Right Thinking From The Left Coast
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. - Albert Einstein

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Why Polls Mean Dick, Part 795

A number of Debt Deniers—hmm, it’s nice to thrown their own verbiage at them—are crowing about this poll:

Despite growing concerns about the country’s long-term fiscal problems and an intensifying debate in Washington about how to deal with them, Americans strongly oppose some of the major remedies under consideration, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey finds that Americans prefer to keep Medicare just the way it is. Most also oppose cuts in Medicaid and the defense budget. More than half say they are against small, across-the-board tax increases combined with modest reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits. Only President Obama’s call to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans enjoys solid support.

78% oppose cutting Medicare.  69% oppose cutting Medicaid.  56% oppose cutting defense (you won’t hear the left talk about that one, however).  72% favor raising taxes on the successful.

A few things:

1) The critics are being very selective.  When you pair tax hike with cuts to entitlements, support rises to 45%.  This is why I think a grand bargain, a la Simpson-Bowles, will be the eventual resolution.

2) This is not really new information.  We’ve seen polls like this before that show the only spending cuts people really want is foreign aide.  We’ve also seen governors and nations cut spending drastically, become extremely unpopular in the immediate aftermath but then regain popularity when people realize the budget problem has been fixed.  The budget fixes of the 90’s weren’t popular either.

3) We are not a democracy.  Polls mean nothing.  Yes, I know the GOP cited polls in opposing Obamacare (and I dinged them for it then).  But the Left is living in a glass house.  They chose to ignore the polls last year on Obamacare.  Now polls suddenly mean everything.  It is always thus in politics: when polls support you, they’re intensely important; when they oppose you, they mean nothing.  I’ve always said polls mean nothing, because…

4) What this polls tells me is that many Americans are still in denial.  We simply can’t balance the budget without taking on entitlements.  Left unattended, Medicare and Medicaid will eventually consume 10-15% of the GDP by 2050, at least.  Social Security will consume another 10-15%.  Taxes will go up on everyone—and massively—to pay for that.  As for “taxing the rich”, raising taxes on the rich will not solve our debt problems, as we have demonstrated about a million times.  You would have to raise them to nearly 100% just to balance the budget today.  And that’s under a static assumption that thinks the rich will continue to work and earn money when the government is taking all the marginal income.  (Or under magical liberal thinking, were taking all the rich’s money mystically spurs the economy.) Even Obama’s own projections—with his fantasyland Medicare cost controls, tax hikes on the successful and a booming economy—still leaves us tens of trillions of dollars in the hole.  If you don’t believe me, believe him.  Even under the most optimistic liberal assumptions, the budget problem does not solve.

Of course, we could cut entitlement spending in other ways—such as eliminating the doc fix to Medicare and enforcing price controls on prescription drugs.  This will improve the financial situation ... by chasing doctors out of the Medicare system and making sure no new expensive medications hit the market.  This is assuming the government has the courage to enact such controls, a courage it has demonstrated ... um, never.  You could also believe—as many liberals do—in the magical power of government to deliver better healthcare for less money, this being a power it has a demonstrated ... um, never.

The only information contained in this poll is that 80% of American do not understand the nature of the problem we face.  That’s a massive fail by the GOP and our media.  We need more people playing with balanced budget calculators of any kind so that they can see firsthand what kind of challenges we face.  It also demonstrates the political risks the GOP are taking in attacking the debt issue in realistic terms.

But as for informing policy?  I’d sooner decide policy by sheep entrails.

Update: I want to put this as bluntly as a I can.  No one—no one who is serious about the debt is denying the need to control health care costs.  From the leftiest liberal to the rightiest conservative, all of the serious pundits and politicians know that entitlements are the problem.  They disagree about how to address this.  Liberals think that more government control will make the system more efficient.  Conservatives believe that market forces will bring costs down.  But fundamentally all serious players in this debate know where the money is.

If anyone cites this poll as a reason to oppose the GOP plan, you know that they are fundamentally unserious about the debt.  Because this poll reflects a mentality that is unserious about debt.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 04/20/11 at 01:51 PM in Politics Law, & Economics • Permalink


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