NOW with Alex Wagner | March 08, 2013
>>> there is no shortage of evidence that the democratic process has serious flaw on a macrolevel, but a new study by political scientists at berkeley and the university of michigan sheds light on a breakdown at the very microlevel between legislators and their constituents. the survey of 2,000 state legislators from across america , both democrats and republicans, show that politicians are extremely out of touch with who they're supposed to be representing. lawmakers from both parties consistently thought their constituents were far more conservatives than -- far more conservative than they actually are. the report found that it was worse for conservatives. " conservative politicians systemly believe their constituents are more conservative than they actually are by over 20 percentage points. this misperception is so large that nearly half of sitting conservative officeholders appear to believe that they represent a district that is more conservative on the issues than the most conservative district in the entire country." salon's alex per even put it this way. republicans were pretty sure their constituents were basically all to the right of louie gomert. elected republicans are more conservative than their constituents, but they think their constituents are basically all psycho freepers. needless to say, the implication for democracy are not pretty. the electoral process is supposed to be the panacea. it is supposed to pop that bubble and force a connection between the representative and the represented because getting elected to office is now less about town meetings than about buying expensive television ads . even the campaign process as fails to familiarize politicians with rank-and-file voters. the result is an underrepresentative democracy which raises the question, the one about republican democracy itself. can it truly exist under these conditions? chris , it's now time for america 's favorite segment one we like to call "up."
>> this is a fascinating, fascinating --
>> we're going to go deep on this in the show tomorrow. we'll have one of the co-authors. i think it's a rose eta stone for american politics . one thing you see -- this is reflected in polling data a lot. when you poll people on, you know, high level things like do you want to balance the approach to the deficit or do you think they should cut spending, you drill down to the specifics, and and -- they're massively popular, social security and medicare, among tea party , republicans, tea party people don't want to see cuts to those programs, and, yet, the conversation in washington is about cutting those programs, about cutting those programs a badge of seriousness and the president of the united states had something on his website right now saying a real cut in social security and dollar terms. i think you look at that, and i constantly see this gap between what people want and what representatives say, and this data bears out this sort of intuition i've had for a lock time. there are two --
>> you commissioned it, didn't you?
>> there are some people that confirm all my preexisting biases. there are two things. one thing is the two things they look at the paper. it's not peer review yet. gay marriage and universal health care . those are on either side of the social sort of economic issue, and i would think actually that there would be a difference between those two, but there's not actually.
>> we have some full screens. maybe we can show america just how far off base politicians are in terms of those two issues. keep talking , chris .
>> it's across all districts, right? even people who are in relatively liberal districts or relatively conservative districts, those lines, as you move from the left to the right, those are the districts changing in their composition, and, yet, the line is essentially constant the whole way there, right?
>> and that nobody is accurate. the green line is perfect accuracy, and conservatives are less accurate in terms of liberals are.
>> everyone overestimates the conservatism of their constituents. liberals do it by less than conservatives. then it promotes all these theories. there's a few different ways.
>> that's what i want to discuss.
>> one of them is there's a difference between your voters and constituents in the midterm elections, right? you know, the people that show up to a polling place in 2010 in november are not all of the people that are in your district. a lot of the people on medicaid probably aren't at the polls. a lot of the people who are out of work or are working minimum wage jobs are, we know statistically, not showing up at the same level as, say, people ma above median income and above -- 65.
>> he talks about the political inequality. he writes, "for people at the top 10%, you can predict what the government would do based on their preferences, but when the preferences of people at lower income levels diverge from the affluent, that had no impact at all on the policies that were adopted. that was true not only for the poor, but for the middle class as well." effectively huge segments of the american population have no say in the direction in which government goes.
>> also, don't forget that legislators are trying to get -- they get feedback from their constituents, and also for people that are coming up and lobbying them, the business interests who wine and dine them. their donors. you do have that very kind of elite class that has overwhelming influence, and if i'm not mistaken, the study was state legislators . i worked in the statehouse in massachusetts for a while, and i can tell you something that you will intuitively know, which is that a lot of people are just not very tuned in to what's happening in statehouses, who their state rep is. i would be interested to see what the numbers are like for the u.s. congress because in statehouses in particular, i think everything is a little bit flooky and disconnected or potentially so because the turnout can be so low, and there can be so much apathy. i wouldn't be shock iffed it was also happening at the national level.
>> there's also a difference between the way the parties organize themselves, which i think is the reason for the triumph of the conservative movement . if you are a republican dealing with the organized republican base, it's idealogical, it's about issues like gay marriage , about health care , about these idealogical issues. in democratic primaries , as like here in new york city , you're very much dealing with constituencies. you're dealing with labor. you are dealing with ethnic constituencies. it's not so idealogical. i think if you looked at issues -- there are issues where it is for particularly issues around teachers unions, where i bet you would find democratic legislators think that their constituents are left of where they are. a lot of this stuff is because the conservative movement is so idealogical, so well organized.
>> i agree with that, and really good example on a national level is what happened to mitt romney during primaries. he got pulled so far to the right that he had too far to go to reposition in the general election . i'm not an expert, but those position that is he took i would guess hurt him with many people in the republican party , but also republican-leaning independents. it's a real -- it's a problem for the political process.
>> at what point do they internalize this? they don't know what's going.
>> part of what i think is interesting is, you know, there's -- rick has this theory that i think is very persuasive about the kind of defining trauma for an entire generation of democratic politicians was being caught unawares by right-wing backlash, and that, you know, evan bye saw it happen to his father, and bill clinton got kicked out immediately from arkansas. this created this life-long trauma, this insecurity that they were employing to be too liberal.
>> the silent majority under the bed.
>> the silent majority . i think that's true. the question is at what point do conservatives start to internalize that same fear? how many national electrics do they have to lose before they get the same kind of -- this kind of traumatic, like, insecurity that just because the people in the red state common thread like their speech that, you know, everyone in their district it?
>> i think they see it on the social stuff now. you see their skittishness around abortion and gay rights .
>> on that note it is really worth noting today that bill clinton has penned an op ed in the washington post explaining sort of how doma came about and saying that it's time for doma to be overturned. he writes in 1996 i signed the defense of marriage act , although that was only 17 years ago. it was a very different time. no state in the union with same-sex marriage recognized much less available as a legal right. i believe that in 2013 doma and opposition to marriage equality are vestages of just such an unfamiliar society. i mean, that's actually sort of -- it's interesting. i mean, he does explain sort of where he was at and how he thought doma was sort of neutralized. the issue of gay marriage from going to the courts and make it more incendiary. you do have to wonder, chris , was it, hmm, you just realize that you were on the wrong side of history here, or --
>> it's also a reminder, i think, when people talk about bill clinton dwikly and his legacy, and particularly when they talk about the clinton-gingrich relationship as a precedent or model for what president obama is dealing with. people forget how much awful legislation came out of that partnership. i mean, we got this -- the effective death penalty act, which is a disaster that any death penalty attorney will tell you is a disaster. we got doma out of that. we got welfare reform , which i think is a mixed bag, but actually largely as time goz, we'll work our way through the great recession, support all it was cracked up to be.
>> it changes the way we measure welfare and welfare recipients.
>> there was a lot that came out of that, you know, out of washington working or of them coming to the table together that has haunted us for 17, 18 years after the fact. i think -- i think it should give people a little skepticism about just how worthwhile compromise where grand bargains as an ending of themselves.
>> when we talk about president obama , his evolution on the issue, it is really dramatic when you look at the numbers. in 1996 27% supported gay marriage . 201153% support gay marriage . this is almost in the history books in terms of being a civil rights battle that is very nearly won, depending on what the supreme court does.
>> it's a huge generational change . we've all been living it. i worked for president clinton when he signed doma , and nobody really understood the impact at that point. i mean, obviously it was devastating for so many couples across the country as a result, but look, this has been what senator kennedy used to call the slow march of progress, and we have to keep on that march of progress, and we've come a long way even -- remember the 2004 election where state by state every state we went through we were dealing with anti- gay marriage battle initiatives.
>> where one bill clinton allegedly told your then boss john kerry to support a federal marriage amendment , something that does not make it into his op etd ed.
>> i was reading about the contemporaneous -- when the house passed the doma bill, a white house spokesperson whose name i didn't see in the story denounced it as gay-baiting. the president signed it anyway. that went to show his heart may have been in one place, and politically he was --
>> he was scared to be out of set with his constituents.
>> thus he ties it up in a bow for us. we have to leave it there. thank you for joining us. as you teased at the top of the segment, you will be talking about this tomorrow.
>> so we are all tuning in tomorrow and every weekend right here on msnbc. 8:00 a.m . eastern. up with chris hayes , must see television.