Let me show you some fun with polling.
Pew asked a question that reflects what Barack Obama put forward in last night’s address: whether or not, in the debt limit debate, members of Congress should compromise to solve the problem. And 68% said yes, with just 23% saying that lawmakers should “stand by their principles, even if it means the government goes into default.”
And since those options are so narrow, there’s not really anything reflecting the actual debate. It’s just a test of Obama’s proposition about compromise. But if you ask people what they want to see in the deficit reduction positions in any solution, you get to the heart of the matter. In fact, none of the ideas that the public would like to see come to pass are even available options anymore:
Raising taxes on the wealthy – no longer available. Raising taxes on oil and gas companies – no longer available. Increasing the payroll tax cap – no longer available. Raising taxes on hedge fund managers – no longer available. Only means testing, which gets a majority in the WaPo poll, was a part of the grand bargain talks. But if people knew that in order to wring any real savings out of that you would need to dip all the way down into the middle class, they’d be against that too.
So the Pew poll is just incomplete. On the main, voters want compromise. But they don’t seem to know that compromise has been taken off the table. There’s merely an argument about whether to get to austerity and economic pain gradually, or all at once. As Joan McCarter writes, “The debate in Washington over the debt ceiling is so removed from the real life concerns and policy desires of the rest of America that it’s a wonder anyone’s approval numbers are in double digits.” The only reason they are is that the public doesn’t really know the difference. They think compromise means one thing; Washington sees it differently.