Electorate Hungry For Vague Aphorisms

While it is two weeks old, some recent polling information from Pew shines some light on the nonsense that is the public's supposed desire for bipartisanship and compromise in Washington. As the table on the right shows, between 46% and 67% of the electorate wants politicians who both "are willing to compromise" and "are willing to stick with positions, even if unpopular." Huge percentages of the country also want to see compromise in general, but don't want to see compromise on specific issues. The next time the public doesn't like someone because s/he or is a "flip flopper," perhaps they should look themselves in the mirror. More importantly, the next time a pundit or reporter states that the country is looking for compromise and bipartisanship, they should note that the country doesn't know what exactly it wants compromise on, and that they also like leaders who stand on principle.

Apart from the numbers that show, to put it politely, a confused electorate hungry for vague aphorisms, it is also interesting to note that Democrats have pulled clearly ahead of Republicans in terms of popularity, and liberals have pulled nearly even to conservatives. With leaners included, the polls internals show self-identified Democrats leading self-identified Republicans by a whopping 52-36 margin. It also shows that candidates who are "nearly always conservative" are liked by 38% of the electorate, while candidates who are "nearly always liberal" are liked by 32% of the electorate. With numbers like those, I can't wait to see the compiled numbers from 2006 on self-identified liberals and self-identified conservatives. The already narrowing gap is probably at its lowest ebb since the 1960's, or even earlier. If self-identified liberals ever equal self-identified conservatives, the Republican Party will either be forced to throw off the stranglehold of the conservative movement, or face a long-term debilitating electoral deficit for a generation. Who knows, the country might go so far to the left that even Barack Obama would be willing to self-identify as a liberal or a progressive.

Update: Yes, this was a snotty post on several levels. I'm tired, damn it. That attitude will come out once and a while. However, that last jab at Obama should not be misconstrued as a feeling of contempt for him. Of course I love what he did today in the Senate. Also, I volunteered for the guy in a crowded Democratic field in the 2004 Illinois Senate primary--I wouldn't have done that if I didn't like him. I just feel frustrated that someone who seems to obviously be a progressive refuses to self-identify as one.

Actually, it occurs to me that I have supported, beyond merely voting and sentiment, all three "top tier" candidates in the past. I volunteered for Kerry-Edwards in the 2004 general election, for Obama in the 2004 primary, and for Clinton (both Bill and Hillary) on several occasions. Weird. I guess if you are involved in politics long enough, eventually this sort of thing is bound to happen.

Tags: Culture, Ideology (all tags)



Re: Electorate Hungry For Vague Aphorisms

So Obama gets no points in the Bowers Scale for introducing legislation to remove all combat troops from Iraq by March 2008?

I've long been waiting for him to show some leadership. Today he did. He's still way too young, and often strikes me as worshipping 'bipartisanship' in the same way the media worships 'balance', but as of right now, I'm impressed.

by BingoL 2007-01-30 02:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Electorate Hungry For Vague Aphorisms

I would say the electorate's hungry for decisive vision.  The persistence of vague aphorisms from candidates of all stripes is what makes the electorate confused and unhappy.

by Nonpartisan 2007-01-30 03:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Electorate Hungry For Vague Aphorisms

"even Barack Obama would be willing to self-identify as a liberal or a progressive."

I don't know if this has some veiled contempt towards Obama, or perhaps you think you objectively observing the case without judging Obama.  A bit unclear.

But I'm very happy with what Obama did today, myself.

I'm not sure you should have displayed your contempt for the general public ("confused" and "vague aphorims") in the SAME post, that observes that this same american public is coming to identify with the democratic party.  

Makes it seem that the public may be "confused" about that as well, which I don't think you mean.

Longterm, we can't and shouldn't expect the public to be policy geeks, things should "just work", really.  Unfortunately, the lagtime on things "just working" is many years, while me judging my mechanic takes 10 minutes...

by jc 2007-01-30 03:18PM | 0 recs
Electorate Hungry For Similarly Hungry Hippos
Lay off, the whole thing was laced with jabs.
by jallen 2007-01-30 03:38PM | 0 recs
I saw that PEW study last week

This was the section that caught my attention. I think it demonstrates the liberal label still lags where we need it to be. Equal self-identified conservatives? Hell, cut the deficit by a third and it's all but over in presidential terms:

"More than twice as many Democrats want to vote for a moderate from the party rather than a liberal (by 59% to 28%), while Republicans are evenly split between backing a conservative or moderate Republican (40% each). Nearly half of independents (45%) say they most want to vote for a moderate - either a Democrat (28%) or a Republican (17%). Yet independents also are leaning heavily Democratic in their 2008 choices - by 44%-29%, more independents say they want to vote for a Democrat (either moderate or liberal) than a Republican."

by Gary Kilbride 2007-01-30 05:15PM | 0 recs
Obama as a Progressive

I'm almost certain that I've heard him identify himself as a progressive.  I can't remember when or where, and cursory googling isn't getting me anywhere, but I distinctly remember this...

by Ramo 2007-01-30 05:54PM | 0 recs
Not a self-identified progressive.

     Obama is not our savior.  He's going to run as consensus-building moderate, but all the while representing progressive interests.  It would be better if Obama were to run as a loud and proud progressive, so that we can build the brand.  The fact that the American electorate does not vote on ideology alone is a problem for us.  Because if everyone voted on issues, Democrats would win practically everything.  The American electorate, as your statistics show, is more inspired by Obama's rhetoric than by Dean's.  

by cilerder86 2007-01-30 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Not a self-identified progressive.

And the problem with that is...?

by Shaun Appleby 2007-01-30 09:05PM | 0 recs
Blame the voters all you want

While we're at it, let's consider the claim that all consumers buy junk because they're stupid.  Yup.  Sure fixes that consumer problem, doesn't it?

Don't take a liking to hating your public.  Otherwise, you will have a very interesting and whiny fall.

by jcjcjc 2007-01-30 06:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Blame the voters all you want
Yeah, that's true. Except for the interesting part.
by Chris Bowers 2007-01-30 07:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Blame the voters all you want

I find most things interesting.  Just my nature.

The truth is, I don't blame you for how you feel.  Most people in running a large effort eventually hit a moment where they wonder if every one of their constituents, clients, targets, customers, whatever may in fact be some combination of deaf, blind, thoughtless and learning disabled.

And, eventually you have to sort yourself out about how you feel toward that situation and whether it is worth it.

I've only had to do that while running a business.  Not so sure where you land without the profit incentive, though.

by jcjcjc 2007-01-31 06:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Electorate Hungry For Vague Aphorisms
I just caught Baker testifying on CSPAN...HE is the one hungry for the triumphs of diplomacy as he remembers them....he essentially said "when I was secretary of state, I could get whitehouse and congress to hammer out bipartisan stances on contentious issues.  why can't we all just sit down together and..."
Like he wasn't working with the most pigheaded president ever.
by greensmile 2007-01-30 06:38PM | 0 recs
Poll Results Not That Surprising

Chris, I think we can all agree that there are many low info voters in the United States, and as such, discussing how to reach them, and convince them to support progressive candidates, is a worthwhile discussion.  And yes, we can all fairly bemoan the existence of such low info voters.

But I think your interpretatation of this particular poll, of these particular people, which bemoans their flip-flopping, is a bit off the mark. These numbers actually make some sense. It is reasonable for voters to want a president who is willing to work with Congress and compromise on some issues, AND also want that same President to NOT compromise on other issues. This fact helps to explain the upper results.  (The questions were just too open ended...and did not specify issues.)

As for 60% of the voters in the United States wanting a candidate being a mix of liberal and conservative, that is pretty much a national given, and should not come as a surprise.  But it is also true that whenever you actually work an election, half the eligible voters typically do not vote, so yes, a case can be made that with the right candidate, in the right election, you can tack against that 60% rule a little bit. In particular, if you can find a candidate who is a strong progressive (with scant conservative tendencies) and that candidate can excite the Democratic base, and NOT excite the Republican base, then you can take greater chances with the 60% figure.  In other words, differential turnout can make a difference.

Lastly, it is also true that many progressives believe it is time time to retire the "liberal" label, and instead, build a new, "progressive" brand.  Others believe we must revivify and resurrect the "liberal" brand.  I tend to be in the former camp.  It would be interesting to see what the numbers would have been if the pollster had not used the term "nearly always liberal", but instead, used "nearly always progressive."  I will bet that would have polled at about 48%!  Time to call ourselves progressives.  :)  

by Demo37 2007-01-30 08:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Poll Results Not That Surprising

This is exactly right. It's not the poll results that Chris should complain about, it's the poll questions. Of course we want politicians to hold their ground on some issues and to compromise on others. For example: I would appreciate some compromise (and progress) on renewable energy but want my politicians to hold strong on, say, redeployment now. The questions are simplistic. You ask a stupid question, you get...

by AdyBarkan 2007-01-30 10:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Electorate Hungry For Vague Aphorisms

I think the subtext in the poll is that Americans are looking for really good leadership and they are willing to park their ideology if they can get it.  We are likely to get a demagogue or mythic hero, methinks, at this rate.

Frankly, I don't bemoan the results as indicating a fickle, uninformed electorate but one that is ready for a big fat change, they just don't know what it is yet.  

Maybe that would work for you too?

by Shaun Appleby 2007-01-30 09:11PM | 0 recs
Another way to look at it is

that Obama is letting his actions speak for him. (And as long as the press and public swoon at his feat without him having quiiiite earned that adulation, who's to complain?)

There is one party where candidates must swear allegiance to the flag of their ideology.

It's not us.

We're not there yet.  But will be.

by vernonlee 2007-01-30 10:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Electorate Hungry For Vague Aphorisms

Just joined Mydd, but have been reading for a long time----

I think what chris said was completely legitimate.  Despite what misgivings the Republican and Democrat(ic) parties have towards each other, they can all come together in an orgy of bipartisanship for certain sacred cows.  Just a few things any politician must avoid in order to even get their foot in the door:

1. forgetting to say that America is the best strongest nation in the world.  What's wrong with Sweden? They are a kind people, and never invaded Iraq.  Perhaps they even took a stand against Poland's entry into the alliance of the willing.  I haven't done the research on that one.

2. Never show disdain for the American people, the greatest most nebulous monolith to ever occupy an abstract concept.  This is actually the germane portion of my post.  

I believe that a lot of politically minded people on the liberal side of the political spectrum, which I still contend is a generally valid way to categorize political philosophies, have a heightened awareness about how Lefties appear to the general public.  We have a reputation of looking down at the uneducated masses, bemoaning their plight, but condescendingly dictating how they should be extricated from their sorrows.  In many ways this is a problematic paradigm, but in this case, go ahead and look down on the american voter.

Formally or not, most of the readers of mydd are probably fairly educated about current events, politics, and the like, and must/should be quite disturbed when they think about the following:

Even a year or so (I don't have the exact dates right now) after Iraq was invaded, a large portion of people polled believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11.  If those same people had said he was just marginally culpable, they still would have been quite wrong.

Bush's approval ratings, and the public's increasing support for withdrawal from the region, have respectively dwindled and surged at a pace that would make a sloth antsy. The war didn't become more immoral every time another soldier died in a roadside IED attack, or each time Rumsfeld or Maliki said something idiotic; it was wrong from the beginning.  The administration is correct in stating that the reason why the American people no longer support our project in Iraq is because their patience has run out.  Unfortunately, America's patience is actually nightmarishly long.

However circuitous a route I took, I feel that what I have just referenced is pertinent to the discussion.  Many progressives/liberals get touchy about impugning the honor or intelligence of the "American People" because it threatens their claims.  For example, one comment made in this thread stated that if everyone voted on "the issues," the Democratic party would be taking elections in a cake walk.  This is the oft-heard belief that the people are really with us, it's just that we have to undo two decades of conservative propaganda in order for them to vote for us more than half of the time.  Nonsense.  There are millions of conservative voters out there that will never vote for anyone that we support.  They cannot be wooed.  Those in the middle can, and those are the people obama is worried about turning off.  Even if he has self-identified as a progressive in the past, I promise you he won't be doing that much anymore, especially during the general election.  The mediocrity and complaceny of the general public is also why we so almost no discernible policy statement from Hillary Clinton.

Sadly, as of yet, the American people are not, wholeheartedly or otherwise, behind the progressive agenda.  They're simply no longer with the Bush administration and his rubber stamp cohort.  I applaud Chris for his 'tude against the love of vague aphorisms.  I said something similar to this in a town hall forum in Seattle about how easily the populous will be brainwashed in to conformity the next time outrageous baseless claims are made for war, and it really pissed off Matt Stoller.  Maybe I can spark that anger again so we can finish the discussion.

by josh plumridge 2007-01-30 11:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Electorate Hungry For Vague Aphorisms

the right is far more cynical about the masses than the left ever will be.

by bruh21 2007-01-31 05:31AM | 0 recs
I'll let your own words of the past two days speak

"Also, I volunteered for [Obama] in the 2004 Illinois Senate primary--I wouldn't have done that if I didn't like him. I have supported, beyond merely voting and sentiment, all three "top tier" candidates in the past. I volunteered for Kerry-Edwards in the 2004 general election, for Obama in the 2004 primary, and for Clinton (both Bill and Hillary) on several occasions."
-- Chris Bowers Today

"You've got cred, man. Remember that you were the top volunteer... Hell, you were beyond a volunteer--...Remember that you donated to every campaign ... ever. You were at every rally, ever. You have been there and done that, no matter where "there" is and what "that" may happen to be. There isn't a single, specific situation to which your endless activism does not apply. You earned your cynicism and / or the right to be an asshole..."
-- Chris Bowers Yesterday

Love you all...

by NCDem 2007-01-31 05:07AM | 0 recs
That was rule 5...

of Bowers's "How to win an argument with a progressive", by the way... for those of you who missed it.

Justify any "assholeishness" with your street cred.

by NCDem 2007-01-31 05:13AM | 0 recs
It's very simple

If you don't self-identify as a progressive, you're not a progressive.

It really is as simple as that.

"Doing good by stealth" is not an appropriate strategy for dealing with the anti-Democratic assault on our Constitution and the rule of law. For example.

by lambert 2007-01-31 05:31AM | 0 recs
The Rational Public

Pew should be ashamed of itself for putting this sort of poll out.  The public is nowhere near as muddle-headed as this makes them seem.

Just over 15 years, two of the nation's top experts in the study of public opinion, Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro, published a book, The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans' Policy Preferences.  What they found--using true data series (identical questions over time)--was that public opinion mostly doesn't change very much.  When it does change, it's usually in response to real-world events, in which case it changes in fairly predictable ways.

As the subtitle says, they were looking at policy preferences. Obviously, opinion changes much more rapidly and often regarding politicians.  Their approval ratings (not that much studied when the book came out, aside from presidents) can go up and down like a yo-yo--and often for reasons that have little or nothing to do with them.

Usually, however, it seems fair to say that those reasons have to do with the politician in context.  Bush's 90% approval ratings after 9/11, for example, were not about Bush.  They were rational as expressions of a felt need for national unity (something that Bush never did understand).

In other words, people use different rational frameworks for judging for issues and politicians.  And this poll garbles the two. The vague aphorisms operate on the politician framework, while the issue questions operate on the issue framework. The vague aphorisms conflict with one another for a very good reason--both compromise and adherance to principle are important aspects of successful political practice.

People will naturally disagree quite a bit more about practice (when one or the other is called for, as well as about whether real principles were sacrificed or not, etc.) than they will about the general notion that both attributes are good in general.  Thus, there is a good deal less inconsistency here than meets the eye.  Most of the inconsistency is an artefact of the questioning methodology, and a failure to think through what were already well-known facts a good 15 years ago.

There is one outstanding source of inconsistency that has been known about for almost 40 years:  there are lots of folks who are ideologically conservative (primarily in the sense of prefer small government, favoring local control and the marketplace) or who self-identify as conservatives who none-the-less support a broad range of welfare-state programs (as well government spending on things like the environment that aren't classic welfare-state issues, but nonetheless go well beyond the narrow range of spending approved by conservative orthodoxy).

This inconstency has been probed in some detail recently, with some very interesting results.  But overall, it was never necessarily a logical contradiction.  One can easily oppose big government in principle, all other things being equal, and yet see plenty of instances where all things aren't equal.

In short, the more closely you look, the less and less irrationality you find in the American public (not that you necessarily need to agree with their preferences!) and the more faulty reasoning you find in the CW of Versailles.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-31 01:01PM | 0 recs


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