Poll: When In Doubt, Blame Republicans

Posted: Feb 21, 2013 1:57 PM

General rule of thumb, guys: No matter what the facts may demonstrate, it's probably Republicans' fault.  According to Pew Research, a plurality (49 percent) of Americans want Congress to delay the automatic spending cuts scheduled to kick in one week from tomorrow.  Forty percent say the cuts should move forward as planned.  If no deal is struck, almost half of those polled are prepared to pin the blame on Congressional Republicans, while less than a third would point the finger at the president:

This is a great gig, if you can get it.  You conceive of a bad idea, demand that it be given the force of law, sign it into existence, and adamantly oppose efforts to alter or undo it -- then when it no longer serves your fleeting political purposes, you drop the whole thing in the lap of your adversaries, and most people buy it.  Let's face it: Average people don't know what sequestration is, what it would do, or why it even exists.  If they were briefed on the very basics, these numbers would probably shift a bit, but most Americans have no appetite for following Washington's endless political brinksmanship.  So what do they do when a pollster calls to ask about the latest impending crisis?  They use shortcuts.  Although he's not especially popular, the president is viewed much more favorably than Republicans in Congress these days.  Between this reality and the supine posture of his battered-spouse media supporters, Obama occupies the public opinion high ground in most of these battles, even before he begins his tendentious bullying.  On broad and intuitive issues like guns and Obamacare, his powers of persuasion are limited.  But on easily-demagogueable budget minutiae with baffling names like "sequestration," a lot of people don't quite understand what's going, nor do they really want to know.  So they pick the guy they like better.  And if they're choosing between a recently re-elected president who smiles and jokes on that show they like, and faceless Republicans who always seem to be the bad guys in these standoffs, the choice is pretty easy.  Until Republicans aggressively and effectively engage in the messaging battle, their approval ratings will remain in the gutter.  And as long as their brand is in the gutter, Obama will benefit by default.  On the bright side, Jim Geraghty notes that the president's support is a mile wide and an inch deep:

With Obama at a 51 percent job approval but in the low to mid-40s in his handling on most issues, discussion of the president should note that a certain segment of the population likes him, personally, a lot more than his policies. Chalk it up to his appearances in non-political programming like The View, The Tonight Show, and ESPN, or chalk it up to the happy images of him spending time with Michelle and his daughters. Obama is a lot more effective at getting people to like him than persuading them.  

Pew's data bears this out, as does Gallup's recent issue-by-issue survey.  Even on the larger question of deficit reduction (on which Obama gets especially poor marks) public opinion should be relatively hospitable to the GOP position.  Pew is touting their finding that a large majority shares the president's "balanced approach" rhetoric; largely ignored is the 73 percent of of the public who say deficits should be curtailed using only or mostly spending cuts.  Just 19 percent of Americans share Democrats' obsession with the revenue side of the ledger:

Americans overwhelmingly believe that tackling deficits and debt represents an urgent priority, they believe the government has a spending problem, they strongly support across-the-board spending cuts, they oppose increased government "investments," and they lopsidedly disapprove of Barack Obama's handling of deficit-related issues.  But they also tend to side with Obama -- the man who's added nearly $6 trillion to the national debt during his presidency -- when these related fights play out.  Go figure.  Since we're on the topic of public opinion schizophrenia, I'll leave you with two data points on immigration.  They're...difficult to reconcile.  Reuters:

More than half of U.S. citizens believe that most or all of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants should be deported, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday that highlights the difficulties facing lawmakers trying to reform the U.S. immigration system...Thirty percent of those polled think that most illegal immigrants, with some exceptions, should be deported, while 23 percent believe all illegal immigrants should be deported. Only 5 percent believe all illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States legally, and 31 percent want most illegal immigrants to stay. These results are in line with other polls in recent years, suggesting that people's views on immigration have not changed dramatically since the immigration debate reignited in Congress last month  


At least two-thirds of Americans favor each of five specific measures designed to address immigration issues — ranging from 68% who would vote for increased government spending on security measures and enforcement at U.S. borders, to 85% who would vote for a requirement that employers verify the immigration status of all new hires. More than seven in 10 would vote for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now living in this country.

So the Reuters survey indicates that a majority favors deporting most or all illegal immigrants -- and that a whopping 84 percent support at least some deportations.  Yet Gallup's numbers point to broad support for an array of immigration reforms, including super-majority backing of a path to citizenship for most illegals.  Amidst this confusion, one certainty holds firm: If these illegals aren't deported and/or granted some form of amnesty, Republicans will surely be to blame.

UPDATE - Conn Carrol opines that the relative popularity of the president and Congressional Republicans is basically irrelevant to the sequestration debate.  And Allahpundit reviews the GOP's new (and not terrible) PR move on this front.