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).

Published by hlanthorn

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-1899-4790

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

  1. Great topic for all of us to think about.

    Several years ago, I had breakfast with a woman from the Phoenix area. She had babysat my children when they were little. In the course of our conversation, she talked about how the government took too much out of her family’s income for taxes. We were just about to part and leave the restaurant so I didn’t have time to think of what to say, except that although we have paid tons in taxes over the years, we have always been “happy” to do it because of what the government does for us. I think people think that the politicians take home all of our tax money or build bridges to nowhere…

    When I was relating this conversation to my husband, he started listing all the places where our tax money goes, starting with police, firefighters, and schools in our local community all the way up to the armed services, which protect our interests on the global level. (Of course there are too many ways to list here.) I also know that among the first world countries, we pay a much a much smaller percentage of our income to taxes than most and maybe even all.

    What “bugs” me most of all, is the health care situation. I am now on Medicare plus a supplemental policy, and it works just like it says it will. Some people think that our tax money is used to provide those without health insurance a free ride. No one ever remembers that hospitals are required to treat those who arrive at their doors whether they have insurance or not. When those people don’t pay their bills, the costs are passed on to the rest of us via what we (or our insurance) has to pay. Don’t think for one minute that that the hospital and all it’s staff treat those who can’t pay out of the goodness of their hearts and that you and I pay only the true costs of our own treatment.

    Grrr… You can see I could go on forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. People seem to ‘forget’ where their money goes and also, perhaps, legitimately, feel like a lot of it doesn’t stay local (e.g. does all the education money from your taxes only go to your local school district, etc). This comes up quite a bit in both the books — have you had a chance to read them?


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