Politico just conducted a poll of states with competitive Senate races and competitive House districts. The results could have been a lot worse for Democrats. The respondent pool skews a bit more rightward than the country as a whole: of the 17 states surveyed, 10 voted for Mitt Romney in 2012; 32 of the 62 House districts are currently represented by Republicans. Within the respondent pool, 38% call themselves "conservative" (in line with national numbers), but another 12% are moderates who say they lean conservative, so half the pool is at least somewhat conservative. And 40% of respondents consider themselves born again or Evangelical (Pew puts the nationwide percentage at 26.3%). And yet 47% of respondents "strongly" or "somewhat" approve of President Obama's job performance. What's more, when asked to choose between the Republican and Democratic candidate (or the independent in the case of the Kansas Senate race), Democrats win, 41%-36%. With leaners, it's still Dems, 44%-41%.
And yet fear persists. I understand Ebola fear being on people's minds, but this seems really irrational:
Eighty-four percent of voters say the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant poses a "serious" threat to the U.S. homeland, including 43 percent who say it poses a “very serious” threat. Just 12 percent said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is not a serious concern....More than a month ago, we saw ISIS members beheading Westerners in their sphere of influence. Fearmongers told us that ISIS was sending people into America, or had already done so. The Mexican border was invoked. Ebola was mentioned.
And the same pool of voters that expressed intense resistance to U.S. military intervention overseas in a July POLITICO poll now say they are more concerned about terrorism against the homeland (60 percent) than the possibility of another "drawn-out U.S. war in Iraq" (39 percent.)
So, um, where's the stateside ISIS terrorism?
Here's the thing: We don't notice when things we fear don't happen. When we're on alert, we don't notice the seemingly unremarkable, even when it's relevant to our concerns.
It's somewhat like Sherlock Holmes's incident of the dog in the night-time:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"In the Conan Doyle story "Silver Blaze," a dog doesn't bark when a famous racehorse is abducted. Sherlock Holmes knows that the person who moved the horse was not a stranger to the dog. But it's a detail everyone else overlooks.
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
We're missing the dogs that aren't barking. ISIS isn't killing people in America. Ebola isn't spreading, and the vast majority of people exposed to it here are still in good health. But once fear is stirred up, it lingers. Reassuring news doesn't have anywhere near the same impact.
Republicans stoke fear all the time because they know this. They've had a lot to work with lately. But their direst predictions aren't coming true.
Too bad we won't notice -- soon we'll just let them scare us about something else.