I frequently hear people trying to support their opinions by claiming that “everybody” thinks the same thing they do about some issue. It doesn’t matter much what the issue is, because most people seem to believe that how they see the world is typical of how other normal, mainstream people see the same world.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the psychology behind this — and I’m trying to track down research that might address it — but right now, I’m thinking about the implications of it. If most people honestly believe that others share their general views, could this help explain why people are so supportive of majoritarian systems? Could it be that they have an unconscious belief that an honest vote will produce a result they’re going to like?
In 1969, U.S. President Richard Nixon was faced with very vocal and growing opposition to the war in Vietnam. He gave a famous speech in which he asked for support from the “great silent majority” who he thought agreed with him. Nixon’s approval rating had been hovering around 50 percent (and was 56 percent at the time of the speech) but after invoking the notion that most people agreed with him, his support immediately jumped to 68 percent. Since nothing else happened to explain the change, it seems reasonable to believe that people have a need to identify with the majority if a politician claiming something to be the majority position increases his approval rating by 12 points almost overnight.