How the Myth of Messaging Gets Politicians into Trouble


Dan Hopkins over at the Monkey Cage:

The Washington Post poll out this morning makes it clear that public perceptions of the GOP took a significant hit during the budget shutdown. Polling even before the shutdown suggested that the GOP was more likely to be blamed than the Democrats, so the question becomes, why would a party pursue a course of action likely to damage its standing with voters?

One answer is that the GOP is a group of people, and so faces collective action problems. As we have seen so publicly in the past few weeks, politicians’ incentives as individuals don’t always align with their incentives as party members. But there’s another explanation I want to focus on here: politicians’ tendency to exaggerate their capacity to reshape public opinion through messaging.

Consider the mid-shutdown conversation between Kentucky’s two senators, when Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul were caught on a live microphone discussing strategy. Here’s Paul: “I think if we keep saying ‘We wanted to defund it. We fought for that but now we’re willing to compromise on this,’ I think they can’t … well, I know we don’t want to be here, but we’re gonna win this, I think.”

The quotation captures a widely held belief among elected officials that messaging matters — and that the messages parties choose play an important role in the public’s response. It’s not just GOP leaders who think that.

More here.