Barack Obama is said to believe that he can win the political fight over the sequester. That's certainly the conventional wisdom.
And there is some evidence to support it. When you ask voters who will be to blame if the sequester occurs, Obama or "congressional Republicans," they're much more likely to say they'll blame the latter.
Obama also comes out on top when you ask whether they will blame "Obama and congressional Democrats" or "congressional Republicans."
There's reason to wonder, however, whether reaction after something happens will be the same as what people predict before it does.
Voters are not always good predictors of their future attitudes. That's why pollsters ask people which candidate they would vote for "if the election were held today." They don't ask them to predict whom they'll vote for.Also, groups of politicians are almost always more unpopular than individuals. When pollsters ask whether you would like to see all congressional incumbents defeated for re-election, large majorities sometimes say yes.
But in every congressional election starting with 1934, a large majority of congressional incumbents have been re-elected. That was true even in the recent high-turnover years of 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Americans don't like congressmen in general. But most like their own individual congressman.
Voters' predictions are especially suspect when they are asked their reaction to a policy -- the sequester -- which they don't understand and whose effects no one is sure of.
Obama is out on the hustings with his teleprompter warning of the horrific effects of the sequester's cut in domestic services. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been warning that there may be three-hour lines at airport passenger screening points.
This is the old Washington Monument routine. As Washington Monthly editor Charlie Peters explained in the 1970s, the standard procedure for an agency faced with a funding cutback is to cut the services most visible to the public.
In Washington tourism season, that meant closing the Washington Monument. Congressmen from all 435 districts are likely to get angry calls from constituents immediately.
The Washington Monument is now closed for repair of earthquake damage. But Napolitano's threat is an obvious example of the phenomenon Peters described.
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