Tag: public opinion

Overcommitted in Afghanistan

Saturday’s Washington Post ran a story titled “Lawmakers Push for a New Afghan Strategy.” Notably, the number of conservative policymakers looking for a change is growing significantly, as evidenced by the comments of the former governor of Utah (and possible presidential candidate), Republican John Huntsman and Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH) on CNN yesterday.

If they would like a serious proposal that would bring our level of commitment in line with our interests in Afghanistan, they should have a look at this just-released paper [.pdf] by Joshua Rovner of the U.S. Naval War College and Austin Long of Columbia University. Rovner and Long take aim at the two central justifications for the present strategy–fear of “safe havens” and concerns over instability in Afghanistan putting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons up for grabs–and judge that the current strategy has little to do with those objectives. Instead, they propose a significant change in strategy that would secure our vital interests in that nation at a cost more commensurate with our interests.

One thing that policymakers should know about the issue is that public opinion is resoundingly in favor of withdrawal, not staying the current course indefinitely. As Rovner and Long point out, a March Washington Post poll showed that 73 percent of Americans thought that the United States should “withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer” (although only 39 percent expected that Washington would do so).

Increasing numbers of Republicans seem to be recognizing that the mainstream neoconservative view that we need to stay in numbers in Afghanistan forever is out of step with both sound strategic judgment and public opinion. In a recent House vote on withdrawing from Afghanistan, the number of Republicans voting yes tripled from the last vote on the question (although still a low figure).

If policymakers want to know the responsible way to a more solvent strategy in Afghanistan, they should give the Rovner/Long paper a read. Or they can send staff to our event on the paper here at Cato June 29, featuring Rovner, my colleague Malou Innocent, Joshua Foust of the American Security Project, and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.

Encouraging Polling Data on Spending Restraint vs. Deficit Reduction

When big-spending politicians in Washington pontificate about “deficit reduction,” taxpayers should be very wary. Crocodile tears about red ink almost always are a tactic that the political class uses to make tax increases more palatable. The way it works is that the crowd in DC increases spending, which leads to more red ink, which allows them to say we have a deficit crisis, which gives them an excuse to raise taxes, which then gives them more money to spend. This additional spending then leads to more debt, which provides a rationale for higher taxes, and the pattern continues – sort of a lather-rinse-repeat cycle of big government.

Fortunately, it looks like the American people have figured out this scam. By a 57-34 margin, they say that reducing federal spending should be the number-one goal of fiscal policy rather than deficit reduction. And since red ink is just a symptom of the real problem of too much spending, this data is very encouraging.

Here are some of the details from a new Rasmussen poll, which Mark Tapscott labels, “evidence of a yawning divide between the nation’s Political Class and the rest of the country on what to do about the federal government’s fiscal crisis.”

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 57% of Likely U.S. Voters think reducing federal government spending is more important than reducing the deficit. Thirty-four percent (34%) put reducing the deficit first.  It’s telling to note that while 65% of Mainstream voters believe cutting spending is more important, 72% of the Political Class say the primary emphasis should be on deficit reduction. …Seventy-four percent (74%) of Republicans and 50% of voters not affiliated with either of the major parties say cutting spending is more important than reducing the deficit. Democrats are more narrowly divided on the question. Most conservatives and moderates say spending cuts should come first, but most liberals say deficit reduction is paramount. Voters have consistently said in surveys for years that increased government spending hurts the economy, while decreased spending has a positive effect on the economy.

I wouldn’t read too much into the comparative data, since the “political class” in Rasmussen’s polls apparently refers to respondents with a certain set of establishment preferences rather than those living in the DC area and/or those mooching off the federal government, but the overall results are very encouraging.

Oh, and for those who naively trust politicians and want to cling to the idea that deficit reduction should be the first priority, let’s not forget that spending restraint is the right policy anyhow. As I noted in this blog post, even economists at institutions such as Harvard and the IMF are finding that nations are far more successful in reducing red ink if they focus on controlling the growth of government spending.

In other words, the right policy is always spending restraint – regardless of your goal…unless you’re a member of the political class and you want to make government bigger by taking more money from taxpayers.

So we know what to do. The only question is whether we can get the folks in Washington to do what’s right. Unfortunately, the American people are not very optimistic. Here’s one more finding from Rasmussen.

Most voters are still not convinced, even with a new Republican majority in the House, that Congress will actually cut government spending substantially over the next year.  GOP voters are among the most doubtful.

Washington Post-ABC News Push-Poll on Strip-Search Machines

In public opinion research, “salience” is the word often used to describe what is at the forefront of people’s minds. Salience influences people’s responses to polls: If they’ve just thought about something, their responses will reflect what they’ve just thought about.

It makes sense, and it’s one of the theses of Jonathan Zaller’s public opinion reference book The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. Most people don’t hold fixed views on most matters of public debate. They merely improvise, when asked, based in part on what issues are salient for them.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll out today finds that most people support the body scanning machines the Transportation Security Administration is installing in airports. The new “enhanced” pat-downs don’t fare so well.

How do strip-search machines get the level of approval they do? The poll itself pushes terrorism to the forefront before inquiring about TSA security measures. The first question goes to frequency of travel. The second two are:

2. Are you personally worried about traveling by commercial airplane because of the risk of terrorism, or do you think the risk is not that great? (IF WORRIED) Would you say you are very worried or only somewhat?

3. What do you think is more important right now - (for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy); or (for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats)?

Before being asked about strip-search machines, poll-takers hear cognates of “terror” three times, “privacy” once.

Thinking about the taste of a dirty worm squishing around in your mouth when you bite into an apple, do you think pesticide use should be increased or decreased?

Radley Balko’s thesis that the media are more statist than liberal finds validation in a sampling of opinion pages, finds Matt Welch. You just might find it by sampling poll designs as well.

Republicans and Democrats Should Be Especially Concerned about the Threat of Government When Their Party Is in Charge

Gallup just released a poll showing that 46 percent of Americans view the federal government as an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary Americans. My first reaction was to wonder why the number was so low. After all, we have a political elite that wants to do everything from control our health care to monitor our financial transactions.

But a secondary set of numbers is even more remarkable. As seen in this chart, both Republicans and Democrats tend to view the federal government as a threat mostly when the White House is controlled by the other party.

This complacency is very unfortunate. Republicans presumably want to limit government control over the economy, yet it was the Bush Administration that put in place policies such as Sarbanes-Oxley, the banana-republic TARP bailout, the corrupt farm bills, and the pork-filled transportation bills. Democrats, meanwhile, presumably want to protect our civil liberties, yet the Obama Administration has left in place virtually all of the Bush policies that the left was upset about just two years ago. There has been no effort to undo the more troublesome provisions of the PATRIOT Act. And shouldn’t honest liberals be upset that the Obama Administration is going to such lengths to defend the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy?

The lesson to be learned is that there is an unfortunate tendency for politicians to misbehave when they get control of the machinery of government. Lord Acton warned that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s almost as if Republicans and Democrats do their best every day to confirm this statement.

ObamaCare: Never Supported by a Majority, Now 10 Points behind with Likely Voters

With the addition of a poll by George Washington University and Politico – completed the day before ObamaCare started sending health insurance premiums higher, making coverage less accessible for children, and destroying health insurance innovations – Pollster.com shows that among likely voters, ObamaCare now suffers a 10-point popularity gap:

(As I’ve noted before, Pollster.com’s local-regression trend estimate will head off in a direction different from public opinion if the latest poll is a fluke.  But these trajectories are consistent with Pollster.com’s trend estimates for polls surveying registered voters and all adults, which incorporate many more data points.)

Also worth noting: ObamaCare has never enjoyed the support of a majority of likely voters or even all adults.  For every poll that put ObamaCare above 50 percent – there have been only a few, and the highest showed only 53-percent support – many more polls clocked support at well below 50 percent.  Thus Pollster.com’s trend estimate shows public support for ObamaCare peaked among all adults at 47 percent just after Obama’s inauguration, and has fallen to just below 40 percent today.  Among likely voters (above), the high water mark was 45 percent in June, 2009, and now stands at just over 42 percent.

If Pollster.com does a fair job of smoothing out the quirkiness of various polls, that means ObamaCare has never enjoyed the support of a majority of Americans.

On the Wisdom Not to Do Wrong

 Jim Harper may be “put off by the domestic political ramifications” of the continuing Ground Zero mosque debate — linking to my three POLITICO Arena posts over the weekend, when the story broke, and Chris Preble’s very different Cato@Liberty post on Monday — but that’s what this debate is all about. It’s not about the law or the Constitution, at bottom, because the law is clear: we respect the right to build that mosque there, even if it would not be prudent or wise to do so.

Thus, he misses the point when he cites “conservative icon Ted Olson” who, Jim says, “expresses well how standing by our constitutional values is good counterterrorism signaling.” That may or may not be good counterterrorism signaling, but those of us who oppose this mosque being situated there are standing by our constitutional values, contrary to the implication of Jim’s contention. We’re defending the right the Constitution protects, while engaging in the robust debate it equally protects — arguing that building the mosque there, as Charles Krauthammer put it in this morning’s Washington Post, “is not just insensitive but provocative,” given the facts of the matter.

But that’s not the only non-sequitur in Jim’s argument. He goes on to say:

Islam did not attack the United States on 9/11. It is simple collectivism—the denial of individual agency that libertarians reject—to believe that the tiny band of thugs who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks speak for an entire religion, culture, or creed. Our sympathy to families of 9/11 victims and our vestigial fears should not allow us to indulge gross and wrong generalizations about individuals of any faith.

Who’s saying that? Does Jim believe that those of us on the other side cannot distinguish the 19 long-dead “tiny band of thugs” — and all who supported them and continue to support what they did, as manifest around the world almost daily — from the great majority of Muslims who do not support Islamic terrorism?

There is a problem in the other direction, however, with those who minimize or dismiss “our vestigial fears.” The war against terrorism, which we are likely to be in for some time, requires a sober assessment of the circumstances we’re facing, neither understating nor overstating them. And one aspect of that is public opinion, including opinion, in particular, in the Muslim-American community. This morning’s New York Times has a page-one story about the divide in that community over the mosque issue. It’s those in that community who understand this issue that we need to encourage to come forward and stand for true American principles — including the principle that not everything a person has a right to do is right to do. It’s no more complicated than that.

Government Promotion of Broadband? No, Thanks.

A Pew Internet and American Life poll out this week finds: “By a 53%-41% margin, Americans say they do not believe that the spread of affordable broadband should be a major government priority.” Non-Internet users are less likely than Internet users to say the government should prioritize spreading access to high-speed connections.

The federal government spent $7.2 billion in “stimulus” money on the premise that the federal government is supposed to do this kind of thing. And the Federal Communications Commission’s “National Broadband Plan” is premised on the idea that there is supposed to be a national broadband plan. It isn’t, and there’s not.

Much as I love using the Internet for work, entertainment, and social connection, I recognize that people can live perfectly happy lives without it. The invention and growth of the Internet should always be seen as having opened new avenues for people, not as having created a national communications medium in which participation is required to live a full life. Social engineers, stand down: people will use the Internet if they want it, and they won’t if they don’t.