Thursday, April 17, 2008

What they believe.

So presidential candidate Obama said some things, and there has been a lot of negative reaction to his words. Turns out it might be that the worst part about what he said was that he was wrong, according to an op-ed by Larry M. Bartels in today's New York Times.

Small-town, working-class people are more likely than their cosmopolitan counterparts, not less, to say they trust the government to do what’s right. In the 2004 National Election Study conducted by the University of Michigan, 54 percent of these people said that the government in Washington can be trusted to do what is right most of the time or just about always. Only 38 percent of cosmopolitan people expressed a similar level of trust in the federal government.

Do small-town, working-class voters cast ballots on the basis of social issues? Yes, but less than other voters do. Among these voters, those who are anti-abortion were only 6 percentage points more likely than those who favor abortion rights to vote for President Bush in 2004. The corresponding difference for the rest of the electorate was 27 points, and for cosmopolitan voters it was a remarkable 58 points. Similarly, the votes cast by the cosmopolitan crowd in 2004 were much more likely to reflect voters’ positions on gun control and gay marriage.

Small-town, working-class voters were also less likely to connect religion and politics. Support for President Bush was only 5 percentage points higher among the 39 percent of small-town voters who said they attended religious services every week or almost every week than among those who seldom or never attended religious services. The corresponding difference among cosmopolitan voters (34 percent of whom said they attended religious services regularly) was 29 percentage points.

It is true that American voters attach significantly more weight to social issues than they did 20 years ago. It is also true that church attendance has become a stronger predictor of voting behavior. But both of those changes are concentrated primarily among people who are affluent and well educated, not among the working class.

So maybe it was projection. Mr. Obama (and educated, upper-middle-class liberals and progressives like him) is the one who thinks the government isn't responsive to his economic needs, so he turns to his religion, his values, and his gun position and votes based on those? (Of course, I suspect Ms. Clinton believes the same things Mr. Obama said; she just didn't get caught saying them in a closed-door meeting with donors that was supposed to be off the record.)

None of this is what I objected to, though. I objected to what Mr. Obama said because he attributed people's decisions to a negative emotional state ("bitter") without explaining how he knows they're all bitter. I mean, did he ask them? People get my emotional state wrong all the time!

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