CONSTRAINT

The study of public opinion has been a sixty-plus year long search for what we call constraint – the degree to which a belief held by an individual is predictive of other beliefs. A constrained belief system is an internally consistent one; for example, if you believe in lower taxes we would expect you to believe in lower spending as well. This seems like a remarkably obvious concept, but since Converse we've found that frighteningly few Americans organize or constrain their beliefs about politics into anything approaching a coherent worldview. This is why so many voters hold ideas that make absolutely no sense together, even when the conflicts are glaring.

The modern Republican ideology is often criticized for inconsistency on the grounds that it abhors Big Government but promotes government involvement in our private lives through social issues. It is strongly pro individual rights in theory but with dozens of "exceptions" in practice. That said, I see a kind of constraint across prominent political issues in the contemporary GOP: they generally believe that problems have supply side solutions. Poverty exists because the welfare state enables it; without food stamps and TANF, people would be working. Illegal immigration is solved with guns and border fences, not by eliminating the demand (American employers who knowingly employ immigrants of dubious legality). You get the picture.

There are, however, two glaring exceptions to the supply-as-constraint idea. First, the drug war is very much a demand side problem to Republicans. Sure, some efforts are made to stop the importation of drugs at the border, but the vast majority of law enforcement resources (including manpower and time) in the War on Drugs is devoted to rounding up users and small-time dealers (who are merely the retail kiosk of a system that generates supply much farther up the food chain). Second, gun violence is emphatically a demand-side problem. The supply and availability of guns certainly isn't seen as a problem. The problem is what some individuals ("Bad Apples", of course) decide to do with the plethora of firepower to be had.

I'm sure there are other examples of issues that Republicans define as supply problems as well as others that are considered demand problems. I find it interesting and somewhat revealing that two prominent issues that contradict the overarching supply side understanding of socioeconomic and political issues are the War on Drugs – when seen as a demand problem, the state responds by putting countless poor and/or dark-skinned people in prison – and gun politics as a whole, where a demand-based explanation ensures widespread access to the guns people need to make themselves feel secure and/or powerful.

So I'd argue that the average Gingrich / Perry voter does have a constrained set of political beliefs. The problem is that their underlying motivations – dislike of the poor/dark and gun fetishism – are stronger than any ideology or worldview that might attempt to constrain them.

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56 Responses to “CONSTRAINT”

  1. bb in GA Says:

    I am a libertarian-conservative or the other way around…

    I believe that you, as an employer, should be able to set the rules for guns or not on your property. I don't have a right to work for you. The State or the Federales should keep their noses out of it.

    I believe that States can agree or not on concealed carry reciprocity. I hate the concept of the Feds forcing NJ or Mass to recognize a CCP from GA.

    In fact, back in the day, driver's licenses were not universally reciprocated based on driver age requirements. This caused some heartburn usually for Southrons (younger licensing ages) driving up North.

    Similarly, I reject the notion of the proposed Federal ban on texting while driving.

    "Ain't yo dog, ain't yo chicken."

    //bb

  2. Jason Says:

    @Nick-
    This was a looong time ago, like 15 or 20 years. It was in my hometown of Bakersfield, CA (which is an extraordinarily conservative city). I haven't been to one since, and the various gun people I talk to have told me that most of the shows they go to now are similarly bonkers.

  3. Xynzee Says:

    @Jason, Mjr, Nick, JD and bb: did that just happen? A reasonable discussion on guns?

    Far out!

    And thanks bb for "reciprocity".

  4. Jason Says:

    @Xynzee:
    Crazy, isn't it? No joke, in my last post I had a little smart-ass line about us managing to do that and deleted it. There was no, "COP KILLING BABY SEEKING ASSAULT BULLETS IN OUR SCHOOLS," nor was there, "NEW WORLD ORDER U.N. WANT TO TAKE MY GUNS FEMA CAMPS BLAARRRRRGGHH."

    Congratulations to us.