Obama, McCain and the “shy conservatives”

The comfortable leads for Obama/Biden recorded by every national poll in the 2008 election in the past month could be giving a misleading view of the intentions of the voters, for a variety of reasons.

This has certainly happened in the past. In the UK in 1992, the Conservative Party comfortably won the General Election, with a 7.6 per cent lead in the popular vote, despite national polls all suggesting near equal support for both major parties or a slight lead for Labour.   The reasons why this happened were investigated by a panel of academics and pollsters led by David Butler, appointed by the Market Research Society.

As well as the obvious culprits of late swings in a brief election campaign at a volatile period, poor sampling techniques and faulty demographic models, the panel identified a phenomenon in mass communications theory first formulated by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, known as the “spiral of silence“.  According to this model of human behavior, people are less likely to publicly voice ideas that they believe are unpopular.  Because polls and news reports had been showing the negative feeling about the Conservative government for some years, in 1992 the thinking goes that there was a general unwillingness to express support for that party.  In such circumstances, the tendency is to refuse to take part in the poll, to refuse to respond to the question about voting intention, or to reply “don’t know” to that question.  The result of all these actions is exclusion from the comparisons of the parties’ popularity.  Analysis of the 1992 results suggested that a disproportionately high number of those who were omitted had previously voted Conservative, admired the Conservative leader John Major more than the Labour leader Neil Kinnock, or (during the 1992 recession) thought the Conservatives would manage the economy better.  The phenomenon was dubbed the “Shy Conservative” (or Shy Tory) effect by some commentators.

Has this happened in the current election campaign?  It’s hard to tell.  On one hand, polls over the past month are relatively decisive in suggesting, for the most part, a clear Obama/Biden win, so it seems unlikely that a “shy conservative” effect alone could lead to a significant upset.  But in conjunction with other effects, it could reversal of the result predicted at present (in late October).

One question that springs to mind is the effect of the saturation advertising of the Obama campaign.  One reporter writes that even in solidly Republican South Carolina, which Obama surely cannot hope to carry, it is almost impossible to miss Obama’s advertising.  The national media have also, I think it’s fair to say, carried a strong poll-driven message to the effect that Obama is expected to win decisively.  In latter weeks, they have even begun to predict that several red states will turn blue for the first time in a generation.  The effect of this advertising seems to have produced a positive feedback effect on responses to opinion pollsters.  But it’s one thing to say you’re going to change the habits of a lifetime, quite another, in the privacy of the polling booth, to go through with it.  It’s a secret ballot.

The McCain/Palin campaign has been widely criticised, not least in Republican circles, but in the last few days the focus will be on Obama/Biden, and those who have told pollsters in the last few weeks that they will vote for the Democratic team may find any number of reasons to think again.  Perhaps the most convincing is that the next Congress is almost certain to be overwhelmingly Democrat, and traditional wisdom has it that American government works best when the executive and the legislature are in opposition.  It is quite possible that, on this reason alone, enough voters in the “battleground” states may hold their noses, set their qualms to one side, and pull the lever for McCain/Palin.


23 Responses

  1. After much going back and forth, I have decided on McCain-Palin. If you care to know why I have posted on it on my own blog which you can view by clicking on my name, freestyleroadtrip. Thanks.

  2. Oh yes, I found it here.

    The socialism you describe is, of course, just Obama saying he wants the well off to give and the poorly off to receive. This is a universal phenomenon of all well regulated governments (including that of George W. Bush). I’m at a loss to see what is wrong with redistribution or why it should be right when Bush and McCain propose it but wrong when Obama proposes it.

  3. Thanks for the link.

    I agree that sharing wealth is a good thing. But Obama’s policies mandate it which removes personal responsibility. I fail to see how the policies of President Bush have mandated wealth redistribution. That seems like the fundamental difference to me.

  4. Every government that has a progressive income tax redistributes wealth.

  5. In some ways, yes. But it doesn’t take it out of your pocket and then put it in mine, therefore, paying me for doing nothing. That is what Obama is getting toward. He is furthering the redistribution on an entirely different level.

  6. I think you’re talking about tax credits.

    McCain also has a proposal for tax credits as part of his healthcare plan. In his scheme, each citizen will get a $5,000 tax credit to go towards a healthcare plan. In the case of non-earners and others who do not pay income tax, this money must come from somebody else.

  7. Getting a tax credit is different than getting a check for money. Obama’s plan would send those not paying income a check. They would actually be earning money for doing nothing.

  8. Well, a $500 tax credit which, if you didn’t happen to work that year, would indeed amount to unearned income. Unless you’re opposed to the principle of support for low income families, I don’t see why that would be a problem. In Europe you find that kind of system being supported by politicians on the right and the left.

    There are also excellent macroeconomic reasons to do this right now. Demand will soon plummet (if it has not already) and many businesses will be in trouble. To stimulate demand, the best thing to do in such a case is to inject cash into the economy. Taking a small amount of money from the richest people and giving it to the poorest, who will then spend it on essentials, is one effective way to do that.

  9. Bush did that earlier this year. And look where the economy is now. It didn’t work.

  10. Thought of a couple more things. I am all for helping the poor. But in a society where you pay people for not working, eventually you will find more and more people not working. I think the best way to help the poor is both by giving financial support when and where they need it and by helping them to discover how to work their way out of their poverty. It has to be a two-sided approach. Socialism offers that in theory, but it doesn’t appear to in practice.

  11. I don’t regard paid work as the be-all and end-all of existence.

  12. I don’t either, and please don’t read that into what I am saying. My existence is much more meaningful because of what I do outside of work in fact. But if we don’t work, we die. And if too many in society don’t work, society dies.

  13. One of the key reasons for income redistribution is to stimulate income mobility. The problem with wealth is that it’s self-perpetuating. In order to give poor kids a chance in life you need to take from the rich – their parents can’t afford it. And also, many of the rich are wealthy because they got good breaks in life – not simply that they are more talented and hard working (although they mostly are, of course)

  14. Tom. Thanks for your input. I see very clearly what you are saying. Under capitalism, the rich do tend to get richer and the poor do tend to get poorer and all the power shifts to the top. I am just not sure that socialism is the solution. It will solve some problems and create a whole new set of problems that may not be any better than the ones we now have in the US. I just don’t feel I can vote for Obama-Biden when it is obvious that they are intending to usher in socialistic principles on a whole new level than they currently exist here in the US.

  15. All successful modern governments are social democracies to some extent. They redistribute wealth as part of their normal operation.

    I don’t understand why this particular tax regime is seen as uniquely socialist. If you took the “socialism” out of any modern capitalist democracy it would grind to a halt because the workers would find it intolerable. If you removed welfare hand-outs the conditions of the poorest would degenerate to the point where society would be much uglier than is tolerable. How are tax credits different from welfare payments enabling the poorest people to make ends meet?

  16. Obama is not going to be giving tax credits. It is disguised as tax credits for sure. But when you give a tax credit to someone who pays no income tax, you are handing them a check, not reducing their taxes.

  17. Yes, we have tax credits like that in the UK. People on very low incomes are given a check. That’s what tax credits are. If you already owe tax the amount is subtracted from your tax liability.

  18. That’s not a tax credit in my book. It’s welfare. Tax credit is a nice clean term that disguises what is really taking place. That being said, I am not against welfare and giving to the poor. I do it with my time and money regularly. But I am, at this point while keeping an open mind and being willing to change it, against a large scale government welfare program for nearly half of the US population.

  19. Here is a 67 page academic research paper on:
    “An Examination of Obama’s Use of Hidden Hypnosis Techniques in His Speeches”


    Here is an exerpt:
    *Obama’s hypnotic command that…

    “a light will shine down from somewhere, it will light upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will say to yourself, ‘I have to vote for Barack’”

    An example of Obama using both of these hypnotic hand gestures, hypnotic programming followed by hypnotic anchor back to back, in a way that can be nothing other than hypnosis: You can See the video of this speech excerpt:

    Video Example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mopkn0lPzM8

  20. I feel uncomfortable about being seen, as a British citizen, to try to persuade American voters to make decisions that will affect their lives primarily, so I don’t think there’s any way I would want to convince you to change your vote. Sorry if this sounds like I’m copping out.

    It’s obvious to both of us, I think, that we live in countries that, despite the common language, have very different political cultures. In the UK broadly speaking the idea that the poorest people are helped out of their predicament by government intervention is one that has wide support–and we don’t have any problems with words like “socialist” and “liberal” either. It really is a very different country.

  21. I don’t at all feel you are copping out and have enjoyed this discussion immensely. You are right, the UK and the US have very different ideas behind what they do in government. And I respect your not wanting to convince me to change my vote.

    Honestly, I expect that the US will end up in the same place the UK currently is eventually. Looking at history, all empires come and go, and the dominant time of the US in the world is probably waning. China and India are now probably due their time on center stage. And I don’t necessarily think this is a negative change that is coming. But I am not certain that Obama-Biden is the right way to get there. I really have wanted to vote for them and many times have thought that I would. And the American press really just makes it more confusing because it is all so partisan. There really is not much information that one can just outright trust. After really pooring over everything, what Obama says, what McCain says, I get the feeling that Obama is not being completely honest with us. I get the sense that he is saying one thing to then do something that is a little different. In the end, I just don’t think I can trust him. And that scares me.

  22. Tony. After much soul searching and discussion with various folks, I believe I have changed my position. Check out my latest post if you care to understand why.

  23. Thanks for letting me know. That’s an interesting post. From what I’ve seen, similar soul-searching seems to be going on at all levels in America. Whatever the decisions of individuals, this is obviously about to be a great decision-making event in American history. As an admirer from afar I feel that I’m being taught an important lesson in how Americans make decisions.

    Ir’s inspiring.

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