Politicians think their constituents are more conservative than they are
Dylan Matthews reports fascinating research which contrasts state legislators’ estimates of their constituents views on some key issues with polling data on those views. David Broockman and Christopher Skovron find that liberal politicians overestimate their constituents conservativeness and conservative politicians vastly overestimate their constituents conservativeness. The post is too good do summarize so just click the link for impressive and scary graphs.
I have some obvious thoughts. I can think of several possible explanations.
1) income. Bartles is always arguing that the congressmen follow only their richer constituents. I don’t think this works for gay marriage (but what do I know). This is quite probably because they spend a huge amount of time talking to potential campaign donors.
2) constituents vs voters. Voters are older and richer on average than adults overall. I assume “constituents “means adult citizens. The gap is larger the lower the office (compare popular presidential and house vote in 2012) and much larger in non presidential years. It would not be surprising for state legislators to pay less attention to constituents who don’t actually vote.
3) Age. there are huge age gradients to opinions on universal health care and gay marriage. State legislatures might pay more attention to older constituents who might be more likely to communicate their views. It is very hard to tell this from explanation 2.
4) Changes in perceived opinion lag changes in actual opinion. A guess on public views on gay marriage which is a few years out of date will be far from accurate.
5) people believe what they want to believe and politicians use “the people believe X” to mean “X”. The pattern by ideology of the legislator pretty much shows this. State legislators could be to the right of their consituents on average because of uh technical factors I mean tactical factors oh hell I mean money. in paricular legislators’ positions and their perceptions of their constituents’ views probably have a lot to do with campaign donors’ views.
If you’re say a Republican legislator, you’re much more likely to ge letters and email from the conservative and libertarian voters in your district than liberals. The newspaper editorials you notice will come from conservative papers; the letters-to-the-editor you see are more likely to be written by conservatives. The places you are asked to speak (“VFW Hall, Quincy, Saturday” and “Our Lady of the Angels, Staunton, 7 pm”) are more likely to provide conservative-filled audiences, and the like. After a while, this kind of backdrop is going to seem normal, no matter how one-sided it might appear to outsiders.
Legislators tend to also be older themselves. Even the young ones are in their 50s. People listen to those in their peer group. Rich, old, white.
maybe they just read the papers.