But what strikes one voter as inauthentic might be a sign of intellectual flexibility to another. That's where a new study by David Barker and Christopher Carman suggests a way to predict which flips will bother which voters. The political scientists devised an experiment in which voters were asked to choose between these two hypothetical candidates' pitches:
Candidate A: "My only priority is working hard to SERVE the people in this district. I will be your MOUTHPIECE. . . . You see, I'm not so arrogant as to think I know better than you what's best for you. That's why I'll really LISTEN to you, and the folks in Washington are going to hear YOUR VOICE, for once."
Candidate B: "My only priority is working hard to DO WHAT'S RIGHT for the people in this district. I will be your ADVOCATE. . . . You see, I believe that leaders should LEAD, guided by firm PRINCIPLES that don't change every time the polls do. The folks in Washington are going to see what that looks like, for once."
These candidates represent a classic argument in political philosophy between the view of John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher who said that democratically elected officials should reflect constituents' views, and that of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born political thinker who argued that we elect representatives with strong values so they will follow their principles.
Voters who preferred Candidate B — Burke's view — responded much more negatively to candidates who changed their minds on issues, said Barker, director-designate of the Institute for Social Research at California State University at Sacramento. Those voters generally prefer conservative Republicans and are more likely to rely on religious faith to guide their political choices.
Voters who preferred Candidate A — Mill's view — were much more accepting of candidates who flipped on issues. These voters, mostly drawn to more liberal, Democratic candidates, tend to be more secular and believe that as the people's views shift, so should their leaders'.