[Posted by Karl]
Public opinion polls are a surefire way for the establishment media to manufacture news — if not consent. The media, pundits, bloggers, etc., love polls because they seem to introduce a level of scientific precision into political analysis. While the underlying scientific theory of polling is generally sound, the practice is as much art as science. It is useful to occasionally look at a poll from that perspective.
If health care reform legislation does not get passed this year, who do you feel would be most to blame –– President Obama, the Democrats in Congress, or the Republicans in Congress?
The first notable aspect of the question is the use of the word “blame.” This poll is put together by a Democrat and a Republican, but the use of the word “blame” speaks volumes about how pervasive the Beltway mindset is. Had someone suggested the word “credit,” the problem would have been obvious to them.
I suspect that the attempted justification for using “blame” in this context would be that other polls show that people want healthcare reform in the abstract. But that merely raises a secondary question, i.e., how relevant are the poll questions that ask about the desirability of healthcare reform in the abstract. There are any number of issues where polling shows widespread opinion that there is a problem and no consensus regarding a solution, e.g., the federal deficit. Abstract questions on healthcare reform serve as a talking point for Democrats, but reveal nothing about public opinion in particular. Nor do they address the other polling that consistently shows widespread satisfaction with the status quo. In 1993-94, the latter sentiment defeated ClintonCare. As attitudes were slightly more anti-reform from the outset this year, why should anyone have taken the abstract question seriously?
The second notable aspect of the “blame” frame is that (ironically) it is not useful to Democrats. The Left has been busy for weeks and weeks trying to convince moderate Democrats that the failure of ObamaCare would be disastrous for the party in the 2010 midetrm elections. The math does not support their argument. Putting that inconvenient truth aside, if only 16% of adults will “blame” Democrats for ObamaCare’s failure, there is little incentive for moderates to vote for a scheme that may well be unpopular in their district or state.
On a related point, the WaPo’s Ezra Klein cherry-picked question 15 from this poll — showing the approval ratings for Pres. Obama versus Congressional Republicans on handling healthcare — to argue that the GOP strategy is “something of a kamikaze mission” that will ultimately make it impossible for any party to govern. Klein overlooks that question 15 does not bother to ask for an approval of Congressional Democrats on the issue, despite the fact that the legislation at issue is being drafted by them.
Klein also overlooks question 7, which asked respondents whether they would prefer to see next year’s elections result in a Congress controlled by Democrats or a Congress controlled by Republicans. The 48%-45% Democrat lead (among adults, not registered or likely voters) is the smallest lead in five years of this poll.
Klein further overlooks question 8, which asks people whether their representative deserves to be reelected, or whether it is time to give a new person a chance. That response — 40% reelect, 49% new person — is almost identical to the numbers the NBC/WSJ poll recorded in September 1994, just before the GOP tsunami swept Democrats from control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Then, as now, the GOP opposed the Democrats, and then governed Congress for a dozen years. They passed a lot of legislation that Klein probably opposed (not to mention some I opposed). Neither history nor the NBC/WSJ poll’s “blame” frame suggest anything suicidal in opposing the Obama agenda now.
The purpose here is not so much to beat up on Klein. Rather, it is to show that the establishment media to which he now belongs is often incapable of extracting itself from the left-leaning frames the media creates. They never resolve the cognitive dissonance created from their belief that the GOP will be “blamed” and suffer for opposing the Democrats’ nanny state agenda with the topline result of poll after poll showing the GOP being the (generally undeserving) beneficiary of increasing public opposition to that agenda.