Some Survey Results

By James Kwak

Here are the results of the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. (Here’s the Times article.)  A few observations:

1. When asked what the most important problem facing the country is (question 4), here are the winners:

  • Jobs: 27%
  • Economy: 25%
  • Other: 16%
  • Health Care: 13%
  • Budget Deficit: 4%
  • DK/NA: 4%

This shows the divide between the country, which cares about jobs, and the Washington punditocracy, which cares (or professes to care) about the deficit. Now, I’m not saying that something’s actual importance is a function of its perceived importance. Governing requires doing what’s best for the country, whether or not people realize it. But neither is it true to say that Americans are overwhelmingly concerned about the deficit. They’re not. And looking at the numbers, you would think most would favor increased spending or lower taxes to create jobs. Later on, though, when given that explicit question, we find a much smaller margin (47-45) in favor of jobs. This, of course, is largely an artifact of question design, so you can argue about which design is more relevant depending on what question you’re trying to answer.

2. On questions 6-10, Obama gets positive marks for foreign policy and terrorism, but negative marks for the economy, health care, and the deficit. This is what you would expect for a Republican president, not a Democratic one (with the possible exception of the deficit question, since Democrats are still seen as big spenders, the past two administrations notwithstanding). Probably the most likely explanation is that the last three are simply things that people are unhappy about in general; also, the economy and health care are issues where Obama faces disapproval both from the right and the left, for opposite reasons. Basically, we have a centrist president.

3. Only 8% of Americans think that “most members of Congress” deserve re-election. This, it seems to me, is one of those survey results that is inherently self-defeating. All of the Republican base should be happy with Republican Congressmen for successfully fighting off the Obama agenda. Many though not all Democrats no doubt blame the last year on the Republicans and should be reasonably happy with their Congressmen. And we know the vast majority of members of the House will be returned to office. So all this means is that people have an unfocused antipathy toward Congress as an institution.

4. When you ask if “homosexuals” should be allowed to serve in the military (page 24), people are in favor 59-29. When you ask about “gay men and lesbians,” you get 70-19. (If you follow up by asking about serving “openly,” the margin falls to 44-41 and 58-28, respectively.) Words matter.

20 responses to “Some Survey Results

  1. Not to be missed: John Stewart “The Daily Show” segement on Health

    Insurance Reform.

    Definitely don’t miss the interviews in Hawaii

    (where there is already “socialized” health care) –

    they are! (2:50 into the piece)

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-february-11-20

    10/the-apparent-trap

  2. It’s interesting that health care is so low on the list.

    Where are the survey results that have health care in the #1 or #2 positions?

    Maybe the reason so many people want jobs is because, without one, they have no health care.

  3. I still don’t understand how through the tremendous deficit spending from Reagan to Bush to Bush II that people *still think* that Republicans are fiscally conservative. Truly a testament to the power of marketing.

  4. http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-february-11-2010/the-apparent-trap is the correct link to click. Somehow yours got broken across line breaks, btraven. And yes, that clip is quite simply brilliant. $DEITY bless the Daily Show.

  5. Thanks for the polling results, James. It again reaffirms my faith in a political system which guarantees one vote per person, without regard to property, intelligence, education, or anything else. Perhaps things are actually better than they should be, given the qualifications of the electorate for choosing our elected leaders? In short order we may be free to choose between a charismatic opportunist sellout and a brain dead skirted twit. Is it my imagination or have our political choices become increasingly preposterous over the last ten, twenty, thirty years. What comes next, athletes and film stars? Porn queens? Talking heads? Community organizers? It’s enough to make one long for Al Gore.

  6. ItsDifferentThisTime

    “What is the MOST important problem facing the country?”
    Poor question design leads to poor interpretation of the results. The question forced respondents to pick ONE of four aspects of the same topic, the economy. Notice it did not even pose “passage of the health care ‘reform’ bill in Congress” as a possible answer. If you believe terrorists’ attempts to harm our country or our failing educational system or racial relations or the product of our propensity to breathe out is the MOST important problem, you were reduced to answering “Other.” However, if you believe the way politicians and certain vested interests have been and continue to totally screw up our country, you had four different aspects of the problem to choose from. If you are a sentient being, you realize the economy is an all encompassing term for jobs, health care, or the budget deficit. Certainly if you care about the economy and more specifically jobs, you are concerned about the crowding out of private investment and consumption by a government whose expenses exceeds its receipts by 76%.
    I’ve had many discussions regarding all of the above, and my observation is that if someone expresses concern about one, they express concern about one or more of the others. Don’t they teach statistics in law school, or at least require it as a prereq?

  7. The disparity of answers on homosexuals/lesbians is, of course, the sign of a poorly-designed survey, or a confused survey population. Hmmm. Per Converse, I think I go for confused.

  8. I have thought the middle income voter politically confused for many years. The general confusion slaps you in the face from the frightening to the farcial. What really put a face on it for me in recent years was the comment by a classy looking middle age lady waiting in line to get her money out of Indymac. She was adamant that the FDIC could take up to 99 years to pay her off.

    A few days ago I witnessed the farcial aspect getting a haircut . My town is relatively affluent and there were several geezers in the barber shop other than me The subject was Haiti and the problem of overbreeding. Two of the four people getting haircuts were dairymen with larger herds farming thousands of acres. All of us had an agricultural background. The consensus was that the US should force birth prevention or they get nothing from the US. Had the suggestion been a forceable government requirement against them they would all be screaming evil government and socialism. Rush Limbaugh definitely hit a nerve with these citizens. The average age was at least 70.

    In the era of total personal righteousness,I doubt national poll questions will ever reveal integrated personal views of voters. At best, isolated views only will tend to be revealed. What might be revealed is a simplistic view applicable to the single question, not an integrated personal view of the voter.

  9. DK/NA

    Diana Klein/New Amsterdam?

    ;)

  10. maynardGkeynes

    @ItsDifferentThisTime; It’s amazing that you are the only one (so far) to make the point that the methodology of this poll is hopelessly flawed, and obviously so. Who writes these questions? Do they have half a brain?

  11. Anti-incumbency may have stronger legs than posited in point #3. Already many incumbents have withdrawn. Also, if unemployment continues to fester, or if the economy double dips…

  12. We are indebted to James Kwak for giving us a paragon of sophistry: “the economy and health care are issues where Obama faces disapproval both from the right and the left, for opposite reasons. Basically, we have a centrist president.” Indeed, sir, +10 and -10 give us 0.
    You have convince the world that we have a centrist president, and indeed, the center of his attention is to increase the size ofthat part of the population in which the left has a stranglehold, the “parasitic population”, as every piece of economic legislation proves.
    The thesis is from,
    “Democrat’ Fatal Economic Assumption” at,
    http://www.robbingamerica.blogspot.com

    No sophistry there.

  13. God! I have a disease.
    I think people are worried about Jobs right now.
    They just went through a long screw up on the President’s and the legislator’s part with Health Care reform. It’s hard to know what’s going to come of it and Obama is having a Health Care meeting and it’s just going to bring head ache.
    Again, who cares about deficit when we need to get out of the recession?

  14. M. Pierce comments are reductionistic and vague, but the link is clear. The poll does not ask people to think beyond the most elementary level. But they are capable of reason beyond the most elementary level. If they do not do so it is for lack of leadership. The population is trapped in the illusion of security, and can only see one or two steps of lesser security. In reality, it is possible for this country to become very insecure. It would not be the political establishment that made it so, it would be the economic establishment, that owns the political establishment. It may take truly severe insecurity to usher in a time of real change to such things as our health care system, our tax code (throw out this one), our inefficient structure of government, etc. In trying to hang on to what one has, one often loses it. Time to take some risks.

  15. “Centrist president”. The MSM lives!

    Exactly by what measure is Obama’s corporatist, neoliberal, privatization-obsessed (and war-mongering) ideology “centrist”?

    Certainly not by historic Western measures, nor by the measure of American history. By either of these he’s pretty far to the Right.

    It’s long been pointed out how Obama is to the right of Nixon on most things, and to the left of him on almost nothing. Obama has basically taken over Reagan’s economic ideology wholesale. So Obama’s a “centrist” only if Reagan was a centrist.

    The same goes for specific economic issues. On health care poll after poll showed strong support among the people for the “public option” (if only they’d known it was a bait-and-switch scam). So if the measure of “centrist” is what the solid majority of the people want, Obama was a right-winger on that. (Of course the lying MSM called him and the Dog Democrats “moderates” and PO supporters “liberals”.)

    Same goes for the Bailout and coddling the banksters. Here I dare say Obama is Far Right.

  16. A quick note –

    While you’re right that governments regularly do “what is right for the country regardless of what the people think,” its hardly something to advocate. In fact, I think its a wonderful argument against government in the first place.

  17. ” In short order we may be free to choose between a charismatic opportunist sellout and a brain dead skirted twit. Is it my imagination or have our political choices become increasingly preposterous over the last ten, twenty, thirty years.”

    LOL and my thoughts exactly! Jake, no one has ever said it better! :)

  18. This poll at least shows the populace understands that curing the deficit in a nation where taxes are based on a starting point of gross personal income requires more jobs and a better economy. The deficit is properly last because the deficit does not stand in isolation. If you cut state payouts , the lost revenue to individuals must be made up by even more jobs and a an even greater improvement in the general economy. So, at least 52 % get some or most of the message. But what about the other apparently clueless 48 %?

  19. My fellow officers and I used to sit around our office between lectures, mocking the leading and simplistic phrasing of all the questions in media polls. After a while it becomes obvious that the people taking the polls don’t want meaningful data, or don’t credit the respondents with sufficient insight to provide such data.

    One possible reason why the answers diverged so much btwn those two questions: at least among people I know, it’s become a truism that government spending has a net negative multiplier on the productive sector of the economy because taxes / inflation / debt growth take money away from people who would otherwise direct that money toward improving their lives.

  20. “at least among people I know, it’s become a truism that government spending has a net negative multiplier on the productive sector of the economy because taxes / inflation / debt growth take money away from people who would otherwise direct that money toward improving their lives.”

    It is interesting that that has become a truism, because it is highly dubious. Yes, there is an argument for Ricardian Equivalence, but it is based upon unrealistic assumptions. Deficit spending puts money into people’s pockets now, that they can use to improve their lives. Whether it causes a tax burden or inflation in the future is uncertain, and the proposition that people lay money aside to pay for those potentialities is unproven. Certainly if you put poor people to work they will spend the money now.