Should Steven White Brand Himself a "Right-Wing Ideologue"?
By Bryan Caplan
One of the main reasons Steven White wrote me up as a “right-wing ideologue” is that my work highlights the irrationality of the electorate. But now he’s doing it too – and singling out Democrats in the process. Here’s White approvingly quoting Chris Orr:
[T]he electorate has no clue at this point what any of the candidates’ policy positions are… But what struck me was not merely that the poll respondents were wrong overall, but that they were wronger still in their comparative assessments of the Democratic contenders–that is, that they thought Hillary was the least hawkish and Edwards the most, with Obama somewhere in the middle. This is, of course, the exact opposite of the candidate’s respective positioning on Iraq. [emphasis added]
Hey kids, can you say “systematic bias”?
White’s approving quotation of Orr continues:
One explanation would be that Edwards is a white man, so voters assume he’ll be more conservative than a black man or white woman, etc., etc. But given that respondents rated the candidates’ dovishness more or less in proportion to their overall popularity–Hillary first, Obama second, Edwards third–I suspect there’s something else going on here. The Democratic electorate, which favors withdrawal, probably isn’t choosing which candidate it likes on the basis of policy positions; it’s ascribing its favored policy positions to the candidates it already likes on the basis of name recognition and other unrelated attributes.
This sounds awfully elitist to me – and awfully plausible. Though my harshest critics come from the left, my model of politics is a lot closer to theirs than they’d like to admit.
Update: Steven replies:
[N]ot understanding a relatively objective fact (e.g. John Edwards is more liberal than Hillary Clinton) is not directly comparable to not understanding the supposed superiority of a certain policy preference (e.g. more deregulation is a good thing for society). While a lot of evidence can be given for any policy preference, it can’t reach the level of objectivity in the same way. In that sense, my belief that the public “just doesn’t get” the differences between Edwards and Clinton is a lot different than Caplan’s belief that the public “just doesn’t get” what’s best for the economy.
I ask a followup in his comments.