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Who are a politician’s constituents?

Dylan Mathews is reporting today on research showing that state legislators all across the political spectrum believe their own constituents are more conservative than they actually are as determined by polling.

Broockman and Skovron find that all legislators consistently believe their constituents are more conservative than they actually are. This includes Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. But 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 write. This finding held up across a range of issues. 

Mathews suggests the legislators are victims of epistemic closure, an inability or unwillingness to comprehend that they have incorrectly assessed their constituents' views. Digby, commenting on this at Campaign for America's Future, suggests that the political media and donor class are both more conservative than the electorate at large.

Years of right wingers playing the refs by accusing the media of being liberal lapdogs has taken its toll. And, frankly, many of the elite political media are extremely well compensated and live in a world filled with rich, powerful people. They naturally identify with them and have less understanding of the average Americans' daily concerns. (And no, it doesn't matter if they came up from the average middle class — our meritocratic ethos says they did it all on their own and everyone else could too. Many of them are more hardcore about this than the children of the aristocracy.)

Perhaps "playing the refs" has also influenced how ordinary people view themselves. In What does it mean that the US electorate is "center-right"? Nothing.--

I found it is true that self-described conservatives have outnumbered self-described liberals in every election year since at least 1970. But I found that when polled on specific policy questions likely voters were apt to skew liberal instead of conservative. In other words, respondents' self-described ideology is useless in predicting public attitudes toward specific policy issues.

But really doesn't it get down to this simple fact: A politician's true constituents are his/her donors and the media, not the voters? Those who represent their true constituents can get reelected, and those who represent only the voters in their districts will likely be replaced.

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