What Political Scientists Can't Get You to Believe

"Independents" are already committed. Gerrymandering didn't cause polarization. Donations to general elections are wasted.

You didn't just make up your mind.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

What have political scientists discovered about U.S. politics that you probably don’t accept? I asked about that on Twitter a few days ago, and received a whole bunch of interesting answers.

While I’m off to the Midwest Political Science Association meetings, catching up on new research over the next few days, I thought it was a good time to share what frustrates my colleagues.  I kicked it off with:

I added the hashtag #PSFrustration. Personally? People don't believe me when I say it's a waste of money to give to general-election presidential candidates. 

Here’s what Emily Farris of Texas Christian University can't get people to accept: 


Here's a close-enough estimate: One-third of all voters are Democrats, one-third are Republicans, and one-third are independents. Of those independents, one-third are really Democrats, one-third are really Republicans, so only 1 of 9 is a true independent. Next, from a Ph.D. student at MIT:


Yes. It feels as if it works the other way. We like, say, Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio, and believe the Iran framework is a good or bad idea, and therefore we are Democrats or Republicans. But most of the time, it’s the other way around.

Everyone believes this one if we rephrase it to ask whether politicians should listen to the people. But what if you say it straight out the way Scott Meinke does? Many people think it's wrong for politicians to adjust their views based on public opinion.  

Next one is from Daniel Drezner of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and a Washington Post contributor: 

The number of major parties and how they are structured is (mostly) a product of election rules; and those same rules and the norms surrounding them suggest the best political strategies for change. There's nothing magic about multiparty systems. 

This one is good news. It suggests that voters are steadfast in their choices, and not subject to whims based on ads or other politiking. Next one is from a Columbia doctoral student: 

Yes, why do so many people really want to blame gerrymandering for this? Districting can matter, but it’s almost always overrated. And we'll finish with Benjamin Knoll of Centre College:

Right. General-election campaigns, including candidate debates, are important parts of the political system. In addition, campaigns are important because of the role they play in representation -- they push candidates, for example, to make promises which they then try to carry out if elected. So campaigns aren’t just (mostly) about who wins and loses. 

Check #PSFrustration for several more (and, political scientists, please keep it up). Maybe this kind of crowdsourcing will convince more people that we know what we're talking about.    

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