It’s An Ilu-u-u-u-sion, Michael!

July 20, 2010

I’m beginning to eye the diploma hanging on the wall beside me with some suspicion. A B.A. granted to me with a minor in Celtic Studies some time ago, the letters F-R-A-U-D now scream out at me from it. Really? I minored in Celtic Studies? What was I thinking?

Not only is the legitimacy of my university education under fire but now my politics are being question too. According to this, I could well be less left wing than I’d like to think I am.

A new study from the University of Leicester Department of Economics reveals that highly educated people make wrong assumptions about their political leanings – they are more likely to think they are left wing when they are more likely to be relatively conservative. (h/t to Andrew Brett)

Now, I could put my mind at ease and assure myself that I’m not ‘highly’ educated. In fact, I have been told as much by more than just one person. (The most recent? A Ms. Kathy Shaidle: God you’re stupid.) But let’s just assume that as an owner of said university degree, I technically qualify as ‘highly educated’. Am I mistaken in thinking I qualify as being left wing?

As a male, chances are I am (mistaken not left wing) according to the same study. It seems that men tend to skew right wing and correctly identify themselves as such. Probably all that strong, independent, law and order, Ayn Rand testosterone in their bodies. On the other hand, the salary I pull in doing this pushes me back left as the wealthy tend to gravitate right and acknowledge as much.

So mark me down as a tortured leftist, fighting both his education and hormones to maintain that belief system.

Why is any of this important outside of the small circle of me? Well, political misidentification could go along way to explaining a certain degree of disenchantment and disengagement with politics these days. The study suggests that “…some people may end up voting for left of centre parties because they hold the mistaken belief that they are left wing.” If a left of centre party, once duly elected, proceeds to enact left of centre policies, this will subconsciously or viscerally begin to bother the misinformed voters who aren’t as left wing as they imagined. They will wind up feeling betrayed and lied to.

This doesn’t happen with right of centre parties and their voters. With more accurate self-identification, they all know what to expect when they vote for a like-minded party. In fact, conservative parties can annoy their base by not being conservative enough. Ironically, left of centre parties can similarly offend their misguided base by also not being conservative enough.

Thus, we have the mushy middle. Left leaning politicians who get elected by sounding left of centre but governing as close to the centre as they can possibly get away with, ultimately looking unprincipled and lacking focus. Ladies and gentleman, the Liberal Party. Jack Layton’s NDP. Joe Pantalone.

It’s a phenomenon that may also explain the rise of fall of Mayor David Miller. Swept into office on a progressive, housecleaning wave, but when he started acting on his left of centre ideals, well, it caught many of his faux-liblefty supporters by surprise. What, new taxes? I didn’t vote for new taxes. We’re already taxed to death! Why did he cave into the unions during the garbage strike? I voted for David Miller to crush this city’s unions!

The broad conclusion of the paper must be that individuals either choose not to, or are unable to, locate their ideological positions reliably compared to those of the positions of their compatriots.

This is further evidence not just that voters are far from fully informed, but that somehow voters consistently misperceive where they lie on the ideological spectrum.

So the next time you’re bemoaning the state of politics, take a moment to ponder how we might’ve arrived where we’re at. Not so much through a case of voters getting the politicians they deserve but more of a voters not getting the politicians they think they deserve. We’ve become disillusioned through delusion.

confusedly submitted by Cityslikr