The Uncaring Public


Everyone’s already said what needs to be said about the most Broderific aspects of David Broder’s latest column but I wanted to take a stab at another angle it contains:

It is the reaction of those swing voters — or the politicians’ anticipation of their shifting opinion — that drives the outcome of the big policy debates. You’ve had an example of this already with Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal for protecting the environment from carbon discharges.

Swing voters aside, there’s just very little reason at all to believe that public opinion has much of anything to do with the cap and trade debate. I got a briefing recently based on a pretty in-depth look at public opinion on climate energy issues and one clear finding is that the overwhelming majority of people have no idea what the phrase “cap and trade” refers to. And they certainly don’t have opinions about questions like auctioning permits or giving them away. People don’t pay that much attention to politics, and tend not to form detailed opinions about policy questions.

If anything, causation is likely to go the other way. If Barack Obama starts talking in high-profile situations about how it would be great if we had some “cap and trade” then people will start forming opinions about the policy based on their opinions about Obama. After all, Obama is something almost everyone has opinions about. People also have opinions about their local elected officials. If Mary Landrieux (D-LA) and David Vitter (R-LA) were to both start telling constituents and local media that there’s an idea called “cap and trade” and it’s bad for Louisiana and likely to kill jobs, then many Louisianans will conclude that this bipartisan consensus probably reflects some larger truth about the Louisiana economy.