Public Opinion and Self-Preservation

Contra Jamelle, I think Daniel’s got the right idea here.

It’s not that Republicans aren’t taking public opinion into account, or that the Democrats necessarily are, it’s that politicians don’t solely act on the public opinion of the moment, they can’t afford to because the public is an extremely fickle creature and passing policy takes far longer than Americans are sometimes willing to wait for which, I think, is as it should be because the public is also incredibly stupid (read: electing two term President George W. Bush).

Which leads me back to a really sharp post that Yglesias wrote a month back:

What matters for political sense is a few big, crude factors. And the Bush administration, whatever you say about them, seems to me to have basically understood this. There was a lot of sentiment in December 2000 and January 2001 that the weird nature of Bush’s accession to the presidency meant that he not only would but had to basically ditch his governing agenda in favor of a more centrist posture. The Bushies correctly ascertained that whether or not he succeeded in getting bipartisan glamor shots three and a half years earlier was going to have nothing to do with his re-election prospects. They saw that a President has certain powers to shape policy, that the vast majority of policy decisions have no impact whatsoever on voter behavior, and that the best thing you can do is just press ahead with what you think is best.

What the voters think they want matters a hell of a lot less than you think, and behavior that looks like principled stands is going to be rewarded more than adjusting your opinion based on whatever the polls show that week. Unfortunately for America and the world, George W. Bush’s advisers understood this and his opponents didn’t.

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3 Responses

  1. […] Ned agrees with Daniel’s assessment and adds that “What the voters think they want matters a hell of a lot less than you think, and behavior that looks like principled stands is going to be rewarded more than adjusting your opinion based on whatever the polls show that week.” […]

  2. […] I argued some time ago, public opinion of the moment isn’t the only factor legislators should be […]

  3. […] policies to pass. In contrast, public opinion can (and often does) change in the blink of an eye. As I’ve said in the past, in theory it makes sense to pay attention to only their constituents in deciding what stance to […]

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