Cognitive Dissonance And The 2006 Election


de.licio.us ma.gnolia.com newsvine furl google yahoo netscape

Cognitive dissonance describes the tension that arises from holding two apparently conflicting thoughts at the same time. It is believed that people who face this dilemma to either seek out or fabricate thoughts that bring the two conflicting thoughts closer.

A classic example of cognitive dissonance can be found in people's attitudes toward Congress. In an Oct 13-16th NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 16% of Americans approve of Congress' job while 75% disapprove. Of the same people surveyed, 37% believe Republicans should retain control of Congress.

So, what that must mean, is that as much as 21% of respondents disapprove of the work Congress is doing but believe they should keep on doing it.

How does one make sense of such conflicting thoughts? Let's look at the issues that would keep someone desiring Republican control of a failed institution over Democratic control. The two biggest campaign issues I've heard are taxes and defense (presently the 'war on terror').

The Republican party has done reasonably well making the argument that Democrats will raise taxes. There are a few issues to be addressed with that argument.

First, in order to literally raise taxes, the democrats will need control of both houses of congress and, more-than-likely, a veto-proof majority. That scenario is simply impossible as the Republicans will control 40 seats in the Senate even if no one votes Republican next Tuesday.

Surely what they are talking about are the tax cuts they authorized early in the Bush Administration that are going to expire soon if they are not re-authorized. That's not really the same thing as raising taxes. The tax cuts wouldn't have expirations if not for political reasons: Either they couldn't garner the votes to make the permanent the first time, or they wanted to time the expirations to correspond with the 2008 presidential election cycle, which they will.

As for democratic tax policy on the whole, the most famous tax cuts in modern times, the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, or "Reagan Tax Cuts," were passed by a Democratic Congress. In 1964, the Kennedy Tax Cuts, passed a Democratic Congress as well.

The Second argument put forth is that the Democrats will be soft on defense and soft on terror. I do not believe that to be the case. Consider these points:

After September 11th, Congress overwhelmingly passed Public Law 107-40, the Authorization for Use Of Military Force against those responsible for the attacks of September 11th. There was only one dissenting democratic vote between the two chambers of congress. Democrats were right there behind the President.

During the Regan Administration, it was a Democratic Congress that authorized practically runaway military spending and buildup. Generating the largest spike in the national debt since WWII.

Whatever their reason, republican voters must believe that a broken Republican congress is better than a Democratic congress.

What is more amazing still, is the belief on both sides of the aisle, that while Congress is clearly broken, it is not the voter's direct representative that is the problem. If you compare the 16% approval rating for congress with the approval rating for any incumbent in any race, you will see the individual candidates rate better than congress as a whole. How can this cognitive dissonance be explained?

First, for democratic candidates, they can point out that they are not in charge and therefore cannot be held responsible. I, for one, couldn't disagree more with that assessment. We've seen the democrats vote overwhelmingly for republican initiatives once the battle is lost. There is something to be said for taking a stand, keeping the votes close, and giving the American people and the press some sign of where the differences lie on policy issues.

As for republican candidates, the obvious issue is that they can only accomplish so much thanks to liberal courts undoing their good work. Also, the democratic minority in the Senate has enough votes to avoid cloture on anything important to the republicans. Essentially, the argument is that they do not have enough control to have everything their way.

Sources:

Related Stories:


Read More About:   Elections | Politics | United States