Republicans catering to the Cletus Voter
by Kelvin Wade
Conservatives, get ready to eat your peas.
If you’re politically conservative it could just be that you haven’t given issues enough thought. And if you’re conservative, you’re probably ticked off by that opening sentence. But why don’t you read on and hear my case?
A recently released study by a team of researchers at the University of Arkansas argues that conservatism may be our default ideology. In four different studies with people with centrist views, whenever subjects were interrupted, or were somehow impaired from giving a matter deep thought, the more conservative their answers. Yes, they say that if we don’t have the time or inclination to give a matter sufficient thought, the first step we take is in a conservative direction.
Hey, I didn’t conduct the studies. Don’t get mad at me.
This comes on the heels of the study from Brock University in Ontario that argued that low I.Q. scores were linked to conservative views.
If true, it explains a lot. Right wing messaging is almost always superior to left wing messaging. Certainty beats nuance. If a Republican candidate were trying to get your vote he or she would say, “I’m for less government, lower taxes, a strong defense and family values.” It’s short and sweet, declarative, and hell, it appeals to me.
This is a problem for progressives. Conservative ideology can be boiled down to bumper stickers. And the crowd that refuses to believe President Obama was born here or accuses him of being a socialist Muslim can’t wait to affix those bumper stickers on the back of their F-150s or right below their gun racks.
Look, I refer to the stereotypical conservative voter as “Cletus.” Cletus is a poorly educated ignoramus who can’t afford college for his kids, his mother is on Social Security and he can’t find a job, yet his primary concern is electing a Republican candidate who hates Obama and promises to protect his guns and keep boys from kissing each other.
But while that’s a crazy stereotype, these studies indicate that voters who don’t give issues a lot of thought — so-called “low effort thinkers” — tend to espouse conservative views. “We need God back in the schools.” “Stop illegals from sneaking here taking our jobs.” “No special treatment for minorities.” “Protect the 2nd Amendment.”
These statements will get heads nodding in a crowd because they’re so simple. Yet each statement invites a lengthy explanation, examination and counterargument. It’s not enough to wrap these complex issues in one pithy sentence but many people do.
Conservative politicians are counting on this.
No one understands this better than conservative pollster Frank Luntz who wrote the book, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, Its What People Hear.” Luntz is the man behind “the death tax” instead of “the estate tax.” It’s Luntz that leads the charge to call the wealthy “job creators.” Luntz knows that simple, emotionally charged language is most effective to reach conservatives or have people respond to conservative messages.
When George W. Bush spoke in his plainspoken manner, liberals laughed. To a progressive, his pronouncements were juvenile and simplistic. But he was speaking the language of his voters.
This explains the dominance of right wing talk radio. Quick, emotionally charged rhetoric easily whips listeners in a frenzy. To someone expecting a more nuanced, thoughtful argument, it’s not appealing.
This could also explain why it’s so much more likely for conservative judges to drift towards the left on the bench than vice versa. Perhaps a justice with conservative views studies cases more deeply on the bench and their views change.
When liberals scratch their heads trying to understand why poor Midwestern and rural voters vote Republican seemingly against their interests, maybe it’s that Republicans are speaking their language. Republicans exploit the ignorance of their voters by denigrating higher education. The GOP has made a college education something to be regarded with suspicion. How does that help the country?
Now, of course, this doesn’t apply to ALL Republican voters. And I don’t expect many conservatives to be receptive to this. They’ll attack the researchers. It’s not surprising. Gordon Gauchat, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently found that conservatives’ trust in science is at its lowest level since 1974.
Ironically, in a way, conservatives rejecting theses detailed, lengthy and nuanced studies help prove their point.