February 14, 2007

Psychoanalyzing the Public

Jeremy Lott thinks Dave Weigel was really smart to write this:

Americans never wanted to rebuild [Iraq]. They supported the war on the grounds that it would take out Saddam, get some revenge for 9/11 (donít ask how), and make the world saferÖ somehow. They had hoped the Iraqis would take care of the rest themselves, being liberated from Saddam and all. Americans never wanted to spend money rebuilding the country, because Americans are constitutionally opposed to stuff like that. Majorities of Americans opposed the first big spending package, that $87 billion that John Kerry welded into a bazooka aimed at his foot.
To the extent that that's true, it's a symptom of the depressing shallowness of public opinion; if you supported the Iraq war and thought that toppling Saddam was all there was to it, you were pretty naive. (I realize you may also have been a DoD policymaker.) But I don't think opposition to the $87 billion package was simply a function of Americans not caring about helping foreigners. Rather, it was a consequence of one of the few poll questions that emphasized the cost of an expenditure rather than its goal. I guarantee that if you asked people about, say, an expanded health care entitlement, it would get more support than you asked people about spending some really big-sounding sum on health care.

Speaking of shallow public opinion, Reihan Salam identifies an interesting pattern in Democratic primaries. It seems that the distribution of candidates' supporters by income tracks less with expected ideology than with expected attention to politics. In 2004, Edwards was supposed to appeal to more-conservative "downscale" Democrats, while Kerry was supposed to appeal to more-liberal "upscale" Democrats. Almost the opposite happened. At the time, Noam Scheiber offered the plausible hypothesis that the upscale types paid closer attention, and thus questioned Kerry's electability. Says Reihan:

With that in mind, consider the latest from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, as reported by WMUR.
* Clinton runs strongest among lower income voters.

* Obama's strongest support from voters who have lived in New Hampshire for 11 to 20 years and voters earning between $75,000 and $100,000.

This could mean that Obama will catch up over time as less affluent, less educated voters catch up with the elite media - or that Obama would, despite his neopopulist tendencies, hemorrhage working-class votes in a general election.
Reihan has related observations about what the poll says about Edwards this time around, and about Giuliani.

Steve Sailer has a somewhat different theory about Obama's support: That he represents the way white people wish black people would act. As usual, Sailer doesn't put this quite as delicately as a more sensitive writer would, and it's overly reductionist to think that the racial dynamics explain everything about Obamamania. But racial dynamics certainly do play a role, and Sailer's description of those dynamics seems correct.

Posted by John Tabin at February 14, 2007 06:43 PM

I guarantee that if you asked people about, say, an expanded health care entitlement, it would get more support than you asked people about spending some really big-sounding sum on health care.

This is definitely true. It's also true that no president would send, say, his deputy assistant secretary of HHS to speculate that the health care entitlement would pay for itself. I don't think the administration will ever dig itself out of the hole it dug by promising Americans a quick and rewarding war of revenge. We support cracking skulls together; we don't support paying for reconstructive brain surgeries.

Also, you're right about Sailer. I'm second-guessing my original opinion that a President Obama would render Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, etc irrelevent. On the country, they might get even more airtime to discuss why the POTUS's new budget is a betrayal of black America, etc.

Posted by: David Weigel at February 14, 2007 10:56 PM