When tribalism takes over

Updated
Obamacare Ad Rant - 08/30/2013
Opponents of Obama health care legislation rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Pollsters have found that in the Obama era, the number of self-identified Republican voters who believe in evolution has dropped sharply. Similarly, in recent years, GOP voters routinely tell pollsters that the federal budget deficit has gone up, even as it drops quickly.
 
What drives results like these? It’s probably the result of the same phenomenon that drives attitudes like these, as reported by Greg Sargent yesterday, about the Affordable Care Act.
My Post colleague Sean Sullivan … points to a Gallup poll this week finding that only 19 percent of Americans say the law has hurt them or their family, while 64 percent say it has had no effect, and another 13 percent say it has helped.
 
But who are those 19 percent? It turns out those telling Gallup the law has hurt them or their family are very disproportionately Republican and conservative.
Of course they are. Greg got in touch with Gallup, which offered him a closer look at the details of the poll results. In all, a small percentage of Democrats and independents said the health care law has hurt them or their family directly, while 60% of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents said the ACA is doing them direct harm.
 
Similar results were seen along ideological lines: most conservatives said “Obamacare” is hurting them or their family, most moderates and liberals said the opposite.
 
Now, I suppose it’s possible that an extraordinary coincidence is unfolding on a national scale. By sheer chance, the very people who oppose the law just so happen to be the exact same people who are adversely affected by it. What a truly remarkable fluke! Who could have guessed?
 
Or maybe, as Greg put it, “some who already dislike Obamacare are more likely to tell pollsters they’ve been negatively impacted by it.”
 
It’s amazing what tribalism can do to public perceptions.
 
Are Republican voters really turning against modern biology in greater numbers? Probably not. Do GOP voters actually believe the deficit has gotten bigger during the Obama era? Maybe, but I rather doubt it.
 
Do these same partisans and ideologues genuinely believe the Affordable Care Act has hurt them or their families? Maybe some had to change plans or see a new doctor, but odds are, most of these folks are giving the pollsters an ideologically satisfying answer.
 
It’s not about dishonesty or ignorance; it’s about political tribalism in a period of stark polarization.
 
When the Pew report came out last month showing Republicans rejecting evolution in large numbers, Paul Krugman had a good piece on the broader dynamic.
The point … is that Republicans are being driven to identify in all ways with their tribe – and the tribal belief system is dominated by anti-science fundamentalists. For some time now it has been impossible to be a good Republicans while believing in the reality of climate change; now it’s impossible to be a good Republican while believing in evolution.
 
And of course the same thing is happening in economics. As recently as 2004, the Economic Report of the President (pdf) of a Republican administration could espouse a strongly Keynesian view, declaring the virtues of “aggressive monetary policy” to fight recessions, and making the case for discretionary fiscal policy too. […]
 
Given that intellectual framework, the reemergence of a 30s-type economic situation, with prolonged shortfalls in aggregate demand, low inflation, and zero interest rates should have made many Republicans more Keynesian than before. Instead, at just the moment that demand-side economics became obviously critical, we saw Republicans – the rank and file, of course, but economists as well – declare their fealty to various forms of supply-side economics, whether Austrian or Lafferian or both. Compare that ERP chapter with the currency-debasement letter and you see a remarkable case of intellectual retrogression.
In all likelihood, many on the right are choosing to stick with their “team” and answer pollsters’ questions accordingly. It’s probably best to look at all of these polls accordingly.
 

Affordable Care Act, Obamacare and Polling

When tribalism takes over

Updated