David Broockman and Christopher Skovron, graduate students at Berkeley and Michigan, respectively, recently released research about people’s views on current policy issues, such as gay marriage, global warming and Obamacare.
They polled almost 2,000 state legislators and compared the results with polls taken within their respective districts. What they found was “a striking bias in politicians’ perceptions, particularly among conservatives,” who generally overestimate the conservatism of their constituents by 20 points.
In other words, they believe everyone thinks as they do.
In contrast, 70 percent of liberal candidates underestimate support for liberal positions among their constituents and consistently overestimate opposition to same-sex marriage and universal health care.
Conservative politicians are so biased, they concluded, that it raised the question of “epistemic closure,” defined as close-mindedness, ideological intolerance, and reliance on “pretend information” from Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and Glenn Beck.
Norm Ornstein (AEI) and Thomas Mann (Brookings) earlier described the same phenomenon, observing that the GOP “is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; (and) unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science.”
Andrew Kohut, who served as president of both Pew Research and Gallup, recently described the Republican Party as “far beyond the mainstream.” What unites them, he said, is ideological resistance to President Obama’s policies, discomfort with the country’s changing demographics, and the conservative media.
Pew Research has found that 54 percent of staunch conservatives report that they regularly watch Fox News, which stokes their resentment against all those non-white people “taking over the country.” In addition, 1,600 of the 1,700 talk radio stations in the country are conservative, many of which broadcast Rush Limbaugh’s diatribes against women, minorities, immigrants, gays and liberals.
The same corporations and plutocrats that fund conservative media outlets also fund political propaganda mills — AEI, Heritage, Hoover, and CATO (which prefer the misleading term “think tanks”) — lobbyists, political action committees, endowed chairs and legislative drafting committees, such as ALEC, which churn out a steady stream of fact-challenged “studies” and polemics.
If their talking points all sound the same, it’s because they mostly are. They are coordinated during the weekly Washington meeting of 200 or so conservative lobbyists, corporate representatives, congressional staffs, and dark money organizations, chaired by Grover Norquist, who is funded by the Koch brothers.
Evangelicals are part of the process and share some of the same characteristics. A study by the National Science Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation concluded that the Christian conservative Republican base is "immune to evidence and reason when it comes to economics."
So, where is the real mainstream, the political center?
Seventy-four percent of Americans support regulating greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change (Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll).
Sixty-eight percent oppose cuts to Medicaid (Washington Post/ABC poll).
Large majorities in every poll oppose changing Medicare and over half oppose raising the eligibility age.
Overwhelming majorities support Social Security, including over 70 percent of Republicans in some polls, even if it means raising taxes.
By 56 to 39, Americans judge the Afghan war “not worth fighting” (a March ABC News/Washington Post poll) — 74-80 percent of voters want lower defense spending according to polls by three organizations last summer.
Opinion overwhelmingly supports universal health care, but is about evenly divided on the ACA, despite malicious slanders about “death panels” and Michele Bachmann’s nonsense that Obamacare "literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”
Sixty-two percent favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (January Associated Press poll).
More than 90 percent favor criminal background checks for gun buyers, and broad majorities support other restrictions, for example, 65 percent favor bans on large-capacity magazines.
Sixty-five to 75 percent of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy.
Fifty-eight percent support the right to same sex marriage, according to a recent poll.
Broad majorities — by 2:1 in a January Pew poll — oppose reversing Roe v. Wade.
In other words, mainstream America favors more gun controls, abortion rights, marriage equality, immigration reform, cutting defense spending but not entitlements, getting out of Afghanistan, global warming science over denialism, and higher taxes on the wealthy.
The usual response from conservatives is to label any media outlet that reflects that reality as liberal, or in the alternate universe of Bill O’Reilly, “far, far left.”
In this universe, the reality is that the GOP’s unfavorability rating is a calamitous 58 percent, according to Pew.
Rep. Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, has figured it out: “The public is not behind us,” he said, “and that’s a real problem for our party.”
Tom Maertens describes himself as a political centrist who has worked in national security for both political parties in the White House and in the U.S. Senate. He is part of a Free Press team of readers from all political viewpoints asked to write columns.