ARE OUR POLITICS MORE CONSISTENT THAN OUR OPINIONS?

by Lisa Wade

from SocImages

Americans were recently asked whether they believed that President Obama could do much to lower gas prices.  The answer was highly correlated with political party affiliation: 65% of Republicans said “yes,” while only33% of Democrats said the same.

In fact, the President has very little control over the price of gas.  According to theWashington Post:

Today’s oil prices are the product of years and decades of exploration, automobile design and ingrained consumer habits combined with political events in places such as Sudan and Libya, anxiety about possible conflict with Iran, and the energy aftershocks of last year’s earthquake in Japan.

An expert calls the idea that a President can substantially influence the oil market “preposterous.”

So, does this mean that Democrats are smarter about econo-geo-politics?

Nope. It just means a Democrat is in the White House.  The pollsters, WP/ABC News, asked the same question in 2006, during the Bush Administration.  That year 73% of Democrats gave President Bush some of the blame for gas prices; only 47% of Republicans did.

(Red = answered “yes” in 2006; Blue = answered “yes” in 2012)

Such switches, argues political scientist Brendan Nyhan, are typical.  NPRreports: “On a range of issues, partisans seem partial to their political loyalties over the facts. When those loyalties demand changing their views of the facts, he said, partisans seem willing to throw even consistency overboard.” Nyhan believes that the phenomenon might be related to “cognitive dissonance,” a sense of unease that comes from holding two incompatible beliefs at once.  If you like the President, in other words, it might be hard for you to also think that he could do something about gas prices, but isn’t.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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