Strong opinions, weakly held

The political version of the bike shed discussion

The metaphor of the bike shed discussion has served me well over the years. Here’s a theory of how it applies to politics:

In the book “Stealth Democracy” (which I previously blogged on here), John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse argue that voters have very weak policy preferences. Indeed, you can get a lot of people to change their mind on policy by asking them whether, thinking through the potential consequences of that policy, they’d like to change their mind. You can get even more of them to change their mind if you pay them a compliment first.

Which makes sense. People don’t know very much about policy. The twist in Hibbing and Theiss-Morse’s argument, however, is that people do know quite a bit about process, or feel they do, and in contrast to their weak policy preferences, they have very strong process preferences. The strongest among them is the belief that the people sent to do the people’s work shouldn’t be working on behalf of special interests, which explains the fury over the Nelson deal. Similarly strong is the aversion to partisan conflict, as most people think that these problems have common-sense solutions, and too much conflict suggests the two parties are deviating from that middle path.

People may not know the details of the health care reform bill, but the know that the legislative process that produced it stinks.

1 Comment

  1. There are quite a few things to hate about both the House and the Senate bills in their present forms, but I’d have to say that the process that was engaged in during this round of attempted HCR was superior to the approach the Clinton administration took. Here at least there was some transparency, which means in turn that we know who is responsible for the features in each bill that we dislike. Whether that in turn will lead to accountability is a somewhat different question. It is pretty to think that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson will be called to account, but we will have to wait until 2012 to find out.

    At least on the House side Bart Stupak and his ilk will have to justify themselves this year.

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