A new study says legislators regularly overestimate the conservatism of their constituents, typically by big margins. From Talking Points Memo:
On three issues — universal healthcare, same-sex marriage, and welfare — lawmakers' assumptions about what their constituents believed were "15-20 percent more conservative, on average," than the actual base of public support for such issues.
Most striking, both liberal and conservative lawmakers assume their voters are much further to the right than they actually are:
The typical conservative legislator overestimates his or her district’s conservatism by a whopping 20 percentage points. Indeed, he or she believes the district is even more conservative than the most right-leaning district in the entire country.
Liberals also think their constituents’ views are more conservative than they really are, but are typically only off by about five percentage points.
This is unsurprising to me. The Arkansas Poll at the University of Arkansas has regularly shown more moderation on hot button issues among voters than in legislation at the Capitols. A majority still supports availability of legal abortion, for example. A majority is OK with gun safety legislation (gun control). Even Arkansas voters are moving in more moderate directions on equal rights for gay people and the death penalty. Marijuana? OK with that, too.
Of course, getting the right people to vote is part of the equation that drives elections and legislative results. The conservative side seems to get more heated up about pet issues and that enthusiasm can provide an edge at the ballot box. Shouting louder sometimes has an effect, too. And money.