Do Politicians Care What You Think?

The short answer to this question is an emphatic “No!” This was the finding of 2 professors, Joshua Kalla from Yale and Ethan Porter from George Washington University, who conducted a study to answer this question. They discuss their study in The New York Times article of 7/12/19, “Politicians Don’t Care What You Think.” 

If you are like me, you probably knew the answer intuitively, but it is still discouraging to know that it is true. The disconnect between politicians and voters accounts for most of the anger, frustration, disaffection, exasperation and apathy we are experiencing. If politicians don’t hear us, we just speak louder and louder until we are screaming at each other or give up. 

At some point in our lives we are led to believe that democracy is a political system whereby the majority rules. Only much much later do we finally begin to comprehend the very ugly features of modern politics:  hyper-partisan political parties; gerrymandering; party discipline; lobbying; special interest influence; unlimited campaign finance; fundraising that looks like looks like selling influence; voter suppression tactics; the electoral college, phony-baloney “think tanks” that dress up politics as academic research, etc.; and now, the very worst of them all, heavily orchestrated misinformation and disinformation campaigns and other forms of election meddling by foreign adversaries. It is no wonder that we are all fed up with politics and politicians.

If politicians don’t care what voters think, why don’t they? I feel certain the short answer is that they don’t have to care in order to get elected.

In this day and time politicians select their voters. Partisan gerrymandering of political districts is now refined to such a high degree that very few races are competitive. This produces a situation wherein a politician must fear a primary attack more than a general election. To win in the primary, the politician must convince only a relatively few highly motivated, very partisan voters because the turnout will be light. A politician is preaching to his own choir. Hence, politicians don’t have to care about what a majority of their constituents think. They just have to convince the choir rather than the congregation and they hand-picked the choir.

Can this be changed? Not likely. The Supreme Court has just ruled in a 5 to 4 Republican victory that federal courts have no power to stop gerrymandering based upon party preference. The Court ruled, in essence, that the party in power in the state legislatures has the right to create districts as it sees fit. With this ace in the hole, the ability to configure districts that assure the party in control will stay in control and even expand its power is limited by only the imagination of re-districting consultants and the partisanship of the politicians. To the victors go all the spoils. 

Based upon this ruling, things will get much, much worse when redistricting occurs in 2021 and that’s hard to imagine. For an excellent analysis of this ruling and its effects, read the op-ed by John Arnold, “Gerrymandering threatens our democracy,” in the Houston Chronicle of July 15, 2019.

This case was a golden opportunity for the court to force politicians to be accountable to all the voters. The Court willfully dropped the ball and gave the states the right to disenfranchise voters. If you ever wonder if the game is rigged, you got your answer. Not only is the game rigged, the game is to rig the game.