Wednesday, October 31, 2018

That Out of Touch Elite in Congress

Yet another study shows that politicians are largely indifferent to what the public wants:
In a research paper, we compared their responses with our best guesses of what the public in their districts or states actually wanted using large-scale public opinion surveys and standard models. Across the board, we found that congressional aides are wildly inaccurate in their perceptions of their constituents’ opinions and preferences.

For instance, if we took a group of people who reflected the makeup of America and asked them whether they supported background checks for gun sales, nine out of 10 would say yes. But congressional aides guessed as few as one in 10 citizens in their district or state favored the policy. Shockingly, 92 percent of the staff members we surveyed underestimated support in their district or state for background checks, including all Republican aides and over 85 percent of Democratic aides. . . .

Aides usually assumed that the public agreed with their own policy views.
This has to be taken with a grain of salt. All good politicians know that what people tell pollsters about issues and how they vote are two different things. A good example is that most Republicans will tell pollsters they care about the deficit, even though hardly any have voted as if they did since Eisenhower's time. Likewise many democrats support integration as long as it it doesn't involve their own kids' school. So this could be a case of politicians understanding the complexity of the links between policy choices and votes better than pollsters do.

But my dealings with politicians have impressed on me that they are not analytical people. They are people people who thrive on fact-to-face interactions. The opinions that matter to them are the ones their friends and supporters express when they meet. Many of them seem to have serious attention deficit issues when it comes to policy, especially reading about policy. Some are obsessive readers of polls, but not all are; as you may have noticed some of them regularly denounce polls as silly and say the size of their rallies or their mail bags are better signs of what the public really thinks. I don't think they are all just trying to change the subject; I think many of them really form their view of "the public" much more from what they see and feel than what they read.


Shadow said...

"A good example is that most Republicans will tell pollsters they care about the deficit, even though hardly any have voted as if they did since Eisenhower's time."

The fallacy of an issue existing in a vacuum. It leaves out all the other possible reasons one might not vote for a candidate who says he or she wants to reduce the deficit. The poll that asks which candidate are you going to vote for is a far better predictor because it includes all choices (candidates).

G. Verloren said...

I seem to recall reading studies a while back about how the percentage of the total population that creeps into the range of clinical psychopathy is something like 1 in 100, but when you narrow the view to only people in positions of power such as CEOs and politicians, that number spikes to something like 1 in 10.

We have a system that ultimately rewards people who lack human empathy and awareness of the wants and needs of others, and incentivizes them to seek power.


The majority of politicians aren't concerned with the desires of the public - they are concerned with the desires of their financial and political supporters.

They aren't motivated by sheer altruism and a desire to serve their fellows - they're motivated by naked self interest and a desire for wealth and influence.

They aren't good public citizens performing a civic duty - they are private entrepreneurs working a job and running a business for profit.


Congress is out of touch? It's their JOB to be out of touch! The system is built in such a way as to reward them for ignoring the people they are supposed to be representing, and instead cater to the whims of the rich, powerful, and corrupt!

Garbage in, garbage out. The system isn't broken - it's working exactly as intended. The problem is the system itself, and how it is designed.

You don't blame a hammer for the fact that it makes a terrible saw. You blame the person who handed you a hammer, when the job called for a saw.