Political Animal


September 06, 2011 9:25 AM Voters still side with Dems’ economic agenda

By Steve Benen

There are three new national polls out this morning — Washington Post/ABC, NBC/Wall Street Journal, and Politico/GW — and they largely point in the same direction. President Obama’s approval rating continues to fall, and is now in the low-to-mid 40s; Republicans are even more unpopular; and the American mainstream is deeply frustrated and pessimistic.

But since all of that’s rather predictable, let’s instead look at something a little more interesting: public attitudes on policy agendas.

The NBC/WSJ poll (pdf) was of particular interest on this front, asking respondents:

“President Obama is expected to outline a jobs plan in the coming weeks. I’m going to read some different proposals that could be considered by the president. For each one please tell me if you think this proposal is a good idea, a bad idea, or do you not know enough about it to have an opinion.”

The most popular idea was having the government pay for unemployed workers to train at private companies. Funding a new road construction bill also enjoyed strong support. Though the polls weren’t quite as one sided, pluralities also backed an extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.

Politico’s poll asked a similar question about “a large scale federally subsidized nationwide construction program putting Americans back to work building roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals.” A 51% majority favored the idea, while only 21% opposed it.

When President Obama presents his jobs agenda on Thursday, it’s likely those who tune in will approve of his ideas.

At the same time, the NBC/WSJ poll also asked about various approaches to deficit reduction, with similar results. Ending Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy enjoyed strong support; cutting spending without new revenue was very unpopular. The idea with the least amount of support? Cutting Medicare.

For all the talk about the center-right nation, and for all of the president’s troubles in the polls, most of the public is still on board with what Democrats are proposing, and have no use for what the GOP is selling.

Of course, the challenge is capitalizing on this — Republicans to date haven’t much cared whether their tactics are popular or not.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Johnny Canuck on September 06, 2011 9:33 AM:

    For all the talk about the center-right nation, and for all of the presidentís troubles in the polls, most of the public is still on board with what Democrats are proposing, and have no use for what the GOP is selling.

    This is what you would expect from a center right nation. The problem is the Republican Party is no longer center right but far edge of extreme right. The problem for those who think they are left is they refuse to accept so much of the electorate voted in 2010 for extremism and that Obama really has to keep close to the center to have any leverage.

  • DAY on September 06, 2011 9:40 AM:

    "The most popular idea was having the government pay for unemployed workers to train at private companies."

    - ooh, goody! Another student loan scam in the making.

    (Good jobs guaranteed for graduates of Day's Dowsing Academy. . .)

  • c u n d gulag on September 06, 2011 9:45 AM:

    You can't fool me.
    I'm not enrolling because I've heard that your Dowsing Academy is barely keeping its head above water.

  • c u n d gulag on September 06, 2011 9:47 AM:

    And it's Rush's, Drudges', and FOX's mission to popularize the unpopular, and unpopularize the popular.

    Propaganda's hard work, but the pay's great!

  • Danp on September 06, 2011 9:52 AM:

    having the government pay for unemployed workers to train at private companies.

    There are so many clever ways to give money to corporations. And they are all really so anti-competition. Ugh!

  • bleh on September 06, 2011 9:58 AM:

    Ah, well then, this should finally give the WH clarity on how to proceed, both for Obama's speech and afterwards.
    -- Start by ceding several basic principles and arguments without a fight.
    -- Continue by negotiating with yourself, and by offering to meet as-yet unaddressed opponents halfway.
    -- Once in actual negotiations, concede further, in the interests of comity, to demonstrate good will, and in the hope that the Republicans will reciprocate.
    -- Wrap it all up in wonkish policy-speak that is overly detailed, barely comprehensible to those familiar with the issues, and utterly opaque to average voters.
    -- Go out with a whimper, not a bang.
    -- Immediately thereafter, take a loss due to some juvenile but entirely foreseeable Republican low-blow.

  • walt on September 06, 2011 9:59 AM:

    I expect President Half Loaf to thread the needle on Thursday, which won't make the Villagers happy since he simply didn't concede the entire field in advance. Tsk! Too partisan!

    Most people don't live in real cities in America. They live in suburbs with few if any public spaces that could serve as a demonstration-drome. Unless they're are massive demonstrations, our fate is sealed. It's amazing to think how 98% of Americans are content to let this right-wing mugging continue without even a murmur of dissent.

  • stormskies on September 06, 2011 10:01 AM:

    This is about what average Americans want and need. The problem of course is that we no longer have a government that represents the people. We have a Congress and a Senate who represent the corporate interests, the interests of the rich.

  • jjm on September 06, 2011 10:19 AM:

    But corporate media is PUSHING the GOP agenda so hard it makes my head spin.

    One question for them, though: do all the petty individual agendas of all the lobbying corporations add up to a whole? Does a complete hodge podge or patchwork of specialized interests add up to a nation? Not to mention that corporations are just notoriously bad about running anytning larger than their own patch, no matter how big an octopus they become, they can't hack it.

    I wonder why they want so much power? Perhaps they are as insane as the Koch Brothers who told a conclave of wealthy political donors that they had to defeat Obama, whom Charles Koch called "Saddam Hussein" in a new "Mother of All Wars."

    Why? because he might actually implement policies the PEOPLE LIKE, rather than the crazed Koch John Birch agenda.

  • Rip on September 06, 2011 10:21 AM:

    What polls tend to indicate is that a sizable chunk of voters want the government to spend money creating jobs as long as you don't call it a stimulus while simultaneously reigning in government spending without significant budget cuts.

    The majority of Americans don't really have a grasp of what the federal government spends revenue on and in what proportion. They don't even really understand how Social Security and Medicare work.

    It is no wonder so many are subject to contradictory and magical thinking when it comes to the government's role in the economy.

  • skeptonomist on September 06, 2011 10:34 AM:

    Sorry, elections are not decided by polls. Money controls political advertising and the media (the media get most of their money from advertising), and at election time the issues before the public will not be those on which the public favors liberal positions. Politicians know this, but it does not seem to have penetrated to liberal bloggers.

  • square1 on September 06, 2011 10:47 AM:

    Yes, Americans support the traditionally Democratic agenda. No, they do not support President Obama's job performance.

    The best thing that could happen for the party and the country would be for President Obama to step aside and let the party nominate a replacement that is not bogged down by President Obama's pro-austerity track record.

    Let President Obama be what he is: A figure who embodies America's historical shift forward, culturally and politically, on race issues. And let us stop expecting or hoping for him to be what he is clearly not: a strong advocate for a politically popular liberal agenda.

    Without Obama stepping aside, it will be extremely unlikely that we will see competitive Democratic primaries in 2012.

    Sadly, my prediction is that by the time that it becomes patently obvious that he cannot win re-election, it will be too late for the party to rally around a new standard-bearer.

  • Harun Magnuson on September 06, 2011 10:50 AM:

    Iím sure 84% of Americans approved of the Declaration of Independence (as a general policy issue). But it took a steely-eyed leader, Valley Forge and countless sacrifices to make it happen. We donít have that with this administration.

  • cfm on September 06, 2011 10:53 AM:

    Interesing that NBC/WSJ poll was people who are CELL PHONE ONLY. What possible demographic selector is that?

  • rrk1 on September 06, 2011 11:55 AM:

    The Rethugs don't care about what's popular or not. They want the power to impose a form of corporate fascism on the country. The real problem is that the Democrats also don't seem to care much about what's popular and what's not even though they weakly mouth some traditional Democratic policies. The Democrats have been either bought by corporate campaign contributions, or are frightened to death of their own shadows.

    Worst of all is that we have a president who was elected as a Democrat (with a huge mandate) who has behaved like a corporatist, right-wing Republican. He doesn't deserve a second term, and should announce he's not running. One gets the feeling that he's tired, and has had enough.

    There must be someone somewhere brave enough to speak out for the middle-class, and the underclass. Very few in office do.

  • Davis X. Machina on September 06, 2011 11:59 AM:

    We will find out in a little over a year whether you can fight and win an election on a platform of "Help us get that awful Negro out of the White House, and then we can talk about jobs and stuff".

  • chopin on September 06, 2011 12:07 PM:

    Republicans AND DEMOCRATS to date haven't much cared whether their tactics are popular or not.

    There. Fixed it for you.

  • square1 on September 06, 2011 12:43 PM:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    The next election, like pretty much every Presidential election involving an incumbent, will be a referendum on the incumbent. Unless the GOP nominates someone that is, per se, unacceptable to a majority of voters, the GOP will win. History would suggest that neither Perry nor Romney, the presumptive favorites, are unelectable.

    Someone in comments once crafted an apt analogy to describe our two-party election system: Voters act like people who walk into a dark room. They flick the switch to turn the lights on. And if nothing happens, they flick the switch back.

    You can debate till the cows come home whether it is rational behavior. But President Obama was elected to do a job. And if the voters perceive that he isn't doing it, they will vote for someone else. If Democrats offered voters a choice in a primary, the voters might stick with Democrats. But if the only option is a Republican, then the voters will flick the switch and hope for the best.

  • microsrfr on September 06, 2011 1:17 PM:

    Whatever happened to striving for the common good. We have all the markers of a failing empire -- overextended financially and militarily, destruction of our middle class, failure to respond to depletion of our primary energy source and a dysfunctional federal government. Time to pull in the fangs and work together constructively while there is still time. Address the underlying causes of our demise -- falling worker purchasing power due to outsourcing, automation, dependence on imported oil and runaway healthcare costs.

    Some recommended solutions -- higher tariffs, four day work weeks and Medicare for all.

    Do nothing and we will see the collapse of the world economy and the rise of a new age of demagogues.

  • Roddy McCorley on September 06, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Voters still side with Dems' economic agenda

    Now if we can just get the Democratic Party to side with that agenda, we might have something...

  • scienceisreal on September 06, 2011 2:50 PM:

    The Democrats have a record of introducing legislation that is popular with the American people, then not communicating what is in that legislation. The Republicans have managed the opposite, they introduce legislation that is unpopular, but manage to trick the American people into supporting it by keeping them misinformed. Example, the PPACA ("Obamacare"). Among people who are familiar with the bill, it has very strong support. Among those who are misinformed, it has weak support. KFF paper 8148 shows this. Respondents were asked questions about the PPACA in order to determine their level of knowledge of the bill, and then asked whether or not they support the bill. Among those with high knowledge, there was almost universal support, while the most misinformed broadly rejected the bill.

  • Doug on September 06, 2011 3:10 PM:


    I disagree that Obama's low approval ratings mean an easy win for the GOP. I think there are many, many people like me out there: true Progressives, who when polled, say that we disapprove of the job Obama's been doing because he's acting like a moderate conservative, if not a true conservative.

    But who are we going to vote for in the next election? It's not going to be Romney, and sure as he77 isn't going to be any of the Bachman/Perry/Palin wingnuts.