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Polls And The Public: What To Do When The Public Is Wrong

There’s been a fair amount of consistency in national polls in recent months. Americans like higher taxes for the wealthy, dislike radical changes to Medicare, and don’t want the debt ceiling to be raised.

Despite Obama administration warnings that failing to do so would devastate the economy, a clear majority of Americans say they oppose raising the debt limit, a new CBS News/New York Times poll shows.

Just 27 percent of Americans support raising the debt limit, while 63 percent oppose raising it.

Eighty-three percent of Republicans oppose raising the limit, along with 64 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats. Support for raising the debt limit is just 36 percent among Democrats, and only 14 percent among Republicans.

Seven in ten who oppose raising the debt limit stand by that position even if it means that interest rates will go up.

These results were published yesterday, but they’re practically the same as related polling data in other surveys dating back quite a while.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth: policymakers simply must ignore them. The public has no meaningful understanding of what the debt ceiling is, what happens if interest rates go up, or the global economic consequences of a potential default. It’s quite likely Americans perceive the question as a poll on whether or not they want a higher debt.

This is one of those classic dynamics in which responsible policymakers realize that they know more about the subject matter than the public at large, so they have to do the right thing, even if the uninformed find it distasteful — knowing that the disaster that would follow would be far more unpopular.

Put it this way: what if the poll had asked, “Would you rather raise the debt ceiling or risk a global economic catastrophe and massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare?” The results, I suspect, might have turned out differently.

Or maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The public is wrong, and Americans need sensible leaders to do the right thing, even if they’re confused about what that is.

Now, I can hear some of you talking to your monitor. “Oh yeah, smart guy?” you’re saying. “The polls also show Americans hate the Republican budget plan. If the public’s confusion on the debt limit should be ignored, maybe the public’s attitudes on eliminating Medicare and gutting Medicaid should be disregarded, too.”

Nice try, but no. Here’s the thing: folks know what Medicare and Medicaid are. They have family members who benefit from these programs, or they benefit from the programs themselves. It’s not an abstraction — these are pillars of modern American life, and institutions millions of come to rely on as part of a safety net.

The point is, polls only have value if the electorate understands what they’re being asked. The debt ceiling is a phrase the public has barely heard, and doesn’t understand at all. That doesn’t apply to Medicare in the slightest.

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly, Political Animal, April 22, 2011

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Democrats, Economy, Elections, GOP, Independents, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Public, Public Opinion, Republicans, Social Security, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republicans’ 2012 Slogan: It’s Anything But The Economy, Stupid

The GOP has turned one of the most effective slogans in American political history on its head. The Republican rallying cry for 2012 will be “Anything but the economy, stupid.” Let’s see how that works out for them next year.

Last year Republican leader John Boehner promised Americans that his party’s priority would be fixing the economy and creating jobs if voters gave the GOP control of the House of Representatives. Republican House candidates echoed their leader’s call to focus on the economy like a laser beam. This year, they have done almost everything but. Two of the first three bills introduced by House Republicans at the start of the 112th Congress in January were designed to take away a woman’s right to choose. One of them, H.R. 3, would have allowed abortion only in cases of “forcible” rape. Like there’s some other kind.

Then there was the battle in the first week of April that almost led to the shutdown of the U.S. government and the end of all programs to create jobs. What was the GOP hang-up on waiting till the last hour to avoid the debacle? Concern that the budget wasn’t doing enough to create jobs? No. The issue that the GOP pushed in the negotiations until the very end was defunding programs at Planned Parenthood designed to limit the number of abortions.

But that’s not all Republicans are doing to create jobs. Tuesday, Speaker Boehner hired a lawyer at $520 an hour to defend an unconstitutional law, the Defense of Marriage Act. The law passed in 1994 defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. President Obama wisely decided not to waste any money defending the law because it’s clearly unconstitutional. The 10th Amendment reserves the power to regulate marriages to the states. So much for wasteful government spending and states’ rights. But at least the GOP has created one good paying job.

Meanwhile, the religious right is busy attacking a conservative potential GOP presidential candidate, Mitch Daniels. He is the governor of Indiana and former director of the Office of Management and Budget. Daniels angered religious conservatives because he had the nerve to say economic issues are more important than social issues. The religious right feels anyone like Daniels who short changes social issues is either a heretic, a lunatic, or both. Yes, the Taliban wing of the Republican Party believes that persecuting gays is more important than creating jobs.  Good luck trying to sell that message to the millions of Americans who are one paycheck away from bankruptcy. If they are lucky enough to have a paycheck.

When Republicans go down to ignominious defeat in 2012, they will have only themselves to blame.

By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and Worl Report, April 21, 2011

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government Shut Down, Jobs, Planned Parenthood, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters, Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Grover Norquist’s “Sharia Tax Law” Causing The GOP To Rethink It’s “Pledge”?

Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, has had the good sense to demand an end to the $5 billion annual tax credit to makers of corn ethanol, a wasteful subsidy to farm states that is also dubious environmental policy. For his outspokenness, Senator Coburn was pilloried by anti-government activists of his own party who cannot stand the idea of more revenues flowing into the federal Treasury. But he and a few others in the Senate are holding fast, suggesting that at least some Republicans are willing to break with party orthodoxy to reduce the long-term budget deficit.

The loudest criticism came from Grover Norquist, whose group, Americans for Tax Reform, is the author of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge that has become a sacred covenant for virtually anyone wishing to run as a Republican. More than 95 percent of the Republicans in Congress have signed it (including Senator Coburn), as have many Republican governors and state lawmakers.

The pledge is often thought of as an agreement never to vote for raising taxes for any reason, but it goes even further than that. Those who sign it also vow never to eliminate any tax deductions or credits (like the handout to ethanol makers), unless the resulting increase in revenues is offset, dollar for dollar, by further tax cuts.

The pledge is really less about keeping taxes low than it is about holding down government revenues, which prevent the growth of government services. Mr. Norquist has famously said his goal is to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Mr. Norquist can afford to be candid about his fierce aversion to government services, since he does not have to run for office with the votes of people who like those services. The Republican lawmakers who have joined his congregation, however, are less forthright about the effect of their policies. They go around lulling constituents with phony mantras like “Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem,” as if cutting spending is the only conceivable solution to lowering the deficit.

This purity finally ran into a tough-minded pragmatist in Senator Coburn. Though his zeal to eliminate many worthy government programs is still excessive, he is right to see the wastefulness in the ethanol giveaway — and the extremism of Mr. Norquist’s position. Senator Coburn’s spokesman has even described Mr. Norquist as “the chief cleric of Sharia tax law.”

Senator Coburn is also a member of the “gang of six” senators that has been trying to find a bipartisan way to reduce the nation’s debt. He and the two other Republicans in the group, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Michael Crapo of Idaho, say they are opposed to raising tax rates but hope to rewrite the tax code in a way that brings in more revenue by eliminating many unnecessary tax breaks and broadening the tax base.

That, at least, represents the beginning of a useful conversation. It could very well mean that the rich would pay more in taxes. Which is why Mr. Norquist, in full grand-inquisitor style, has demanded that Senator Coburn drop out of the gang.

His influence, happily, seems to be on the wane. The three senators have reminded Mr. Norquist that their highest oath is not to him or some abstract pledge, but to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, April 21, 2011

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Tax Credits, Taxes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Remember The Health-Care Reform Debate?: How The Landscape Has Changed

As a participant in the great health-care wars of 2010, it’s been — I don’t know: Amusing? Depressing? Annoying? Vindicating? — to watch Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget run over every principle or concern that Republicans considered so life-or-death a mere 400 days ago. A partial list:

Big changes need to be bipartisan changes. “The only bipartisanship we’ve seen on [the health-care] bill is in opposition to it,” said Eric Cantor, now the House majority leader. “When the stakes are this high – reforming 20 percent of the U.S. economy – there must be constructive conversations and negotiations from Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress,” wroteformer representative Tom Davis. The Ryan budget, which is unquestionably a more ambitious document than the Affordable Care Act, passed the House with no Democratic votes and four Republicans voting no. The only thing bipartisan was the opposition, etc. This appears to have given no Republicans anywhere any pause.

Polls matter. In March 2010, John Boehner was very, very upset that Democrats were working to pass a health-care law that a slight plurality opposed in polls. “President Obama made clear he is willing to say and do anything to defy the will of the people and force his job-killing health care plan through Congress,” he thundered. Last week, Speaker Boehner and the Republicans passed Ryan’s budget. How do its elements poll? Much, much worsethan the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts will devastate hospitals! Last fall, Ryan’s health-policy guru was saying,“The official Medicare actuaries have determined that approximately 15 percent of hospitals will be driven out of business in less than ten years if these cuts go through and called the cuts ‘clearly unworkable and almost certain to be overridden by Congress.’” Now those same cuts are in Ryan’s budget. C’est la vie, I guess (that’s French for “only Democratic cuts hurt hospitals”).

The Affordable Care Act’s savings don’t begin quickly enough! When the tax on expensive employer-provided insurance plans was pushed back to 2018, conservatives were outraged. “The odds are high that the excise tax will never actually happen,” wrote David Brooks. “There is no reason to think that the Congress of 2018 will be any braver than the Congress of today.” It was a fair argument: Cost savings that begin in the future are less certain than cost savings that begin now. So when does, say, Ryan’s voucherization of Medicare begin? Not 2012. And no, it’s not 2018. It’s 2022.

There’s no reform in the Affordable Care Act. “It would take Sherlock Holmes armed with the latest GPS technology and a pack of bloodhounds to find ‘reform’ in the $2.5 trillion version of the health-care bill we are supposed to vote on in the next few days,” then-Sen. Judd Gregg wrote. But apparently Holmes got his iPhone out, because now the Affordable Care Act is chock-full of reforms. In fact, it’s the model Republicans are following. “It’s exactly like Obamacare,” Sen. John Cornyn saidof the Ryan plan. “It is. It’s exactly like it.” And he meant that as a compliment!

The Congressional Budget Office will score anything you tell it to. “Garbage in, garbage out,” Sen. John McCain said. “Can you really rely on the numbers that the Congressional Budget Office comes out with?” asked Fox’s Steve Doocy. Now, of course, Republicans are touting CBO’s estimates of Ryan’s savings.

First, “do no harm.” That was former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s big applause line. “Republicans want reform that should, first, do no harm, especially to our seniors,” he wrote in The Washington Post. Cantor said the Affordable Care Act would “cut Medicare for our seniors and increase premiums for many Virginians.” Say what you will about Ryan’s budget, but going from paying 25-30 percent of your Medicare costs to 70 percent cuts your Medicare while increasing your premiums. Steele also said that “we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of ‘health-insurance reform.’ ” Instead, it’s getting cut in the name of tax cuts. To be fair, Ramesh Ponnuru saw this one coming, so I can’t say conservatives were denying it at the time.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple, but that’s what the comment section is for. The natural next question is whether Democrats have been similarly hypocritical in their opposition to Ryan’s plan. So far as I can tell, we’ve not seen it: Democrats think the plan puts too much of a burden on the backs of seniors and the poor — two things they worried about constantly during the Affordable Care Act — and cuts too many taxes for the rich. They also note that the Congressional Budget Office says privatizing Medicare will make it more expensive — the same finding that led to liberal advocacy for a public option. But if I’m missing something here, I imagine it, too, will come up in comments.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 21, 2011

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Public Option, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Single Payer | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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