Why The Mess In Washington Won't Go Away

Obviously, the superiority expressed in the latter view leaves very little room for compromise. But the nine issues were split right down the middle -- both conservatives and liberals said they were absolutely certain they were right on three different issues, and there was no clear evidence either side felt all that superior on the remaining three issues.

Conservatives felt most superior about their opinions on voter identification laws, tax rates, and affirmative action, whereas liberals were most convinced of the superiority of their views on government welfare programs, the use of torture on terrorists, and the role of religion in policymaking.

Both conservatives and liberals were less convinced that their views were superior on health care, illegal immigration, and abortion.

Surprisingly, health care -- the hottest button on the list of issues, at least in Washington -- ranked rather poorly on the "percentage of sample with highest belief superiority." Only 12.3 percent thought they had all the answers on that issue, and Toner thinks that is probably due to two causes.

"We did this research last year, and it has become a bigger issue now," she said. "I wouldn't be surprised if that number would change over time."

It is also a very complex issue, and even people who have studied the huge legislative package known as the Affordable Care Act are probably confused on some issues and willing to listen to opposing arguments. If that's the case, however, you would expect to see more talking and listening and less stonewalling and threatening.

Of the nine issues, the one with the "highest belief superiority" was the role of religion in making public policy, which may not be surprising because it's a rare politician who doesn't publicly express his or her religious fervor at every opportunity. But participants in the study were average citizens, not politicians, so only 38.9 consider themselves all that superior when it comes to religion.

That still seems like a low number, but Toner said it's the highest number on the chart, far above illegal immigration at 9.9, and even abortion at 23.5.

Maybe those surprisingly low numbers tell us something else about our political leaders, especially those who express such extreme confidence in their own views on very emotional and complex issues. They may differ from the folks back home on some issues, but whether you are in Washington or in the nation's hinterland, chances are you feel really superior about some of your views.

"We have some unpublished research showing that this isn't just a political issue," Toner said. "We've asked people about environmental issues, and really trivial things, like whether Coke is better than Pepsi, and we find the same thing.

"When people have really strong feelings about Coke being better than Pepsi, they are sure their opinions are better than other people's."

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