This morning, I was reading TeacherKen's diary and the responses to it. There seemed to be some debate as to whether we lose elections because "most Americans" are ignorant . . . or because "most Americans" understand the issues perfectly well, yet disagree with us.
The answer is neither one, and I can prove it.
When you have some free time, look here
. This is the website for the University of Maryland studies on public opinion. It's a huge website, the most comprehensive collection of American opinion ever collected, and it contains some startling figures. I won't bother to try telling you about all of them. I will, however, quote this, and then afterwards, I'll tell you what I think it means:
A new poll finds that a majority of Americans reject the idea of using military force to promote democracy. Only 35% favored using military force to overthrow dictators. Less than one in five favored the US threatening to use military force if countries do not institute democratic reforms.
The effort to promote democracy in Iraq is generating little enthusiasm. Seventy-four percent (including 60% of Republicans) said that the goal of overthrowing Iraq's authoritarian government and establishing a democracy was not a good enough reason to go to war. Seventy-two percent said that the experience there has made them feel worse about the possibility of using military force to bring about democracy in the future. Sixty-four percent (65% of Republicans) are ready to accept an Iraqi constitution that does not fully meet democratic standards and once the constitution is ratified 57% want to start withdrawing troops.
Steven Kull, director of PIPA comments, "More broadly most Americans do not appear to have been persuaded by President Bush's State of the Union argument that promoting democracy is a critical means for fighting terrorism and making the world safer." Only 26% agreed that when there are more democracies the world is safer and only 45% agreed that people in democracies are less likely to support terrorist groups. Even the view, popular among political scientists that democracies are less likely to go to war with each other was only endorsed by 46%. Republicans showed a bit more support for the benefits of democracy, but only by a few percentage points.
Americans are also not confident that democratic governments will be friendlier to the US. Only 42% assumed that when countries become more democratic they will be more likely to agree with US policies and only 26% assumed that if Saudi Arabia were to hold free elections the elected government would be friendlier to the US.
The most startling stat anywhere on the site is that most Americans seem to hold liberal values, but believe that most Americans do not hold liberal values. That is, for example, most Americans want single-payer health-care, but most Americans believe that most Americans do not want single-payer health-care. And so on.
Now, what does this mean? Does it mean that Americans are ignorant? Apparently we are not ignorant on the issues, though apparently we are ignorant about each other. Does it mean that most Americans disagree with progressives? Obviously not, in most cases.
What it does mean is . . .
(1) The So Called Liberal Media does a stupifyingly good job of telling us how mean and selfish we are, despite the available evidence.
(2) The Democratic Party is standing around twiddling its thumbs, wondering how on earth to beat the Republicans, while a great big baseball bat is laying at its feet.
One possible conclusion here is that the Democrats in power do not want to win. Another possible conclusion is that the Democrats in power are hopelessly inept. Another possible conclusion is that the power structure is so arranged that it is impossible for progressives to enact the reforms apparently wished for by damn near everyone.
Perhaps there are other possible conclusions. I know which one I think it is. But I'd like to know what y'all think, too.