If you’ve been following polls, you’ve probably noticed something interesting: When people are asked about specifics, such as Obama’s performance on the economy, national security, immigration, etc., they give him very low scores. However, when those same people are asked about Obama himself (“do you like him?”), they say they do. He’s got very low performance scores, and very high likeability scores.
This baffles me. To begin with, I don’t see that Obama is in any way likeable. I recognize, however, that my dislike for him reflects a bone-deep bias for his policies, and this bias spills over into my having a distaste for the man himself.
More than that, though, I don’t understand how people can claim to like someone who is in their employ and who is doing a terrible job. If had an employee who was burning through my money, leaving the building unlocked so that bad guys can break in, hanging around with terrorizing hoodlums, and making me sick and depriving me of the means to get well, I’d be pretty hostile towards that employee. I’d say things like “He interviewed really well, but I can’t stand the sight of the guy now. He’s a walking disaster. I can’t wait until I get the opportunity to fire him.”
It seems to me, therefore, that the people polled are behaving irrationally when they grumble about this particular federal employee’s performance — a performance that affects them in significant, negative, and long-lasting ways — and then say “Oh, but he’s a really great guy.”
The only thing I can think of to account for this (to me) cognitive dissonance, is the Bradley effect:
The Bradley effect, less commonly called the Wilder effect, is a theory proposed to explain observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some United States government elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. The theory proposes that some voters will tell pollsters they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, while on election day they vote for the white candidate. It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections.
Don Quixote, by the way, who continues daily to distinguish himself as one of the smartest people I know, thinks I’m wrong. He thinks that if there really had been a Bradley effect, it would have played out in 2008. Instead, he thinks people really do like our President, despite being disappointed in his performance.
I continue to wonder, though. After all, in 2008, people were buoyed up by being part of history in the making. Also, Obama the campaigner, the blank slate who made exciting speeches about hope and change, has now been replaced by a real man, using hyper-partisanship to switch us from a mildly capitalist, individualist country into a strongly redistributionist, socialist country. In 2012, there’s less magic to put a brake on the Bradley effect.
What do you think? I should add that, when the real world plays out, DQ is usually right.