Quote of the day

Excellent comment over at Obsidian Wings:

I'm struck that so many commenters seem to assume that if only Americans could be made aware of the real facts, they'd all vote for Democrats. I'm not sure that's so. For one thing, it assumes that everyone will freight a given piece of data with equal significance. In my experience, however, we typically invest those facts which accord with our presuppositions with the greatest weight. So if you present a smorgasbord of facts to your average voter, they'll tend to seize upon those which support their point of view, and discount those which do not.

So it's not just a matter of telling voters that only a tiny fraction of the most affluent taxpayers end up shouldering the estate tax - it's about convincing them that that fact is significant, even controlling. We tend to assume that others will interpret factual data the same way that we ourselves do. We think of ourselves, after all, as perfectly logical, and have difficulty perceiving that we filter our perceptions of the world through a whole array of beliefs and values.

Recognizing that people aren't paying attention to the facts that we ourselves find most important not simply because they've been bamboozled is the first step to persuading them of our point of view. That acknowledgement suggests that we need to give them not just a new set of facts, but a new frame of reference with which to interpret those facts. And that gets back to Appiah's point. People didn't like the estate tax because it seemed unfair - why should you have to pay a second round of taxes on earnings just because someone dies? That sense of unfairness left them predisposed to certain arguments - that the tax hurt small-businesses and family farms, for example. You can't counter that by pointing to the small number actually affected by the tax - that's mistaking the symptom for the cause. The way to counter the argument is to make the case for its fairness: by pointing out that the rich got that way because America endowed them with opportunity, and that the tax preserves the chance for others to have similar opportunities.

And that's broadly true of voters who cast ballots "against their economic interests." They do so not because they're stupid, and not because - as Drum would have it - social values are somehow more important in their lives than in the lives of Democratic voters. We're not going to win them back by telling them they're stupid, that they've been fooled, or that the facts contradict their beliefs. We'll win them over by showing how our policies actually accord with their beliefs. That if they care about preserving family, gay marriage is a boon and not a curse. That progressive taxation is about ensuring a fair playing field, and not about penalizing the succesful. That not waging ill-advised wars overseas will actually strengthen our national security. In other words, by abandoning the futile quest to provide them with 'facts' that will change their beliefs to match our policies, and demonstrating that our policies actually accord with those beliefs.

The same holds true, of course, in reverse, for those who wish to press the opposing sides of those issues.