Politicians, take note


I’ve heard more times than I’d care to that the US is a center-right country, and that’s why progressives aren’t winning as much as we would like. This analysis has infected the political class, and a self-reinforcing cycle ensues in which politicians are afraid to take any kind of risk because they expect blowback. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones highlighted an interesting study that calls these assumptions into question [emphasis mine]:

Here’s a fascinating tidbit of research. A pair of grad students surveyed 2,000 state legislators and asked them what they thought their constituents believed on several hot button issues. They then compared the results to actual estimates from each district derived from national surveys.

The chart on the right is typical of what they found: Everyone—both liberal and conservative legislators—thought their districts were more conservative than they really were. For example, in districts where 60 percent of the constituents supported universal health care, liberal legislators estimated the number at about 50 percent. Conservative legislators were even further off: They estimated the number at about 35 percent.

Drum and his commenters posit a variety of explanations for these results, which the authors of the study don’t address: conservative bias in the media; louder, angrier conservative constituents; low voter turnout among the people who hold these more progressive values; fealty to political donors rather than voters.

Whatever the answer, it shows that we need to push back when legislators argue that they are accurately representing their constituents when they take more conservative stances. It’s one thing when we’re talking to moderates politicians on an issue, but this kind of excuse often comes from ostensibly progressive politicians who are exercising unnecessary caution. What do you think might be the explanation? Share your thoughts in the comments.



Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

2 thoughts on “Politicians, take note”

  1. I remember reading about this study somewhere else. Chilling, especially in light of the policies the most far-right wants politicians to enact. Seems to me that over the last few decades, the conservative wing of the GOP has really honed their ground game in terms of political speech. Not just being louder, as you point to, but also their ability to really COMMIT to a few central talking points, get supporters to repeat those points without deviation, and not get derailed from those points, regardless of facts raised or the (once-)normal back-and-forth of public discourse.

    You get really good at doing that? And the amplification process makes it seem like there are more people supporting you than really are.


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