Public Wants Fewer Jobs, More Severe Recession
The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that emerged last week got a lot of attention for finding that 76 percent of Americans think the choice of a public plan is important for health reform. That cheered progressives, for obvious reasons. But looking through the whole poll, there's actually quite a bit that augurs poorly for Obama's agenda. Check out this bit on priorities, for instance:
Elsewhere, 58 percent think that "the President and the Congress should worry more about keeping the budget deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover." Fifty-three percent think the government was wrong to bail out Chrysler and GM. A 39 percent plurality thinks the stimulus was a bad idea.
This isn't, of course, the first time that the American people have had pretty terrible opinions about how to handle the economy. Paul Krugman dug up some striking numbers from 1935 showing that 70 percent of Americans wanted the Roosevelt administration to balance the budget, and the White House, heeding public opinion, promptly contracted its economic policy and tossed the country into the brutal 1937 recession.
Which is to say, there are three ways of reading this poll. One is to say that Americans are concerned with federal spending and government intervention. Another is to say that Americans don't understand macroeconomics. And another is to say that Americans want a radically higher unemployment rate and a much more severe recession.
Which gets to one of the difficulties posed by this sort of poll. The obvious way to report the results is that the public is growing skeptical of Obama's agenda. But for all that, the public is pretty likely to also respond negatively to an economic collapse. A poll can tell you a lot about what a voter doesn't like in this reality. It's not always so good about distinguishing between the relevant alternatives. That, in theory, is David Axelrod's job.
June 22, 2009; 9:03 AM ET
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