Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Psychic politicians

Kansas and Arizona introduced controversial legislation in their respective state legislatures, in case you crawled under a rock the last couple of weeks.  If you did that, I'll sum up.  The bills were introduced so that businesses could discriminate against the LGBT community and those they could assume to be LGBT under the guise of religious freedom, provided that they object to their lifestyle and/or marriage.  Businesses are people, too, right?  So, of course they need religious freedom.  Ultimately, the bills failed.  Kansas's version fell apart in the state's Senate while in Arizona, it took Governor Jan Brewer to finally agree with the Chamber of Commerce and veto the bill.  But that's not what I want to talk about.

Some of the people defending the law believe that these laws are necessary because serving the LGBT community, even if it violates your personal religious beliefs, is sort of like slavery.  Other people who are defending the law are trying not to have their own personal beliefs seep through.  The idea is that the state legislators are elected to represent the people of their community.  Even if we disagree with the laws that they try and pass, we have to respect our democratic institutions.  Although, some may not use the word democratic in a positive light.  ANYWAY, the point is that the legislators are going to try and represent the people they are elected to, the best way possible.

Representatives of the state may believe that they are doing the best possible job representing their constituents but they might be wrong.  Politics is very often not about what you think but rather what you think others think.  Kansas's bill overwhelmingly passed the state's lower chamber.  Yet, according to a poll done by Public Policy Polling (PPP) only 29% of Kansans support the bill while 59% oppose the bill.  When we look at it along party lines, we see 80% of Democratic Kansans oppose the bill and 61% of Independents oppose the bill.  Even 44% of Republican Kansans say that they oppose the bill compared to 40% who support it.  We would have to assume that there is a large amount of the population lying about their true feelings, if you believe that Kansans really support the bill.

In Arizona, we find similar figures.  22% of Arizonians supported their version of the bill (SB 1062) while 66% opposed it.  Even more telling, 72% of Arizonians supported Governor Brewer's decision to veto the bill while only 18% opposed her veto.  86% of Democratic voters opposed the bill and 64% of independent voters opposed the bill.  51% of Republican voters opposed the bill compared to 34% who supported it.  Nearly 90% of Democratic voters supported Brewer's decision to veto the bill, while two-thirds of both Republican and Independent voters supported the decision.

Knowing all of this, the question that is raised is why do these legislators think their constituents want this bill?  The short answer is we're not psychic and we assume the ones talking the loudest are actually representative of the whole population.  Currently, about 53% of the population favor allowing same sex marriage compared to 41% who oppose it.  But that's not what we think others think.  A little over one-third of Americans (34%) believe that the majority of Americans favor same sex marriage.  About half of the population (49%) believe that the majority of Americans oppose same sex marriage.  These findings are interesting considering the majority of polls since 2012 show that the majority of Americans favor same sex marriage.

We're even worse when it comes to people that we think that we're closer to. Consider the following: 59% of white mainline Protestants believe their fellow congregants are mostly opposed to same sex marriage; yet, only 36% oppose same sex marriage.  57% actually favor same sex marriage.  Among Catholics, 73% believe that the majority of their fellow church (or is it mass?) goers are mostly opposed to same sex marriage.  But actually a slight majority 50% support it while 45% oppose same sex marriage.

I think we are, in part, allowing those who speak the loudest to dominate what we think is public opinion.  This isn't a problem for most of us, as we do not occupy positions of power.  But legislators do hold some power and they are constantly swayed by those who are speaking the loudest.  That's not all.  Legislators have often gotten their spot because they were active in their political community.  In conservative Arizona and Kansas, it is highly probable that the legislators believe that the opinion on LGBT issues is closer to their ideas than what it is in real life.  When these legislators hear the shouts from the anti-LGBT crowd, their position is re-enforced.  All of a sudden, it's just a matter of fact that public opinion is on their side.  Everyone wants to be right; it is easy to be convinced your side is the popular side.  But it's not always the case.  Just because you hear the loudest shouts from people doesn't mean that is how everyone feels about issues and we should stop pretending it is.

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