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Don’t CRI(NO) For Me

Via Krugman, I see that John Sides has a great post up on another issue that I’ve been thinking about.   There were some complementary (in both senses of the word) that I wanted to add to this.  First, the key grafs:

Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.

This raises the question: why are so many people identifying as conservative while simultaneously preferring more government?  For some conservatives, it is because they associate the label with religion, culture or lifestyle.  In essence, when they identify as “conservative,” they are thinking about conservatism in terms of family structure, raising children, or interpreting the Bible. Conservatism is about their personal lives, not their politics.

I’ve been aware of this result for a while (probably from reading John Sides in the past), and I think that, in retrospect, this might be the most unsurprising result in all of political science.   I say that because it has all the hallmarks of a branding effect:  more to the point, a branding effect which clearly favors Republicans.

So what do I mean by a branding effect… let me give an example.   The classic branding effect comes from an advertising campaign by Pepsi.  Back in the day (if you’re as old as I am, you may even remember this), Pepsi started producing commercials pointing out that Pepsi consistently won head-to-head blind taste tests verse arch-rival Coca-Cola.   That shouldn’t be surprising since Pepsi is in fact sweater than Coke.  Nevertheless, when the taste tests weren’t blind, Coke would consistently win.

It’s rather remarkable when you think about it: people would swear up and down that they prefer Coke, until the don’t know they’re drinking it.   Coke was apparently so spooked by this that they tried to change their formula (some reading this may remember “New Coke”)–it was a disaster.

It’s hard for me not to see the parallel.   People like being “Liberal” in the same way that they like to drink Pepsi: as long as they don’t know they’re doing it.  The point is further reinforced by surveys showing that people support policies with the “conservative” label attached to them (sadly I can’t find the link, but I know it’s out there).   No, they don’t like conservative policies, they like policies which are described as conservative.

So, what’s the lesson?   Well, I think the insight here are twofold.    1) The republican/conservative “rebranding” effort is doomed to failure, since they are already living off a much better brand:  i.e. this is the “New Coke” strategy.   2) The conservative branding advantage could still last a long, long time: last I checked Coke still had a brand advantage to Pepsi… what is it now, 20, 3o years since it was first noticed?


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