Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sometimes, all you need is Ockham's Razor*

Or Occam's Razor.

Paul Waldman over at The American Prospect has been examining this chart from Pew showing how people of different parties view themselves and others.
Waldman is trying to explain the results and his best guess is that the reason that Republicans think that Democrats are very liberal while the Democrats don't think that Republicans are very conservative is that the Republicans are listening to talk radio and Fox News and so are just engaged in group think. Democrats, on the other hand, listen to much more reasonable sources.
So why is this? It's hard to say, but my nominee would be the differing media systems partisans are drawn to. Conservatives are more likely to seek out highly partisan information sources -- Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. -- than Democrats are. The latter may take in the occasional episode of Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow, but they're getting most of their news from more neutral places like NPR and CNN. What makes the difference is that the idea that the Democratic Party is a bunch of socialists with a radical leftist agenda is a core component of the rhetoric on Fox, Limbaugh, et al. If you get your news from them, you'll hear that message every day, again and again. And eventually you'll start to believe it.
Remember, Fox News might be big in the cable news business, but they're still pretty small potatoes in the overall media picture. The numbers just don't add up to influence mass numbers.

If I were a liberal, I'd be much more concerned about where the Independents place themselves and where they place the Democrats on the spectrum. And they're a whole lot closer to where their view of the Republican Party is than where they think the Democrats are.

And this brings us to what I think is really going on here. The country is basically a center-right country. That's where Independents see themselves. The word "liberal" doesn't resonate positively with a lot of people. That's why Hillary Clinton campaigned as a "progressive" in 2008 since she didn't want to be tarred with what she perceived as a negative - to be called liberal. On the other hand, Republicans proudly tout themselves as conservatives. As much as liberals wish it did, calling someone a conservative isn't a negative in national politics.

James Joyner looks at the internals of the Pew poll to note that 53% of the respondents find the Democrats more liberal than they are, while only 41% find the Republicans more conservative. That's quite a difference. Add in that 27% find the Republican Party more liberal than they are and you can see a country that is on the right-hand side of the divide.
There’s some debate as to how people perceive the terms “liberal” and “conservative” and whether they mean the same thing to most people. Regardless, Americans have aligned themselves with the term “conservative” at a much higher rate for decades. And they think the Republican Party is also “conservative” while the Democratic Party is “liberal.” So, if we’re defining “centrist” as the median ideology of America at any given moment in time, the Republicans are much closer to it than Democrats.
John Hawkins also finds this a simpler explanation than trying to blame it all on Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
First off, the Democratic Party is roughly split, in theory, between moderates and liberals. However, because the liberals have the money, the energy, and the intellectual firepower, they dominate the party. So oftentimes, moderate Democrats end up voting for politicians who ceaselessly claim to be moderate, but actually vote like Barney Frank. It's easy for these moderate Democrats to delude themselves about the type of candidate they're supporting.

On the other hand, the liberals in the party understand the game: lefties have to lie to get elected in most of the country. So, they've come to expect that Democratic politicians will lie to the public about being moderate and then will swerve way over to the Left the moment they get into power. Jimmy Carter did it. Bill Clinton did it and only moved back towards the middle after the enormous thumping the Democrats took in 1994. Now, Barack Obama is doing it -- and yet many of the libs are still disappointed because even though Obama's extremely liberal and far to the Left of the American people, they expected him to be an even bigger liar. In other words, Obama campaigned like Evan Bayh and has led like Jimmy Carter, but they wanted Obama to govern like Michael Moore. So, the libs not happy and view Obama as being moderate -- which in all fairness he is -- compared to them.
And face it. Who are the faces of the Democratic Party today? Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid. Even an oblivious respondent would place them in the Very Liberal segment of the chart. Democrats might feel there is more nuance in their party than the policies that we've seen in the past 18 months, but the rest of the country is looking at what the Democrats are actually doing now that they're in control of the government and it's looking more liberal than moderate to them. Maybe that's why Republicans and Independents want to place the party over near there.


Tacitus Voltaire said...

oh, we're reading polls now?

well, lookie here! here's another recent poll from pew:

Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management. July 22-25, 2010

"What do you think would do more to improve economic conditions in the country over the next few years: following the economic policies of Barack Obama's administration, or following the economic policies of George W. Bush's administration." Options rotated

Obama's policies 46%
Bush's policies 29%

"Which comes closer to your view about the tax cuts passed when George W. Bush was president? All of the tax cuts should remain in place. Tax cuts for the wealthy should be repealed, while others stay in place. All of the tax cuts should be repealed."

Keep all the tax cuts 30%
Repeal the tax cuts for the Wealthy 27%
Repeal all the tax cuts 31%

in poll after poll, people describe themselves as moderate, but agree with most of the detail positions of the democratic party

Tacitus Voltaire said...

Bloomberg Poll conducted by Selzer & Co. July 9-12, 2010

"Turning to the health care bill passed earlier this year, what is your opinion of the bill? It should be repealed. We should see how it works. It should be left alone."

Should be repealed 37%
See how it works 47%
Should be left alone 14%

Kaiser Family Foundation Kaiser Health Tracking Poll. June 17-22, 2010

"As you may know, a new health reform bill was signed into law earlier this year. Given what you know about the new health reform law, do you have a generally favorable or generally unfavorable opinion of it?" Options rotated

Favorable 48%
Unfavorable 41%

Tacitus Voltaire said...

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. July 16-21, 2010

"As you may know, Congress has passed legislation that would increase federal regulation over banks, Wall Street investors, and other financial institutions. Based on what you have read or heard about this, do you favor or oppose this legislation?"

Favor 58%
Oppose 39%

"Generally speaking, do you approve or disapprove of government regulation of business? ... Do you feel strongly about that, or not so strongly?"

Approve strongly 30%
approve not so strongly 25% Disapprove not so strongly 9% Disapprove strongly 36%

perhaps "conservative" policy positions in this country are not the same as your positions - did you ever think of that?

Tacitus Voltaire said...

Who are the faces of the Democratic Party today? Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid. Even an oblivious respondent would place them in the Very Liberal segment of the chart

Nevada Senate - Angle vs. Reid Rasmussen Reports Reid 45, Angle 43 Reid +2

imagine that - nevada is now a "Very Liberal" state...

Stan said...


I reject the idea that "moderate" is perceived as meaning the same thing as middle of the road or right down the middle. As "liberal" has come into disrepute, moderate has become the substitute term that Democrats use to describe themselves. A whole lot more Dems want to describe themselves that way than Republicans, but they don't mean it as a description that means halfway from liberal to conservative.

Rick Caird said...

Black Knight AKA TV, the Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management. July 22-25, 2010 is really a dumb poll. I thought I already pointed that out to you. If you do a search on it, you get no demographics and no list of question. In fact, what does "follow Bush policies or Obama policies really mean"? Do you think those people polled could even articulate those polities? I don't.

I would like to see some rational question like "Should we continue to run $1.4 trillion deficits". That is a question that makes sense. Following Obama policies does not.