Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Everything You Think You Know About Politics...And Why You're Wrong"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Everything You Think You Know About Politics...And Why You're Wrong"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean of the Communications School at the University of Pennsylvania, has written an intriguing book entitled "Everything You Think You Know About Politics…And Why You’re Wrong." Let me point out some of the key points from her book, and indicate whether she is right or wrong. Before I do so, I give high praise for this book as it is based on original data. Too many political books only present the author’s opinions. This book presents academic interpretation of survey findings.

Most voters decide early into campaigns how to vote. Here, she is correct. Often, political party affiliation is a leading indicator of how one votes. The fact that I already have decided who I’m voting for in the 2006 campaign for Governor (I will be voting for the incumbent Democrat to win a second term) is small evidence of this fact. In sum, many campaigns target large resources to a small group of undecided voters.
Most Presidents keep their promises. She is also correct here. Many pundits should not have been surprised to see Bush hold to his promises and not move from the political right to the political center, as they had incorrectly predicted. He meant what he said during the campaign. Similarly, independent press studies have found that President Clinton achieved much of what he mentioned when he was a candidate in 1992. Want to know what a candidate will be like as President? Read their campaign statements.
Candidates are human, and they do misspeak. Other times, though, they will mislead voters. Dean Jamieson states how the press reports the differences between honest and deliberate mistakes can shape campaign results, which leads to her next point;

Political attacks made by candidates against their opponents can serve a useful role. Unfortunately, her observations are correct. We would hope political attacks could be minimized, yet, when they show honest differences in policies between candidates, they can present voters with beneficial information. She argues that Bill Bradley’s political mistake came when he stated he would not participate nor respond to attacks. Thus, Bradley’s Presidential hopes never recovered from Al Gore’s attacks on Bradley’s Senate record. Unfortunately for Gore, Bush rather than Bradley benefited from the attack image backlash that Gore created from himself. She states the most effective ads used recently were the contrastive ads used by the 1992 and 1996 Clinton campaigns.

It’s the economy, stupid. Dr. Jamieson doesn’t exactly state that, yet she properly observes that how voters perceive economic conditions are the best predictors of election outcomes. The only political forecast models that correctly predicted that Gore would garner the most votes (ignore the electoral college) were ones based on economic forecasts. After eight years of economic strength, voters wanted a continuation of the Clinton-Gore policies.

The most frequent deceptive comment made by Republicans was that the Clinton Administration raised taxes on the middle class. The taxes were increased on the 1.5% of wealthiest taxpayers. It would be a stretch to call these people "middle income", and Dr. Jamieson has this statement correct.

Men know more about politics. Women state they "don’t know" more often when questioned about politics. Yet, men are more apt to give wrong answers when questioned about politics. Of course, I disagree with Dr. Jamieson’s conclusions here. Of course, being a man, I could be wrong.
Media attention is important. The amount of coverage provided to 1999 Philadelphia Mayoral primary candidates equaled how they finished in the primary results. I haven’t asked him, yet I suspect Dwight Evans wishes he had received more press attention. Further, Dr. Jamieson writes that media accounts can help mold the results they predict. Dwight Evans and John White were essentially tied in polls when the press reported that White was pulling ahead of Evans. This was followed by a sharp increase in White’s polling numbers at the expense of Evans’ numbers.
In sum, Dean Jamieson states that contrasting political information is useful in mobilizing support for candidates, yet false political information does tend to be recognized by voters for being incorrect and thus is rejected and leads to political backlashes against the candidate making the false statements. The manner in which media reports campaigns are a major influence on how the voters ultimately form their opinions.

This is an excellent book grounded in documented evidence. Readers interested in politics will find this one of the best books ever on politics and the media.


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