Tribalism, Politics and Public Policy

The Atlantic reports on a recent survey that shows in clear detail how partisanship — tribalism — distorts public opinion on policy. Specifically, the survey was about Obama’s immigration orders, which were massively popular even among Republicans — unless you mentioned that Obama supported them.

It is truly remarkable that an issue like immigration reform, which enjoys such broad support among the public, has become so mired in politics. PRRI’s most recent survey—released this week—finds that roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans support the specifics of Obama’s executive action allowing the parents of children with legal status to stay in the country for up to three years if they meet certain requirements. Just one in five Americans (19 percent) is opposed to this policy. Moreover, this policy enjoys strong majority support across partisan and religious lines. 87 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents, and 67 percent of Republicans support this policy, as do majorities of Catholics (76 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (68 percent).

Support for the central provisions of the DREAM Act is similarly broad. Nearly seven in ten (68 percent) Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college, including 79 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of independents, and 60 percent of Republicans.

There are very few public policies that have such broad support in this country. But look what happened when they mentioned Obama:

However, the survey also found strong evidence of the power of partisanship at work among rank and file Americans. The survey split the sample into two demographically identical groups. The first group simply received the executive action on immigration and DREAM Act policy questions; the second group received the same verbatim questions, with a twist—the proposal was identified as “Obama’s policy.” The findings show a significant “Obama Effect” across both questions.

When there is no mention of Obama, two-thirds (67 percent) of Republicans favor allowing illegal immigrants who are parents of those with legal status to avoid deportation if they meet certain requirements. But when Obama is linked to the policy, support among Republicans drops 16 points to 51 percent. Support among independents also falls 13 points when Obama is linked to the policy, from 77 percent to 64 percent. Among Democrats, there is no statistically significant effect in support.

The “Obama Effect” is even more pronounced in attitudes about the DREAM Act. When Obama is not identified with the policy, six in ten (60 percent) Republicans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they attend college or join the military. Once Obama is identified with the policy, Republican attitudes invert: Support plummets 23 points to only 37 percent, while opposition rises to nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent).

Tribalism: Still the enemy of critical thinking.

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  • themadtapper

    The same was true about the ACA. People loved the specifics when they were asked about them separately and without mentioning Obama. As soon as the question became “What do you think about these Obamacare specifics” the support tanked. That’s been the entire Republican strategy for years: convincing people that things are bad for no other reason than Obama. They’ll oppose things they like just because Obama is the one trying to do them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kitwalker1990 chriswalker

    @1: I wouldn’t necessarily shove this one off on Republicans alone. Based on my hardcore democrat friends, I’m betting that if you took a number of national security related achievements (Signed the Status of Forces Agreement mandating the end of the Iraq War, Increased prosecution of whistleblowers by XX%, etc) and asked folks to attribute them to a recent President, incorrect attributions would split along party lines for what they found positive. I.E, Democrats would think Bush prosecuted more whistleblowers than Obama, who signed the agreement that got us out of Iraq.

  • Michael Heath

    themadtapper writes:

    That’s been the entire Republican strategy for years: convincing people that things are bad for no other reason than Obama. They’ll oppose things they like just because Obama is the one trying to do them.

    Conservatives in the GOP were actually far more successful with a similar rhetorical approach that really started to blossom when Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House. That was to turn the word liberal into a pejorative. It was one of the first signals that I was not long for the Republican party since I thought of myself then as a moderate/liberal Republican (and never a conservative) – a now endangered pair of species very close to extinction.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    The solution is obvious: All Obama has to do to get his policies passed is to exist to bring them forward, and to not exist so that they can pass. We can call it the Schrödinger Administration.

  • scienceavenger

    You can really see this on Fox. They are absolutely obssessed with Obama. They say it isn’t racism, OK, whatever, but it is clearly personal. They hinge on and parse every trivial aspect of what he says as if his words were magic, and focus on issues where there is no other political gain to be had. Easily half their news stories are about him, as if there were nothing else interesting happening in the world. Their morning show might as well be renamed “The Obama Report”.

  • Michael Heath

    scienceavenger wrtites:

    You can really see this on Fox [News]. They are absolutely obssessed with Obama.

    The commenters at the WSJ are far more obsessed. It’s particularly interesting watching them act out over good news or watching them create massive non sequiturs to tie Mr. Obama to bad news having nothing to do with Mr. Obama.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Michael Heath, now you’re being ridiculous. There’s no such thing as bad news that has nothing to do to Obama.