Campaign 2012: Embrace the cynicism
December 2nd, 2011
01:36 PM ET
2 years ago

Campaign 2012: Embrace the cynicism

Capitol Hill (CNN) – One month before the Iowa caucuses, a seminal event in American democracy, excitement does not seem to be the dominant feeling among voters. Try cynicism.

Trust in government is at an all-time low. A whopping 72% of Republicans have not made up their minds on a definite candidate yet (an increase in that figure from October). And among a core group of Democrats – whites with no college education – half say they don't want President Obama on the ballot in 2012.

But voters on all sides may be more pessimistic than the situation warrants, or so says an award-winning economist. Listen here for our "Campaign Cynical" podcast or click to keep reading.




Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and has written a book, "The Myth of the Rational Voter", which bluntly questions a basic principal in democracy, whether voters make logical decisions.

"Voters actually are driven to be pessimistic," Caplan told CNN Radio, "They have a tendency to see things as worse than they actually are."

Caplan looked at hard measures of issues in America, things like economic indicators or the amount of foreign aid funded by the U.S., and compared those figures with what Americans believed them to be. He found that people overwhelmingly believed those numbers to be far more negative, meaning more opposed to their wishes, than the figures were in reality. For example, Americans thought U.S. foreign aid was a huge part of the federal budget when it is relatively small.

It is as if Americans are looking through rust-colored glasses.

"When you really look at what government in the United States does, it is very similar to what people want it to do," Caplan contends. "We spend a ton of money on popular stuff, like Social Security, and very little money on unpopular stuff, like foreign aid….Yet, the public is so pessimistic that even when they're getting what they want, they're convinced they're not listening to them at all."

This in turn, Caplan theorizes, creates a system where politicians push the least-painful and least-offensive ideas to already distrustful voters. And candidates avoid proposing actual, tough solutions that would cause pain.

"Whatever they do, people are going to be angry at them. If they were actually to speak honestly and frankly and propose something realistic, voters would hate them," he said.

In other words, cynicism is so high that even voters who want tough solutions will question whether a politician proposing those kinds of sacrifices can be trusted.

You can also listen to American Sauce on iTunes, Stitcher or subscribe to the podcast via RSS.

– CNN's Emma Lacey-Bordeaux contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2012 • American Sauce
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Do whites with no college education watch a lot of foreign owned media, Fox? That might explain the misinformation about President Obama.

    December 2, 2011 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  2. Obama's Change has left me with NO HOPE

    And among a core group of Democrats – whites with no college education – half say they don't want President Obama on the ballot in 2012.

    Looks like I'm not the only one with no hope left.... time for some real change, as in change for the BETTER!

    December 2, 2011 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    from the article:
    He found that people overwhelmingly believed those numbers to be far more negative, meaning more opposed to their wishes, than the figures were in reality.

    It is as if Americans are looking through rust-colored glasses.
    --------------
    With all of the disinformation, negative spin, and dire predictions of doom and gloom, why was he so surprised to discover that most people have no clue as to what is really happening in this country?

    Most people don't know how close we came to the event horizon of complete economic collapse, so they do not understand how much good has been done and how far we still need to go. Most people think all of that complicated mortgage debt that Wall St. inflicted upon itself and led us into TARP has actually gone away.

    December 2, 2011 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. MTATL67

    Have you seen the p-poor candidates the Republican voters have to choose from. Who can blame them for their for their "cynicism". I am going to be voting for President Obama and I'm excited because the GOP will be shocked that they lose the House and seats in the Senate starting with Mass. This should come as no shock to them but will be because they are out of touch with the American public. The White House goes without saying since it is no longer within their grasp.

    December 2, 2011 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  5. Obama's Change has left me with NO HOPE

    With all of the disinformation, negative spin, and dire predictions of doom and gloom, why was he so surprised to discover that most people have no clue as to what is really happening in this country?

    yes, all those nasty facts like record unemployment for record lengths of time, record forclosures, record debt, record deficits just keep getting in the way of the fantasy tale dems spin about how darn good things are out there. Sorry, we've had our fill of your snake oil. Real change is coming in 2012... change for the BETTER.

    December 2, 2011 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  6. Rudy NYC

    Obama's Change has left me with NO HOPE wrote:

    Looks like I'm not the only one with no hope left.... time for some real change, as in change for the BETTER!

    seriously???? hey bud, anybody ever tell you drinking and blogging isn't advisable?
    --------------
    It's called humor, and not mention boredom from the lack of intellectual debate and discussion today.

    I don't understand your concerns because conservatives have been saying for the past 3 years that it was the black voters casting their vote almost exclusively for Obama is the *ONLY* reason that he won the election. That demographic should matter at all because Obama still has the black vote solidly in his pocket. Right?

    December 2, 2011 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  7. Phil in KC

    I agree with Rudy. All we hear from the Republicans is how much money we spend on foreign aid. They have worked hard to create a xenophobia in the US. This serves nothing but their own narrow interests in getting elected. As for social security, all we ever hear is how everyone thinks it needs to be cut. If some actual information got out (instead of misinformation), perhaps the public would feel better.

    December 2, 2011 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  8. WiredweirdinSF

    How can you help but be cynical when the corrupt unions and their wholly owned subisidary ACORN stole the 2008 election for the most incompetent, inept, corrupt, union toady president we have ever had. He gave billions to the corrupt union bosses to creat jobs through the "stimulus" program and what they didn't keep for personal use they funnel back to the democrat liberal party.

    December 2, 2011 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  9. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Obama's change . . . – Obama gave hope to 50 million people who have no health insurance, Obama gave hope to almost 2 million auto related workers, Obama gave hope to almost 4 million who became employed as a result of the stimulus, Obama gave hope to 99% of the population with the lowest tax rates in 50 years because of the stimulus, Obama gave hope all people on social security and medicare, Obama gave hope to those receiving veterans benefits, Obama gave hope to 65% of Americans who want an end to the war in Iraq, Obama gave hope to women for equal pay, and gave hope to 70% of all Americans who wanted an end to DADT. More later.

    December 2, 2011 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  10. Voice of Reason

    People are cynical because there are no decent candidates, the primary process has been a glorified version of 'American Idol', and everyone realizes that every aspect of this process has been bought and paid for by corporate America and the cronies that serve it.

    Do I sound cynical, too? Huh. Imagine that.

    December 2, 2011 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  11. Mikey

    @WiredweirdinSF – Pehraps you shoud take Nancy Reagan's advice and just say no to drugs. You need help.

    December 2, 2011 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  12. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Mr. Weird,
    You must be talking about "W" as the most incompetent, inept, corrupt president. You have obviously confused the two presidents, as that is easy to do when you watch a lot of foreign owned media. I do have to say though, you sound a lot like Terry, VA, with his (her) posts.
    Your friend,
    Wire

    December 2, 2011 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  13. Bob in Pa

    @ Wire Palladin, S. F.
    Maybe White with no college have failed to be properly indoctrinated. Off to the education camps with them !.

    December 2, 2011 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  14. Bob in Pa

    "Voters actually are driven to be pessimistic"
    Yes, by corrupt politicians and a media that only serves as a propaganda machine.

    December 2, 2011 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  15. Michael

    Hey WiredweirdinSF ... ask your buddy Rick Perry what he did with all of that "stimulus" money. Or is he to be lumped in with the "corrupt union bosses" you so blithly reference? So if you're so disenfranchised with the current administration, what do you propose? A Bachman/Trump ticket? Or perhaps you're pining for the days when Little Miss "I quit my job" Palin was splattered all over the news? Oh, and how did that "Mission Accomplished" thing work out for you? You sure you not on Dubya's payroll? so who's corrupt here,anyway? inquiring minds want to know ...

    December 2, 2011 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  16. An Observation from North of the 49th

    to: WiredweirdinSF
    Give it up, you've been spewing the same hate for months now

    December 2, 2011 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  17. Mikey

    @Rudy – Yes, I thought people understood just how dire things were at the time, but it seems they forgot. Of course, there was a lot of posturing by those who did not want sensible regulation, so they tried to convince people that things weren't that bad at that the response (Frank-Dodd) was unnecessary.

    Paulson, Bernanke, Geithner, Obama, and even George Bush (I know he was a big part of getting us into this mess in the first place) and a host of others deserve a great deal of credit for steering us through these times without descending into the second Great Depression. Americans are fickle and our memories are short.

    Obama, despite the incredible level of purely political opposition by the GOP, has done a remarkable job. Avoided economic collapse, saved GM and the auto industry, saved the banking industry, is ending two wars, has kept us safe, has captured or killed many more terrorist leaders in less than three years than Bush did in over seven after 9/11, has signed over 25 tax reductions and no increases into law, gained the repeal of DADT, increased border patrol and stopped more crossings, and the list could go on and on.

    All we need to do is tell the truth and repeat it as often as the right tells their lies and 11/6/2012 will be a great day.

    December 2, 2011 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |