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.
Bill Keller's op ed in today's NYT seeks answers for seemingly inexplicable differences in recent legislation in States that are apparently not so different from each other. He considers Bill Bishop's 2008 book, The Big Sort, the thesis of which is that people choose to form geographic communities of like-minded person. Then he considers Dante Chinni and James Gimpel's 2010 book Our Patchwork Nation, which focuses on what they see as an urban-rural divide. Then he says:
I heard a more satisfying if somewhat depressing explanation for the seemingly random eruptions of political idiosyncrasy from Samuel Abrams, who teaches politics at Sarah Lawrence and Stanford. Abrams, who has spent the last decade or so researching our political habits, begins with the evidence that most Americans are simply not engaged in local politics, except perhaps on pocketbook issues. In the absence of public attention, motivated, well-financed and sometimes extreme elites have captured the lawmaking process in many state capitals. Legislatures are vulnerable to (and often populated by) the most ardent believers in a cause, the ones who care enough to take the time, raise the money, turn out on Election Day and lobby relentlessly.
“People who participate in state and local government tend not to be representative of the masses at all,” Abrams told me. “They tend to be highly engaged political elites — 15 percent of the population who think they’re fighting this culture war. They’ll see an opening. They’ll see a judge, they’ll see a legislature that looks amenable to something, and they’ll try to push it through and build a groundswell around that.”
Dave Johnson put up a post three days ago that starts this way:
A new study, Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans, by Professors Benjamin I. Page, Jason Seawright and Larry M. Bartels sought to gauge the political and policy priorities of the wealthy, and how these concerns contrast with the concerns of the rest of us. Amazingly, the priorities of the 1% match up with the priorities of our political class, while the priorities and needs of the vast majorities of us are ignored.
Johnson fills out the piece with examples and references from other studies and articles reinforcing the conclusion.