Editorialist Ezra Klein of the Washington Post had this to say after attending the APSA conference in Washington, D.C. last week:
“The 24-hour news cycle is really focused on little, tiny swells and waves on the surface of the ocean,” says John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University. “But in fact, most of the big things affecting the ocean are these currents underneath. They’re what’s moving the water.” And that’s what political science studies.
So political science is often accused of a sort of nihilism: Lobbyists don’t much matter, it says. Speeches are ineffective. Voters are driven by the economy, and campaigns barely move the needle. Most of the stuff that obsesses us during election season has no effect on the eventual outcome.
But if politicians took these findings to heart, it would free them to do their jobs better. “The fact that much of what cable news is talking about on any given day is not important probably is empowering,” Sides says. Particularly combined with the finding that what does matter, both for elections and for people’s lives, is how well the country is doing. Worrying less about tomorrow’s polls and news releases and more about the effect of today’s policies could make for better bills — and happier, more successful politicians.