I’ve been thinking about the array of polls from today and the conventional wisdom coming from the cable news people.
Bear with me on this. I’ve written before that if a pollster asks a typical American whether they’re generally liberal or conservative, Americans are typically less inclined to describe themselves as “liberal” because of the stigma attached to the word. This tends to make guys like Jon Meacham and others believe that America is “center right.”
But, in fact, when people are polled issue-by-issue, they tend to be more liberal. Americans are mostly pro-choice, pro-entitlements, pro-equality, etc.
This same dynamic can apply to the current polling results. Generally, polls are suggesting that people are worried about the deficit and government involvement in their lives. That leads cable news to suggest that public opinion is soft on government programs. But when asked about specific spending areas, Americans don’t want to really cut anything. They certainly don’t want to cut military spending, and both Social Security and Medicare enjoy massive support. And while it’s technically not “spending,” Americans say they support the public option.
So when these poll results go live — majority or super-majority support for the public option, for example — the very serious cable news people get all confused about what’s going on. Their job is to simplify as in: “most Americans are worried about deficits,” and the numbers prove a more complicated dynamic. Their ears tend to eject steam, Uncle Fester style, when they read about the unwaveringly strong support for a government insurance plan.
They probably won’t change, either. After all, explaining the contradiction between broader opinion and specific policy areas takes time away from Blagojevich interviews and wacky wedding videos.