Give the media and blog play the new Pew Survey on political values and core attitudes seems to be getting, I find it necessary to offer a further rebuttal to the usefulness of the insights provided by the poll.
No matter what people might say about "big government" or the social safety net in the abstract, when asked about specific policies, the vast majority of Americans don't actually want to change anything. From a Harris poll two years ago:
These are just some of the results of a nationwide Harris Poll of 2,223 adults surveyed online between March 6 and 14, 2007 by Harris Interactive®. Other findings include:
- A 71 percent to 15 percent majority of adults do not think "it is necessary to increase taxes to reduce the budget deficit". Large majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents feel this way;
- Even if taxes "had to be raised", very large majorities oppose raising the estate tax (64%) gas taxes (82%), income taxes (81%), the social security tax (83%), and the Medicare tax (87%);
- The only two taxes on the list shown to those interviewed which would be acceptable to majorities of adults ("if taxes had to be raised") are taxes on cigarettes and beer and alcohol, with 73 percent and 72 percent of adults respectively saying these so called "taxes" should be increased;
- When it comes to cutting government spending, there is little support for cutting any substantial programs. Given a list of twelve federal government programs and asked to pick two which should be cut ("if spending had to be cut") space programs top the list by a wide margin (51%). Significant minorities, all under 30 percent, pick welfare programs (28%), defense spending (28%), farm subsidies (24%), environmental programs (16%), homeland security (12%) and transportation (11%). Hardly anyone would cut Medicaid (4%), education (3%), Social Security (2%) or Medicare (1%).
By throwing around terms like "socialism" and asking vague questions about political values, we can pretend that there are major policy differences in America. However, when people are actually asked about government programs, the bi-partisan, status quo nature of America is truly revealed.
Miniscule percentages--less than 5%--of the country want to make cuts to Medicaid, education, Social Security and Medicare when given a choice between those and other programs. The percentage of people who want to cut defense spending is down, too. In addition to unemployment, these programs account for roughly 80% of government spending, and very few people want to cut them.
On the other side of the coin, it seems that the only tax increases people favor are taxes on the wealthy, and also cigarette and alcohol taxes. Everything else is pretty unpopular.
The simple fact is that the overwhelming political advice from the American is to maintain the status quo. And so, our politicians do just that. I've said it before and I'll say it again: right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats are only arguing over 3% of the economy. We could bother to point that out to the country, but it seems a lot easier to call each other names and pretend that our abstract self-identifications actually constitute large policy differences.