How a Wall Street Journal Poll Manipulated Respondents into Supporting Government Cuts
You probably already know the key details of the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll:
Less than a quarter of Americans support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare to tackle the country's mounting deficit, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, illustrating the challenge facing lawmakers who want voter buy-in to alter entitlement programs....
Amid the union protests in Wisconsin, the poll found that 62% of Americans oppose efforts to strip unionized government workers of their rights to collectively bargain, even as they want public employees to contribute more money to their retirement and health-care benefits....
But on the subject of deficits and debt, I want to point something odd in the survey. (Click on "Documents" at the link for details.) Question 23 asks respondents,
If the deficit cannot be eliminated solely by cutting wasteful federal spending, which one of these steps would you most favor--(ROTATE) cutting important programs, raising taxes, or postponing elimination of the deficit?
"Cutting programs" wins, but barely -- it's at 35%, with "raising taxes" at 33%.
But then four questions later, respondents are asked this again. What happens in the interim? They're presented with 26 deficit-cutting recommendations -- 23 of which involve spending cuts, and only 3 of which involve tax increases. Respondents are asked about cuts to Medicare several different ways; they're not only asked about cuts to Medicaid and Social Security and defense but about cuts to the EPA and heating assistance and funding for the health care law. It's cut, cut, cut. Taxes are barely mentioned.
And then what happens? The respondents are asked again:
Having discussed all this some more, which one of these steps would you most favor to deal with the federal deficit--(ROTATE) cutting important programs, raising taxes, or postponing elimination of the deficit?
And what do you know? Support for program cuts goes up (35% to 37%). Support for tax increases goes down (33% to 29%).
Lesson conveyed. Lesson learned.
I'm not Nate Silver, but I've really never seen a respectable (i.e., non-push) poll that did something like this. But I guess this is the kind of push-polling the Beltway approves of. The Beltway thinks the American people need to be taught to accept "shared sacrifice" (i.e., sacrifice disproportionately by the non-wealthy). People who took out bad mortgages (and people who never did) ought to suffer as much as the crack dealers who sold them and invested in them (never mind the fact that those people have never suffered and never will).
The Journal write-up of the poll reinforces the message:
... Republican Bill McInturff ... who conducted the survey [with Democrat Peter Hart], ... called the poll "a huge flashing yellow sign for Republicans on how much preparation will be needed if they propose to change Social Security and Medicare." ...
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican House whip, said his party needs "to have a conversation with people" before moving forward on jarring changes to federal entitlement programs....
No talking, class. No chewing gum. You need to be schooled.