Voters rarely change their opinions on politicians, even when legislators may support conflicting viewpoints, according to a study released Tuesday by researchers from UC Berkeley and Washington University in St. Louis.
Results showed that voters often agreed with their preferred legislators despite having provided minimal justification of their views, and voters would not dismiss lawmakers who supported opposing viewpoints on the issues. The 17 policy issues included minimum wage, undocumented immigrants and more. David Broockman, a campus graduate student of political science, co-authored the study with Daniel Butler, an associate professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis.
According to Broockman, the researchers were interested in answering questions about democracy — specifically, to what extent people tend to agree with elected officials on issues.
Additional findings indicated that citizens were prone to support policies advocated by political leaders that are trusted by other well-established political figures. Voters also rarely change their attitude toward politicians upon learning that some candidates support policies they oppose. In the same vein, the study showed voters were likely to follow trusted politicians by adapting their views according to their preferred politician’s positions.
“Politicians can get far by stating their positions,” Broockman said. “People seem to be predisposed to give consistent support … They adopt the legislator’s position regardless of the presence of the argument.”
The research was divided into two experiments, and both produced consistent results. The first assessed the politicians’ abilities to influence opinion and still secure the voters’ support. Constituents in a randomized treatment group were sent a letter with the politician’s position on an issue that he or she previously did not support. The second experiment involved recruiting seven democratic state legislators in an unnamed midwestern state last spring. Researchers had state legislators send voters campaign literature they opposed, which were backed by varying degrees of justification.
Results showed that voters were more likely to agree with the politicians’ new stance and maintain positive impressions.
“People tend to adopt positions that trusted legislators offer,” Broockman said. “People tend to trust what they say.”
Carlo David, a sophomore studying sociology and film studies who consistently votes Democrat, said he would continue to vote the same way even if the candidate’s views did not perfectly align with his own.
“I can bend a little bit,” David said. “But if you’re a conservative Democrat … then you definitely don’t have my vote.”
Researchers plan to expand their experiments to include more legislators to help understand how well these results replicate in other states.