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.
|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.
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.