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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Second post on One article in the Washington Post.

Using the uninverted pyramid approach, I will discuss something which actually matters this time. The last in first out feature of blogs helps.

The Washington Post had two articles on their latest poll. The first focused on the Presidential horse race. The second noted that US adults disapprove of congress and then went on to discuss other results. At the very end of the second article (the part I read only after writing an indignant post about standard errors) follows

Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on millionaires to help close the deficit enjoys wide public support — three-quarters of adults, including majorities of independents, moderates, conservatives and Republicans, back it.

Among the few groups that don’t favor such tax increases are Republicans who strongly support the tea party movement; they oppose the proposal by more than two to one.

This isn't news to anyone who pays attention to polls anymore, but it is more newsworthy than the observation that most US adults have noticed that Congress is not functioning. Importantly, opinion leaders don't pay any attention to polls even when discussing public opinion.

It is widely argued that Obama has decided to fire up the base with populist proposals which will increase turnout of Democrats and liberals but reduce his support among moderates and independents. In fact, his populist proposal is supported by a majority of self identified Republicans and conservatives. Obama is moving towards the center of public opinion. He is also firing up the base.

I have long complained that the MSM failed to report the strong majority support for a more progressive tax code (revealed by dozens of polls on the question dating back to the early 90s). They are now reporting it -- at the very end of articles. I think that under reporting of the strength of left populism is a systematic error partly caused by the self interest of opinion leaders.

Even now, many people (including the usually reasonable Charlie Cook) consider a proposal with majority support among conservatives the result of a decision to give up on winning the support of moderates. This is crazy.

I think part of what is going on is that people naturally approximate the infinite dimensions of opinion with one dimension left vs right. If you average over issues and people, the average US adult is to the right of Obama (he believes in evolution and global warming and is skeptical about the death penalty. It bothers him when he violates due process right. Etc). Even two dimensions are enough to find one where Obama is to the right of the average American. The average American is eager to soak the rich. Obama prefers soaking the rich to the alternative, but he'd really rather reform health care and regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Another part of what is going on is that political reporters lose touch with the USA outside the beltway. In official Washington raising taxes on the rich above Clinton era levels was (until yesterday) an extreme left wing position. In the general population it is a centrist position. On this issue, the median voter is far to the left of the median congressman,the median political operative, and the median pundit.

Finally there is the "opinions on optimal re-election strategy differ -- both sides have a point" problem. There are people who call themselves Democratic strategists who argue that running on a soak the rich platform is bad strategy (Penn-Schoen no not the PR firm the ... yes the PR firm and the P stands for politicians). This approach would clearly cause increased turnout of liberals and Democrats. If one assumes they must have a point, one must assume that it will cause moderates and independents to vote Republican or make Republcians more likely to vote. Therefore one must conclude that moderates and independents will vote against a proposal supported by a majority of moderates and independents or that Republicans and conservatives will be outraged by a proposal supported by a majority of Republicans and conservatives. This is crazy. But there is the methodological a priori that both sides must have a point, so it must be true.

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