Politicians Believe Their Constituents Are More Conservative Than They Really Are

In recent years we’ve seen Republican politicians push to move the country to the right, often with many Democratic politicians fearing to take liberal stands. This is despite polls in recent years showing that American voters, even many Republican voters, are holding liberal positions on many issues. A study analyzing the perception of politicians of the views of their constituents provides some insight into why many politicians fail to support liberal policies which are becoming increasingly popular.

The study found that politicians believed that their constituents held positions which are more conservative than they actually do. Luke Johnson summarized the article:

David E. Broockman of the University of California at Berkeley and Christopher Skovron of the University of Michigan surveyed nearly 2,000 state legislative candidates in the 2012 election and asked them what percentage of their constituents they thought supported same-sex marriage, a universal health care system and abolishing all welfare programs.

The result was a vast conservative misperception. Constituents, on average, supported gay marriage and universal health care by 10 percentage points more than their politicians had estimated. For conservative politicians, the spread was around 20 percentage points, meaning that conservative legislators tend to greatly overestimate how conservative their constituents actually are.

“For perspective, 20 percentage points is roughly the difference in partisanship between California and Alabama,” the authors write. “Most politicians appear to believe they are representing constituents who are considerably different than their actual constituents.”

The authors note that the conservative imbalance is particularly severe. “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,” they write.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Jeff S. says:

    Wow, this explains a lot.  Does the study give a reason why this is thie case (or posit any theories).  My guess is that the right has been so effective in the past 30 years or so at demonizing the word liberal (and liberals themselves), and the result is that the right-wiing noise machine distorts the perception.  Thanks for posting.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    I agree that the right wing noise machine is largely responsible for this misconception, but the article doesn’t get into this.

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