Early Returns

Education Doesn't Drive Policy. Parties Do.

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Vox's David Roberts had a nice Twitter thread about the futility of hoping to effect policy change through mass education. In particular, he argued that increasing the number of voters who accept climate science won't actually yield good climate policy in any kind of direct, automatic way. Absolutely. Polling results can affect politicians, but it's a weak effect most of the time -- and at any rate, efforts to change public opinion are bound to be frustrated by the simple fact that most citizens just don't care very much about most policy issues. 

So what could effect policy change? Roberts suggests it would take "broad affective campaigns that draw on cultural affinities & identify villains." But that simply displaces one set of voter-driven change for another. 

What really is likely to change policy, in this or any other area, is change within parties, not change among voters. Through that lens, one can imagine two paths to significant policy change. 

One is that advocates within the Democratic Party will elevate climate to the top of its list of priorities by the next time Democrats have the votes to enact a fair-sized chunk of their agenda. That is, voters will eventually elect a Democratic Congress and and Democratic president because of policy failure while Republicans are in office (such as a recession or a costly foreign war) or some other reason that has little or nothing to do with climate. But if climate is what Democrats are ready to do, it will likely be what they actually do. This is how Democrats won landslides in 2006 (the Iraq War) and 2008 (deep recession), then used that majority to enact the Affordable Care Act, the top issue within the party for decades. 

The other possibility is that the Republican position will for some reason shift. Perhaps organized groups within the Republican Party that currently support action on climate but haven't cared much about it will for whatever reason make it a priority, and either win the policy battle inside the party or at least force a "big tent" approach to the issue. Or perhaps a future Republican president will be a wild card on that issue for some reason. If that happens, then a bipartisan policy solution will become possible.

The point is that voters wouldn't have much to do with either of these plausible shifts. What would matter is what party actors -- the politicians, campaign and governing professionals, formal party staff and officials, donors and activists, and party-aligned groups and media who collectively determine what the party is and what its policy agenda will be -- choose. And while I'm never against attempting to educate the public, it's the ability of party actors to win internal fights and form internal coalitions that really matters. 

1. Elizabeth Saunders and Joshua Tucker at the Monkey Cage on the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin meeting.

2. Julia Azari asks a good question: What does the Constitution say if a presidential election was tainted

3. Scott Lemieux on the barriers to passing a single-payer health insurance plan. I'd put it this way: Repeal of the Affordable Care Act might -- might! -- make single-payer slightly more likely. But it would definitely make universal coverage a lot less likely. 

4. Alan Abramowitz on the chances of a Democratic House majority after 2018. It's very early, but it looks so far just slightly more likely than not. I will say this: It would take a major event that's nowhere on the horizon so far to prevent Democrats from picking up several seats. Enough? We'll see.

5. James Fallows on Trump's speech in Poland and what U.S. presidents abroad normally say.

6. Anne Applebaum on Trump's speech and the Polish context.

7. Philip Klein on how the Republicans' approach to preexisting conditions has driven their health-care bill. 

8. And Spencer Ackerman on how Putin will approach Trump.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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