Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dems are--er, were--downers!

This time around, anyway. Looking over the exit polling data, I've been struck by just how pessimistic Americans favoring Democrats are about the economy, the future, and their own personal situations.

Of those listing describing the national economy as "not good" or "poor" (half of the electorate), 77% voted Democratic. The same proportion of those describing their family's financial situation as "worse" (25% of the total) went Democratic, while only 28% of those describing it as "better" (30% of the total) went for the irrendentist party. By a three-to-one margin, the 17% of the voting population that believes their families are "falling behind" went Democratic (74%-23%). For those believing life for the next generation will be worse than it is for those in their prime today (40% of the electorate), Dems were favored by more than 2-to-1, at 66%-32%. Among those who were "not very confident" or "not at all confident" that votes would be counted accurately, 73% went with the Democrats (will they push for vigorous investigations into purported voter irregularities?!) Are things really that dismal?

Democrats are, on average, less happy than Republicans (not surprisingly, given that they are less likely to be pious, married, wealthy, or have healthy sex lives, all of which correlate with self-identified measures of personal satisfaction). But surely not at the magnitude one might assume by looking at the exit polls, right?

Right. The 2000 exit polls reveal similar pessimism about the economy, the future, and life for the next generation. Except Republican voters were the melancholy citizens that time around. Of those describing their family's financial situation as "worse", 63% went for Bush. Among those saying the national economy was "worse", 52% went for Bush while 70% of those rating the national economy as "better" went for Gore. Regarding their progeny, of those believing life for the next generation would be worse than it had been for the current one, 58% went for Bush while only 37% went for Gore.

How heavily influenced are the assessments of the lives of ordinary Americans by the political ebb and flow of Capitol Hill? "Conservative" voters overwhelmingly went for the Republicans in both 2000 and 2006, at 81% and 78%, respectively. And "liberal" voters backed the Democrats in both 2000 and 2006, at 80% and 87%, respectively. So the gloominess isn't ideological in nature--it's clearly partisan. Most Democratic voters who thought Lake Woebegon had been discovered in 2000 thought the sky was falling in 2006. And viceversa for Republican voters.

Lots of people see what transpires around them through a partisan lens that distorts their ability to evalutate things empirically. Democratic rah rahs have apparently been miserable for the last six years, while Republicans bots are about to become so. After punching the ballot and having gone through the emotional voting process, and then being approached by a pollster wanting your take on what you just did and why, you're more inclined to be magnify the intensity of your opinions than you would be when chattering around the water cooler weeks before the election. To what extent is exit poll sentiment exaggeration, and to what extent do exit polls capture the actual feelings of the respondents?

Studies show that the partisans and drug addicts derive pleasure through a similar process in the brain when they get their respective fixes, while the dorsolateral prefontal cortex (which is the part of the brain most strongly associated with reasoning) shows no increase in activation. The exit polls lend credence to those findings.

(Politics and Religion)

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