The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Twitterpated by Bittergate

April 17, 2008

An unusually empirical op-ed in the New York Times today tests Obama’s hypothesis that “wedge issues take prominence” when voters are frustrated by “difficult times.” Larry Bartels uses polling data to demonstrate that in fact, more small-town working class voters believe the government can be trusted than urban voters making more that $60,000 a year, and the small town working class is also least likely to vote on social issues. David Park articulates a similar finding over at The Monkey Cage.

To be fair, Obama’s remarks were aimed at describing variation over time within a demographic, not variation across demographics. And if the analysis is true, it would seem to confirm his general observation, though it would mean he got the demographic wrong. Either way, we now have an opportunity to see whether Obama, on the face of new evidence not previously at his disposal, will “cling” to his former intuition, or revise his understanding in light of the facts.

Not that it matters. Only the media (and Obama’s opponents) are obsessed with his remarks – and judging by last night’s debate, with equally petty concerns such as flag lapels or politically incorrect comments by people he knows. (“Does your pastor love America as much as you do?” What conceivable bearing does such a question have on a Presidential race?) Obama himself would rather focus on more substantive issues, and not just when it serves him: he passed up several chances to attack Hillary over similar gaffes like the sniper fire at the Tuzla airport:

““Clinton deserves the right to make some errors one in a while. What’s important is to make sure we don’t get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history.”

Judging by comments on ABCNews’ website after the first half of the debate, most viewers agree with Obama. Some excerpts:

“Last night’s “debate” was a disgusting, mind-numbing display of unprofessional, tabloid style journalism. Clearly, ABC looks down on voters if it thinks we want to listen to this garbage.”

“ABC should be ashamed. What about the great issues that Americans (according to all the polls) are really concerned about? Truly sad.”

“Everyone associated with that debate last night from ABC should be severely reprimanded and/or fired immediately – and a full public apology issued to the candidates and the american public as a whole.”

Perhaps this explains why the “bittergate” controversy has not affected Obama’s poll numbers for the worse. Americans are sick of mudslinging and of having their intelligence insulted. My hunch: voters this time ’round want a candidate who can be trusted and will speak to the issues rather than a cowboy(girl?) President capable of throwing punches incessantly but unable to get his/her story straight.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.