Why the town hall protesters aren't representative

Republicans say the protests show Americans' real views, but they're hardly a good sample

Published August 13, 2009 7:45PM (EDT)

I was on MSNBC's "Dr. Nancy" earlier today, talking about the two town halls, both held by Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., that Salon's Caitlin Shamberg and I covered earlier this week. The video's below, but I just wanted to expand on one point I made during the broadcast a little bit.

People opposed to Democratic healthcare proposals, from the Republican establishment to talk radio, have portrayed the protests and the anger at these town halls as representative of the American public's opinion generally. I think that's going way too far: Polls clearly show more support for the Democratic plans than is manifested in the town halls, where opinion -- at least at the ones I attended -- ran overwhelmingly against those proposals. That may be, to some degree, a consequence of the astroturf liberals have been complaining about, but I think it's really just a function of the way these things always work. Very few people go to a meeting like this one because they're feeling totally neutral; they go because they're angry or because, in a case like this, they want to provide a counterpoint to that anger. And just a look around the crowds shows that they're largely white, largely working-class and that they tend to skew older and more conservative than the actual population in those districts.

But that doesn't mean that the emotions that have been expressed can or should be dismissed offhand. The fact that these events have exploded the way they have, all over the country, is still a rflection -- albeit far from a perfect one -- of the national mood, and of the anger on the right. It'd be a mistake for Democrats to ignore that altogether.


By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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