JONATHAN COHN OCTOBER 19, 2011
Polling can be less revealing than it seems. Sometimes voters are uninformed. Sometimes they hold views in obvious contradiction to one another. And sometimes they give answers that reflect the wording of questions more than their own substantive views. But it's getting hard to ignore the polls suggesting that Americans are in a populist mood -- and by populist, I mean the liberal as opposed to the conservative kind.
The latest evidence comes from the new United Technologies/National Journal survey. In it, pollsters asked respondents whether they supported President Obama's proposal to raise taxes on the very wealthy and whether they wanted the Senate to confirm Richard Cordray, Obama's nominee to run the new consumer protection board. The results were striking:
a whopping 68 percent of adults support the Democratic surtax to pay for the cost of their jobs plan. Only 27 percent opposed the tax, while 5 percent didn’t know. Men and women split almost identically on the issue, and black non-Hispanics were more supportive of the surtax than white non-Hispanics, with 84 percent supporting the idea. ... A majority of those surveyed said that the Senate should confirm Cordray, and 39 percent said that it should not confirm him, while 15 percent either didn’t know or refused to say.
As the graphs above show, these positions were popular among most sub-groups, including independent voters. And note that both questions linked the proposal to Obama by name. As I recall, his association with an idea has tended to undermine its popularity, at least among independents and conservatives. Either that effect has dissipated or these ideas are even more popular than the numbers suggest.
The same survey asked respondents about the Occupy Wall Street protests. Republicans say they are an unruly mob and the financial community thinks they are being unfair. The majority of Americans don't seem to agree:
Americans overwhelmingly support the self-styled Occupy Wall Street protests that not only have disrupted life in Lower Manhattan but also in Washington and cities and towns across the U.S. and in other nations. Some 59 percent of adults either completely agree or mostly agree with the protesters, while 31 percent mostly disagree or completely disagree; 10 percent of those surveyed didn’t know or refused to answer.
What’s more, many people are paying attention to the rallies. Almost two-thirds of respondents—65 percent—said they’ve heard “a lot” or “some” about the rallies, while 35 percent have said they’ve heard or seen “not too much” or “nothing at all” about the demonstrations.
The cautionary note, for Democrats and liberals, is that respondents blame inaction from Washington on "fighting between Democrats and Republicans" -- as opposed to obstruction by Republicans. When you hear Democrats from more conservative areas say they worry Obama's more aggressive, partisan style is alienating their constituents, that mentality is what they have in mind.
Still, fighting between the two parties is a reality at this point. In fact, it has been ever since the day Obama took office. If surveys like this are indicative -- a real "if," I know -- then I assume the best bet for Obama and his allies is to keep making the populist argument.