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Monday, March 11, 2013

Boehner misreads polls to claim support for GOP cuts

Greg Sargent:

John Boehner is promoting a new Marist-McClatchy poll which supposedly shows that Americans love cutting government spending. Boehner claims the poll shows that “Americans want spending cuts,” and quotes a Marist official asserting it demonstrates that Americans “are not in a mood to increase taxes.”

Which is funny, because the poll actually shows that majorities of voters would rather increase taxes than cut spending on education, Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and infrastructure. In other words, it demonstrates a central fact about public opinion that may help determine how the sequester “blame game” will play: Americans say they love cutting government but suddenly balk in a big way when you start talking about cutting specific programs.

The poll’s toplines do at first glance appear favorable to Republicans. It finds that voters prefer cutting spending to increasing taxes in general by 53-37. It finds that a plurality of Americans think spending cuts won’t impact them — and that as many think the cuts will help the economy or have no impact on it as think the cuts will hurt it.

But here’s the thing, that’s the result you always get — at least, when you aren’t specific about the cuts. People love spending cuts in the abstract, because they seem too think that half or money is overseas as foreign aid and the other half is wasted on dubious scientific studies about democracy in goldfish. But when it’s not just vague “wasteful spending,” government spending suddenly becomes very popular — which the Marist-McClatchy poll found. According to Sargent, “the poll took the welcome step — which I haven’t seen before — of asking whether Americans prefer tax hikes rather than cuts in specific programs.”


  • by 65-31 they prefer to raise taxes than cut spending on education
  • by 60-33 they prefer to raise taxes than cut Social Security
  • by 57-36 they prefer to raise taxes than cut Medicare
  • by 53-40 they prefer to raise taxes than cut spending for transportation including roads and bridges
  • by 50-42 they prefer to raise taxes than cut Medicaid

By using this poll to champion the GOP’s super-awesome stand on the sequester (i.e., let the cuts happen), Boehner is once again signing his caucus’s name to some unpopular cuts. And, of course, he’s making the mistake of pointing out exactly the sort of cuts Republicans are demanding. Worse, since he’s misusing poll numbers to misrepresent public support, he’s basically lying to you about what you believe. I’ll never understand why politicians believe that would work.

In any case, this is the GOP’s schizoid messaging on sequester cuts : if you don’t like them, they were Obama’s idea. But if you do like them, the Republican Party is responsible. As always, cognitive dissonance is no impediment to the resourceful Republican spin doctor.

[photo via Gage Skidmore]

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