A small research agenda on political understanding in the U.S: a proposal

From recent reading, like Strangers in their own land and The politics of resentment, three key themes keep coming up. To me, these themes suggest a possible research or journalistic agenda. The themes are:

  1. An overestimation of how many people work for the government in different forms and at different levels, how competently and efficiently they do their jobs, and what benefits they receive in exchange.
  2. A (continued) misrepresentation of who receives different types of benefits from the government and whether they are ‘deserving,’ where desert is tied in directly with conceptions of ‘hard work’ and whether or not they perform it.* Overall, showcasing the normalcy and neighborliness of such folks.**
  3. A misunderstanding or willful forgetting of the ‘good’ things that the government does in one’s everyday life (and how the gov could do it better). This could include, for example, a sense that ‘folks like me’ don’t benefit from the ACA and other government efforts big and small — which may suggest ways forward on mitigating such views.


*Note that in Politics of resentment, at least, it becomes clear that hard work is often equated with physical/manual work. This is another avenue for possible exploration.

*This is, of course, linked to (a need to contrast) media portrayals of folks that you don’t necessarily interact with in-person on a day-to-day basis. See, e.g., Aziz Ansari’s Muslims eating nachos pitch. Also, this except from Strangers in their own land:

The stock image of the early 20th century, the ‘Negro’ minstrel, a rural simpleton, the journalist Barbara Ehrenreich notes, has now been upgraded, whitened, and continued in such television programs as Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. ‘Working class whites are now regularly portrayed as moronic, while blacks are often hyperarticulate, street smart… and rich’ (p 156).