The Great Right Wing Freakout

The very old radio in my Subaru has basically two settings: the default and the backup. The default is 102.7 FM, the Peak, a modern rock station out of Vancouver that has a tolerable mix of old standards and new music. The backup is 790 KGMI AM, the local talk station that runs Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and local newstalker Dillon Honcoop.

The switch goes from the Peak to KGMI whenever the Peak a) has an extended commercial break or b) annoys me, so I get quite a bit of talk radio driving around Whatcom County.

Lately, I have been switching back pretty quick because conservatives are just freaking out over Mitt Romney’s poll numbers. They keep casting them as some sort of media-engineered Democratic plot to reelect Obama.

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Remember, People Lie to Pollsters

Many years ago when I worked at the Cato Institute (more on that later) I managed to so offend friend and foreign policy guy Justin Logan that he backed slowly out of the lunchroom. You may wonder, what bigmouthed thing had I said? That America was right to invade Iraq? That torture is A-OK? That I was thinking of getting a Woodrow Wilson tat?

None of the above. We had been discussing a poll finding that something like a majority of Republicans believed large caches of Weapons of Mass Destruction had been found in Iraq, contrary to the evidence. I argued many of those Republicans did not, in fact, believe that WMDs had been discovered in Iraq.

Rather, I explained, Republicans knew how those polls were going to used polemically and so answered a different set of questions. What they heard was more like “Do you support President Bush and/or the boots already on the ground in Iraq?” So of course they had answered yes.

To his credit, Logan asked a few questions before quitting the field. I explained my belief that people lie to pollsters all the time for a whole number of reasons. These reasons range from social disapproval (“Do I really want to tell the complete stranger on the other end of the line that I’ll vote for Jesse Helms?”) to confusion (the wording of the question can be all-important) to a cynical sophistication (“If I answer x, it will be used to argue y. So, let’s go with -x.”).

At the time, Logan really didn’t know what to make of such high-proof skepticism. I wonder if that’s changed.