Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Are American Voters Actually Just Plain Stupid?


The title of this post tracks that of a piece at Salon that reacts to a new ABC News poll that shows that far too many Americans remain enamored with Donald Trump, a/k/a Der  Trumpenf├╝hrer, despite the lack of any accomplishments in his first 100 days in office and his continued lining of his own pockets with taxpayer funds.  Just ending his weekly travel to the "Florida White House" over the course of a year could fund many items he seeks to cut from the federal budget.  Sadly, the take away from the poll findings is that yes, many American voters are just plain stupid and utterly uninformed, especially those who limit their news sources to scandal plagued Fox News.  Just as frightening, Trump's and the GOP's calls to racism explain much of the continued Republican support for policies that are in actuality directly against their own financial interest.  Legitimizing these people's prejudices seeming matters more than policies that would improve their economic lot. Highlights from a piece in Salon look at this disturbing picture.  Here are highlights:  
Are tens of millions of Americans really this stupid? If the findings from a new poll are any indication, then the answer is yes:
There’s no honeymoon for Donald Trump in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll but also no regrets: He approaches his 100th day in office with the lowest approval rating at this point of any other president in polls since 1945 — yet 96 percent of those who supported him in November say they’d do so again today …
Among those who report having voted for [Trump] in November, 96 percent today say it was the right thing to do; a mere 2 percent regret it. And if a rerun of the election were held today, the poll indicates even the possibility of a Trump victory in the popular vote among 2016 voters.
This is despite all the lies Donald Trump has told and all the campaign promises he has betrayed: He has not “drained the swamp” of lobbyists and corporate fat cats, has not built his “huge” and “amazing” wall along the Mexican-American border, has not returned jobs to the United States and has not repealed the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, as of day 100 of his presidency Trump has fulfilled few of his main campaign promises.
Moreover, that 96 percent of Trump’s voters would make the same decision again despite overwhelming evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in  the 2016 presidential election with the goal of installing Trump as a puppet candidate raises many troubling questions about how tens of millions of American voters were “flipped” by a foreign power to act against their own country.
The findings from this new poll are troubling. But they should not come as a surprise.
Political scientists and other researchers have repeatedly documented that the American public does not have a sophisticated knowledge of political matters. The average American also does not use a coherent and consistent political ideology to make voting decisions. As Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen demonstrate in their new book “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” Americans have identities and values that elites manipulate, which voters in turn use to process information — however incorrectly.
American voters en masse are not rational actors who seriously consider the available information, develop knowledge and expertise about their own specific political concerns, and then make political choices that would maximize those goals.
These matters are further complicated when considering right-wing voters. While Trump may have failed in most of his policy goals, he has succeeded symbolically in terms of his racist and nativist crusade against people of color and Muslims. Given the centrality of racism and white supremacy in today’s Republican Party specifically, and movement conservatism more generally, Trump’s hostility to people of color can be counted as a type of “success” by his racially resentful white voters.
American conservatives and right-leaning independents are also ensconced in an alternative news media universe that rejects empirical reality. A combination of disinformation and outright lies from the right-wing media, in combination with “fake news” circulated online by Russian operatives and others, has conditioned Trump voters and other Republicans to make decisions with no basis in fact. American conservatives do however possess a surplus of incorrect information. In that context, their political decisions may actually make sense to them: This is a version of “garbage in, garbage out.”
This is a crisis of civic literacy that threatens the foundations of American democracy. . . . This is but one more reminder that Donald Trump’s victory was not a sudden crisis or unexpected surprise. The neofascist movement that Trump represents was an iceberg of sorts — one that was a long time in the making. If this new poll is correct, many millions of Americans would make choices that would steer the ship of state into that same iceberg all over again. Such an outcome is ominous. The thought process that would rationalize such a decision is deranged.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder has argued that a democracy has approximately one year to reverse course if it has succumbed to fascism and authoritarianism. America’s civic literacy crisis may mean that the country has even less time than Snyder’s prediction suggests.

No comments: