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Lies, Damned Lies, and Polls

We’re not so cynical we would ever doubt a pollster, but we’re always suspicious of the folks who write their headlines. Consider the case of the latest numbers from The Washington Post and ABC News, which are neatly summarized as “Poll: Clear majority supports nuclear deal with Iran.”
One will momentarily assume that the “deal with Iran” the “clear majority supports” is the one currently being negotiated in Switzerland, which is probably what the headline writer intended, but on an another moment’s reflection one will realize that no one yet knows what that deal will look like. The lead paragraph is slightly more helpful, noting that “By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restrict’s the nation’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions,” but it still implies that the deal being negotiated in Iran will look like that, and there is reason to doubt it.
In the very next paragraph, even the Post’s reporters acknowledge that the survey “also finds few Americans are hopeful that such an agreement will be effective. Nearly six in 10 say they are not confident that a deal will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons …” Apparently a large portion of the “clear majority” that supports a “nuclear deal with Iran” does so despite a belief that it won’t prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, or oppose the deal that is being concocted but felt obliged to endorse the theoretical deal that they don’t think is likely, but in either case it makes public support for the administration’s dealings less enthusiastic than the headline suggests.
Still, the Washington Post grimly warns that 47 percent of Republicans also supported that hypothetical deal where everything works out fine and that “the split contrasts with Republican lawmakers’ widespread backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech deriding the potential deal in early March before a joint session of lawmakers.” Those recalcitrant Republicans will be heartened by the next paragraph, though, where the Washington Post is obliged to admired that “Popular sentiment among Republicans is more in line with GOP lawmakers on the issue of whether Congress should be required to authorize any deal with Iran.” Citing a Pew Research Center survey, the reporters note that 62 percent of the public — not just Republicans — believe Congress should have final say on the matter.
As we write this the deal is still be negotiated, and there might not be a deal at all, and of course it remains to be seen if the reliably untrustworthy Iran government will abide by anything that is agreed to, and the Secretary of State is saying it all depends on what Allah is willing, but we share the widespread skepticism that it will work out quite the like deal that the “clear majority” supports. We’ll eagerly await the polling on the deal that actually transpires, and expect that even The Washington Post will have a hard time making it seem supportive of the administration. The poll taken just after Iran announces that it has a bomb will probably even be worse, but maybe by that time there will be a Republican administration to take the blame.

— Bud Norman

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Polls, Politics, and Prioritizing Our Problems

All that “tranquility of the global community” the White House spokesman was recently boasting about dominated Thursday’s news, what with Israeli ground troops entering Gaza and a jet from the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines being shot down over Russian-occupied Ukraine, so it would have been easy to overlook an intriguing Gallup poll about what worries Americans most. The litany’s top top five doesn’t include the deteriorating international order, which should come as a relief to that insouciant White House spokesman, but neither does it include any good news for the Democrats.
Topping the list of most important problems is “immigration/illegal aliens,” which has shot up the charts since the recent invasion by unaccompanied minors from Central America, and the racist xenophobes of the Republican party are likely beneficiaries of the public’s concern. The Democrats and their media allies will have a hard time convincing anyone that the Republicans’ racism and xenophobia are what’s drawing tens of thousands of expensive illegal youngsters to the country, rather than the Democrats’ more compassionate and caring policy of holding out hope of amnesty and free stuff, and other polls indicate that most Americans are more inclined to the racist and xenophobic option of returning the invaders to their homelands.
Coming in a close second is the hodgepodge of “Dissatisfaction with government, Congress, politicians, poor leadership, corruption, Abuse of Power,” which is at least open to hopeful interpretations. The White House will prefer to read this as a righteous anger against those obstructionist Republicans in Congress who stubbornly refuse to rubber stamp the president’s agenda, but we expect that many respondents had in mind the Internal Revenue Service and Veterans Administration and National Security Agency scandals and any number of other problems that have more to do with the executive branch. Much of that dissatisfaction with Congress is caused by the Democrat-controlled Senate, too, and the Republicans in the other chamber don’t seem to have much power to abuse.
The “economy in general” comes in second and “unemployment, jobs” in third, and a sensible combination of these two would have probably come in first. The Democrats will argue that these problems could have been easily solved if only those darned Republicans had allowed them to rack up the national debt by a few more billion and add another million or so pages of regulations for the understaffed compliances offices of America’s corporations to comply with, but the Republicans should be able to get a few votes and a lot of laughs out of that.
“Poor healthcare, hospitals, high cost of health care” comes in fourth on the list, so the Republicans will have a head start on convincing the American public that Obamacare hasn’t solved all that. Despite an almost complete absence of news coverage, “federal budget deficit, federal” debt comes in at a surprisingly strong fifth place. The Democrats will boast that they’ve cut those deficits to less than the recent trillion dollar highs, even as they lambaste the Republicans for their stingy ways, but this far the public is not reassured. “Education, poor education, access” to education are the public’s sixth most pressing problem, and the teachers unions will need to spend a lot of dues money to convince any voters that they just need more funding and continued tenure and that federalized Common Core Curriculum to make things right at school. “Ethics, moral, religious, family decline” comes in eighth, and the party that would compel nuns to purchase contraceptives is not likely to appeal the people with those worries.
Democrats can take some hope in noting that “Poverty, hunger, homelessness” came in ninth, as these are the party’s traditional causes, but they’ll have to hope that nobody notices there’s more of all of them after six years of a Democratic presidency. It’s also good news for the Democrats that “foreign aid, focus overseas” barely made the top ten.
What’s missing from the top ten is also a problem for the Democrats. Only one percent of the poll’s respondents cited “race relations and racism” as the nation’s most pressing problem, and it’s probably a similar number who will take seriously the notion that racism is the sole reason for any dissatisfaction with the president. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision doesn’t rate any mention, even though it’s a staple of Democratic fund-raising and the Senate Democrats regard it as such a crisis that the First Amendment needs amending as a result. The Hobby Lobby decision is also unmentioned by any of the respondents, even though the Democrats are raising even more money with claims that it’s the first step toward the Republicans’ nefarious plot to subjugate women to bare feet and pregnancy. The even more nefarious plot by to Koch Brothers to do God only knows what was also overlooked, although that can cited by the fund-raising Democrats as further proof of how very ingeniously wicked is the conspiracy. We also note that income inequality and global warming and transgendered rights and all the other issues that seem to excite a certain sort of Democrat are not high on the list of what the general public is worried about.
We don’t have much regard for the general public, but is heartening to see that they have more sensible priorities than a certain sort of Democrat.

— Bud Norman

Wising Up the Youngsters

Back in our younger days the old folks used to fret over the lack of trust we had for our national institutions. Now that we’ve reach old fogeyhood, we find ourselves slightly heartened to see that the current crop of young folks are at long last becoming mistrustful of government.
Although we have not noticed this trend in our own occasional encounters with the under-30 set, we are assured it is underway by a recent poll from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. The ivy-covered organization’s annual survey of “millennials,” as today’s 18- to 29-year-olds are often called, found that their trust of government has dropped below even last year’s “historically low levels.” Almost every institution has seen its numbers slip, with Wall Street and the United Nations being the unaccountable exceptions, and it’s gotten to the point that even President Barack Obama is trusted by only 32 percent of the respondents.
Given the youngsters’ overwhelming support for Obama in the past two elections, the polling results are potentially good news for Republicans. Other hopeful numbers in the poll are that 44 percent of those who voted for Romney say they will definitely vote in the mid-term elections, compared to only 35 percent of Obama who say the same thing, and those identifying themselves as Republicans have increased in number even if they remain a minority. More importantly, the broader finding that “millennials” are less trusting of the government suggests they might at long last be persuaded to stop voting for more and more of it.
The wising-up of the young folks is not surprising, as they were bound to notice sooner or later that the candidates they have embraced are eager to stick them with the old folks’ medical bills along with a $17 trillion national debt and a massive regulatory state and meager employment prospects, but it remains to be seen if the GOP can win their votes. Our experience of young folks suggests that the lure of hope and change and free stuff has a powerful effect on them, and the next Democratic candidate could still convince them that despite whatever disappointments they’ve experienced in the past the next time is going to be different. Republicans still suffer from a reputation as sexually repressed squares, too, and the only things young people seem to desire more than hope and change and free stuff are sexual license and being thought hip. Undoing the the damage done by the public schools and higher education and all those touchy-feely soccer leagues might require an ever greater catastrophe than the one they’ve been living all their adult lives.
The best the Republicans can likely hope for is that fewer young people will bother to vote all, but even that might be enough to swing a few elections their way. If the Democrats are obliged to make their promises at least somewhat more plausible, and have to campaign without the youthful idealism and energy of the whippersnappers, that would also represent a significant improvement in America’s politics. Youthful idealism and energy are the most destructive forces known to history, and the sooner they are blunted by the hard-earned cynicism and lethargy of old age the better.

— Bud Norman

The Wising-Up of a Country

In such strange times as these we were heartened to read that 61 percent of America of thinks the president is a liar. Ordinarily we would find this a worrisome development, but in these extraordinary circumstances we consider it good news that the suckers are wising up.
The poll was conducted on behalf of the Fox News network, so feel free to dismiss it as just another fabrication by the vast right-wing conspiracy. There’s lately been a conspicuous lack of polling that indicates widespread trust in the president’s honesty, however, and we’re inclined to think the 61 percent figure sounds suspiciously low. Only a plurality of 37 percent of the poll’s respondents believe the president lies “most of the time,” with another 24 percent who will only go so far as to say he lies “some of the time,” and we’re left wondering what the rest could possibly be thinking.
Just off the top of our head we can recall the president assuring Americans that they if they liked their health care plans that they could keep them under Obamacare, that the average American family would save $2,500 a year on his premiums, and that all Americans would be covered. We remember a campaign promise that his health care reforms would not include an individual mandate, along with promises that no one making less than $250,000 a year would see any sort of tax increase, that the irresponsible and un-patriotic deficits of the Bush administration would be halved with four years, and that after too many years of drone strikes and interventions America’s international standing would be restored by smart diplomacy. There was that whopper on the late night comedy show about the murderous attacks on America’s consulate in Benghazi being a spontaneous reaction to some obscure YouTube video, and the whole bit about al Qaeda being on the run, the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups being the work of a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, and talk of the “most transparent administration ever,” and if we were inclined to spend the next several days on Google we’re sure we could come up a long list of other things that can be described as blatant lies.
Die-hard apologists for the administration could probably come up with numerous examples of the president being more or less honest, and if you count all his idle chit-chat about the weather and sleeping time they might even make a case that his lies don’t fill “most of the time,” but it’s hard to fathom how anyone could think they don’t take up at last “some of the time.” Another 20 percent allowed only that the president lies “now and then,” which seems overly generous, and 15 percent insist the president “never” lies, which seems downright worshipful and ridiculous. It’s been a couple of millennia since there was anyone on Earth who never lied, and the president clearly is not the second coming of that fellow.
The same poll shows the president’s approval rating at 42 percent with only 51 percent disapproving, so apparently there is a large number of Americans who believe he is a liar but don’t mind. We’ve even met a few earnest liberals who have offered apparently sincere explanations that the lies were told in the service of some greater good, such as foisting a health care reform law on the country that doesn’t keep any of its promises but screws things up badly enough to make an even worse single-payer system possible, and they clearly believe they are justified in telling further lies. They are acting out of deeply-felt affection for the average working American, as they explain it, and apparently the poor fellows are just stupid to handle the truth.
The latest poll shows that 39 percent of Americans haven’t yet figured out that the president lies somewhere been “most” and “some” of the time, so maybe those earnest liberals are on to something.

— Bud Norman