Thursday, 29 July 2004

Public opinion is crap, redux

I think Bryan Caplan has really stepped in one here:

Larry Bartels has gotten national attention for his work on Bush’s income tax cut, inheritance tax cut, and public opinion. (Here is the full article; here is the digest version; here is what Alex Tabarrok had to say about Bartels). Bartels’ main point is that public opinion verges on contradictory: the public believes that inequality has gone up, agrees that inequality is bad, agrees that the rich should pay more taxes, BUT still supports two tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich.

Bartels is right, although since I belong to the tiny minority of people who favors however much inequality the free market delivers, for once I have to celebrate the public’s folly.

What Bartels does not seem to realize, however, is that the contradiction he laments is only one of many. [emphasis added]

I suspect very strongly that Prof. Bartels does realize this, as he is one of the foremost experts on public opinion in American politics. Mind you, Caplan’s broader post is a nice primer on the contradictions in public opinion that political scientists have known about (and attempted to explain) since the 1960s—contradictions that Bartels, and any other political scientist studying public opinion, would be well aware of.