Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
As someone trained in political science who has spent my entire adult life reading opinion polls and studies about polls, this report comes as no surprise to me. What I find hard to believe is how the media villagers waste so much time talking about their polls but never discuss the reason why their polls are crap: they test abstractions, not specifics.
Could it be because discussing this would undermine the Beltway media villager "conventional wisdom" that this is a center-right country? Abstractions produce the desired result for their "conventional wisdom." But specifics (reality) undermines their so-called "conventional wisdom."
Practice tip: one can always produce the desired result by how one frames the questions and limits options. This is how the media and their pollsters manipulate public opinion.
Ezra Klein posts today, Still true after 40 years: Voters prefer cuts in theory, spending in practice:
In 1967, the political scientists Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantrill wrote that Americans were “ideological conservatives” but “operational liberals.” What they meant was that when asked broad questions about how government should work and what it should do, voters responded like conservatives. But when asked operational questions about which programs should be cut and which services should be eliminated, they responded like liberals. Voters like big cuts and smaller government in theory, but they don’t want to actually cut anything in practice.
Forty years later, this observation is, in political science circles, utterly banal. But in Washington, D.C., it’s almost entirely ignored. Which brings me to a particularly amusing poll from the Hill newspaper today. Their headline is: ”Voters prefer GOP ideas on budget, but dislike the Republican Party”. My headline would be: “Voters prefer spending cuts in theory, spending in practice.”
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Here, then, is a more accurate summary of the poll. When asked whether they’d prefer a budget with huge spending cuts and a balanced budget to one with tax hikes and no balanced budget, voters say they’ll take the spending cuts, thanks. When asked whether they prefer spending cuts to tax hikes, voters say, again, they want the spending cuts. When asked whether they prefer the budget gets written by the party that support huge spending cuts or the party that supports tax hikes, they name the party that supports tax hikes. When asked whether Obamacare should be fully repealed, most voters say “no.” And finally, when asked if maybe we can just cut spending by getting rid of a piddling little program like White House tours, voters overwhelmingly say no.
There’s nothing to marvel at here. Voters have been like this since at least the 1960s. The wonder is that anyone still commissions polls asking Americans whether they support theoretical spending cuts and then trumpet the response as if it means something.
In February, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press decided to drill deeper. They asked Americans whether they’d like to increase, decrease, or simply sustain spending in 19 different areas. There was literally not one area — no, not even foreign aid — in which “decrease” won out over increase and sustain:
The past few years have been a war between conservatives who want to keep the budget debate at a high level of abstraction [bumper sticker slogans] and liberals who want to focus on the actual programs and services affected [specifics]. We saw that fight play out in the election, as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan fought to keep their tax plan vague, while the Obama administration fought to make the likely cuts to tax expenditures specific. We’ve seen it in each budget debate as the Obama administration tries to name the cuts implied by the Republican budget while the Republicans deny those cuts. We’ve seen it in the sequester, as the Republicans have embraced the theoretical approach of across-the-board cuts, but fought energetically against the one specific cut to get any attention — the White House tours, of all things. We’ve even seen it on entitlements, where Republicans swear that Medicare is the problem, but also run against the Obama administration’s Medicare cuts.
I have always resented that the media wastes so much time on their crappy polls instead of doing investigative journalism and hard reporting that might actually make a difference in people's lives.