Why are these lobbying campaigns able to succeed even when they are trying to persuade elected officials to defy public opinion? The obvious reason — campaign donations — is no doubt part of the answer. But there is also a more subtle dynamic at work, which brings us to our second major explanation.
The real median voter
In elite circles, including Capitol Hill, people often misunderstand American public opinion in a specific way. They imagine that the median voter resembles a type of political moderate who is quite common in those elite circles — somebody who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative.
Michael Bloomberg is an archetype, as are some Republican mayors and governors in blue states. Many people in professional Washington, at think tanks and elsewhere, also fall into the category.
In the rest of the country, however, this ideological combination is not so common, polls show. If anything, more Americans can accurately be described as the opposite — socially conservative and economically liberal. That’s true across racial groups, including among Black and Hispanic voters.
Most Americans are religious, for example. Most favor restrictions on both abortion and immigration. Most oppose reductions in police funding. At the same time, most Americans favor higher taxes on the rich and a higher minimum wage, as well as government actions to reduce drug prices, expand health care and create good-paying jobs.
Many centrist Democrats are aware of this reality and cast themselves as culturally moderate populists. But they can also be influenced by the elite’s misunderstanding of popular opinion. That seems to be happening right now.