by James A. Bacon
Virginia voters describe themselves as ideologically moderate, leaning conservative, according to a new poll by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University. Asked to place themselves on a 0-10 scale (liberal to conservative) with 5.0 being middle of the road, the 1,008 voters polled rated themselves 5.83 on average. Independents, the swing vote, pegged themselves at 5.72.
An obvious question arises: Why can’t conservatives win statewide elections in Virginia?
One possibility is that voters perceive Republicans as more conservative than they see Democrats as liberal. Respondents rated the Democratic Party as 1.97 points off the middle-of-the-road 5.0 mark nor while they rated Republicans as 2.45 points off the norm.
This raises a subsidiary question: Is the perception of Republicans as more extreme based on objective fact, an artifact of the parties’ messaging, or a distortion created by media misrepresentation?
Wason’s analysis plumbed voter views of national issues like health care, immigration and the Green New Deal as well of nationally known politicians, including such polarizing figures as Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasi0-Cortez. The poll did not address state-level issues or state political figures.
Wason found that a majority of Virginia voters leaned toward liberal/Democratic positions on the national issues by modest margins. I see no reason to doubt the general soundness of Wason’s conclusions.
I firmly believe that Virginians skew slightly conservative in their political inclinations, just as Wason finds, but that their stances on particular issues is heavily influenced by how those issues are framed by national and local media. The information ecosystem skews heavily to the Left, and leftist narratives predominate.
Yes, yes, I know the response: Fox News! Wall Street Journal! New York Post! Crazed right-wing conspiracy blogs!!!! It is true, the mainstream media does not have an air-tight lock on the dissemination of news and views. But the nexus of the Washington Post, New York Times, other daily newspapers, the Associated Press, MSNBC, CNN, network news, Yahoo!, Apple News, the opening screen for Microsoft Edge, all leveraged by Twitter, Facebook, and Google, is infinitely larger and more powerful.
The media is the dominant force in politics in the United States — and Virginia. Maybe Wason will conduct a poll of working journalists in Virginia one day.