By James Kwak
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.