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Political Ignorance and the 2008 Election:

The conservative "How Obama Got Elected" website has put up survey data from polls conducted by Zogby and Wilson Research that show extensive political ignorance among Obama votes (HT: my colleague Lloyd Cohen). For example, some 57% (in the Zogby poll) to 59% (Wilson poll) of Obama voters didn't known that the Democrats controlled Congress at the time of the election. By contrast, 63% of McCain supporters got this question right in the Wilson survey (Zogby did not conduct a separate survey of McCain supporters on this issue). Similarly, the Zogby results showed that the vast majority of Obama voters were unaware of various negatives about Obama and vice presidential nominee Joe Biden; McCain voters scored better on these questions. Ignorance about Democratic control of Congress is particularly important, because understanding of that fact might have led voters conclude that the Democrats shared at least some responsibility for the financial crisis and other recent policy failures. This information might not have prevented them from putting Obama in the White House; but it could well have led them to forego giving the Democrats greatly expanded congressional majorities.

The "How Obama Got Elected" authors argue that this shows that political ignorance was a major factor in Obama's victory. To an extent, it probably was. However, Democrats can easily point to comparable ignorance by Republican voters. For example, in 2004, a high proportion of Bush voters believed that large-scale WMD caches or programs had been found in Iraq, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

More generally, it is not surprising that voters on both sides are often ignorant about a wide range of issues. As I have often pointed out in my scholarship (e.g. here), it is in fact rational for most voters to be ignorant about politics because of the very low probability that any individual vote will change electoral outcomes. In addition, voters have little incentive to do an unbiased evaluation of the information they do have. As a result, "political fans" often act like sports fans, overvaluing information that supports their preferred "team" and ignoring or downplaying anything that makes the team look bad. Such bias may explain why Obama voters in the Wilson survey were less likely to know information that reflected badly on the Democrats, whereas McCain voters had the opposite bias (e.g. - a smaller percentage of McCain voters than Obama voters knew that McCain had been implicated in the Keating Five scandal). As the "How Obama Got Elected" site notes, "in general, the voters did universally worse on questions where the negative information was about their candidate."

Of course, voters were not ignorant across the board:

Ninety-four percent of Obama voters correctly identified Palin as the candidate with a pregnant teenage daughter, 86% correctly identified Palin as the candidate associated with a $150,000 wardrobe purchased by her political party, and 81% chose McCain as the candidate who was unable to identify the number of houses he owned. When asked which candidate said they could "see Russia from their house," 87% chose Palin, although the quote actually is attributed to Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey during her portrayal of Palin during the campaign. An answer of "none" or "Palin" was counted as a correct answer on the test, given that the statement was associated with a characterization of Palin.

Conservatives will no doubt argue that these Palin negatives stuck in the voters' minds because of media bias. That may be true to some extent. But it is probably more likely that they became well known because they were "human interest" stories that could grab the attention of ordinary voters who find complex policy issues boring. There is a long history of polling data showing higher knowledge levels about human interest stories than policy stories. For example, two of the most widely known facts about the first President Bush was that he hated broccoli and owned a dog named Millie.

Widespread political ignorance and bias give partisans plenty of data that demonstrates' the ignorance of their opponents' voters. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore the reality that their own side's voters are usually just as bad.

The true lesson of political knowledge polls is not that either Democrats or Republicans are uniquely ignorant, but that we should reduce the power of government. That way, fewer important decisions will be made under the influence of electoral processes where ignorance, bias, and irrationality play such an enormous role.

UPDATE: Some commenters point to this post by Nate Silver as supposedly discrediting the Zogby results. I don't think it does. Silver says nothing that disproves the results themselves; he merely claims that the poll was commissioned by John Ziegler, a conservative political activist with supposedly nefarious motives (conducting a "push poll" to prejudice survey respondents against Obama). The claim that the survey was a "push poll" is dubious because, as Zogby points outs, it was conducted after the election.

But even if Ziegler's motives were exactly as as Silver suggests, that in no way proves that the poll is methodologically flawed. In particular, Silver doesn't even mention what I think is the single most striking finding: that the vast majority of Obama supporters didn't know which party controls Congress. Silver does suggest that some of the other questions are factually inaccurate, but provides no proof of that. I agree that a few are probably poorly worded; but I don't think I need to prove that every question on the survey is methodologically sound to show that the overall results of the poll demonstrate a fairly high (though predictable) level of political ignorance.

LN (mail):
The argument in the post seems to be, "Voters are ignorant, and therefore the government should have less power."

I agree with the premise, and don't necessarily disagree with the consequent, but I'm not sure I see a necessary logical connection.

To manufacture a really simple example, let's say that Really Evil Corporation (REC) is poisoning the water supply, but voters are unaware, ignorant, and misinformed about this. Meanwhile, there is a government agency staffed by "expert scientists" that perceives the problem and recommends steps to address it. Should this agency have the power to regulate REC's behavior? I don't see how "voters are really, really dumb" is a good argument for or against here.
12.15.2008 8:48pm
Ilya Somin:
To manufacture a really simple example, let's say that Really Evil Corporation (REC) is poisoning the water supply, but voters are unaware, ignorant, and misinformed about this. Meanwhile, there is a government agency staffed by "expert scientists" that perceives the problem and recommends steps to address it. Should this agency have the power to regulate REC's behavior? I don't see how "voters are really, really dumb" is a good argument for or against here.

The answer is that the agency will be controlled by politicians who are answerable to the ignorant voters. So it is unlikely that the agency will will adopt good policies, as opposed to ones that cater to the public's ignorance and irrationality.


I discuss the "rule of experts" solution to voter ignorance in more detail in this post. There, I cover the possibility of "expert" agencies independent from the political process.
12.15.2008 8:52pm
BChurch:
Nate Silver did a good job of picking apart this ridiculous push poll over at FiveThirtyEight

http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2008/11/
zogby-engages-in-apparent-push-polling.html

For a bonus, check out the supremely unflattering interview with Zeigler.
12.15.2008 9:07pm
MCM (mail):
Wouldn't it be great if the Constitution had various counter-majoritarian checks in it, in order to account for the fact that most people are ignorant and irrational?
12.15.2008 9:08pm
RPT (mail):
It is quite incredible that such a large majority of the Obama voters did not agree with the Republican campaign statements about him, described here as the "various negatives". If this is what passes as analysis these days........
12.15.2008 9:12pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
Wow. This is seriously disappointing.

Here's a WSJ blog summary of the controversy over this poll.

Many of the criticisms of the poll — and of what John Ziegler did with the data when he got it — are subject to reasonable argument. I'm just surprised to see it touted here without the barest reference to any of that dispute.

FWIW, John Ziegler did emerge as one of the most talented unintentional humorists of the post-election season. I particularly liked his explanation for the disproportionate number of black people in his video pitching his "Obama voter ignorance" meme:

NS: Was there any significance to the fact that in the YouTube video, seven of the twelve Obama supporters were black?
JZ: [Laughs]. The reason why we had more black supporters -- that might surprise some of the people that we spoke to — if we go by your apparent ability to determine race — the first location happened to be in a black section of town and we were able to get our interviews faster there because of they way that was set up, because of the logistics. We had a second location but it got dark and we didn't have any lights. So, that's it, it was no grand racial conspiracy.




Now that's professionalism.
12.15.2008 9:16pm
fortyninerdweet (mail):
LN's example does not really provide enough information to allow one to address his question, in my opinion
"should this agency have the power to regulate....."
The behavior of ignorant voters and politicians is not really addressed. His question more rightly seems to belong in a philosophy of governance discussion relative to the granting of powers to agencies.

And I agree our electorate are political dumbkoffs. I've always thought the ballot process should include requiring voters pass a simplified current knowledge test before their vote is actually counted. But that's just me and my bias, I suppose.
12.15.2008 9:16pm
ReaderY:
Ahh, yes...obviously the other side won the election because they didn't know what they were doing. Only an inch away from the good old "obviously the legislature passed that law because it didn't know what it was doing."

If one doesn't think other people's say is worth anything, their right to have a say tends not to be worth much either. When other people are devalued, limits on ones power just seem to vanish into thin air.

After all, it's for their own good, isn't it?
12.15.2008 9:17pm
LN (mail):
Thanks, Ilya. I'm glad to see that my objection didn't exactly catch you by surprise.

Reading through the comment thread to that post, I tend to side with those who think that your level of abstraction is too high.

There are a lot of philosophical problems in politics. Any process of decision-making may be too responsive to pressure, or not responsive enough. Individuals (not to speak of large geographically disparate populations) have conflicting values that may be impossible to satisfy all at once. When we think abstractly about such issues, I think it's tempting to think that we should just give up and dispense with government altogether; this looks to be a quick way to intellectual consistency and coherence, although I don't think anyone would necessarily be happy if it actually happened.

Returning to the concrete, I'm not at all convinced that an expert government agency entrusted to keep the water supply clean will generally implement bad policies to cater to stupid voters. Of course in a democracy there is always a potential for that to happen, and that's definitely a weakness of democracy. That doesn't mean that the expert government agency isn't the right way to go.
12.15.2008 9:20pm
wooga:
To manufacture a really simple example, let's say that Really Evil Corporation (REC) is poisoning the water supply, but voters are unaware, ignorant, and misinformed about this. Meanwhile, there is a government agency staffed by "expert scientists" that perceives the problem and recommends steps to address it. Should this agency have the power to regulate REC's behavior? I don't see how "voters are really, really dumb" is a good argument for or against here.



Wow, I'm involved in litigation that is very similar to your scenario. Unfortunately, REC can do pretty much whatever they please, as the water, soils, and zoning boards are all run by experts who know all too well who butters their bread.

REC also employs (or has employed) many of the major law firms in the area, which gives REC a 'friendly bias' among many in the judiciary (who generally come from the big firms).

Fortunately, in my case, somebody at REC was stupid enough to write some notes and letter memorializing certain past 'luncheons' with board members. The boards don't want their malfeasance and corruption to become widely known, so they are now steering the official investigations deliberately in REC's favor in the hopes of making the case go away (i.e., by cherry picking testing locations/depths/criteria).

So you know what ultimately is going to get this water contamination cleaned up? Certainly not the government - who will actually do their best to assist REC in any way possible (since REC is a massive company that makes many political donations) despite the harm to the public. The courts might eventually do it, but it will be a long (many years) and expensive process. The public outrage after it hits the local news will be the only way to defeat REC.
12.15.2008 9:23pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I'll second BChurch's opinion that Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com really did a number on that "Zogby" poll.
12.15.2008 9:24pm
alwsdad (mail):
Prof. Somin, do you really think the EPA, and state environmental agencies, "cater to the public's ignorance and irrationality" rather than adopting good policy, as a general rule? There is plenty to criticize about the EPA (and state environmental agencies), but your dismissal seems too much a sweeping generalization to me. I have not read the paper you linked to, but I will. I'm all for depoliticizing scientific agencies, but the current, imperfect system has still accomplished a lot of good (e.g. dealing with situations like LN's example).
12.15.2008 9:26pm
Chico's Bail Bonds (mail):
This poll is about as scientific as the "what federal rule of civil procedure are you" test. Most significantly (imo) it contained no control group of McCain voters (or any other control). Clearly, this was done to guarantee no matter what the results, it would support Zeigler's nutjob point of view.

I would have expexted someone with no credibility like Lindgreen to cite this poll. I thougt better of you.
12.15.2008 9:28pm
David Welker (www):

That way, fewer important decisions will be made under the influence of electoral processes where ignorance, bias, and irrationality play such an enormous role.


That sounds fine. Until you realize that not doing anything is a choice with consequences.

For example, if the economy needs fiscal stimulus as soon as possible, to not provide it with the stimulus it needs is a choice that has consequences.

Somin's fundamental error is to assume that doing nothing is a free lunch.
12.15.2008 9:31pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
Even ignorant voters can figure out when it's time for a change...
12.15.2008 9:33pm
Professor Woland (mail):
I have to conclude from Ilya's post that he was completely unaware of the previous high profile controversy over the junk that was this Zogby poll. The Silver interview alone received considerable attention in the blogosphere. An informed person could have avoided this story only by a willful refusal to read or hear anything from outside the conservative pundit echo chamber.

Normally, I wouldn't waste time and effort commenting on this. But in this case, I generally consider this site to be a thought-provoking, high level forum of informed people, my general ideological opposition notwithstanding. Ilya's post, sadly, suggests that even here some are not immune from the desire to be forever ensconced in their conservative cocoon.
12.15.2008 9:35pm
Zach (www):
Somin, have you even looked at the poll's questions? A few are here: http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2008/11/zogby-
engages-in-apparent-push-polling.html

This was a push poll - completely meaningless with horrendous "factual" questions. Many of the questions are so loaded they don't have a correct answer at all. It is inappropriate to rely on this poll...
12.15.2008 9:36pm
MCM (mail):
David Welker, I don't think that's quite correct. I won't presume to try and explain his thoughts for him, but I don't think your characterization is correct.
12.15.2008 9:36pm
fortyninerdweet (mail):
Push-pull survey or not, Zogby's results were interesting in that they demonstrated a depth of political non-involvement that probably surprises most readers of this blog. And I hold that ignorance is spread out among both sides.

Watching Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" on-the-street interviews on the "Tonight Show" makes me wonder how many takes they need in order to produce a normal show. Or maybe the question should be how many folk they need to screen through before enough are found for Jay to do each taped interview. Some of the results there are scary.
12.15.2008 9:37pm
MCM (mail):
Push-pull survey or not, Zogby's results were interesting in that they demonstrated a depth of political non-involvement that probably surprises most readers of this blog. And I hold that ignorance is spread out among both sides.

Watching Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" on-the-street interviews on the "Tonight Show" makes me wonder how many takes they need in order to produce a normal show. Or maybe the question should be how many folk they need to screen through before enough are found for Jay to do each taped interview. Some of the results there are scary.


Reminds me of the first episode of some comedy show where the hosts set up a booth taking donations to "end woman's suffrage". Those poor women... suffraging...
12.15.2008 9:41pm
Sarcastro (www):
This poll may be completely anecdotal evidence, but I see it as quite probative, since I agree with it.
12.15.2008 9:44pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
This is just partisan posturing. American voters, en masse, have been this way since universal male sufferage (white males only at the time) started.
12.15.2008 9:58pm
David Welker (www):
MCM,

I am afraid that it is implied in Somin's position that we can assume that inaction with respect to a particular problem must have less cost than taking action that is imperfect in some way (to whatever extent voter ignorance translates into imperfect policy -- a very difficult question) due to voter ignorance.

And that is why it is a flawed point. Inaction has costs. It is a choice.

The idea that we should always make this particular choice or be systematically biased towards making this particular choice (that choice being inaction) across all areas of policy due to voter ignorance is fundamentally flawed. Inaction is a choice that can have very serious consequences indeed.

There is no doubt that voter ignorance exists. And it probably leads to less than ideal choices with respect to political candidates in some cases. (Although, with only two choices as is typically the case, one wonders how much it really matters that much, or whether ignorance on both sides mostly cancels out. If for every ignorance voter who votes Republican there is an ignorant voter who votes Democratic and not too many more or less, then the ignorant voters cancel each other out.)

But, that should not lead us to choose inaction over action, since inaction has consequences.

General analysis won't do. You need to look at the particular situation and assess the costs and benefits of inaction versus the costs and benefits of other policy choices.

Here is an example. It doesn't make sense to say that the United States government should do nothing about Iranian development of a nuclear weapon, because of voter ignorance. In fact, that would be absurd. Inaction in that case, like in many other cases, is a choice with consequences.

In fact, general points about voter ignorance really do not add much of anything at all to the analysis of what strategy we should adopt in response Iranian nuclear technology development.

So here is my point. You need to get your damn head out of the sky and come back to earth and look at the particular policy.
12.15.2008 10:01pm
Cardozo'd (www):
The poll itself is absurd. Of course people who don't like McCain are going to remember those negative better than those about their own guy. Just like those that dislike Obama are going to have better "knowledge" meaning they paid attention to it more. It doesn't mean they are ignorant, it has more to do with your sports fan hypothesis. People need talking points for the water cooler, so they remember the bad things about the other guy. Additionally this was a different year as Sarah Palin was widely covered because of her choice being so ridiculous. She didn't get extra coverage because she's conservative per se, she got extra coverage because her choice was so...I'll call it...unexpected and abnormal...to put it nicely. By association McCain got more coverage.

This poll is ineffective as it doesn't take simple concepts into consideration.
12.15.2008 10:05pm
1Ler:
Anyone who thinks that Silver's analysis "picks apart" the Wilson poll (which was the improved version of the admittedly flawed Zogby poll) decided that before even reading the post. First of all, Silver only addressed the original Zogby poll which did have some methodological problems. Second, Silver just points out that the poll was commissioned by a partisan group with an agenda (like the vast majority of all polls) without much critical analysis. I don't find one hack decrying another hack all that convincing.

Bialik's analysis at the WSJ Numbers Guy blog is much better in pointing out actual flaws. But even he suggests that the data means something, even if it's not the grand conclusion that the poll's commissioners reached. That something may be along the lines of an actual reporting bias, or something as mild as Prof. Somin's rational ignorance/homer theory. But it's disingenuous to claim that Silver made the poll's results meaningless.
12.15.2008 10:15pm
LM (mail):
fortyninerdweet:

Push-pull survey or not, Zogby's results were interesting in that they demonstrated a depth of political non-involvement that probably surprises most readers of this blog.

Ilya posts about rational ignorance so often it's hard to imagine any reader of this blog would be surprised.
12.15.2008 10:32pm
byomtov (mail):
For example, in 2004, a high proportion of Bush voters believed that large-scale WMD caches or programs had been found in Iraq, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

You don'r really mean "despite considerable evidence to the contrary," do you?

You mean, despite the fact that it's not true.
12.15.2008 10:35pm
Bama 1L:
The much criticized conclusion names only the true lesson for libertarian law professors. Such a richly polyvalent piece of evidence rejects such monopolization, though.

The true lesson for present-day campaign operatives is to keep campaigns simple.

The true lesson for ancient Greek philosophers is that democracy is a really stupid way to run a polis.

The true lesson for pragmatic bureaucrats is to keep plugging away and ignore politics.

The true lesson for aspiring dictators is that you only have to win one election.

Etc.
12.15.2008 10:35pm
wooga:

The idea that we should always make this particular choice or be systematically biased towards making this particular choice (that choice being inaction) across all areas of policy due to voter ignorance is fundamentally flawed. Inaction is a choice that can have very serious consequences indeed.

David Welker,

Of course "choosing inaction" is still a choice. Rush made that quite clear in their song "Freewill."

However, inaction is generally better than action for the same reason that negligence by omission is better than negligence by commission. Letting something bad happen via known external forces is less morally problematic than making the bad thing happen yourself. This is why systematic bias towards inaction is desirable. It's an issue of morality.

This is especially true when (in your Iran hypo) there are irreconcilable and plausible opposing sides on what affirmative course to take, with each side saying the other will cause more harm than good.
12.15.2008 10:45pm
LN (mail):
wooga:

Currently we have a large government that has arisen via some array of forces. Dramatically reducing the size of the government would be a big intervention with a range of consequences, some positive and some negative. So... I guess it's best to let sleeping dogs lie and let things be, because we wouldn't want to have the negative consequences on our conscience.
12.15.2008 10:55pm
BGates:
Sarah Palin was widely covered because of her choice being so ridiculous.
Because of her history of cocaine use, funding racist preachers, working to indoctrinate schoolchildren in far-left ideology, asking a man under federal investigation to help buy a house, &c?
12.15.2008 11:17pm
alanis m.:
Anybody find it ironic that Ilya posted about voter ignorance while ignorant about the controversy surrounding one of his sources?
12.15.2008 11:20pm
Kevin R (mail):
Speaking of ignorance, so far many of the commenters seem to have not read the entire post before responding.

Ilya said: Widespread political ignorance and bias give partisans plenty of data that demonstrates' the ignorance of their opponents' voters. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore the reality their own side's voters are usually just as bad.

And yet many commenters are apparently acting as if the post uniquely disparages Democrats.

As they say on Slashdot, RTFA.
12.15.2008 11:35pm
MichaelW (mail) (www):
For those of you admonishing Prof. Somin for even mentioning the polls commissioned by John Ziegler, I have to ask: did you even read the post? Prof. Somin explicitly states that Ziegler's conclusions drawn from the polls are as significant, or insignificant, as the polls done regarding the ignorance of Republican voters:
The "How Obama Got Elected" authors argue that this shows that political ignorance was a major factor in Obama's victory. To an extent, it probably was. However, Democrats can easily point to comparable ignorance by Republican voters. For example, in 2004, a high proportion of Bush voters believed that large-scale WMD caches or programs had been found in Iraq, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

More generally, it is not surprising that voters on both sides are often ignorant about a wide range of issues. As I have often pointed out in my scholarship (e.g. here), it is in fact rational for most voters to be ignorant about politics because of the very low probability that any individual vote will change electoral outcomes. In addition, voters have little incentive to do an unbiased evaluation of the information they do have. As a result, "political fans" often act like sports fans, overvaluing information that supports their preferred "team" and ignoring or downplaying anything that makes the team look bad. Such bias may explain why Obama voters in the Wilson survey were less likely to know information that reflected badly on the Democrats, whereas McCain voters had the opposite bias (e.g. - a smaller percentage of McCain voters than Obama voters knew that McCain had been implicated in the Keating Five scandal). As the "How Obama Got Elected" site notes, "in general, the voters did universally worse on questions where the negative information was about their candidate."

Somin plainly states that voters tend to be ignorant about their own candidate, and glom onto negative information about the candidate they oppose. He neither endorses any view, nor claims there to be anything derived from the any of the polls except for the central premise of his post: i.e. voters are rationally ignorant; maybe it would be better if government was less powerful so we could all go on about our lives without having to become news junkies (I paraphrase, of course).

Seems to me that would be an interesting discussion if people could will their hackles down for brief moment or two.
12.15.2008 11:37pm
MichaelW (mail) (www):
Ah. Kevin R beat me to it, and with brevity.
12.15.2008 11:39pm
OrinKerr:
Agreed that the 538 .com post was pretty devastating.
12.15.2008 11:44pm
LM (mail):
byomtov:

For example, in 2004, a high proportion of Bush voters believed that large-scale WMD caches or programs had been found in Iraq, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

You don'r really mean "despite considerable evidence to the contrary," do you?

You mean, despite the fact that it's not true.

But it's even worse than that. Here's a summary of the findings:

Even after the final report of weapons expert Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.

[...]

One of the reasons that Bush supporters have these beliefs is that they perceive the Bush administration confirming them. Interestingly, this is one point on which Bush and Kerry supporters agree. Eighty-two percent of Bush supporters perceive the Bush administration as saying that Iraq had WMD (63%) or that Iraq had a major WMD program (19%). Likewise, 75% say that the Bush administration is saying Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda. Equally large majorities of Kerry supporters hear the Bush administration expressing these views—73% say the Bush administration is saying Iraq had WMD (11% a major program) and 74% that Iraq was substantially supporting al-Qaeda.

Another reason that Bush supporters may hold to these beliefs is that they have not accepted the idea that it does not matter whether Iraq had WMD or supported al-Qaeda. Here too they are in agreement with Kerry supporters. Asked whether the US should have gone to war with Iraq if
US intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al-Qaeda, 58% of Bush supporters said the US should not have, and 61% assume that in this case the President would not have.


(my bold)
12.15.2008 11:48pm
Constantin:
Anybody find it ironic that Ilya posted about voter ignorance while ignorant about the controversy surrounding one of his sources?

Or that twenty people have posted about how ignorant Ilya was, when they, themselves, were too ignorant to even read what the guy wrote.
12.15.2008 11:52pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
bgates:

her history of cocaine use


There's no reason to believe that Obama ever used more than a trivial amount of cocaine. Palin admitted smoking pot. Do you see a big difference there?

asking a man under federal investigation to help buy a house


- Although the closing didn't happen until 6/05, Obama made his final offer on the house in 1/05. At that time, it was not known that Rezko was under investigation.

- Obama didn't ask Rezko "to help buy a house."

- Rezko didn't "help buy a house." The house had been on the market for months, and Obama's bid was the winning bid because it was the highest bid. The seller has confirmed this.
12.16.2008 12:03am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
lm:

Eighty-two percent of Bush supporters perceive the Bush administration as saying that Iraq had WMD


And that's understandable, since Bush said this:

we found the weapons of mass destruction
12.16.2008 12:03am
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
For those of you admonishing Prof. Somin for even mentioning the polls commissioned by John Ziegler, I have to ask: did you even read the post?



Apples and oranges. Prof. Somin, in the section you quoted, discussed reasons that the poll was not terribly surprising or significant, but did not address any of the patent problems with the methodology of the poll that have been widely discussed. The two are not the same.
12.16.2008 12:33am
MichaelW (mail) (www):
Apples and oranges. Prof. Somin, in the section you quoted, discussed reasons that the poll was not terribly surprising or significant, but did not address any of the patent problems with the methodology of the poll that have been widely discussed. The two are not the same.


You would do yourself a favor to notice that Somin didn't address methodology at all ... because it wasn't the point.

It is interesting that people would rather discuss what they see as "patent problems" with Ziegler's commissioned polls (not that any other Zogby or Wilson polls have any problems, of course), rather than dwell on the issue of rational voter ignorance. I suppose that's because there is willful voter ignorance to deal with as well?
12.16.2008 12:41am
Fidelity (mail) (www):
Ignorance doesn't come for the left or the right, it comes from all around. Americans love to have political discourse with the snappy catch-phrases they learned on their favorite 24 hour news program.

What percentage of Americans read books? Better yet, how many Americans know who the Attorney General is, or what that person does? I can further enumerate things the American people have a vested interest to understand, but do not. It does not rest solely on one side of the spectrum, half of this country is not idiots while the other half has understanding.

And here I go, quoting Jefferson again:
"And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

I firmly believe that a lack of proper educational sources in this country is the most fundamental problem with it. It is not a manufactured system that keeps Americans uninformed, but certainly a system that is sustained by certain individuals or organizations. As long as people are divided, and attempt civil discussion with opposing facts, there will be no political consensus, no improvement in our Liberty or Union. You can not place the fault solely on the "democrats" or "republicans", but much more likely on the organizations that govern and contribute largely to them.
12.16.2008 12:46am
theobromophile (www):
Sheesh, guys. Mr. Somin advocated reducing the size of the federal government (not a big surprise for a libertarian blog); it's not like he used the "ignorant voter" line to try to reintroduce the poll tax or civic literacy tests.
12.16.2008 12:58am
David Welker (www):

However, inaction is generally better than action for the same reason that negligence by omission is better than negligence by commission. Letting something bad happen via known external forces is less morally problematic than making the bad thing happen yourself. This is why systematic bias towards inaction is desirable. It's an issue of morality.


Again, all I have to say is get your head out of the sky. You really can't make too many arguments with reference to the supposed "general case."

In many cases, I would agree that instance of actions are more morally problematic than inaction. But that is only because the negative consequences are more forseeable.

Imagine the following hypotheticals.

A)
You see someone bleeding in a horrible way in a relatively deserted part of town. No one else is there to help. You decide not to call 911. As a result, the person you saw bleeding dies, but they would have been saved if you made the phone call.

B)
In contrast, imagine that you are driving to work and as you are driving along, a bike rider in the bike lane hits a rock and suddenly swerves into traffic. You are distracted, and when you notice them you try your best to avoid hitting them, but it is too late.

In these two scenarios, it seems quite clear that the individual in scenario A is much more morally culpable than the person in scneario B. The reason is that the harm in case A is so foreseeable and immediate, whereas the harm in scenario A is much more remote. We have all probably been guilty of being distracted when driving at some point or another.

If you are the leader of the United States, is it more moral to do nothing while Iran develops a nuclear weapon? I would say this is less moral.

If you are unemployed, is it more moral to sit on the couch all day, or make a good faith effort to find work?

In general, I don't think you can say that inaction is more moral than action. Once again, I think you need to look at the specific situation.

In other words, you need to get your head out of the clouds imagining that all questions are merely an application of extremely abstract principles and attend to the particular details of the policy question before you. Sometimes inaction is the best policy. But, one should be quite active in choosing inaction. Where there are N serious policy possibilities, inaction is merely one out of N. It should be evaluated on the merits and not automatically be the default choice.
12.16.2008 12:59am
LM (mail):
MichaelW:

It is interesting that people would rather discuss what they see as "patent problems" with Ziegler's commissioned polls (not that any other Zogby or Wilson polls have any problems, of course), rather than dwell on the issue of rational voter ignorance. I suppose that's because there is willful voter ignorance to deal with as well?

Well, it is apples and oranges, or at least a false dichotomy, to suggest the bi-partisan nature of rational ignorance precludes this poll being especially flawed. Zogby had to do some fancy tap-dancing to distance himself from the poll's irregularities without outright repudiating his own product.
12.16.2008 1:03am
David Welker (www):

Currently we have a large government that has arisen via some array of forces. Dramatically reducing the size of the government would be a big intervention with a range of consequences, some positive and some negative. So... I guess it's best to let sleeping dogs lie and let things be, because we wouldn't want to have the negative consequences on our conscience.


This is an excellent way of putting in LN.

Isn't it at least somewhat paradoxical that the advocates of inaction must rely on action to obtain their result?

Who is going to change the size of government except the very voters that you mistrust? And won't rational ignorance taint their assessment that inaction is better than a more active status quo?

Another point. An active policy does not have to be perfect in order to be more desirable than inaction. I think this is another point Somin is missing in his analysis.
12.16.2008 1:06am
Raoul (mail):
To a certain extent this post does not meet the typical rigors established in this site.
12.16.2008 1:09am
Cardozo'd (www):

Sarah Palin was widely covered because of her choice being so ridiculous.
Because of her history of cocaine use, funding racist preachers, working to indoctrinate schoolchildren in far-left ideology, asking a man under federal investigation to help buy a house, &c?

Yes, this is wonderful for intelligent discourse...make a statement about something completely unrelated to what I was saying. Whether or not any of those claims are true has no relevance as to Sarah Palin's credentials. There have been many, many serious Presidential or Vice Presidential candidates with far worse things than those listed above, however few have been as inexperienced as Palin. But at least your statement has no relevance at all, accomplished nothing and shows the partisan divide that clouds most peoples judgments.
12.16.2008 1:30am
Nick056:
These kinds of "voter ignorance" polls may also simply indicate that, unsurprisingly, strongly Republican and strongly Democratic party voters simply refuse to believe or fully accept certain things that might reflect very poorly on their party or candidate, or that they might feel to be unfair or simplistic assertions.

After the 2004 election, I found myself thinking that that some non-negligible number of Repblicans, if asked about Americans finding WMDs, would not care give an answer that implied no, there were no WMDs in Iraq -- because some number of these voters might be fully informed but choose to believe that the WMDs had been moved to Syria or elsewhere. These people are not eager to give credence to the idea that there were no WMDs in Iraq by answering a question in a fashion that may lead to that conclusion.

On the other side, I can say that if someone asked me after voting if I knew that Barack Obama was an associate of William Ayers, I might say, "You know, no, I don't belive he was" or "I'm aware of the claims, I think they're false." To a pollster, that might count as a negative answer, marking me as ignorant. I'm plenty informed about the argument that they are connected to some degree or other, but I reject that they had a significant association, so, while a "no" may abbreviate the discussion, I'd be loathe to give that question a simple "yes".
12.16.2008 1:30am
Ilya Somin:
Nate Silver did a good job of picking apart this ridiculous push poll over at FiveThirtyEight

Silver in no way undermines the validity of the poll results. He merely suggests that the poll's sponsors had dubious motives. Even if their motives were exactly as Silver alleges, that in no way disproves the results. And especially not the most damning one: that most Obama voters didn't know which party controlled Congress (which Silver doesn't even mention).
12.16.2008 1:31am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Somin's post is complete nonsense. It's just an example how a little knowledge of statistical data can lead one astray if he does not think.

It is quite clear that the voters are much more likely to know what is, in their mind, wrong with the candidate they oppose. They are less likely to "know" the negatives about the candidate they support for the simple reason that they don't necessarily see them as negatives. For most people, many of the issues that they consider less important simply fade from memory. So, they don't "know".

The problem is, as usual, that Somin does not live in the real world. He lives in the academic world in which he has been ensconced for almost two decades. And, prior to that, he was likely a socially awkward, academically inclined teen. In other words, the world he sees is seen through academic interpretation.

It is important to put down the professorial glasses once in a while and look at things as they are. When one considers the meaning of statistical data more rationally, it is clear that the data do not exist in a vacuum and that data don't "tell" us anything. They lend themselves to a variety of interpretations and what they "tell" us depends at least as much on the interpretation as on the numbers being interpreted. This is not an argument over facts, as Somin is trying to portray it in his critique. It's an argument over interpretation.
12.16.2008 1:40am
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
Apparently Somin wasn't paying much attention as various smears were spread and a line was pushed.

Something would start out at a blog or the HuffPost and then get pushed by various sites like the HuffPost, WaPo, NYT, etc. It would get dugg, make Digg's homepage, and then get marked as inaccurate.

Then, when that was done a new smear would take its place.

See some of them here. It was a loosely-organized attempt to deceive, and it worked.
12.16.2008 1:55am
Frater Plotter:
Of course a push poll is methodologically flawed.

If it weren't, it would not be a very good push poll.
12.16.2008 1:58am
DiversityHire:
Geez, the vitriolic response to this post "tells us" something---even Mr. Turgidson would have to agree with that, no?

Regardless, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, if you're interested in the Volokh Conspiracy your candidate's fate was decided by a bunch of people dumber that you are, dumber than your candidate, and dumber than you'd like to believe the average supporter of your candidate to be. That's no excuse for going all ad hominem, geez... lighten up Francis-es.
12.16.2008 2:38am
trad and anon (mail):
Given that the description of the poll claims that "Most (56%) were also not able to correctly answer that Obama started his political career at the home of two former members of the Weather Underground," I think that tells us all we need to know about the credibility of the pollsters on this one. The characterization of that answer as "correct" is hardly a neutral one.

At the same time, I think the poll's findings are still indicative of some basic flaws in human reasoning. People have an easier time remembering information that confirms their preexisting beliefs than remembering information that tends to discredit those beliefs. You'd find basically the same results with McCain supporters, who would remember negative "facts" about Obama but not remember Obama supporters' claims of "facts" about McCain.
12.16.2008 6:12am
AlanDownunder (mail):

57% (in the Zogby poll) to 59% (Wilson poll) of Obama voters didn't known that the Democrats controlled Congress at the time of the election.


How can they be marked wrong? The house majority mostly refraining from translating numbers into control (Dems are weird that way). The senate 'majority' was subject to filibuster and, putting that wrinkle aside, included Joe Lieberman. Control is as control does.
12.16.2008 6:24am
trad and anon (mail):
The senate 'majority' was subject to filibuster and, putting that wrinkle aside, included Joe Lieberman.
Additionally, the longstanding tradition that the filibuster is to be used sparingly has completely collapsed. When the Republicans had the majority in the Senate, the Democrats started filibustering judicial nominees on a regular basis, conservative Republicans started filibustering bipartisan legislation based off a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans, Democrats started using the filibuster more frequently, etc. Once the Democrats got their bare Senate majority, the Republicans upped the ante again and now the filibuster is used to oppose all but the most routine legislation.
12.16.2008 6:45am
Moptop:
What is amazing to me is that the 538 argument is basically rhetorical, and so many here consider it a factual refutation. This is not just factual ignorance, it is ignorance how to think rationally, which is much harder, if not impossible to correct. if you don't know the difference between rhetoric and logic, and the techniques of each, you are being manipulated by one side or the other and have no idea. What made me a conservative was that I was an English major, a very liberal to left leaning one, BTW, who, as part of the curriculum, learned the techniques of rhetoric to the point where I could easily recognize them. Clinton used novelistic techniques all the time to frame issues. I am sure Reagan probably did too, but I wasn't really aware of them until Clinton used them so seemingly ham handedly, and yet, no one noticed. Now the press uses novelistic techniques to frame the news as a matter of course to get their protagonist in, and they succeeded with a protagonist right out of central casting.

But hey, we have a good looking young president with a nice voice who photographs very well.
12.16.2008 6:51am
just me (mail):
I think polls like this show a lot about how our media covers the news than anything else. The media especially in the age of the 24 hour new cycle seems to be enthralled with the personal interest story. Outside of politics just look at how much time the news focus on missing pretty white girls.

I absolutely believe the Obama voters were this ignorant. I would also be willing to bet McCain supporters would be about as ignorant.

I do think missing the question about who controls congress is a telling one and I think it plays as much into media coverage and an ignorance of just how our government works. After all I still come across adults with college educations who seem to think presidents make the laws and can easily get rid of laws.

The reality I think is that the majority of voters-republican or democrat-are ignorant of our government and how it works, and in general choose who they are voting for based as much on political affiliation and who they "like" more than what their positions actually are. For a bit of comedy and definitely an unscientific poll Howard Stern had somebody asking people on the street about their support for Obama, but they attributed McCain's positions to Obama. They readily agreed with those positions, because they liked Obama. Shoot my mom often voted based on how the candidates eyes looked-or how he looked in a suit and similar reasons.
12.16.2008 7:01am
David Warner:
On another thread I commented on how lucky the VC is in the quality of its on-site critics. Then there are threads like this one.

Moptop nailed it.
12.16.2008 7:14am
Moptop:
"The characterization of that answer as "correct" is hardly a neutral one." -trad and anon

So, we have the word of William Ayers after the election that this is correct, as well as the word of several Obama associates at the the time as documented in the NYT. Where is the factual case that this is not correct?
12.16.2008 7:25am
Arkady:
I'd find Ilya's thesis concerning political ignorance more persuasive if he'd address the problems of epistemology more generally. For example, since Ryle, The Concept of Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), many philosophers have made a distinction between knowing that something is the case and knowing how to do something. Ryle argued that reducing the latter to the former is what he called the "intellectualist legend." (For a good presentation of the issue, see Knowing How,
Journal of Philosophy 98.8 (2001), Jason Stanley and Timothy Williamson
, which comes down contra Ryle. I'm not persuaded by their arguments, but the paper is an excellent presentation.)

The distinction is important, I think, for political philosophy because it implies that we have ways of getting about in the world that are not reducible to our knowing the truth of propositions (as the fulcrum of our actions). How far this bears on Ilya's thesis, I don't know. But I do think it needs investigation. Pascal: "The heart has reasons that reason cannot know." And who can say that the heart's unknowable reasons are less valid than the mind's knowable ones?
12.16.2008 7:43am
jeanneb (mail):
I see no equivalence in the Zoghby and PIPA (2004) polls.
Zoghby asked if the respondent knows which party controls congress. The answer is factual. Regardless of all the political ins and outs, Democrats controlled both houses.

Now compare that to the PIPA poll where respondents were asked several questions about Iraq:
---Were WMD's found?
---Did Saddam provide substantial support to al Queda?

First, recognize this was in 2004...only 18 months after the invasion. I suspect respondents believed the WMD were there, but the evidence had not been uncovered. Same with the al Queda connection. It has nothing to do with ignorance. Respondents answers were based on their opinions (I believe), not their knowledge.

It would be comparable to Zoghby asking: "Does Obama support gun control?". Respondents would answer in various ways, few of which would be "factual".

Between the two polls, I think the only really revealing question is the one about control of Congress. It is indeed appalling that so few knew the answer. The other questions are too colored by politics, culture and media emphasis. They aren't useful in establishing ignorance or knowledge.
12.16.2008 7:46am
Mal Carne (mail):
It's entirely predictable for the losing side of an election to suggest that the the people who elected the other guy's candidate are all stupid. (Remember the "Jesusland" maps after Kerry lost?) The interview that Silver had with the ex-conservative talk show host who commissioned this nonsense - the one that ends with the man essentially cursing out Silver - pretty much tell me all I need to know about the poll's intellectual honesty as well.

And what exactly are you proposing that we do if all the people who vote are fools, anyway? Impose an IQ test for voting? Maybe a poll tax, so that only the successful people vote. Or perhaps anarchy is the only intelligent governmental system? We can see a weak government at work, where free marked forces dominate. That's an apt descriptions of Somalia's governmental system. Would you be suggesting a pirate nation, me hearties?

Perhaps people are ignorant about these things because they, correctly, deemed them as irrelevant. Perhaps they watched the behavior of each man in public and decided that what they did, rather than what one guy's commercials said about them, mattered. Honestly, did McCain's campaign give you any confidence that he'd make a good President?
12.16.2008 7:47am
Moptop:
The interview that Silver had with the ex-conservative talk show host who commissioned this nonsense - the one that ends with the man essentially cursing out Silver - pretty much tell me all I need to know about the poll's intellectual honesty as well.
Mal Carne

QED.

But before I leave this discussion for work, If 'trad and anon' are going to suggest that Obama's claim that he launched his career from the Marriot is true, answer this. Where did he get the money for that "coming out party" How did he pay for the venue and the catering? In a small, living room setting where he could meet with the connected and the wealthy who could arrange the funds and supply the contacts needed for such a party. Exactly the situation described by Ayers himself and the NYT.

Obama has already lied on this subject "Just some guy in the neighborhood", so I think that his statements deserve scrutiny, and they don't bear up.
12.16.2008 7:53am
Justin (mail):
"Silver in no way undermines the validity of the poll results."

Wow, Ilya. Did you read his posts?

Questions where the answer is based on believing a very conservative, warped view of the world? Questions comparing things that occurred many decades ago and were vetted many months to years ago, to the life story of someone who burst on the scene 5 minutes ago?

And this isn't undermining the validity of the poll? I'm with Orin here, sorry.
12.16.2008 8:29am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Orin Kerr on the 538 post:

Agreed that the 538 .com post was pretty devastating.


Moptop on the 538 post:

What is amazing to me is that the 538 argument is basically rhetorical, and so many here consider it a factual refutation. This is not just factual ignorance, it is ignorance how to think rationally, which is much harder, if not impossible to correct. if you don't know the difference between rhetoric and logic, and the techniques of each, you are being manipulated by one side or the other and have no idea.


According to Moptop, Prof. Kerr is "being manipulated," on account of how he doesn't "know the difference between rhetoric and logic."

Luckily for us, Moptop delivers this message to us using logic, not rhetoric.
12.16.2008 8:42am
Melancton Smith:
thebromophile wrote:

Sheesh, guys. Mr. Somin advocated reducing the size of the federal government (not a big surprise for a libertarian blog); it's not like he used the "ignorant voter" line to try to reintroduce the poll tax or civic literacy tests.


But but but...the poll tax is nothing more than a reasonable vote control ordinance that is necessary to the conductance of a free election.

It's for the children (tm).
12.16.2008 8:57am
A.C.:
I'm not sure why the poll everyone is discussing is even controversial. I mean, sure it is if you think the world is divided into two teams and you want to justify your team. But reality is more complex.

My understanding is that a lot of knee-jerk, low information voters on the Republican side disliked McCain intensely and didn't want him to get the nomination in the first place. In contrast, a lot of knee-jerk, low information voters on the Democratic side got on the Obama bandwagon enthusiastically. (Many may come to regret this.) So it would be no wonder if actual McCain VOTERS (as opposed to people who might lean Republican in general) came off looking more informed than Obama voters. Some of the wackies on the right sat this one out.

As for WMD, I'd be interested in a poll question that tried to find out what percentage of the population can even define the term. A lot of people I know (mostly liberals) think it means nuclear weapons exclusively. Another big group (mostly conservatives) think it can include conventional rockets and anything else that might cause mass casualties. Both are wrong, but it's easy to see how people might adopt very restrictive or very broad definitions of an unfamiliar term in order to support their preexisting positions.

And as for why a lot of people favor the status quo (whatever that is) in most policy questions... there is more information about it than about any of the theoretical alternatives. Always. You know the plusses and the minuses. People advocating an alternative approach seldom have as much information, and seldom present whatever negative information they do have. This alone is a reason to move cautiously. It doesn't mean you can never move at all, because sometimes the status quo is bad enough to justify the uncertainties involved in change. And occasionally -- VERY occasionally -- the underlying reality shifts enough that all approaches are leaps in the dark. But the information gap does suggest that the burden of persuasion is on the people who favor the new approach. They have to propose specific changes and justify them, not just stir the pot.
12.16.2008 9:01am
Rich Berger (mail):
Have those who are disparaging the survey actually gone out and talked to Obama voters? In my experience, few of them have any clear idea of what he stands for and what to expect from him. The most amazing are those who have some idea of what he said, but don't think he'll do it.
12.16.2008 9:08am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
moptop:

Exactly the situation described by Ayers himself and the NYT.


You're defending the claim "that Obama started his political career at the home" of Ayers. This implies that the event at the Ayers' home was the first such event, and that it was planned by Obama. And you're implying that both "Ayers himself and the NYT" say "exactly" what you're saying. Really?

This is what Ayers said:

I was asked by the state senator to have a coffee for Barack Obama when he first ran for office and we had him in our home and I think he was probably in 20 homes that day


According to Ayers, the event was not scheduled by Obama. It was scheduled by Palmer. And there's no claim that it was the first such event. It was one of many events.

And here's what NYT said, in the article you cited:

That [the Ayers event] was one of several such neighborhood events as Mr. Obama prepared to run, said A. J. Wolf, the 84-year-old emeritus rabbi of KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue, across the street from Mr. Obama's current house. "If you ask my wife, we had the first coffee for Barack," Rabbi Wolf said.


According to this named witness, the Ayers event was one of several, and it was not the first event. Nevertheless, many people like you (and the pollster) make the claim that "Obama's political career launched in Ayers' home." (Even though there is more basis to claim that 'Obama's political career launched in Rabbi Wolf's home.')

So is the claim you're defending an honest claim based on "logic," or is it an instance of certain people using "rhetoric [and] novelistic techniques … to frame issues?"

And what about your claim that Ayers and NYT "exactly" said things they didn't actually say? Does that even rise to the level of "rhetoric?" It does not, since it is simply fiction.
12.16.2008 9:12am
Moptop:
OK, I will give you that the claim "exactly" is a bit of hyperbole, but "just some guy in the neighborhood" is still a lie. And Obama's claim that he launched his career in a Marriot is still a lie (why did he have to lie about that given your set of facts?). It is amazing that any detailed discussion of this issue was disallowed during the campaign.

As for "Prof Kerr" not knowing the difference between rhetoric and logic, well, lots of people who do know the difference use rhetoric when they know logic fails but believe in some larger point. Not everybody is a useful idiot, some are political manipulators. Kos has said that he believes in "Winnerism", what do you think that means? Did you think your reply was logical? I sort of missed that part. It looked like you believe that I had made some specific assertion about "Prof Kerr"

"The heart has reasons that reason cannot know." And who can say that the heart's unknowable reasons are less valid than the mind's knowable ones?


Nobody. And who can say that they are more valid? Nobody. In other words the proposition is not falsifiable. What you are suggesting is the end of Enlightenment. For a more accessable version of your argument, see "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence."

If you wan't to read another great treatment on the subject from the right, rather than the left, lik Zen, let me recommend the book "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" Not the movie, the book.
12.16.2008 9:33am
Arkady:

What you are suggesting is the end of Enlightenment.


What I'm suggesting is that warp and woof of our lives is far more complicated and subtle than can be described by some simple-minded recourse to rationalism. See, e.g., Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, passim.
12.16.2008 10:02am
JosephSlater (mail):
Folks really should read the Silver piece, as it does much more damage than just point out Ziegler's partisan hackery.

But let's be clear. I'm not objecting to the idea that some Republican voters and some Dem voters aren't political experts. I'm sure that's true, and I'm sure it's true in roughly equal proportions. I'm also sure that was just as true in every other presidential election we've ever had.

Finally, to Rich Berger: I know lots of Obama voters. In fact, I myself am one, as is my wife and most of my family and friends. We knew what we were voting for.
12.16.2008 11:01am
Spitzer:
Ilya: Wonderful post.

The centralization of political power bears several necessary consequences, none of them particularly good for the representativeness of politics (or, rather, none of them particularly good for the "median voter theory"). First, centralization undermines local politics, where politicans are more easily known and knowable by constituents, because it strips local politicians of the authority to do sufficiently important things and, worse, it allows local politicians to dodge tricky problems by shifting the blame/seeking assistance from the political center. A side effect of this may be to increase the level of corruption in local politics because voters grow more ignorant (rationally) of local politicians, reducing the competition that rent-seekers face. In short, as politics centralizes, local politics dies on the vine.

Second, centralization reduces competition for political messages. There are comparably fewer outlets covering central politics (and thus more subject to capture), and, moreover, the competitive theme of politics generally ensures that fewer political messages are even sent - that is, it is more difficult for politicians to capture the stage at the central level, leaving incumbents strong and those whose messages are tailored to the outlets even stronger. That is, central politics is generally covered from one geographical location, and the costs of national coverage ensure that only a small cadre of media (who often swim in the same small ponds) controls the message.

Moreover, as politics are generally reported as a 2-party struggle, the script at the central level is set by 2 competing voices (which the outlets cover and publicize), and the real battle generally is for determining who controls the parties' messages in this duopoly (and, of course, how those messages are then digested by the media). Thus, media outlets typically see and establish a "Democrat" and "Republican" set of ideas, and the real struggle within the parties is to capture the "party" message with one's own. That effectively allows the media to cherry pick among the competing voices within the two parties to establish the "official" message. Obviously, this empowers the unelected media as a powerful gatekeeper for political messages, for it allows them to determine which messages are advertised, and, thus, it is the media that largely establish the "official message" of each party.

This media-centric analysis is not unique to central politics, of course, for the media always act as gatekeepers to some extent. What is unique about central politics is that the stakes are higher than at the local level, but the competition among media outlets is not equally higher, a fact that reduces real competition and enhances the gatekeeper role. Moreover, as local politics shrivels, the central politics/media gatekeepers exercise far more influence over national politics than their local (minor leagues) brethren.

In short, to increase political education and civics awareness, perhaps we need to focus on localism - call it subsidiarity or whatever - and empower localities to govern themselves far more autonomously than today. With greater real power at the local or state level, voters' interest in, and awareness of, local and state politicians will increase, and the fact that local and state politicians are more accessible than federal or central politicians should serve an important educational role.
12.16.2008 11:04am
Rich Berger (mail):
Joseph Slater-

I'll bite. What were you voting for? What did you expect of him?
12.16.2008 12:05pm
byomtov (mail):
People have an easier time remembering information that confirms their preexisting beliefs than remembering information that tends to discredit those beliefs. You'd find basically the same results with McCain supporters, who would remember negative "facts" about Obama but not remember Obama supporters' claims of "facts" about McCain.

Exacty. And McCain voters are going to be people who get lots of "information" from pro-McCain sources. Not only that. Zogby polled only Obama voters, and the questions were mostly of the form:

"Did you know this negative thing about [McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden]?"

Of course the Obama voters were more likely to know, or believe, negative things about McCain/Palin than about Obama/Biden. That influenced their votes.

Similarly, McCain voters are going to believe fewer negative things about McCain, for the reasons above and because the fewer negative things you believe about McCain the more likely you are to vote for him.

The poll results are nonsense.
12.16.2008 12:27pm
Suzy (mail):
Just because it's after the election doesn't mean that it's not a "push-poll" in the general sense that the poll helps to create the answers the pollster wants to get, in the way it asks the questions. If you examine the questions asked, it's pretty easy to see that this was not a well-crafted or objective study.

In addition, the fact that many voters were not aware that Democrats controlled the Congress is cited by Prof. Somin as the most important. Does that number include those who simply did not know, as well as those who gave the incorrect answer? Because many of Obama's supporters were first-time voters who may not heretofore have followed politics to the point of knowing which party controlled Congress. Many were disaffected by the entire subject and only came to vote because they had been motivated by this candidate. That speaks to a deeper issue than simply ignorance. The most recent data about turnout support this interpretation, given that overall turnout was somewhat higher, but the big story was the sudden turnout of new voters for Obama, coupled with a decline of Republican voters.
12.16.2008 12:42pm
David Warner:
Arkady,

"What I'm suggesting is that warp and woof of our lives is far more complicated and subtle than can be described by some simple-minded recourse to rationalism."

Ah, yes, the warp and the woof.

The latter of course is problematic, but the former is quite amenable to reason, simple-minded and otherwise. All-or-nothing thinking is neither rational nor subtle nor particularly on point.
12.16.2008 1:05pm
Rich Berger (mail):
BYomtov-

McCain voters (and Republicans in general) were forced to hear plenty of pro-Obama messages if they turned on the TV or read the papers.

The poll results weren't nonsense, even if you say so. I'll bet the average McCain voter knew that the Dems controlled Congress.

Obama's secret asset was his vagueness.
12.16.2008 1:22pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Rich Berger:

I was voting for a center-left Dem. who would follow the rather detailed list of policy proposals on his web site. To pick just one example of many, I do labor and employment law, and I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to get at the DoL, the NLRB and other agencies that act in the labor and employment realm. Heck, e-mail privately and I'll give you -- for free -- a list of some Bush NLRB decisions I expect to be overturned.

Beyond that, in quite a few areas, I would suggest that Obama's position was a lot clearer than McCain's.

I could go on at great length about Obama's positions in other areas, but the whole idea that Obama was some huge cypher with no discerable positions is even more laughable than Ziegler's "poll."
12.16.2008 1:23pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
moptop:

Obama's claim that he launched his career in a Marriot is still a lie


I wish I knew what you were talking about. Show us the quote.

"just some guy in the neighborhood" is still a lie


Except that Obama didn't say the words you're claiming he said. Did anyone ever tell you that quote marks are used to indicate an actual quote?

I will give you that the claim "exactly" is a bit of hyperbole


I get it. When you're caught making things up, it's just "a bit of hyperbole." But when your opponents allegedly say something that isn't perfectly accurate (and we have yet to see proof of this allegation), it's a "lie." Thanks for clearing that up. I've enjoyed the lesson in "logic."

And the way you cited NYT wasn't "hyperbole." It was deception. You cited NYT in support of the claim that "Obama started his political career at the home" of Ayers, even though the article quotes a named witness who indicates this claim is false.
12.16.2008 1:57pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
berger:

What were you voting for? What did you expect of him?


Lots of people seem to think this is a great mystery, even though the information is presented in detail. Try reading his 33-page Blueprint for Change (pdf), or the other extensive material he's posted at his site.
12.16.2008 1:57pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
berger:

Obama's secret asset was his vagueness.


Show us the campaign documents from McCain (or anyone else) that embody less "vagueness" than the Obama material I just cited.
12.16.2008 2:02pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Obama's not-secret asset was that most Americans were smart enough to figure out that the claims they were hearing about him (like the claim you made) were false.
12.16.2008 2:05pm
PC:
Then, when that was done a new smear would take its place.

When did this turn into a thread about ACORN undermining the fabric of our democracy?
12.16.2008 2:08pm
Brian K (mail):
I'll bet the average McCain voter knew that the Dems controlled Congress.

and this is exactly why the poll didn't poll republican voters. it makes it much easier for political hacks to say their side is better, based on little more than wishful thinking. this shouldn't surprise anyone from a poorly designed poll created by another political hack with the intent to achieve a partisan outcome.

i'll also bet the averave mccain voter thought that we had found WMD in iraq, that iraq actually had them ready to use on a moments notice in the first place and that iraq was involved in 9/11. (for proof see above in this post) now which set of false beliefs has caused more harm in this world? it sure ain't lack of knowledge over who controls congress.
12.16.2008 2:16pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
pc:

When did this turn into a thread about ACORN undermining the fabric of our democracy?


Good point. And let's roll the tape, since I have it handy. McCain said this:

ACORN … is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.


The DOJ is still in the hands of a GOP administration, so I figured for sure we'd see some indictments by now. What the heck are they waiting for? Hopefully they are not going to sit on their hands and let ACORN get away with "destroying the fabric of democracy."
12.16.2008 2:43pm
Rich Berger (mail):
JBG-

I'll have to say that the 33-page Blueprint for Change is a pretty fascinating document. What amazes me is how the rubes are taken in by such drivel. How about these for heroic and specific actions-

BARACK OBAMA AND JOE BIDEN'S EMERGENCY ECONOMIC PLAN
The housing crisis is deepening and energy and food prices are soaring. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have advocated for an Emergency Economic Plan to jumpstart the economy, with two key parts. This Emergency Economic Plan is a down-payment on Obama and Biden's long-run plans to restore tax fairness and invest in infrastructure and clean energy to foster long-run growth.
Provide a $1,000 Emergency Energy Rebate to American Families
Barack Obama and Joe Biden will enact a windfall profits tax on excessive oil company profits to give American
families an immediate $1,000 emergency energy rebate to help families pay rising bills.
$50 Billion To Turn our Economy Around and Prevent More than 1 Million Americans from Losing Their Jobs
State Growth Fund: $25 billion in a State Growth Fund to prevent state and local cuts in health, education and housing assistance or counterproductive increases in property taxes, tolls or fees. The fund will also ensure sufficient funding for home heating and weatherization assistance as we move into the fall and winter months.
Jobs and Growth Fund: $25 billion in a Jobs and Growth Fund to replenish the Highway Trust Fund; prevent cutbacks in road and bridge maintenance and fund new, fast-tracked projects to repair schools -- all to save more than 1 million jobs in danger of being cut.

If only O and Joe had been P/VP six months earlier - things would have been very different.

You must be kidding me. But I do thank you for sharing the thoughts and inspirations of the big O and Joe with me.
12.16.2008 2:58pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Rich:

You do understand that the fact that you disagree with Obama's specific policy proposals doesn't mean specific policy proposals weren't made, right?
12.16.2008 3:28pm
cbyler (mail):

The true lesson of political knowledge polls is not that either Democrats or Republicans are uniquely ignorant, but that we should reduce the power of government. That way, fewer important decisions will be made under the influence of electoral processes where ignorance, bias, and irrationality play such an enormous role.


Because, as recent events have so forcefully reminded us all, the decisionmaking of the private sector is never swayed by ignorance, bias, or irrationality.

Oh, and those agencies independent of the political process, like the Federal Reserve? They did a heckuva job too.

The main difference between government and the private sector is that the government can only benefit private interests at the expense of public ones when it is turned away from its designed purpose; for the private sector benefiting some at the expense of others IS its designed purpose. Neither customers nor employees get to vote on corporate decisions (and in many cases small shareholders are de facto disenfranchised too under the rule of one dollar, one vote).
12.16.2008 3:31pm
NickM (mail) (www):
I have not been interviewed for "Jay-walking," but I have seen it taped while at Universal Studios Hollywood. It took them about 30 minutes, and they interviewed 15 people. I never saw the episode that it aired on, but 9 of the people were definite candidates for the show - including both of the women who identified themselves as teachers (one of whom thought that President George Bush beat Dick Cheney in 2000, and that's why Bush got the Presidency and Cheney got the Vice Presidency).
The questions asked of people (beyond who are you, where are you from, what do you do) were a mix of basic facts on US politics and government, some widely-known movie trivia (what film was a quotation from, who won recent Academy Awards, etc.) identifying famous TV characters, and things taught in grammar school about some famous scientists, explorers, and inventors.

Nick
12.16.2008 3:46pm
Guest12345:
jukeboxgrad:

I get it. When you're caught making things up, it's just "a bit of hyperbole." But when your opponents allegedly say something that isn't perfectly accurate (and we have yet to see proof of this allegation), it's a "lie." Thanks for clearing that up. I've enjoyed the lesson in "logic."


Is this the same jukeboxgrad that had to fabricate an inconsistent numerical methodology in order to make the claim that his source's numbers are correct? I think we understand your grasp of "lie(s)" and "logic." Given your attention to detail, I'm curious where is your indignation at the imprecision of the $150,000 Palin wardrobe question?

(BTW, you never did mention what "underlying premise" was supported by TAP's webpage.)

As far as the methodology of this survey goes, I see nothing wrong with it. Since the question they wanted to answer was specifically about Obama voters suggestions such as a "control group of McCain voters" don't make much sense. You only need to know what McCain voters do if you want to compare the two. Since that wasn't the question asked, there's no need for it. However, the survey has been repeated including McCain voters, so that information is available if one looks for it.

Additionally the questions don't need to be perfect in order to measure voter ignorance. The fact that Palin's wardrobe wasn't exactly $150,000 doesn't invalidate the fact that an informed voter would know that a $150,000 wardrobe is associated with Palin. Whether Obama's very first utterance of an intent to be involved in politics was at Bill Ayers' home or not, an informed voter knows that, of the four (Biden, McCain, Obama, Palin) Obama is the one known to have held an early career meet-n-greet there. Besides, isn't it known that Obama was a child when he first announced his desire to be president? So shouldn't the pedantic, stickler for details JBG insist that that was the launch of Obama's political career?
12.16.2008 4:41pm
PHSJR (mail):
Although Nate Silver's handling of this "push poll"ster's view was pretty eviscerating, I thought he conceded that it wasn't actually a "push poll" per se, but highly misleading. I could be wrong there.

Nonetheless, Mr. Somin points out how discouraging it is that such a high percentage of Obama voters didn't know who "controls Congress." Yet, that wording is itself ambiguous; the number of successful filibusters is higher than at any point in recent history, and actual legislation after the first 100 days was scant, at best, suggesting that actual "control" was split, despite a Democratic majority.

It may not fully skew the percentage closer to what we'd like it to be, but a question regarding "which party holds a *majority* in Congress" might have gotten a better answer. And even if it didn't, one should concede the obvious ambiguity of the question itself, which was, I suspect, Nate's point to begin with.
12.16.2008 5:11pm
LM (mail):
JosephSlater:

I know lots of Obama voters. In fact, I myself am one, as is my wife and most of my family and friends. We knew what we were voting for.

Of course, rubes like us would think we know what we're voting for.
12.16.2008 5:23pm
David Warner:
cbyler,

"for the private sector benefiting some at the expense of others IS its designed purpose."

This liberal disagrees. Or maybe you were thinking of unions.
12.16.2008 6:31pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I wasn't viewing these polls as vindicating that any one group was smarter or better informed than any other, but rather, that they somewhat confirmed the biases of the news organizations reporting on the candidates. In other words, the news organizations spent a lot more time and energy reporting on the negative side of in particular Palin, somewhat ignoring potentially troubling questions about both Obama and Biden.

I think that the reality is that most voters are rationally ignorant. Why rationally? Because it takes a lot of time and effort to keep informed at the level that we all seem to take for granted here, time better spent in many cases on making a living, raising a family, etc. Heck, I am rationally ignorant on judicial nominees, if nothing else, and even some ballot initiatives. Voting against the League of Women Voters may be a rational approach, but it isn't an informed choice. (I don't really - I just started saying that when my mother was their legislative chair and head lobbyist for Colorado).

So, if the vast majority of the voters cannot rationally be expected to be well informed about all the candidates they are going to be voting for, or really even the major candidates, then how should they decide their votes?

Traditionally, they have trusted the mainstream media, whether it be their local papers, the national papers or magazines, or TV to inform them. But what happens if much of the MSM biases their reporting in favor of the candidate that they, as a group, are mostly voting for? Where they don't bother reporting that much on negative stories about their candidate, but relish doing so for the other candidate? If nothing else, one result that is likely is
12.16.2008 10:34pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Sorry about that - hadn't finished my post, and Windows Vista scored again. Continuing:

Traditionally, they have trusted the mainstream media, whether it be their local papers, the national papers or magazines, or TV to inform them. But what happens if much of the MSM biases their reporting in favor of the candidate that they, as a group, are mostly voting for? Where they don't bother reporting that much on negative stories about their candidate, but relish doing so for the other candidate? If nothing else, one result that is likely is the average voter on either side is less likely to know about dirt on the candidate favored by the press, and more likely to know about dirt on the other candidate.

And that is what I think we have here. I think that these polls or studies are more an indictment about the level of bias in the reporting than anything to do directly with voter ignorance or which candidate had the smarter or better informed voters voting for him.

The problem I see for the press is that some of these issues are now coming out now, and some are questioning why they didn't come out during the election. Will that accelerate the decline of traditional media? Who knows?
12.16.2008 10:40pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
berger:

I do thank you for sharing the thoughts and inspirations of the big O and Joe with me


I guess this is your way of admitting that you didn't know about Obama's plans until I brought them to your attention. Even though the information is readily available. Which tends to suggest that it's not Obama's supporters who are ignorant about his plans. It's people like you.

And I guess this is also your way of admitting that you're not in a position to back up the claim you made before, that Obama exhibits more "vagueness" than other candidates. And that you lack the integrity to admit that your claim is simply wrong.
12.16.2008 11:47pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
guest12345:

Is this the same jukeboxgrad that had to fabricate an inconsistent numerical methodology


I didn't "fabricate" anything. Is this the same guest12345 who summarized his argument by saying "have a nice day, putz?" I think that tells us something about the quality of your argument.

Given your attention to detail, I'm curious where is your indignation at the imprecision of the $150,000 Palin wardrobe question?


Who cares about the exact amount? The exact amount doesn't matter. Consider these statements:

A) Palin's wardrobe cost $100,000
B) Palin's wardrobe cost $150,000
C) Palin's wardrobe cost $200,000

The difference between A and C is large, in the sense that an increase of 100% is a lot, and adding $100,000 is a lot. But the difference between A and C is negligible, in terms of political impact. A, B and C all mean this: 'Palin's wardrobe cost a lot of money, a lot more than any wardrobe I'll ever have.'

On the other hand, consider these two statements:

A) When he first ran for office, Obama participated in many campaign events. One of those events was at the Ayers home.

B) Obama launched his political career in the Ayers' home

It's not pedantic to notice that A and B are not the same. Those two statements are quite different, in political impact. B implies a closeness between Ayers and Obama that is not implied by A. Ayers must be important to Obama, if Obama picked that place as the location for his first campaign event.

Except that the location was picked by Palmer, not Obama. And it was not the first event.

If there was no material difference in political impact between A and B, then Obama's opponents would have simply said A. It has the advantage of being true, while B is untrue. But they repeatedly said B, because it has significantly greater impact. For example Power Line said this:

Ayers … hosted Barack Obama's first fundraiser


Calling it the "first" event has materially more impact than admitting that it was one of many events, and not the first.

Besides, isn't it known that Obama was a child when he first announced his desire to be president? So shouldn't the pedantic, stickler for details JBG insist that that was the launch of Obama's political career?


Except that Obama and his supporters (like me) are not trying to make a specific claim about when he "launched" his political career. It's kind of a silly statement, because there are too many ways to define "launched" in this context. It's Obama's opponents who decided to make a statement in those terms. And unfortunately the statement they made (and still make) is false.

Obama is the one known to have held an early career meet-n-greet there


You are are implying that the location was chosen by Obama. Wrong. It was chosen by Palmer.
12.17.2008 1:09am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
hayden:

some of these issues are now coming out now, and some are questioning why they didn't come out during the election


What are the "issues" you're talking about? Do you mean McCain revealing his lukewarm feelings about Palin, by declining to endorse her for 2012? This is kind of a surprise, given that he supposedly picked the best person for the job.

I don't know what other "issues" you're thinking of, that are "coming out now," and which should have "come out during the election."
12.17.2008 1:09am
trad and anon (mail):
A) When he first ran for office, Obama participated in many campaign events. One of those events was at the Ayers home.

B) Obama launched his political career in the Ayers' home

It's not pedantic to notice that A and B are not the same. Those two statements are quite different, in political impact. B implies a closeness between Ayers and Obama that is not implied by A. Ayers must be important to Obama, if Obama picked that place as the location for his first campaign event.
Agreed. There's no dispute that the event happened. (I'm sure somebody disputes it, but they're wrong.) The problem with the poll is that what constitutes "launching his political career" is a matter of interpretation, not just a matter of fact. Why wasn't his political career launched as a community organizer? It doesn't involve running for public office, but it still involves politics. Thus it's an error to claim that a negative answer to the question constitutes "ignorance," and treating it that way is a form of bias on the part of the pollster.

If the question were phrased in terms of "Early in his first campaign for public office . . ." and people answered 'no,' that would demonstrate ignorance. But it wasn't.
12.17.2008 2:08am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Exactly.
12.17.2008 2:12am
Eschaton (www):
PHSJR wrote:


Nonetheless, Mr. Somin points out how discouraging it is that such a high percentage of Obama voters didn't know who "controls Congress." Yet, that wording is itself ambiguous; the number of successful filibusters is higher than at any point in recent history, and actual legislation after the first 100 days was scant, at best, suggesting that actual "control" was split, despite a Democratic majority.


You cannot be serious. Are you actually trying to argue that there are people who follow politics closely enough to know details about the relative number of Senate filibusters in the last year, but who nevertheless don't know which party controls Congress or don't know that "controls Congress" is a common term used to describe the majority party?! It would be an understatement to say that argument is a stretch.
12.17.2008 7:16am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
eschaton:

Are you actually trying to argue that there are people who follow politics closely enough to know details about the relative number of Senate filibusters in the last year…


If you look at it that way, I think you're correct. But that's not the only way to look at it. Consider this recent news report:

White House Considers Auto Bailout After Senate Rejects Deal … Perino made the remarks as Bush flew to Texas for a commencement speech, just hours after a deal on $14 billion in aid to automakers collapsed. The deal fell apart Thursday night in the Senate despite intense negotiations on Capitol Hill … Republicans, after reviewing the latest version of the proposal in a closed-door meeting, balked at giving automaker federal aid unless their powerful union agreed to slash wages next year to bring them into line with those of Japanese carmakers.


Someone who doesn't "follow politics closely" could read that report and very easily come to the conclusion that the Senate is under the control of the GOP. And over the past couple of years there have been lots of reports like that.

In a certain real sense, no party is in "control" of the Senate unless that party has 60 seats. Especially at a time when the minority party is willing to use filibusters (or the threat of filibusters) extensively.
12.17.2008 8:56am
cbyler (mail):
I think the most natural meaning of "controlling X" is "able to get X to do what they want". If Democrats want the Senate to act, Republicans want it to not act, and it doesn't act, which party is controlling it?

It's because of the Senate's supermajority requirements that a majority does not mean control, and therefore the question was badly worded at best.


@David Warner: I wasn't trying to deny the reality of positive externalities or even the invisible hand in some circumstances. Nevertheless, the private sector is *structurally* biased toward serving narrow interests (owners) in a way that the public sector isn't. Consider the differing fiduciary obligations of a corporate officer and a public servant - while either one might fail to live up to those obligations, only the former can disserve the public interest *by* doing his job (serving the shareholders).

And when you want a job to be done right even when there's no profit in doing it right, don't send the private sector.
12.17.2008 9:20am
A.C.:
It's true that the private for-profit sector won't do something if there is no profit in it, at least not for very long. Pretty much by definition, really. And even the non-profit sector has to at least break even over the long term.

But it's a mistake to think that serving the owners is the only thing a corporation does. If it doesn't serve a wide variety of other interests, in particular those of its customers, it won't last very long.
12.17.2008 9:55am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I think the point of the poll has been missed.
People pick up what floats by. The more often it floats by, the more likely they are to pick it up. It's a passive thing. If they're interested, they will actively learn about it, but you can't actively investigate something which has not yet occurred to you.
Thus, more people had heard of Palin's wardrobe than of Obama's Chicago Annenberg Challenge gig, despite the fact that the latter involved roughly a thousand times more money.
Because more reporters had reported on it, more news shows had commented on it.

It's sort of like "name that party".
The point is the media's bias, not the ignorance of the voters. I suppose it is a matter of voter ignorance, but that the ignorance goes a particular way--implicating media bias-- was the point of the poll.
12.17.2008 10:30am
JosephSlater (mail):
I know it frustrated some on the political right that the public as a whole never thought Ayers, Wright, Obama's birth certificate, etc. was as important as folks on the political right thought it should be. But all that info was out there in the media. It's not the media's fault that, in the middle of two wars and a huge economic collapse, people cared more about actual issues than the things that Fox News kept trying to push.
12.17.2008 11:43am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Joseph
"Out there"?? You want to do article counts? The wardrobe vs. CAC money, just for starters. Then adjust for the fact that the CAC was a thousand times more money.
Yeah, "out there". My sweet aunt fanny.
Morning Joe and the hacks. "Instinct" You sure hang your hat on some weak reeds.
Must be you don't have any others.
12.17.2008 12:17pm
Rich Berger (mail):
JBG-

O&Joe's Blueprint for Change is pretty pedestrian boilerplate - and what would be your guess for the percentage of O voters who could identify one specific proposal in it?

Plenty of McCain voters knew specifically why they disliked him - McCain Feingold, immigration "reform", initial opposition to the tax cuts - but still voted for him.

The survey results are consistent with my experience with Obama voters, in person, on the radio and on CSPAN.

I liked your last post - "Someone who doesn't "follow politics closely" could read that report and very easily come to the conclusion that the Senate is under the control of the GOP. " Someone out to lunch, perhaps. I think they have been called "low information voters".

Will Rahm be looking at the underside of the bus? Does Intrade have a market on that yet?

When I read your posts I picture a hyperexcitable type, practically frothing at the mouth as you combat error, as you see it.
12.17.2008 12:43pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
aubrey:

You want to do article counts? The wardrobe vs. CAC money, just for starters.


Palin's wardrobe got talked about because it was simply wrong to spend that much campaign money on clothes. Especially given Palin's 'hockey mom' image. CAC wasn't talked about much because no one did anything wrong. Duh.
12.17.2008 1:50pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
berger:

what would be your guess for the percentage of O voters who could identify one specific proposal in it?


Your earlier claim was not about "O voters." Your earlier claim was about Obama. You accused him of "vagueness." That claim is false. Nice job trying to change the subject.

Someone out to lunch, perhaps. I think they have been called "low information voters".


Yes, there are definitely some "low-information voters" out there:

A new study by the Pew Research Study shows that viewers of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report have the highest knowledge of national and international affairs, while Fox News viewers rank nearly dead last
12.17.2008 1:51pm
Steve H:
Maybe I'm just another ignorant Obama voter, but at the time the poll was taken, didn't the Republicans and the Democrats each have 49 members in the Senate?

Anyway, I think the main flaw with the poll is that the questions regarding McCain-Palin focused primarily on events that happened during the campaign, while the questions about Obama-Biden were about events that happened way in the past. So obviously more people will be familiar with the jes-plain-folks-humble-hockey-mom's-$150,000-wardrobe than things like Biden's "plagiarism," Obama's political events at Ayers' house, and Obama getting his competitors kicked off the ballot).

I think the only two Obama-related questions that dealt with matters happening in the past 15 years had to do with his statement that his policies "would likely bankrupt the coal industry" (which is not exactly what he said, and it only was reported in the last couple of days before the election), and Biden's statement that Obama would likely be tested by an international crisis (which was a complete non-event).
12.17.2008 2:38pm
Rich Berger (mail):
JBG-

You are the gift that keeps on giving.

I had forgotten about that Pew Poll - you will notice that the quality of the listeners to Rush and O'Reilly viewers were about equal to the Daily Show (taking high and moderate quality into account) - and they both have much larger audiences.

What possible connection could there be between the big O and the dumb-O voters (extra points)?
12.17.2008 3:00pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
juke.
No law against wardrobe expenditures--did anybody question O's campaign on same? Nope.
How do you know nobody did anything "wrong" wrt the CAC? Considering your definition is "whatever offends me--which is to say if a republican did it", rather than actually breaking a law. Should have been something in there worth your finely-honed moral attention, except that you had no interest. Or, perhaps, a strong interest that nobody ever find out.
Thousand times as much money, juke. Means nothing, huh?
And, this being Chicago and money, the likelihood that nothing wrong happened is pretty low. But you didn't think it was worth investigating, while there were several hundred reporters "dumpster diving" in Wassilla.
Pull the other one.
12.17.2008 3:21pm
Brian K (mail):
"Out there"?? You want to do article counts? The wardrobe vs. CAC money, just for starters. Then adjust for the fact that the CAC was a thousand times more money.

and yet i heard plenty about edwards' hair cut and al gore's many houses and i heard precious little about pretty much anything mccain related. so, as usual, your posts are full of crap.
12.17.2008 5:08pm
Kalroy (www):
As I recall thousands of gallons of "concentrated insecticide" stored in fifty-five gallon drums were found early on and at military outposts and installations. Gotta love the milblogs.

As someone who has worked in an idustry involved with VX, GB, and mustard I learned that VX and GB are essentially highly concentrated insecticides (both being cholenesterate(sp?) inhibitors). It was the reason, while working overseas, we were not allowed to have Raid or other insecticides despite the giant cockroaches, mosquitos, and ants. Insecticides would give a "false" positive, in that they showed you had been exposed, but the only exposure they were interested in was VX and GB (mustard is painfully obvious without fancy bloodwork).


Considering the governments "blue-eyed, ruddy faced" cover up during the Korean Conflict, I don't find it much of a leap that the government sometimes decides to downplay (or cover up important information for strategic purposes). Honestly, unless you found millions of gallons, labelled VX, in a secret bunker with a signed love note from Hussein himself I believe it likely that it would have been twisted into a propaganda negative for the Bush administration and the country.


Kalroy
12.17.2008 11:37pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
kalroy:

thousands of gallons of "concentrated insecticide" stored in fifty-five gallon drums were found


The bleach and ammonia under your kitchen sink can produce deadly chlorine gas. Why are you keeping WMD in your house?

Ooga-booga.

By the way, deadly pesticides (deadly against humans, that is) were part of what Reagan and Rummy helped Saddam obtain. Along with other useful goodies like cluster bombs, anthrax, and bubonic. And of course Reagan and Rummy did this right around the same time that Saddam was gassing civilians. We were helping a war criminal, but that was OK, because he was our war criminal.
12.18.2008 10:25am

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