Every time I write about polling data, I feel the need to point out that opinion polls are not prophecies, they are snapshots.
As long as the questions are well-crafted to reveal specific opinions about the ostensible topic of the poll; the respondents are selected to represent a fair demographic breakdown of the target population; and the poll results are reported honestly (and any or all of these criteria are challenges for some widely reported surveys), then you can get a fairly reliable picture of what people were thinking at the time the poll was conducted.
What you can’t do is use that to say what people will think about the same topic six months down the road, because circumstances alter perceptions. So, for example, that Mitt Romney is leading Barack Obama by five points in Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll this week says nothing about how the vote will go in November. (Even though it’s fun to read.)
With that in mind, let’s look at what a couple of reasonably respected public research organizations had to say about a pair of topics in the public square right now: What women think of the Republican Party, and whether Democrats are more open-minded and less “judgmental” than members of the GOP.
FIRST, WOMEN: The online newspaper The Hill, which covers national politics, said on Monday that the Democrats’ efforts to paint the GOP as having declared a “war on women” seem to have fallen short of being widely persuasive.
That’s not what you hear on NPR, of course, but as The Hill noted, the big fuss over whether a woman can be said to “have a real job” if she stays at home with the kids has settled down on Ann Romney’s side.
“More voters think Mitt Romney and the Republican Party respect women who work outside the home than think President Obama and the Democrats respect women who stay at home,” the website reported.
It added, “Forty-nine percent of likely voters said the presumptive GOP presidential nominee respects women who have independent careers, while 27 percent said he doesn’t and 24 percent weren’t sure.”
When the tables were turned and respondents were asked if President Obama respects women who stay at home rather than pursue a career, 37 percent of likely voters said he doesn’t and 35 percent said he does, with 29 percent unsure.
Since, as the site noted, “Women outnumber men in the United States and they also vote at a higher rate,” this is a matter of concern on both sides of the presidential campaign. So much so, in fact, that the message Hilary Rosen, the media-image maven who visited the White House 35 times in the past three years (and got into the Oval Office on five of those visits), was obviously told to carry forth to the nation was one that denigrated stay-at-home moms.
Perhaps that’s because surveys show most women do have jobs outside the house. But a little bit of digging would have shown that many of those jobs are part-time. Some of the women holding them may be doing so because they cannot find full-time jobs, but many others choose to work part-time because that gives them more time to spend — guess where?
At home. With the kids.
Finally, the Hill reported, “On the issue of which candidate better understands women’s issues, Obama has a slight advantage over Romney with all voters, 42 percent to 40 percent, but that was a statistical tie given the poll’s 3-point margin of error. When it came to just women voters, 46 percent said Romney better understands their issues while 41 percent said Obama is better.”
What the poll really revealed was that there is not a “gender gap” between the parties, but a “marriage gap.” Single women are more inclined to back Democrats, while married women line up more often behind Republicans. Analysts see this as a matter of which group has higher expectations of how well government addresses their circumstances, and married women have come to rely more on their husbands and themselves, and less on government,than single women do.
Anyway, the overall figures are clear. And I’m so sorry, President Obama. Too darn bad, Ms. Rosen. Your little cabal did its best to smear an accomplished woman, but all you created was — an epic fail.
SECOND, VIEWPOINTS: Last year, we saw a study that showed conservatives, especially religious ones, gave far more to charitable causes and spent far more of their free time helping others directly than liberals and Democrats did. Heck, the righties even gave more blood to the Red Cross than leftists donated.
This was at least partially seen as a difference in worldviews — conservatives thought people were obligated personally to help others, while liberals figured they paid taxes and that put the burden on the government to act.
Now, a pair of new studies by the Pew Research Center together indicate that not only are Republicans more generous than Democrats, they are more informed about general facts of American political life and are also more tolerant about maintaining relationships with people of differing political views.
In the April study, on “Partisan Differences in Knowledge,” Pew reported that Republicans outscored Democrats on eight of 13 questions on public affairs by an average of 18 percent, while Democrats outscored members of the GOP on only 5 questions, and only by an average of 4.6 percent.
Then, in an April 22 story, the political website The Daily Caller cited a March 12 Pew study showing that Democrats are far more likely than conservatives to disconnect from people who disagree with them.
“In all,” said the study (titled “Social Networking Sites and Politics”), “28 percent of liberals have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone on SNS (social networking sites) because of (political disagreements), compared with 16 percent of conservatives and 14 percent of moderates.”
Some 11 percent of liberals, but only 4 percent of conservatives, deleted friends from their social networks after disagreeing with their politics.
Finally, the Daily Caller reported, Democrats are more inclined to let their party allegiance sway their outlook:
“A March Washington Post poll showed that Democrats were more willing to change their views about a subject to make their team look good. For example, in 2006, 73 percent of Democrats said the GOP-controlled White House could lower gas prices, but that number fell by more than half to 33 percent in 2012 once a Democrat was in the White House.”
But “the opinions of GOP supporters were more consistent. Their collective opinion shifted by only a third, according to the data. In 2006, 47 percent in believed the White House could influence gas prices. By 2012, that number had risen to 65 percent, up 17 points compared to the Democrats’ 40 point shift.”
And Steven Hayward, on the Powerline blogsite, noted that researchers at the University of Virginia “have used a massive online survey to show that conservatives better understand the ideas of liberals than vice versa. The results are described in a new book by UVA researcher Jonathan Haidt, ‘Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.’ ”
Hayward adds, “The book uses a variety of data to argue that conservatives have a balanced set of moral intuitions, while liberals are focused on aiding victims, fairness and individual liberty. Conservatives recognize how liberals think because they share those intuitions, but liberals don’t understand how conservatives think because they don’t recognize conservatives’ additional intuitions about loyalty, authority and sanctity.”
Part of the reason that conservatives are better informed about politics in general (and perhaps why they are more accepting of those who disagree with them) is that conservatives swim in a liberal public policy sea. It’s a media environment in which most networks, newspapers and other major information-dispensing outlets still primarily (if not exclusively) put a leftward tilt on coverage.
Conservatives soak that in daily, while having to work harder to find news and views that address their interests.
Meanwhile, liberals who don’t actively seek out opposing views can live for years basking in coverage that reinforces their opinions. That makes it easy for them to think that everyone who counts agrees with them and that those who don’t are few in number, extreme in outlook and probably feeble-minded to boot.
Constantly underestimating the opposition is hardly a way to win either debates or elections, however.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.