Published on TheHill.com on May 29, 2012
In the repetitive congressional debate over budget cuts, spending and taxes, the dialogue between the parties has become so ossified that we all know it by rote.
The Republicans say we have to cut spending. The Democrats counter that we must save vital programs. The Republicans demand cuts before they approve more borrowing. The Democrats reply that we have only to raise taxes on the wealthy and our problems are history.
In my survey of 6,000 likely voters, including a special sample of 1,500 swing voters, taken from May 5 to 11, I probed these clichéd arguments and found that the tax-the-rich rebuttal fails to sway swing voters.
By harping on the theme of taxing the rich, Obama wins the battle but loses the war. Swing voters do strongly support taxing the rich more. But they also believe that the economy won’t recover unless we cut spending and borrowing. They do not believe that taxing the rich will do the trick. They support these taxes, but they do not feel that they can generate enough revenue to make big spending cuts unnecessary. Obama is running a sideshow on taxing the wealthy while, in the view of swing voters, he fails to address our central need for spending cuts.
Swing voters believe that we “cannot balance the budget and eliminate the deficit without cutting some important programs like education, Head Start, the environment, food stamps and Medicaid.” Even when asked if tax increases on the rich would obviate the necessity for cutting these programs, most swing voters disagree and believe the cuts would still be needed.
The more Obama and the Democrats hang tough on opposing cuts without taxes on the rich, the deeper they dig their political graves because, while swing voters support the taxes on the rich, they do not regard them as central to solving our major problem of spending and borrowing.
The survey of swing voters indicates that on the energy issue, Republicans have a big advantage as well.
Asked if they agree with the Keystone pipeline, swing voters support it by 45-23. When told that “some support the pipeline because they say it would bring Canadian oil and gas to the U.S. Others are opposed because they worry about environmental damage,” swing voters embrace the need for the pipeline by 49-38.
Oil drilling is broadly popular among swing voters. They support an increase in offshore oil drilling despite the risks of environmental damage, and strongly support increases in domestic oil production.
And, as noted in last week’s column, while they back higher oil-company taxes and loathe these corporations, they do not believe taxing is the answer to our energy problems. They believe that drilling is.
Nor do swing voters buy into the Obama record on foreign policy. While the president does better on foreign policy than on the economy, pluralities of swing voters believe that things are getting worse for us around the world. By 41-30, swing voters say that “the Middle East and the Muslim world is more anti-American than it was four years ago.” By 38-3, they think that Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons than four years ago. And by 28-13, they feel North Korea is more of a threat. By 27-5, they believe that China is engaging in more unfair trade practices now than it did four years ago.
So while Obama wins points for pulling out of Iraq and, so far, for his handling of Afghanistan, swing voters broadly dissent from his view that things are better now for the United States than they were four years ago.
View my most recent videos in case you missed them!