Political Elites Disconnected From General Public

There is an interesting article by Alex Preen on Salon.com:

Politicians think Americans are super-conservative
A survey of thousands shows candidates from both parties think the electorate is way more right-wing than it is

“According to a working paper from two political scientists who interviewed 2,000 state legislative candidates last year, politicians all think Americans are more conservative than they actually are. Unsurprisingly, Republicans think voters are way more right-wing than they actually are.”

It’s unsurprising that right-wingers are clueless about the average American. That is the nature of being a right-winger, often not even realizing one is right-wing, instead thinking one is a normal mainstream American

“Liberal politicians, meanwhile, don’t imagine that their constituents are super-liberal. A majority of them also believe that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are. Which, well, that explains your Democratic Party since the Clinton administration. They weren’t polled, but I’m pretty sure “nonpartisan” political elites in the media share the exact same misperception. (“It’s a center-right country,” we hear all the time, which it turns out is both meaningless and untrue.)”

Now, this might be surprising to many, especially those on the right. It’s far from surprising to me. The average American is way to the left of what is considered ‘liberal’ in mainstream politics and media.

“Left-liberals who actually pay attention to surveys of popular opinion on things like raising taxes on rich people and expanding Medicare instead of raising the eligibility age are frequently a bit annoyed when they watch, say, the Sunday shows, and these ideas are either dismissed as radical or simply not brought up to begin with, but all of Washington is still pretty sure that Nixon’s Silent Majority is still out there, quietly raging against the longhairs and pinkos. In fact the new Silent Majority is basically made up of a bunch of social democrats, wondering why Congress can’t do serious, sensible, bipartisan things like lock up all the bankers and redistribute their loot to the masses.”

I’m one of those left-liberals who actually pays attention to surveys of popular opinion. The one thing that surprises me is that so few people do pay attention. You’d think it would be a politician’s business to pay attention. Their whole job is theoretically to represent and yet they don’t know who they are representing.

One commenter put it well:

“Constituents? Who cares about them? MONEY votes conservative, and that’s what counts. to both parties.”

Another commenter extended that thought:

“I suspect what’s going on is that many politicians (a) feel they’re supposed to represent their constituents, (b) find they’re compelled to represent their donors and other fat cats, and (c) mitigate the cognitive dissonance by telling themselves (a) and (b) aren’t far apart, although, of course, they are.”

I makes me wonder. Can these seemingly clueless people really be that out of touch and just plain ignorant? People in politics and media tend to be people who are above average in both IQ and education. None of this polling data is a secret or difficult to find.

At least for those on the right, not knowing or pretending to not know is conveniently self-serving. The way they act and what they support implies that on some level they do know, as a commenter put it:

“Republican politicians may be in the grips of delusion about the beliefs of their constituents, but at the same time they understand the need for gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other aggressive antidemocratic uses of power, when they have it, to enforce rightwing priorities. Something isn’t quite right here.”

I care less about the politicians and media. If the public became self-aware of their own leftism, it would become more difficult for the mainstream elites to keep their ruse going.

* * *

3/22/21 – Below is an even better article by Eric Alterman, the author of the 2008 book Why We’re Liberals. I’ve had that book for a long time, maybe having gotten a copy when it first came out, but I don’t remember the details of it now. My first coming to terms with the American leftist majority came together in 2010 when I began to more seriously research the polling, survey, and demographic data. Maybe Alterman had helped plant some ideas in my mind in the years immediately prior.

Then again, much else was informing my thoughts back then. During the Aughts, I did further learn about corporate media bias and the propaganda model of news. Though my political awareness grew in the late 1990s, I had my fuller political awakening with the stolen 2000 election, about which nearly all of the media and politica elite maintained a conspiracy of silence. After that, having been a part of the anti-war protests, the largest such movement in world history at the time, I experienced firsthand how the corporate media spun narratives and downplayed the significance and size of it.

In the decade following, the reality of the US as a banana republic became ever more apparent, particularly as the even more leftist younger generation reached voting age. Yet the ensuing presidential elections again controlled the outcome with the rhetorically-framed lesser evil of forced choice between ‘mainstream’ candidates that were corporate-friendly plutocrats to the right of the American public (in reality, two greater evils). This inspired further research into how the majority was kept suppressed and how disconnection was maintained across society, which led to study of the Wirthlin effect and the history of how we got here.

I’ve continued to write about this topic, including some recent doozies. At this point, it is part of what might be the main theme of my entire blogging career. The public opinion angle on a leftward shift toward egalitariainism is one sub-theme within the larger perspective of societal changes over the past few millennia, from the Axial Age to the early modern revolts, with an increasing interest on the Peasant’s Revolt which might’ve been the first overt class war. There is a larger context and an older background to this present disconnected elite. But whatever we think of it, or however we interpret it, the basic truth of disconnection and the problems it causes cannot be denied.

Without further ado, let Eric Alterman explain the basic issue:

America is much less conservative than mainstream media believe
(text below from linked article)

It’s a well-known “fact” within the mainstream media that the country is not as liberal as journalists like to think it is. As with the consistent insistence on the prevalence of liberal bias, however, that fact is also fundamentally false.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough is among many in the media and elsewhere who like to, as he says, “warn [their] friends in Manhattan and Washington and LA and in the mainstream media … that America is much more conservative” than they believe it to be. He made this claim in February 2012, basing it on the example of marriage for same-sex couples, noting that a majority of Americans still opposed its legalization. Scarborough did not actually identify which of his “friends” were making this claim, nor did he identify the nature of the argument they allegedly offered.

Leaving that aside, however, he had his facts wrong. According to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service, marriage equality was supported by a 54 percent to 40 percent majority within 30 days of Scarborough’s evidence-less assertion. Similarly, the Gallup poll on the issue taken closest to the statement, in May 2012, also put the number supporting marriage equality above 50 percent. (And don’t forget, we know that Gallup consistently oversampled for Republicans throughout 2012, so that number is, if anything, understated.)

Scarborough needn’t feel alone in his ignorance. The members of America’s political class, whether journalists, pundits, or politicians, routinely overestimate the relative conservatism of the American people. In fact, David E. Broockman of the University of California, Berkeley, and Christopher Skovron of the University of Michigan published a study in March and discovered that thousands of state legislative candidates systematically judged their constituents’ political views to be considerably more conservative than they actually were.

While this was mildly true in the case of liberals and moderates, it turns out that conservative legislators generally overestimate the conservatism of their constituents by 20 points. “This difference is so large that nearly half of conservative politicians appear to believe that they represent a district that is more conservative on these issues than is the most conservative district in the entire country,” Broockman and Skovron discovered. The source of this misinformation is unclear, but one can reasonably conclude that much if not all of the problem lies with the mainstream media. After all, state legislature candidates cannot usually afford much polling, and none of us are immune to the power of the media to shape what Walter Lippmann termed “the world outside and the pictures in our heads.”

A significant part of the problem appears to lie with the inaccurate use of labels. Without a doubt, self-professed conservatives consistently outnumber liberals in polls when Americans are questioned about their respective ideological orientations. Politicians, pundits, and reporters tend to believe that this extends to their views on the issues. It doesn’t. In fact it represents little more than the extensive investments conservatives have made in demonizing the liberal label and associating it with one unflattering characteristic after another.

I delved deeply into this phenomenon while researching my 2008 book titled Why We’re Liberals. In the book, I noted that as a result of a four-decade-long campaign of conservative calumny, together with some significant errors on liberals’ own part, the word “liberal,” as political scientist Drew Westen observed, implied to most Americans terms such as “elite, tax and spend, out of touch,” and “Massachusetts.” No wonder barely one in five Americans wished to associate himself or herself with the label, then as now.

Yet at the very same time, detailed polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press demonstrated a decided trend toward increasingly “liberal” positions by almost any definition.

30 thoughts on “Political Elites Disconnected From General Public

  1. I spend so much time contemplating this conundrum. It is hard to wrap one’s mind around it.

    I’d be more accepting of the rightwing US govt if it actually represented the beliefs, values, and expectations of most Americans. I’m not one to want to force my views on others, but neither am I one to want others to force their views on me.

    Since my views are part of the majority, it is a farce to claim my govt is democratically representing me and people like me. Either we live in a democracy or we don’t. It truly is that simple. Most Americans should be severely bothered by this. It is the kind of thing that starts revolutions.

    On the other hand, I’m not deluded about the American majority being Marxists, communists or anarchosyndicalists. Americans are leftists relative to what goes for mainstream liberalism. But mainstream liberalism is no more liberal than US democracy is democratic. A liberal in the US maybe could more accurately labeled as center-right or moderate conservative… while self-identified conservatives are mostly right-wingers without much conservative instinct.

    Most Americans are leftists. But what does this mean? Probably something akin to social democracy as practiced by the sewer socialists or other similar political persuasions. This is a rather tame form of leftism, a simple focus on the public good.

    This tame leftism only seems radical because the ruling elites have been pushed so far to the radical right. Americans probably haven’t become aymore leftist than they ever were. It’s just the whole spectrum was shifted to the right.

    • I’ve never been a Democratic partisan. But what I used to be was a fairly standard liberal. I wanted to believe the Democratic rhetoric.

      Even though I didn’t regularly vote Democratic, I had the sense that the Democrats were at least better than the Republicans. Now I see both parties as complicit in the same problems, just playing different roles.

      Lesser evilism seems entirely meaningless to me these days… not that it ever was all that compelling, much less inspiring.

    • I think that they’ve run up against the limits of propaganda. The Democrats are very much overestimating their appeal.

      I suspect that Bernie Sanders would have been able to appeal to the large numbers of working class whites (because he was one himself).

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