How many times have we been through this? Pollsters will ask people what they think of President Obama’s X Proposal, and they mostly disapprove. But when asked about the individual provisions of the X Proposal, a whopping majority think they’re grand.
We went through this with the Affordable Care Act, and we’re seeing it again with the jobs plan. What does this tell us?
I think it tells us something very simple. It tells us that most of the people polled have no clue what’s actually in the policy they’re being asked about. They just know they don’t like it, because that’s the vibe they feel sluicing out of their radios and TV sets and computer monitors.
The Noise Machine is well stocked with well-funded pundits — and some angry liberals — who declare over and over again what a failure President Obama is and how disappointed we’re all supposed to be and how he doesn’t know what he’s doing, blah blah blah. So, naturally, when people are asked about the President’s X policy, they dutifully repeat what Everybody Else says, which is that it’s probably a bad idea.
But why then do they approve of the individual parts of the policy? Because probably they had no idea that’s what’s in the bleeping policy. Hearing the individual provisions for the first time from a pollster, they say yeah, sure. Good ideas.
But then all the headlines and sound bites of the story say people don’t like Policy X, which reinforces the impression that Policy X is bad.
Really, people, polls don’t tell us anything about how good or bad a policy is. They are tests of the effectiveness of the Noise Machine. The degree to which the public says what it’s conditioned to say tells us how well the propaganda is working.
So, for once, I think Steve Benen doesn’t quite get it —
This may seem counter-intuitive â€” if people like the parts, they should like the whole â€” but it makes a lot of sense. Indeed, we saw the exact same thing during the fight over health care reform when Americans said they didnâ€™t like the Affordable Care Act, but strongly supported all of the ideas in the proposal. The problem is one of political perceptions â€” the president is struggling, so when folks are asked about his plan, the question becomes a referendum on him. But when asked about specific ideas, it turns out most Americans agree with Obama and his plan. (Likewise, during health care, folks were misled by attack ads and lousy media coverage, and came to think poorly of the proposal, but they actually liked whatâ€™s in the plan.)
But I don’t think most Americans understand what’s in the Patient Protection Act to this day, which is why it still polls fairly poorly. Big whopping chunks of the electorate may say they like the individual parts when asked by pollsters, but they still aren’t associating those individual parts with the PPA.
Put another way — if you were to give America a pop quiz on what’s in the PPA or the jobs plan or just about anything else the President has proposed — we’d flunk. Solid F. There aren’t enough of us who understand the proposals to make up for the vast ocean of cluelessness that is the American public.
As I’ve said in the past, I don’t blame the public as much as I blame news media for doing a crappy job covering political issues. Most people don’t have time to spend hours on the Web every day looking up information about things. They need issues explained to them, clearly and succinctly, and nobody is doing that. Or, I should say, the very few who are doing that are being drowned out by the Noise Machine of propaganda, so little actual information reaches most folks.
And it doesn’t help that most of the Left with any kind of megaphone is more or less echoing the Right’s argument — Obama’s a disaster, let’s primary him, yadda yadda. Hey, you don’t have to like him, but if you want to make America a place where progressive ideas are heard, honestly discussed, and even implemented, progressives need to stop whining about Obama and start trying to educate people about how progressive ideas can help them.
I think the biggest reason the President hasn’t been as effective as we wanted is not that he was a secret wingnut all along, but that he is cautious about overreaching what he can sell to Congress and the public. And the political climate is screaming at him to be cautious. You want a more progressive president? Make this a more progressive country.
We progressives may console ourselves that the public really is on our side because people agree with our policy ideas, but that’s not going to mean squat come election time, because the public won’t know anyone is proposing those policy ideas. They’ll just know they are disappointed in President Obama. Everybody says so.