* The New Yorker has an article up about how Republicans, who once supported an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, are now against it. It’s a really good piece and you should definitely read the whole thing.
The article includes a section about a study done at Stanford on “motivated reasoning,” which is defined as “when a person is conforming their assessments of information to some interest or goal that is independent of accuracy.” Standford psychology professor Geoffrey Cohen tested students who had described themselves as either very liberal or very conservative…
The students were shown two articles: one was a generic news story; the other described a proposed welfare policy. The first article was a decoy; it was the students’ reactions to the second that interested Cohen. He was actually testing whether party identifications influence voters when they evaluate new policies. To find out, he produced multiple versions of the welfare article. Some students read about a program that was extremely generous—more generous, in fact, than any welfare policy that has ever existed in the United States—while others were presented with a very stingy proposal.
But there was a twist: some versions of the article about the generous proposal portrayed it as being endorsed by Republican Party leaders; and some versions of the article about the meagre program described it as having Democratic support. The results showed that, “for both liberal and conservative participants, the effect of reference group information overrode that of policy content. If their party endorsed it, liberals supported even a harsh welfare program, and conservatives supported even a lavish one.”
* Another interesting passage…
In a 2006 paper, “It Feels Like We’re Thinking,” the political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels looked at a National Election Study, a poll supported by the National Science Foundation, from 1996. One of the questions asked whether “the size of the yearly budget deficit increased, decreased, or stayed about the same during Clinton’s time as President.” The correct answer is that it decreased, dramatically. Achen and Bartels categorize the respondents according to how politically informed they were. Among the least-informed respondents, Democrats and Republicans picked the wrong answer in roughly equal numbers. But among better-informed voters the story was different. Republicans who were in the fiftieth percentile gave the right answer more often than those in the ninety-fifth percentile. Bartels found a similar effect in a previous survey, in which well-informed Democrats were asked whether inflation had gone down during Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. It had, but many of those Democrats said that it hadn’t. The more information people had, it seemed, the better they were at arranging it to fit what they wanted to believe. As Bartels told me, “If I’m a Republican and an enthusiastic supporter of lower tax rates, it is uncomfortable to recognize that President Obama has reduced most Americans’ taxes—and I can find plenty of conservative information sources that deny or ignore the fact that he has.”
* And back to the president’s health care law and the individual mandate…
Recently, Bartels noticed a similar polarization in attitudes toward the health-care law and the Supreme Court. Using YouGov polling data, he found that less-informed voters who supported the law and less-informed voters who opposed it were equally likely to say that “the Supreme Court should be able to throw out any law it finds unconstitutional.” But, among better-informed voters, those who opposed the law were thirty per cent more likely than those who supported it to cede that power to the Court. In other words, well-informed opponents realized that they needed an activist Supreme Court that was willing to aggressively overturn laws if they were to have any hope of invalidating the Affordable Care Act.
Orin Kerr says that, in the two years since he gave the individual mandate only a one-per-cent chance of being overturned, three key things have happened. First, congressional Republicans made the argument against the mandate a Republican position. Then it became a standard conservative-media position. “That legitimized the argument in a way we haven’t really seen before,” Kerr said. “We haven’t seen the media pick up a legal argument and make the argument mainstream by virtue of media coverage.” Finally, he says, “there were two conservative district judges who agreed with the argument, largely echoing the Republican position and the media coverage. And, once you had all that, it really became a ballgame.”
* I think we’ve seen a similar situation here. Compare the reactions to what Gov. Pat Quinn has done to unions to what Gov. Scott Walker has done up in Wisconsin.
Quinn unilaterally tossed out the collective bargaining process when he said he wouldn’t honor contractual pay raises. He’s also gone hard after retiree health care and pensions. Yet, there were no giant demonstrations at the Statehouse like there were in Wisconsin when a Republican governor attacked the unions.
* Also, look at the budget. Some very liberal Democratic legislators backed some very deep budget cuts this year after their party had decided to become more fiscally conservative. We’ve talked about the DCFS cuts and how it could lead to massive layoffs. Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, one of the most liberal members of the entire General Assembly, oversaw those cuts and she defended them to WUIS reporter Amanda Vinicky…
But legislators on the House committee in charge of funding for human services stand by the reductions. Democratic Representative Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago, who chairs the panel, says legislators protected services directly affecting children. But she says they cut personnel funding after learning the agency gave its employees what she called “significant” raises.
“It was a little disappointing to some of our committee members who vocalized that the department needs to restructure its priorities. There were a lot of very unhappy committee members,” Feigenholtz said.
No offense meant to Feigenholtz, who is a decent person, but I can’t help but wonder what her reaction would be if she was in the minority party and these very same cuts were being made.