From the “We Are Doomed As a Nation” file. Politiphiles (absolutely a word) who pitch battle on the internet are often fond of telling their virtual opponents to “think for yourself.” It’s an odd thing, because the assumption is that someone couldn’t possibly disagree with them for any reason other than the fact that they’re just regurgitating facts from the other side’s talking heads.
Well, it turns out, that may be a pretty accurate assessment. From the Huffington Post:
Figuring out what the public really thinks isn’t always an exact science, as anyone who’s seen two polls touting completely contradictory results can affirm.
One reason for that: most Americans, regardless of their political views, don’t have a solid opinion about every single issue of the day, particularly when it concerns a complicated or obscure topic. People tend, reasonably, to rely on partisan cues — if a politician they support is in favor of a bill, they’re likely to think it’s a good idea, or vice versa.
As a classic case in point, Republicans are more likely to oppose repealing the 1975 Public Affairs Act — which doesn’t actually exist — when they’re told that President Barack Obama wants to do so, while Democrats object when they’re told it’s a Republican proposal. But even when it comes to real issues, reactions to polls can vary greatly, depending on the wording.
How much can namedropping a politician matter? Conveniently, Republican front-runner Donald Trump shares a couple of policy positions with Obama and other leading Democrats. In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, we randomly assigned one half of the 1,000 Americans surveyed to say whether they agreed with positions Trump held. The rest were asked whether they agreed with positions held by Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry or current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The trick: the positions were actually the same.
Yet respondents’ reactions were decidedly different. Hearing that Trump supported a certain policy was enough to cause Democrats to reconsider ideas they’d otherwise support, and for Republicans to endorse positions they’d usually avoid.
Still, associating a particular politician with a certain position wasn’t enough for people to abandon their most deeply held convictions. Protecting Social Security, for instance, is an overwhelmingly popular idea, whether it’s being proposed by Clinton or by Trump.
Although most Republicans say they strongly disagree with Democrats on health care, Iran and affirmative action, fewer than a quarter of Republicans strongly disagreed when those positions were presented as Trump’s. Democrats, a majority of whom said they strongly agreed with their party on health care, were less supportive when Trump was the one endorsing the policy.
It’s not unusual for people to pick a side and use politicians as windsocks of a sort. They see which way that preferred politician is leaning, and lean that way too, trusting their judgement on issues the voter may not be overly familiar with. However, these aren’t obscure issues we’re talking about here. These are things like Social Security and affirmative action, topics that voters should be familiar with, in theory.
“We have reached a moment,” Steve Schmidt told WaPo, “where conservatism isn’t defined by issues anymore for a big percentage of the country.” Is that true? Is “conservatism” really more of a cultural attitude now, at least in its populist version, than a collection of policy principles derived from the conviction that the surest way to maximize individual freedom is to limit government? [Charles] Cooke writes of Trump’s heresies, “Honesty requires us to acknowledge that had President Obama endorsed exactly the same policies and rhetoric, the reaction from the Trumpkins would have been little short of nuclear.” He’s right, and if he’s right about that, how is Schmidt wrong? If anything, Cooke’s error is in assuming that Trump convinced people to discard principles that were dearly held rather than considering that it was something else all along about conservatism that’s been dearly held and that the principles were accepted only because they were assumed to be part and parcel of that something else. If Trump can protect that “something else,” whatever it may be, who cares if the policies that have traditionally been bundled with it get thrown away?
It’s important to note that while Democrats appeared less “squishy” on their views, the parroting wasn’t just Republican responses. Huffington Post notes that while 84 percent of Democrats loved the idea of universal healthcare when Obama is backing it, only 46 percent liked it when Trump supported it.
We have a somewhat radical suggestion for people on all sides who do stuff like this. Inside your skull is something called a “brain.” It’s the thing that lets you process American Idol results and identify which Kardashian is which. It can also read up a bit on issues and let you decide for yourself where you stand on things.
Hat tip: Poor Richard’s News