A recent article from “Congressional news site” The Hill claims that voters are more likely to trust the Democratic Party than the Republican Party on budget matters, “even though a strong majority actually prefer Republican fiscal policies.”
Moreover, although the public allegedly favors $5 trillion in spending cuts (over an unspecified time frame!), it strongly opposes the recent cancelation of White House tours by a margin of about two-to-one.
We need to recognize, folks, that this is simply more gobbledygook from some media pollsters.
As I noted in an earlier blog about a similar poll from ABC and the Washington Post, general questions about balancing the budget and cutting programs tend to get a solid thumbs up from the public, but when it comes to specific programs, there is little public support for spending cuts.
ABC and the Post showed widespread support for across-the-board budget cuts, when no specific programs were mentioned. But when the poll asked respondents specifically if they supported cuts to the military, there was widespread opposition.
That’s the same formulation followed by The Hill poll. Its variation on the theme was to provide a very terse description of two approaches to dealing with the budget, which supposedly reflected the essence of the Republican and Democratic Parties’ approaches – without mentioning the parties. Here’s the awful way in which the question was asked:
“Prefer budget plan 1 with $1 Trillion in Tax Hikes & 100 Billion in cuts that does not balance budget or Plan 2 that does not raise taxes, cuts $5 trillion and balances budget?”
Imagine getting a call sometime, say, around dinner, when a person on the other end of the phone asks you which of those plans above do you prefer? Well, tax hikes certainly sound bad and not balancing the budget doesn’t sound good, but a plan that doesn’t raise taxes, cuts spending and balances the budget – hey, that sounds good to me!
Sure enough, the poll found 55% of respondents opting for plan 2 and just half that number, 28%, opting for plan 1.
In case it’s not clear, the Hill reporters interpret plan 1 as the Democratic approach; plan 2 as the Republican one.
What was not mentioned in the question is which programs were to be cut. The reason is clear: Ask about specific programs, and public support for cuts disappears. That’s what the recent Pew poll confirmed and what the latest findings from the General Social Survey continue to show.
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Pew reported that among 19 specific programs examined in the survey, not one elicited majority support for cutting. If the public supposedly supports $5 trillion in spending cuts, but doesn’t support cutting any major government program, there is certainly a major disconnect.
In fact, The Hill’s own poll found that disconnect, when it added this terse question:
“Budget constraints were recently cited as the reason for cancelling tours of the White House. Should those tours be resumed?”
By a margin of 54% to 28%, the public said “no.”
Had The Hill been willing to examine public opinion on cutting any other specific programs, the same disconnect would have been found.
Also, The Hill poll made no mention of what constitutes “tax hikes.” Not all tax hikes are the same. Despite public opposition to higher tax rates in general (except for the wealthy!), the public is more favorable toward closing loopholes for “wealthy Americans” and for “large businesses.” Republicans treat closing loopholes as tax hikes, which apparently the Hill poll did as well.
What about the Hill’s finding that voters are more likely to trust the Democrats than the Republicans when it comes to budget matters? The difference is small (just slightly larger than the margin of Obama’s victory over Romney) – 35% of voters say they trust the Democrats more, 30% the Republicans, and 34% neither.
As their own tables show, most Democrats and Republicans trust their respective parties, with large minorities of each not trusting either party. And a majority of “independents” trust neither party. It’s not “trust” that matters in the long run, but what the parties actually do.
We need to put warning signs on polls like this one from The Hill and the one from ABC/Washington Post: This poll is intended solely for your entertainment and should not be confused with any semblance of reality.