So basically no one cares?

>> Monday, September 1, 2008

This is why i think it make no sense to talk about a polarized country and why i maintain that the people in the middle are not ideologically sophisticated. People with sophisticated ideologies filter things through them and that is how the generate policy expectations. Now there are going to be topics where most people simply won't know enough or topics where the answer has no impact on their lives so it is ignored. Fine. That is almost understandable. One of those topics though is not the invasion of a foriegn country. Matt Yglesias has been writing about the failure of most public opinion polls to dig deep enough to get at peoples real attitudes. What you get when you do this digging is that most people dont care about a great deal of policy.


Here Yglesias' his take on the lethargy of the populace.

Basically, the center of public opinion was prepared to defer to official policy and not demanding anything in particular. I can’t at all prove it, but I’m almost 100 percent sure that the situation with regard to Iran is the same. Most people just don’t have detailed or strongly held views about the broad range of topics. If the President says bombing Iran is necessary and can find a bunch of people in suits and ties to go on television as “experts” and say that the bombing was necessary for American security, I’m sure a majority would go along with it. But that’s not the same as saying that public opinion is demanding bombing. Probably if you had a president who just never talked about Iran, 80 percent of the public would pay no attention whatsoever to the progress (if any) of Iran’s nuclear program.


There is nothing really wrong in this. Most people are just not experts on Iran or national security. When you lack knowledge in a specialized field you ask people you think should know. In the case of Iran and Iraq and other foriegn affairs people generally take their queue from the media. If that media happens to be subverted by propagandists then more than likely people will accept the out come given them.

Towards the end of the quote he brings up the point about the lack of coverage leading to a lack of opinion. It is very true. One of the most important roles that the media and other elites play in the US is in highlighting what is most important topics of the day. They are the opinion leaders. If they start running lots of stories about how important the fighting in Congo is than that becomes a major issue. Rarely is ever to issues spring up organically. Even with the blogosphere shouting about certain things those items are rarely featured in the TM.

This is not to say that whatever the TM starts shouting about will become important. What happens is that that topic is covered to death and people generate short term opinions, not held vary strongly. The media raves about the importance of something so people feel like they should have an opinion. This does not always work though as illustrated by the recent VP picks.

The Tm considered Obama's selection of running mate to be uber important. If he picked the wrong person he would open himself up to all kinds of attacks and if he picked the right person he could seal the election. Here are the results of the Biden pick in the Usa Today/ Gallup poll.

More than seven in 10 Americans say the choice of Biden won't affect their vote for president.

Positive impact on 20% of people, negative impact on 10%.


There is further evidence that people really are not that invested or sophisticated when it come to opinion. 70% of people just did not care. We see similar results for the Palin pick, widely panned as being horrendous.

67%, say putting Palin on the ticket won't affect their vote.

Of those who say the running mates will make a difference, 18% say Palin makes them more likely to vote for McCain, 11% less likely.


Palin is widely regarded as unfit to assume the duties as president and yet many people still say that will not affect their vote. Here is something the media and opinion makers have been all over and it has had little to no impact. There is more evidence that people just don't form consistent opinions. Here is a recent poll conducted on the Palin and Biden picks

Is Sarah Palin qualified to serve as president?

Yes: 45%

No: 50%

No opinion: 5%

Do you think John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin reflects favorably or unfavorably on McCain’s ability to make important presidential decisions?

Favorably: 57%

Unfavorably: 40%

No opinion: 2%

“John McCain chose Sarah Palin because he thought having a woman on the ticket would help him get elected?”

Agree: 75%

Disagree: 25%


Logically several of the answers are in conflict. If you said that she is unqualified shouldn't that give you an unfavorable opinion of McCain's judgment? Also people fully understand that this was a decision about politics and not governance but that failed to make a dent in their feelings about McCain. The connections that should be made are just not there. I suspect that this is because people just dont care all that much and are giving the first answer off the top of their heads to pollsters. If questions that have a connection are not asked in sequence people would be apt to forget the previous question and give conflicting answers.

Part of the reason i think you see this with Palin is that because people dont care too much they have not given her much scrutiny. She is virtually unknown outside of Alaska. It is possible that when people really take a look at her things go south for McCain. This is suggested by one of Frank Luntz's focus groups covered in Time by Joe Klein.

Another week, another Frank Luntz/AARP focus group of undecided voters--this one in Minneapolis and with some bad news for John McCain: they don't like the choice of Sarah Palin for vice president. Only one person said Palin made him more likely to vote for McCain; about half the 25-member group raised their hands when asked if Palin made them less likely to vote for McCain. They had a negative impression of Palin by a 2-1 margin...a fact that was reinforced when they were given hand-dials and asked to react to Palin's speech at her first appearance with McCain on Friday---the dials remained totally neutral as Palin went through her heart-warming(?) biography, and only blipped upwards when she said she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere--which wasn't quite the truth, as we now know.


The results here illustrate that the exposure to Pallin, when people really have to think about her, is a negative. So it might be too much to expect that people know about or previously cared about Sarah Palin. Only time will tell how this shakes out.

When dealing with something you love and obsess over it is hard to fathom that other people dont care about it nearly as much as you do. When that something is politics, something that actually affects everyone, it is doubly hard. I think that people need to take a step back and realize that the general public really is not that interested, even if 38 million people watched Obamas speech.

2 comments:

Progressive Traditionalist September 1, 2008 at 12:51 PM  

Hello, Gaucho Politico.

I followed you here from DKos. Those people are clowns for the most part, but you appeared to be somewhat sensible. So I came to look.

I can assure you that you are quite mistaken in your position that people in the middle are not ideologically sophisticated.
People in the middle are not well-represented, regardless of the sophistication of their ideology.

The only political party I have ever been a member of is the Democrats. I was an independent in the late 80's to early 90's, and changed my registration to independent in '08.

There were areas where I had split from the dominant Democratic thought in the past, particularly in conservation and energy. Too many urbanites with fruity pie-in-the-sky beliefs.

The big break came with abortion. For most of my life, I thought I was pro-choice. Then, the ideological purity staff at DKos were kind enough to inform me that, because I was opposed to third-term abortion, I was pro-life. Ok, fine then. Knowing that, how could I ever vote for a pro-choice candidate ever again?

Over the weekend, I had a discussion with a Democrat about the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. At the time, I really didn't see it as a big deal one way or the other.
We also discussed an issue where a ctudent is suing their school in federal court because his science book said something about there being a debate about global warming.
I came away from it supporting ID. I listened to the arguments, even when the other person was plainly abusive toward me for not agreeing with him. But no sale.

That's my story.

I remember being very upset in '04 when I read that over 40% of AFL-CIO members voted for Bush in that year, and I couldn't understand why they would do that (I am a member of a trade union).
Now I understand.

The Gaucho Politico September 1, 2008 at 1:22 PM  

First thanks for commenting.

Second, I dont think that you are pro life for being opposed to third term abortion.

When i say ideologically sophisticated i mean that a persons issue by issue positions can be organized around a central theme. Their beliefs are almost always in line around this theme and there are very few contradictions. there are of course varying levels of sophistication.

I am going to continue to disagree with your assertion that the middle is sophisticated. People in the middle may hold issue positions. What those positions will lack though is a consistency and an explanation for why they hold the beliefs that they do. Having a sophisticated ideology means that you have a rubric or filter that you may apply every time.

your example of Intelligent Design is not an example of ideology because you took a de novo position based on the facts only in that particular instance. If it was an ideological choice there would have been something philosophical behind it, which from the brief evidence you provided i am not seeing.

O-le,O-le, O-le, O-le! O-le, O-le!

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