Study shows that politicians tend to overestimate the conservatism of their constituents

One thing I’ve learned in five years of writing this lefty blog is that our conservative commenters generally are more inclined than the liberals to think that most Americans agree with them.

That’s why they think that most polls are biased, especially if the numbers don’t comport with their own views. They seem to figure that if most of their friends agree with them, most Americans do, too. And if election results defy their expectations, they simply argue that too many moocher minorities and not enough real Americans voted.

Of course, this misreading of the vox populi is not limited to conservative commenters here at Applesauce. We see HERE that politicians in general, and right-wing politicians in particular, seem not to understand what many of their constituents are really thinking:

Politicians, especially conservative ones, massively overestimate the conservatism of their constituents on the issues of gay marriage and universal health care, an academic paper published Sunday has has found.

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.

The authors note that their findings rebuke Nixonian notions of a “silent majority,” or more recently, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s contention that “real America” supported her and Sen. John McCain’s 2008 ticket.


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