictable result (0.00 / 0)
of the media focus on personality in presidential races to the exclusion, by and large, of issues? Certainly there were few talking heads dwelling on Bush's unilateralism in 2004, except perhaps to portray it as a certain personal style rather than an actual policy with actual consequences.

No society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can expect them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded. -Margaret Mead

It's Resonable To Think It Contributes (0.00 / 0)
But it's not the whole story, as we'll see tomorrow.

"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 ]
Politics is tribal (0.00 / 0)
This is something the GOP tends to understand better.  Liberals think that if you just put the facts before the American people, that's enough ("talk sense to the American people," as  Stevenson said). 

But especially in voting for Pres, that isn't enough, or even a large part of it, evidently.  The GOP works on a subtle level, manipulating symbols and emotions in a way that makes their guy seem more homey and our candidate, whoever it is or will be, as a know-it-all wimp.  And they reinforce this with what Josh Marshall called the bitch-slap theory of politics, something you wrote about earlier this month.

The answer is partly to convey the message that Dems care about ordinary people, which was done pretty well over SCHIP, for example.  But it is also to have candidates with more authenticity and less obvious focus-grouping, and media people who really know what they are doing.  Too much is lost on the Dem side due to careerism and egoism on the part of the players and their advisers.  Maybe the GOPers are able to suppress their egos a little more because for them the payoff is so sweet, I don't know.  But we have a historic chance to connect with the majority this election and to get backing for many of our ideas. I hope we don't blow it.

At least we look in better shape candidate-wise than they do.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

I Agree (0.00 / 0)
The GOP has always had a stronger tribal identity thing going.  But the Democrats have really fallen apart under the onslaught of the DLC-types in the 1980s and 90s, as increasing amounts of corporate money made them less and less distinguishable, and more and more "entreprenurial," meaning they'd run on whatever they damn well pleased, without any thought to coordinating with anyone else.

"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 factor (0.00 / 0)
Something I heard repeatedly from friends who worked on specific races in other areas in 2004 is that people who don't regularly follow politics really see issues differently from us--they don't even see them as issues, as something to be debated and acted upon.  And they don't see the connection between politics and policy, or that the gov't could actually do something to make their lives easier.  I think that health care is a good issue to try to make this connection, but people need to be persuaded that gov't could actually do something positive about it.  This is part of the fall-out from the GOP lack of governance--people don't trust the dgov't to be able to do thingas the way they did, for example, in the post-WWII years, when gov't programs (GI Bill, FHA and Vet's loans, public works like highways and schools, etc) really built the middle class.  That connection ahs to be rebuilt.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

Failure Is Really The Key To GOP Success (0.00 / 0)
They deadlock government, so it doesn't do anything--they win.

They bungle governemnt, so it doesn't do anything effective--they win.

They bankrupt government, so it can't do anything--they win.

Say, didn't someone say something about personal responsibility?

"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 ]
One thing though Paul... (0.00 / 0)
the citizenry doesn't seem prepared to accept bungled government, no. Nor Bankrupted government neither.

Whether brought to them like a rotten chunk of meat ala the Republican recipe nor with a lot of delicate seasonings and flourishes from the kitchens of Miss Nancy and the 'Sellout' Caucus.

Check out this post:


I don't think that first speaker got the memo about how 'Free Trade' is a panacea. That 'failing upward' was good for him and his family. No, nor that second guy neither.

Preaching to the choir I know. But the attitudes and determination out there are something to see. The miserable, pinched-souled, craptaurds who inhabit Versailles and the corportatist media are in for honkin' big surprise. A whole set of 'em actually.

Happy New Year!

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
GOP overreach (4.00 / 1)
I think the GOP's and the Bush/Cheney regime's colossal record of failure on such a basic level (Katrina made this clear, but Iraq does too) has diluted the potency of these arguments.  Except for the Bushbots, people really, really don't like him and they can see that he is just plain incompetent.  The problem for the Dems is that they can't/won't stand up to him sufficiently--they completely misunderstand the lesson of the Gingrich gov't shutdown, for example, failing to understand that people disliked it not because of the shutdown per se, but because they wanted the programs and services that Gingrich was holding hostage.  You'd think it would have been clear from the Dems' success on the Social Security fight, another of the things that seriously damaged Bush's popularity.  BGut they keep making the same miscalculation.

Apropos of your earlier distinction between progressives and populists, there are practitioners of "head" politics, theorists and calculators, and there are practitioners of "heart" politics.  Too many Dems in recent years have gotten scared of the actual people, I believe, and many seem to hold them in contempt.  They like bloodless, genteel politics, and technocratic policies that help the upper middle class and the rich, but have lost their sympathy for the rest of the populace, maybe because they never forgave them for becoming Reagan Democrats.  And people can feel that.  All three major candidates do seem to be able to connect better than, say, Kerry, but I'm not sure any of them have the real ability to connect with the common people, because all 3 are really seen as in some sense privileged, regardless of how they may have started out.

Looking forward to the rest of the series.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
Growing up as a working class kid.... (0.00 / 0)

.............I can assure you, you never leave that early programming behind. And studies from the social sciences and cognitive psychology bear this out.

'My daddy worked in a mill...' isn't a boast. It's a confession. And one you never want to make in the circles Obama and Clinton run in.

We should talk more about class at this site. A lot of what is going on with the BushReich and the punditcrazies is enmeshed in that value system I believe.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]

Open Left Campaigns



Advanced Search

Powered by: SoapBlox