We have shared our thoughts in this piece on how political leaders are merely a reflection of voter opinions. However, when we disagree with political leaders’ opinions, we tend to attack the leader instead of going to the source of the problem, that is, our own opinions that politicians reflect in their positions.
Let’s take the first example of Barack Obama, the beacon of liberalism and his position on gay marriage. Here is a piece in Politifact on Obama changing his stance on gay marriage:
In 1996, as he ran for Illinois state Senate, Chicago’s Outlines gay newspaper asked candidates to fill out a questionnaire. Tracy Baim, the co-founder and publisher ofOutlines, dug up a copy of the questionnaire in 2009, cataloging the president-elect’s shift. He had written on the 1996 questionnaire, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
Just two years later, on another Outlines questionnaire, Obama wasn’t so sure. Did he favor legalizing same-sex marriage? “Undecided.” Would he support a bill to repeal Illinois legislation prohibiting same-sex marriage? “Undecided.” Would he co-sponsor it? “Undecided.”
As Obama sought a U.S. Senate seat in 2004, he told the Windy City Times, “I am a fierce supporter of domestic-partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue. I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. …”
In August 2008, he told Southern California megachurch Pastor Rick Warren his definition of marriage: “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”
By October 2010, almost two years into his presidency, he acknowledged his views were evolving. But he wasn’t prepared to reverse himself, he said.
In 2012, he concluded, “”I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
What was behind Obama flip-flopping on gay marriage? Voter opinions. The year 2012 (see chart from Pew) was the year public opinion shifted in favour of gay marriage and that’s when he shifted his position too.
Given the change of stance based on voter opinions of a sitting US president, can Donald Trump’s views on banning Muslims from entering the US be analysed from the point of view of voter opinion polls? Patnab has explained that 42-56 per cent of Republican voters support a ban on Muslims from entering the US. If you are Donald Trump and your polling share is in the 20-30 per cent range, shouldn’t you also give a voice to a major voter concern and also call for a ban on Muslims entering the US?
Trump’s position on banning Muslims is doing what any politician does, which is increasing his voter share. Why is Trump being condemned and not the voters whose opinions fuel his positions?
Closer back home, in India, there have been many attacks condemning politicians for “intolerance”, while voters fuel the intolerance. However, you need to change voter opinion to change leader opinions.
(This is the second of four articles on voter opinion and the ways it influences politicians, corruption and government systems. You can read the first one here.)