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Why do politicians think voters lean more to the right than they do? | Torsten Bell

I heard a rumor that Observer readers might be on the left end of the market. So on average, you’re really going to like the following.

Here is the key question: how right-wing is the electorate? Less than most politicians assume, this is an often-told story in the United States, where pre-pandemic research has confirmed this to be the case. Perhaps watching too much Fox News gives elected officials a skewed view of the land of the free and the homeland of the brave.

But is it an American phenomenon that tells us nothing about the rest of the world? Like baseball. No is the new answer from researchers who interviewed 866 politicians across Belgium, Canada, Germany and Switzerland. By comparing politicians’ perceptions of their constituents with what voters actually think (from population surveys), they find that this conservative bias in perceptions of public opinion is widespread – politicians in all four countries consistently overestimated how right-wing their constituents were.

This was true for both left- and right-wing politicians, unlike in the United States where it is largely Republican politicians who overestimate how far-right voters are. Unfortunately, researchers don’t have an answer to what lies behind this conservative bias, but show that it is found on cultural and economic issues – from pensions, redistribution and workers’ rights to attitudes towards couples. of the same sex. The one exception was immigration, where politicians in Germany and Canada underestimated the right-wing leanings of their punters.

Now, we don’t want you to faint with the excitement of being vindicated every time you accuse politicians of pandering to a right-wing minority, so here’s something to ponder. If punters are more to the left than politicians think, why do the Tories end up winning most UK elections?

Torsten Bell is CEO of the Resolution Foundation. Learn more at resolutionfoundation.org


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