Martin Gilens, professor of politics at Princeton University and a member of the executive committee of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, discussed his new book as part of the Wilson School’s “Talk of 2012: The Upcoming Presidential Election” thematic lecture series. The discussion was co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics and the Department of Politics.
so in the mid-1960s in myquantitative analysiswas a period of very low associationbetween public preferences and policyoutcomes the opposite set of politicalconditions and the strongest period ofassociation between public preferencesand policy outcomes was much to my greatsurprise during the early years of thegeorge w bush first term and when i didthat analysis and saw that not onlywhere the policy is adopted in 2001 and2002 consistent with what affluentAmericans wanted but we’re also the mostconsistent with what the middle classand the poor wanted from any period ofin my data set it was fairly certainthere must be some sort of error therein coding or something must have gonewrong so like you know a good socialscientist that Ike scoured the data tosee like where this error had emergedbut the fact of the matter is that therewas no error there and the policies thatwere adopted during those early Bushyears were in fact quite popular acrossthe income spectrum so so let me remindyou that you know Bush ran in 2000 as acompassionate conservative right hetalked about his bipartisan work withTexas Legislature and and so on and youknow I think a lot of people on the Leftkind of dismissed that as kind of acynical posturing but the truth is thatwhen Bush came into office you knowafter a very close election and afterhaving lost the popular vote the themost prominent policies that wereadopted were broadly supported centristpolicies in some cases bipartisanpolicies adopted that he worked withDemocratic legislators so I’m thinkingof things like the Medicare drug benefita long-standing Democratic Partypriority No Child Left Behind educationreforms which whatever you may think ofthem now was a bipartisanpolicy that you know senator Kennedyworked with the administration on Bush’sfaith-based initiative very popularacross income levels his compromise onstem-cell funding which contrary towidespread views actually increased thelike the range of stem cells that wereeligible for federal funding and evenhis tax cuts which clearly provided mostof the benefits in terms of dollars tothe most well-off Americans werestrongly supported across the incomespectrum so so a lot of what happenedthen was very consistent with what thepublic wanted including what the middleclass and the poor wanted but it’s notbecause of any sort of particularcommitment on the part of Bush or hisadministration to you know serving asadvocates for the poor but it waspolitical circumstances so Congress in2001 was more closely divided than ithad been at any time in half a centuryright you may remember when Bush cameinto office the Senate was split 50-50with the vice president serving as adeciding vote the Republicans had a veryslim majority in the house they losteven that sort of you know deciding votemajority in the Senate after JimJeffords abandoned at the RepublicanParty a couple months into the Bush’sfirst term so it was a very closelydivided Congress with control being upfor grabs at the next election right andthis is the opposite of what we saw inthe mid-1960s and this these two periodsrepresent a consistent pattern within mydata that when control of government isdivided and uncertain you get policyoutcomes that more strongly reflect thePreferences of the public and moreequally reflect the Preferences of lowand high-income Americans and when oneparty has dominant control then you seeresponsiveness to any groupthe public decline and in fact that’sexactly what happened when theRepublicans increased their control ofCongress so if you compare thepreference policy Association in thefirst two years of Bush’s first termwith the first two years of Bush’ssecond term right when Republicans forthe first time in half a century hadunified control of the nationalgovernment and strong majorities fairlystrong majorities in Congress not likethe 1960s but but relative to recentyears then what you saw is that theresponsiveness to the public plummetednow I should mention if you areconcerned that 9/11 and the war onterror and the wars in Afghanistan andIraq are responsible for theserelationships I was concerned about thattoo I redid these analyses afterexcluding all the policy questionshaving to do with defense and terrorismand in the wars and so on and when yousee the same pattern so that is some ofwhat was popular about the early yearsof Bush’s first term was things like thewar on terror and some of what was lesspopular in Bush’s later years but thepatterns remain the same even if we’reonly looking at domestic policy andexcluding things like on terror okay soso the point here is that politicalconditions right make a difference andthat’s one of the perhaps few sort ofhopeful findings from what for peopleconcerned about sort of normativedemocratic concerns is in general andnot particularly hopeful or optimistic aresearch project but but control ofgovernment does matter and that meansparties can be constrained to pursuepolicies that are more consistent withwhat the public wants under the rightcircumstances so there’s there’s a rayof hope there you might expect if thereif that political circumstances to saythe tenuous nature of government controlmakes a difference well so might someother ..
.. As the leading figure in the civil rights movement, King had to toe a delicate line. Because he needed to retain popular support – as well as be able to work with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations – there could be no question about where he stood on the issue of communism.
A world I dream where black or white, Whatever race you be, Will share the bounties of the earth And every man is free.
.. the halo effect is a well-documented psychological bias, where a person has one trait that you like, and your positive feelings about this spill over to encompass the person as a whole. For example, if you find someone attractive, you’re also more likely to think of them as smart, considerate, approachable, and so on.
Research even shows that we tend to vote for the more attractive candidate in political elections. Something to keep in mind the next time you head to the polls!
Get the blinks for Influence, by Robert Cialdini.
the real problem here is that media organizations are looking for unicorns: serious, honest, conservative intellectuals with real influence. Forty or fifty years ago, such people did exist. But now they don’t.
.. First, while there are many conservative economists with appointments at top universities, publications in top journals, and so on, they have no influence on conservative policymaking.
.. What the right wants are charlatans and cranks, in (conservative) Greg Mankiw’s famous phrase. If they use actual economists, they use them the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
.. under Obama the director was always someone who was interested in real policy research, listened to what experts had to say, and was willing to change views in the face of evidence.
.. Obviously none of this is true in Kudlow’s case. He’s basically a TV personality, whose shtick is preaching the magic of tax cuts, and nothing – not the Kansas debacle, not the Clinton boom, not the strong job creation that followed Obama’s 2013 tax hike – will change his mind. And it’s not just that he’s incurious and inflexible: selling snake oil is his business model, and he can’t change without losing everything. And that’s the kind of guy Republicans want.
All this means that if you get a conservative economist who isn’t a charlatan and crank, you are more or less by definition getting someone with no influence on policymakers. But that’s not the only problem.
.. even aside from its complete lack of policy influence, it’s in an advanced state of both intellectual and moral decadence – something that has been obvious for a while, but became utterly clear after the 2008 crisis.
I’ve written a lot about the intellectual decadence. In macroeconomics, what began in the 60s and 70s as a usefully challenging critique of Keynesian views went all wrong in the 80s, because the anti-Keynesians refused to reconsider their views when their own models failed the reality test while Keynesian models, with some modification, performed pretty well. By the time the Great Recession struck, the right-leaning side of the profession had entered a Dark Age, having retrogressed to the point where famous economists trotted out 30s-era fallacies as deep insights... What accounts for this moral decline? I suspect that it’s about a desperate attempt to retain some influence on a party that prefers the likes of Kudlow or Stephen Moore. People like John Taylor just keep hoping that if they toe the party line enough, they can still get on the inside... we’re looking at asymmetric polarization... Am I saying that there are no conservative economists who have maintained their principles? Not at all. But they have no influence, zero, on GOP thinking.
.. News organizations don’t seem to have figured out how to deal with this reality, except by pretending that it doesn’t exist. And that’s why we keep having these Williamson-like debacles.