Political Animal


November 03, 2011 8:30 AM Polling the ‘sabotage’ question

By Steve Benen

To one degree or another, the “sabotage” question has been generating some debate for about a year now. It is, admittedly, a provocative subject: are Republicans trying to hurt the nation’s economy on purpose, simply to undermine the Obama presidency?

Over the last few months, the charge has become more common and more mainstream, with the question being raised by leading officials in President Obama’s re-election team, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, and a growing number of pundits and political observers.

What we’ve lacked, however, is polling data. Are Americans actually prepared to believe that Republican officials care more about politics than the nation’s well being? Have we really reached the point at which voters see GOP leaders as willing to sabotage the country?

As best as I can tell, pollsters haven’t even asked. But reader R.B. passed along this new Suffolk University poll of registered voters in Florida, which put the question to respondents. The results were fascinating.

With 51 percent of voters saying that jobs and the economy are the most pressing issues in the nation today, 49 percent said they believe that the Republicans are intentionally hindering efforts to boost the economy so that President Barack Obama will not be reelected. Thirty-nine percent disagreed. As expected, most registered Democrats (70 percent) agreed that Republicans are intentionally hindering the economy and hurting Obama, but independents (52 percent) and even some Republicans (24 percent) also agreed. [emphasis added]

To be sure, this wasn’t a national poll; it only asked voters in one state. But it’s a large, diverse swing state that both parties take very seriously.

And in Florida, nearly half of voters — and a majority of Dems and independents — believe Republicans are so craven, so devoid of a sense of duty to their country, that they’re holding back the economy on purpose because they hate Obama more than the care about the rest of us. Nearly one-in-four Republicans believe this to be true.

I guess this isn’t a fringe idea after all.

Here’s a suggestion for other pollsters: given these results in one of the nation’s largest states, and the fact that the charge has been made by so many prominent political voices, perhaps it’s time to start putting the question to a national audience?

Update: Some good follow-up from Greg Sargent, who tracked down the original wording of the question, and who has some worthwhile analysis of the electoral implications.

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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  • paul on November 03, 2011 8:40 AM:

    So do those one in four self-identified republicans think sabotaging the economy for potential political gain is a good thing or a bad one?

  • Mark-NC on November 03, 2011 8:42 AM:

    It would be far closer to the truth to have about 85% say that the Republicans are deliberately blocking jobs bills for craven political gain.

    However, that would require a big part of Republicans to be honest.

    Stunningly, 25% admitted the obvious truth - I'm shocked! I didn't know there were any honest Republicans left.

  • walt on November 03, 2011 8:42 AM:

    Simply to ask the question is to raise awareness about the issue. And yes: the awareness is growing. Unless you're a member of the cult, there's a good chance you're open to being educated about Republican treason.

  • Mark-NC on November 03, 2011 8:44 AM:

    Good point paul. It didn't occur to me that the 25% might admit the obvious truth - and are PROUD of it. Sadly, that could be correct.

  • Danp on November 03, 2011 8:45 AM:

    I'd like to see some interviews with the people who identify themselves as Republicans and agree that their party doesn't want to boost the economy. Someone needs to explain to them that party identification is NOT A BIRTH DEFECT. IT'S A CHOICE!!!

  • Bobbo on November 03, 2011 8:55 AM:

    What Walt said.

  • bleh on November 03, 2011 8:56 AM:

    Hoo boy, you can expect some mighty pushback from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

    Class warfare! Librul pollsters and journalists! George Soros and black UN helicopters! Gay marriage re-enactments in kindergarten!

    They will work the refs overtime on this one.

  • c u n d gulag on November 03, 2011 8:57 AM:

    I hope this is polled.

    I just have a hard time imagining FOX will cover the results if they aren't in their favor.

    And I'm sure Wolf, with CNN's "Worst F*cking Political Team In The History Of Mass Media Going Back To Rome" will defer to Erick Erickson to explain how it's the Democrats sabotaging the jobs.
    Everyone will then cite this to explain the poll results.

    Over on MSNBC, they'll will cover it in the evening, giving time for Cup O' Schmoe to figure out how to counter that, make Stockholm Syndrome victim Mika agree, and then have Pat Buchanan come on and say how it's all the fault of the Blacks and the Jews, and how neither Hitler nor Mussolini had any problem providing jobs.

    Accusing one party of sabotage will make the corpse of David Brooks weep.
    Especially the Republican Party - the Democratic one, uhm, not so much.

  • greennotGreen on November 03, 2011 9:02 AM:

    Is the Republicans blocking any useful stimulus in order to hurt Obama's reelection chances any different from what the Greens did in the 2000 election? They believed there was no difference between the parties, so it would be okay if the election went to Bush because then things would get so bad that the country would vote for a true progressive...or something like that. Even if that had happened and f_ing Ralph Nader were now President, would be be able to unkill all the dead Iraqis? Untorture the prisoners at Gitmo? Instantly undo the environmental damage wrought by a rapacious administration?

  • FRP on November 03, 2011 9:03 AM:

    The idea of honesty and a Republican being in the same room at the same time strikes me as an artists conception , sorry . The twenty percenters are more in line with the suggestion of Paul's that they are preferring an honest economic destruction , or not . The starry eyed , stubborn booschie love machine that provided the cushion at Nineteen percent or less for booschie the magnificent could easily be accounted for in the spine of that group .

  • ComradeAnon on November 03, 2011 9:07 AM:

    So we now know what the republicans will be saying about Obama in the near future: Obama is deliberately trying to hurt the economy to make the republicans look bad.

  • Bob M on November 03, 2011 9:16 AM:

    "Sabotage" is a great message. They are sabotaging the vote, too, by blocking the right to vote of five million.

  • Ralph Kramden on November 03, 2011 9:25 AM:

    I thought this was a pretty significant result, but I'm sure it could be highly influenced by the exact wording of the question. For instance, if it was set up by recounting the Republican record of the last year, I'd expect a fairly large proportion of people to agree.

    So I went to the poll internals and checked. The question had no such setup. It was: "Do you think the Republicans are intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy to insure that Barack Obama is not re-elected?" Pretty straightforward.

    The party ID split on the poll was 41D/36R/23I. Don't know if that's representative of FL.

    Only 58% of Republicans were satisfied with the Republican presidential primary field. I thought that was pretty low.

  • K in VA on November 03, 2011 9:27 AM:

    You can bet the Obama campaign, the DNC, and various other campaign organizations (Republican as well as Democratic) have been polling heavily on this.

    The major polling outfits, of course, are lagging behind, primarily because their media customers haven't asked them to ask about sabotage.

  • KurtRexCooper on November 03, 2011 9:28 AM:

    It's pretty obvious when people are hurting and the guy with the meds refuses to help, he has a vested interest in seeing people suffer. Sort of like AZ Guv Jan Brewer cutting back 100,000 plus people on Medicaid and giving tax cuts to businesses when they really wanted better educated workers.

  • Hedda Peraz on November 03, 2011 9:28 AM:

    What an incestuous little group you are!
    Whining that God fearing Americans are striving to return us to the days when men went to work, women raised the family, and they all went to church on Sunday, to thank the Lord for their blessings.
    When I was young we had a bumper sticker: America- "Love it, or LEAVE it!"
    That belief still holds true for real patriots, all across the land.

  • elisabeth on November 03, 2011 9:33 AM:

    Since we have so little civic education, I think it may be that many voters/citizens could come to believe that the appropriate role for a political party is to ensure its own power. When the Republican Senate leader proudly asserts that his goal is to ensure that the president serves only one term, he is also making a statement about the appropriate goals for political parties.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on November 03, 2011 9:34 AM:

    Hoo boy, you can expect some mighty pushback from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

    No, actually you can't (except for Mitch McConnell's ridiculous trial balloon comments). That's the great thing -- talking about it pushes it onto the agenda. They'd rather everyone just forget about it.

  • Peter C on November 03, 2011 9:34 AM:

    My hope is that this is a sign that President Obama has discovered the power of the bully pulpit.

    Success will not be solely a matter of having better policy; we've got to have effective 'sales' of that policy too. Republicans have been doubling down on the 'Ronco' method; in 2010 they had a great sales year, using enormous 'sales' efforts and unloading their schlock to suckers on late-nite TV. This season, they've taken to prime-time with the same crappy product; this endless stream of Presidential debates is a 'ginsu-fest' of "the budget process can be used like a knife, but it can't cut a tomato!". We've got to stop saying that 'the plastic used in the ginsu is nice and shiny and the packaging is very pretty'; we've got to show that the basic product is a rip-off and those pedaling it are self-interested fraudsters. We'd be well advised to look at how effective FDR was at both policy and selling that policy.

  • kevo on November 03, 2011 9:39 AM:

    Drunk with a sense of power at the turn of the century, these Republican Congress Critters can go only so much longer whomping the rest of us with their current hangover behavior!

    We told them in 2006 and 2008 we don't like drunks, but didn't stick around long enough (2010) to continue our intervention, and as a result 2012 looms big in our effort to force those Republican bastards to go cold turkey!

    Support for Republican brand in 2012 only benefits the top 2%! Tell your friends and neighbors - only fools vote Republican! (Our good old fashion Tea partying racist crowd can be counted in on the Republican vote, though, as they get a pass for being idiots!) -Kevo

  • FRP on November 03, 2011 9:52 AM:

    Well Kevo it is better to hope and vote . Otherwise I am unconvinced that a genetic defect , that is from what I see , the basis of Republican straw men logic , syllogistic arguments , and of course the concluding sweet dessert of triumphalism in tribal factionalism which opens the opportunity for the "smart" money to buy for a penny on the dollar .

  • r on November 03, 2011 9:53 AM:

    They should poll the question:

    Do you think Republicans are most concerned with helping the US economy, or defeating Obama?

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  • citizen_pain on November 03, 2011 10:07 AM:

    Hedda is one of the better parody trolls I've seen in awhile. I wonder if it is Al re-incarnate.

  • SYSPROG on November 03, 2011 10:31 AM:

    I would say most of the 'pubs have drunk the koolaid. It is better to defeat Obama then to help the economy. I just saw an R-MI congresscritter on the Daily Rundown and she is supporting Rick Perry because her state 'is in such dire need'...REALLY? You are governed by an R that has imposed a military state on people, you are giving tax cuts/aid to any business person that has a pulse, you had your ass bailed out by that 'black man in the White House'...and you are supporting RICK PERRY??? You don't deserve to be IN Congress!

    And Hedda? MY God ain't YOUR God...trust me on THAT!

  • skeptonomist on November 03, 2011 10:34 AM:

    The Republicans' real constituency, the upper part of the 1%, is doing just fine now - they're not suffering from the recession. There is no real reason for them to be pushing for a decrease in unemployment. In fact, low unemployment would probably mean higher labor costs and lower profits. Where the demand is coming from for the high corporate profits is a mystery, but it is there, for the moment. Do Republican politicians really believe that this state of affairs can continue, or that reduced government will cause a major turnaround? The next election is their concern, not anything long term.

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  • RT on November 03, 2011 10:48 AM:

    The "sabotage" question is perfect for push-polling. Unlike most push-polling questions, it's true.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 03, 2011 10:52 AM:

    Fringe idea? Seriously, how stupid do you have to be to not understand Republicans are intentionally holding back the economy to hurt Obama? Seriously?

  • Daniel Kim on November 03, 2011 11:01 AM:

    ComradeAnon on November 03, 2011 9:07 AM:

    It's even worse! Republicans will say that Obama is unfairly using the power of his office to improve the economy, making them look bad.

  • square1 on November 03, 2011 11:13 AM:

    There are really two questions. One substantive and the other regarding electoral politics.

    First, on the merits, do establishment Democrats have credibility in portraying GOP obstruction as some sort of beyond-the-pale, near-treasonous behavior? The answer is clearly "no."

    From January of 2009 until roughly July of 2011, establishment Democrats -- including the White House obviously -- were largely comfortable with the level of government stimulus spending. Indeed, less than a year ago the President proposed a 5-year spending freeze. He didn't concede to this, he proposed it.

    All this despite the fact that unemployment remained shockingly high and GDP growth stagnant.

    So establishment Democrats really have no credibility now claiming that job creation "can't wait." Really? They had no problem telling us for 2 1/2 years that, aside from some proposals for more loans to small businesses, we basically had to sit tight and just wait for the jobs to come back even if it took a few years. They had no problem joining with Republicans in a bipartisan agreement to ignore the principles of Keynesian economics.

    So for establishment Democrats to now act like it is unacceptable for Republicans to wait until January 2013, when the GOP may very well control both houses of Congress and the White House and not have to cut any deals, is rather absurd.

    The second question is whether, from an electoral standpoint, Democrats should press this issue of GOP obstructionism. The answer is a resounding "yes."

    Setting aside that most D.C. Democrats are completely full of shit on the jobs issue -- and this number definitely includes Obama, Reid, and Schumer -- this is a
    no-brainer winning message for the Democrats.

    My sense is that, in the absence of actual action on the jobs front, voters reward pro-jobs-creation rhetoric over the GOP's naked contempt for the unemployed. Voters are not going to take kindly to being blamed for the economic conditions. People seldom want to accept responsibility when something is their fault. And they never want to accept responsibility when a problem isn't their fault.

  • agave on November 03, 2011 11:16 AM:

    Something is missed here.

    Republicans believe that Obama is trashing the economy.
    He is bad for the USA, really bad.

    Anything they can do to prevent him from being re elected MUST be done, so they can save the country from him.

    They believe they are doing the right thing.

  • Gregory on November 03, 2011 11:24 AM:

    They should poll the question: Do you think Republicans are most concerned with helping the US economy, or defeating Obama?

    I disagree. Being more concerned with defeating Obama doesn't encessarily mean that Republicans are deliberately sabotaging recovery efforts (such as voting against infrastructure spending many Republicans are on record as supporting). In other words, being less concerend with the economy than with defeating Obama means that Republicans are incompetent, not evil.

    The concept that Republicans are tanking the economy deliberately as an election strategy -- in other words, evil -- is essential. I've been pleased to see the Overton window slowly but surely moving in that direction.

  • liam foote on November 03, 2011 11:45 AM:

    It seems pretty obvious, as the GOP essentially comes right out and admits it. There is an oft repeated story of a class reunion where Grover Norquist suggested that the US would soon be led by a single party, the GOP. When a participant disagreed, saying that Democrats could not be defeated in perpetuity, Norquiest is quoted by Deval Patrick as stating, We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat. See How Grover Norquist hypnotized the GOP (Washington Post, June 30, 2011}. It appears they have succeeded to a degree and are likely quite proud of themselves.

    I agree with other posters here who suggest that the 24% of GOP voters who responded affirmatively to the poll question might as well add, "What did you expect?"

  • SYSPROG on November 03, 2011 1:37 PM:

    WOW Square1...you make it sound like the DEMS are sabotaging the economy. The PRESIDENT said in January of 2010 that he would support a ' President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs'...he did NOT propose freezing job creation, education, etc. AND he called for 'for increases no greater than inflation after that'. STOP with the sweeping generalization of BOTH SIDES ARE EQUALLY TO BLAME...I am REALLY sick of that argument.

  • andrew Nelson on November 03, 2011 1:38 PM:


  • mary penn on November 03, 2011 3:04 PM:

    Hell yes they are sabotaging obama!! They are screwing him and the rest of us too. They don't want to pay their share in taxes or take their FAIR SHARE of the blame for our problems in the first place. They live off the blood and the sweat and the tears of the rest of us while they and the ticks known as big business. I work at a college campus and the cuts are so bad in education that there will be no raises again this year and the only reason I have a job is because rich people don't know which cleaner to use on their toilet. God forbid they ever gotta cook on the woodstove to keep the electric bill down. They wanna make it all out to be roses n sunshine while I carry them on my back somemore.

  • square1 on November 03, 2011 3:56 PM:

    @SYSPROG: I didn't say that "both sides are equally to blame," much less in ALLCAPS.

    I said that establishment Democrats (or Centrists or Third Way Democrats) cannot credibly argue that the failure of Republicans to sign on to a jobs plan that Democrats proposed in the past two months when unemployment has been a problem for 3 years, is tantamount to "sabotage", when the same Centrists repeatedly indicated that they had no "appetite" for additional stimulus during that same time period. You can't say that economic conditions are urgent and must be immediately addressed when it took you essentially 2 years to come up with a proposed solution.

    Obviously I don't think that these Centrists are "sabotaging" the economy, since they are largely bearing the blame as the economy continues to stagnate. But I do believe that these ideologues have a fundamentally flawed understanding of economics and have repeatedly proposed policies that are objectively bad for the middle class and job growth.

    I also believe that many of these Centrists are now feigning support for a new jobs bill precisely because it can't pass. It is a win-win for them. They go into an election year able to bash the GOP over their obstructionism. And they avoid passing actual and additional deficit spending, which is their true concern.

    BTW, this doesn't mean that Republicans aren't sabotaging the economy. Of course they are. The brilliant irony about all this is that while Republicans are unquestionably completely evil, they actually are smarter than Democrats about the economy. Republicans understand that if additional stimulus is passed, yes, it will help Obama. Republicans understand Keynesian economics. They just don't give a shit about the general welfare.

    Use your head. If Republicans (a) are willing to sabotage the economy for political gain and (b) actually believed that stimulus spending doesn't work then they would have "tricked" the Democrats into passing a much larger stimulus bill on the belief that it would have blown up on the Democrats' watch. A bigger stimulus would have been a bigger failure. But obviously Republicans know that government stimulus does work.

    OTOH, Democratic Centrists are complete idiots. They have actually swallowed all the bullshit the the GOP has peddled over the past 30 years. Centrists actually believe in the confidence fairy. These morons actually believed that if they addressed the deficit, reformed entitlement spending, and cut regulations (e.g. the oppressed salmon) that the economy would come roaring back.

    Also, Obama proposed a 5-year spending freeze this January.

  • Michael H. on November 03, 2011 4:58 PM:

    I'm just wondering if it's even possible to ask this question question in a way that isn't leading. But thanks for the update with the original wording!

  • h4x354x0r on November 03, 2011 7:17 PM:

    Duh. The GOtP has stated, point blank, and repeatedly, that removing Obama from office is their absolute number one priority. Their resolve has become an economic suicide mission.

    But... after they've thrown away all the tools, burnt down the repair shop, and forced the driver to wreck the car so they can get a chance behind the wheel, they may find it harder to start it back up and drive off than they think. Knuckleheads.

    Sure, when they sweep the elections, they'll bring the confidence fairy back. Until, that is, 80% of the working population receives their first paycheck under *any* new GOP tax plan. A 10-20% cut in take-home pay for the vast majority of working Americans is gonna create one heck of a backlash.

  • Keith on November 03, 2011 7:21 PM:

    All politicians care more about politics than the well being of the country, doesn't matter what their party affiliation is.

  • The Oracle on November 04, 2011 12:46 AM:

    There is an ongoing "class war" in the United States, with hardline conservative Republicans viewing themselves as the upper-class (and morally superior, to boot), thus making all Democrats and Independents members of the lower-class (and morally suspect), at least in the minds of hard-line conservative Republicans. And among Republicans who share this attitude, the top-most upper-class is represented by Wall Street tycoons and corporations, with all Republicans aspiring someday to be sitting alongside their Wall Street role models, living the good life, lording it over everyone else.

    Thus, the battle lines have been drawn, with America itself caught in the cross-hairs. To Republicans, anything that doesn't directly help the Wall Street tycoons and corporations get even more wealthy must be opposed, shot down, buried in an unmarked grave. In a similar vein, anything that helps the middle-class and poor, helping to level the economic playing field, must be opposed, shot down, buried in an unmarked grave.

    So, yes, hardline Republicans are out to sabotage any and all economic policies proposed by members of what they've judged to be the "lower-class," especially any that might cut into or interfere with the money-making profit-taking capability of the upper-class Wall Street tycoons and corporations. Shades of patriotic American citizens facing once again British Tory aristocrats out to pillage the American colonies. Today's hardline corporate conservative Republicans are the equivalent of bygone British Troy aristocrats, but equally intent upon sabotaging equality and justice for all.

  • tom on November 05, 2011 12:05 PM:

    It's simple - Republicans have been led to believe that:
    Profits can never be high enough
    Taxes can never be low enough
    Regulations can never be few enough
    and Wages, especially,
    Wages can never be low enough.

  • JMC on November 07, 2011 9:41 PM:

    Though President Obama has an unfavorable rating per the latest NBC poll it should be noted a few things :What�s more, a combined 71 percent say they like Obama personally; 60 percent believe he has inherited the current economic conditions; and more blame Wall Street bankers and George W. Bush than Obama for the economy.
    But just two in 10 think his economic policies have helped the economy, while three in 10 contend they have hurt it. Almost half say they haven�t made much of a difference.
    Yet still, the president continues to lead his GOP rivals. He holds a six-point edge over Romney, 49 percent to 43 percent. And he runs 15 points ahead of Cain, 53 percent to 38 percent.
    Read the MSNBC article since this are excerpts I did conveniently copied based on my belief that President Bush has escaped from the news since he is mostly to blame for the nations debt (almost doubling it) which during his tenure he not only gave away budget (with more losses in jobs that gains and a resulting debt increase due to decreased revenues) surpluses but he engaged in two wars (one based in a lie) that now the Americans sacrifice went ignored not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan since the President Karsay expressed that he would side with Pakistan if the USA declared war in Pakistan. So the painful results of spending 1.2 trillion dollars, over 4000 soldiers losing their lives, others hurt, some incapacitated that can not be valued in terms of money, is lost in the minds of many individuals due to the bad economic situation for the middle class and poor families. The rich as always go unharmed since the dow has risen from under 8k in volume since GW Bush to 12,000 points as of recently.Still keep in mind that Iran is another time bomb, backed by the Russians but whom Israel will strike their nuclear facilities without a thought about what Russia says. So people from Florida, some people share your thoughts.Still there is a long way to go and is quite surprising that 25% of Florida's rep. believe they are obstructing Obama's policies.

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  • Tomato Cain on February 02, 2012 12:50 PM:

    The Republican can obstruct bills from passing, but I wish someone would point out exactly what bills they are talking about. The downturn was caused by high fuel costs and a sub-prime mortagage crisis. Most of these sub-prime mortgages written by big supporters (Fannie, Freddie, Countrywide, Bank of America) of Democrat Barack Obama. Even the fiscally weak President Bush pushed 17 times to enact legislation to open the books on these mortgage giants in order to avert this crisis. Well, gee, it made wonder if it was indeed the Democrats, like George Soros, who were somehow behind this colloapse.

    Here's what I think. Bush was weak. $4T deficit spending over 8 years, $2 1/2T of it championed by Pelosi. Obama is a train wreck: $5T will be added by election time 2012. What poor person has spent him/herself into prosperity? What country can spend itself out of a hole and into prosperity? Keynesian multipliers don't work if you have to borrow the money!!!