Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Tax Me Bro!

Americans are a practical people, our politicians are not. While our chattering class can’t imagine how to fix the deficit problem, the public is actually very clear: cut spending, but do NOT raise taxes. We know this from a new CBS poll, which is actually very enlightening.

To give you the headline numbers, the CBS poll found that 77% of Americans want spending cut to fix the Obama deficit disaster. Only 9% want taxes raised, and an additional 9% want both cuts and tax hikes. This is an unmistakable message, especially for a poll produced by left-leaning CBS.

BUT, say our chattering class, Americans always say they want spending cuts, but they can never agree on what to cut. And if you look at part of this poll, that actually seems to be a plausible interpretation. When asked to volunteer a program they’d be willing to cut to reduce the deficit, only 38% of respondents could name a program. And of those who volunteered a program, no choice came up with anything more than token numbers. For example, the top response was the military (6%), followed by Social Security (4%), welfare (4%), and government salaries (2%).

But can you see what’s wrong with this question? It asks people to wipe out an entire program. In other words, it’s not asking “should we trim the military budget,” it’s asking “should we eliminate the military.” This is a false dilemma, and that’s what accounts for the low percentages. That’s also why the chattering class keeps using this type of question to create the impression that “Americans want cuts in principal, but don’t actually want anything cut.”

So what happens when you dig a little deeper? Well, this poll did. It actually asked people if they would agree to certain specific cuts. Here’s what the survey found people would agree to:

Reduce Social Security for wealthy63%34%
Reduce money for projects in your area58%35%
Reduce farm subsidies55%38%
Reduce defense spending52%44%

And here are the things they would not agree to:

Eliminate mortgage interest deduction45%48%
Raise retirement age43%54%
Reduce student loan money41%56%
Raise taxes33%65%
Reduce health care spending27%67%
Tax health care benefits26%69%

So what does this tell us? First, it’s clear that people will not accept tax increases of any sort. The American people have reached their limits on taxes. Any attempt to go above Clinton-era levels will be hazardous to your political career, and apparently even going this high is enough to wipe out a Democratic majority.

Secondly, take a look at what people are willing to cut. These are not minor programs that no one has ever heard of; these are the sacrosanct “untouchables” of our budget. These are the programs that everyone automatically assumed were excluded from any discussion of budget cuts: social security, “projects in your area” (i.e. pork), farm subsidies and military spending. I can’t think of any programs that have been considered more “untouchable” than these in our politics.

Third, it’s clear that when you go from broad, meaningless questions, like “would you eliminate the defense department”, to "would you be willing to reduce the defense budget", the public shows that they are indeed willing to make some cuts.

So what should we conclude from this? We should conclude that Americans are not looking for sweeping redefinitions of our government. They are willing to remake the government on an issue by issue basis, but forget proposals like eliminating Agency X or Department Y. Indeed, if you are a conservative looking to cut the budget, propose specific cuts to existing programs, but don’t propose broad, generalized cuts. And don’t be afraid to propose cuts in previously sacrosanct programs.

This also means the game is up for the chattering class, and they can no longer hide behind the fiction that people don’t want cuts because they aren’t willing to wipe out whole programs.

The American public is ready to do the right thing. Now our political class needs to catch up.


Tennessee Jed said...

What a great post to lead off the week. As you know, we have discussed polls in depth here at Commenterama and how they are manipulated or "pushed" to get the result the poller wants. This is as clear evidence as I've ever seen as to what the American public wants. Now, if only our elected officials in the House and Senate don't blow this, as the Bud-lite commercial states: "here We Go."

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew, it is clear everyone agrees that we need to make cuts/reductions, but no one is willing to offer up any cuts for their own pet projects. It is the same on a local level as well. Everyone knows we need to reduce spending, but it should be reduced from the other guys' programs.
We will never be able to agree on which programs to reduce, so why try.

So, why not just be an across the board 10% reductions in ALL Goverment spending including wages/benefits for ALL Government employees. Of course, the percentage is negotiable. That way everyone takes a small hit and no one can claim inequality. And as a nod to HuffPo, Yes that means a reduction to the military budget too.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I went to CBS' site to read the pdf document regarding the poll. I couldn't find the question where the respondant is asked to eliminate the entire program. I did see where they use "cut" rather than "reduce" but even I would have to admit most people would interpret "cut" as "reduce" rather than "eliminate." (e.g. tax cuts for the wealthy" referred to reduction in rates rather than elimination of all taxes.)

Am I looking in the wrong place? Just need to make certain of my facts.

Joel Farnham said...


Good article. People are really willing to cut their own pet programs if the pain of the cuts are shared.

What is more damaging is the restrictions that are given willy-nilly by the alphabet soup gang. EPA, FCC, etc. Those drive up the costs faster than taxes. I would love to see a group of Congress critters going through the regulations line by line each year to see what to cut.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jed! I agree, polls are far too unreliable because of all the possible errors that can arise -- from sampling error to questioning error to simply biased interpretation.

I think this poll shows very clearly that the public is ready for meaningful cuts across the board, and I don't think the MSM can hide behind the old "but what does the public really want"

I'm hoping that more polls are done along similar lines, so we can start gathering a collection of what the public is willing to cut.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Excellent counter point! Of course, the establishment response to the across-the-board cut is that (1) it's too blunt of an instrument and it will cut "necessary" programs, and (2) once people realize that their own programs will be cut, that won't work either.

Yeah, right.

The reality is that if the establishment doesn't get the message and start making the kinds of cuts that can be made, then the public WILL start taking big shwacks at the whole budget.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It wasn't specifically spelled out that way, which is the beauty of the question -- the ambiguity. It allows people to answer one question and the interpreters to pretend they answered something different.

In this case, I do think most people will hear the word "cut" as "eliminate," and the reason is the singular form of the word cut. If the intent was to convey the idea of a trim rather than an elimination, the word cut would need to be put into the plural or extra words would be needed: "from which program would you make cuts". That would imply a reduction, but as it stands, the word cut applies to the program rather than portions of the program.

It would be like asking you "which meal would you cut to reduce your calories" rather than "what could be cut from your diet to reduce your calories." You could understand "cut" to mean trim, but the more likely interpretation is that you are being asked to eliminate a meal.

And I think that is the interpretation the public has given this question, which accounts for the difference between the 6% who would "cut" defense and the 52% who would be willing to see "cuts" in the defense budget.

Moreover, I think this interpretation can be reinforced depending on context. If you start with a statement that the federal government does too many things it shouldn't, and you want to get to people's views on what the government should or should not be doing, and then you ask "what program would you cut", I think that strengthens the implication that they are talking about elimination.

But because the question is ambiguous, it lets the interpreters read it either way, and therefore argue that people don't actually want to "cut the defense budget" -- even though the question is actually "cut the defense program" not "cut the defense budget".

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Thanks! I agree about the regulations. The taxes are bad, but the regulations are worse. I'm hoping that's what Darrell Issa does with his committee, when he has all those businessmen come trooping through his committee. I'm hoping they come with lists of needless, oppressive, stupid, and wasteful regulations, and that Issa and his people start taking those out of the government's book of regulations one by one.

Ed said...

I LOVE numbers like this. It proves to me the American people are rational, sane and intelligent. It's too bad we elect fools.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I agree. And as I say above, I'd like to see them do a longer poll and start finding specific programs people are willing to cut. I think that would be very interesting, both in terms of finding things to cut, but also in terms of finding areas where we need to work harder to get people to understand the reality.

Anonymous said...

It was John Kennedy who recognized the necessity for across-the-board tax cuts ("a rising tide raises all boats"), but I'm having a little trouble thinking our current Profligate Messiah would even consider across-the-boards spending cuts. Who knows? Maybe we can hope for change (but I'm not holding my breath). The Laffer Curve only works if taxes are cut or stabilized and at the same time spending is cut correspondingly.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's one thing they did not ask in this poll, an across the board spending cut, though it would have been interesting to see the results.

Tam said...

I think part of the reason Americans don't know what to cut specifically is that we don't know where the hell the bureaucrats are spending our money. I would submit the entire You Cut list and say start with those. ALL OF THEM. I don't think we need to eliminate any of the programs that average citizens are aware of, such as defense, social security, medicaid, etc. But there is certainly room for major reductions in all of those areas. Also, I would say public education could use a major overhaul, especially in the administration.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, lack of knowledge is certainly part of it. At the end of the polling data, they asked people what percentage of the budget the various programs took up and people were giving ridiculous answers which show that they don't understand even the basics about the budget.

I think the Republicans need to educate people about where their money really goes: point out the actual percentages of each program, point out the sillier parts of those programs, point out the duplication, the waste, and the pointlessness of a lot of the spending. Then make the case that these things need to come out.

Unfortunately, right now people just assume that most of the money spent on X goes to X, when really only a small part of X goes to X and the rest goes to overhead and ludicrous subprograms that have nothing to do with X.

In terms of education, I think the whole system needs to be reworked. Right now, so much money is wasted on administration and silly regulations at the K-12 level, and at the college level, colleges with many-billion dollar endowments are growing ultra-rich on the federal government, while students leave with crushing student loan debt.

I keep meaning to start writing about education, but I never manage to get to it because Obama kept us hopping all year. Maybe now there will be time?

patti said...

i've often been accused of being against paved streets and clean water because i oppose new taxes and favor cuts. WHAT?! yeah, not even close to what the right believes. so i suspect there will be more of that flawed logic (is it even flawed logic if there is absolutely no logic to begin with?!) as the american folks start talking about cuts.

great breakdown, andrew.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Patti! I've gotten that too. Conservatives don't want clean water and roads and they want poor people and old people to starve. Give me a break.

And no, that's not logic, it's falling for propaganda -- there's no logic behind that. It's just plain stupidity and being an intellectual lemming.

DUQ said...

Nice article! Americans always make me proud!

Also, congrats on your desire to see the Patriots lose!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks DUQ! I'm still thrilled. Some people were even joking around about making today:

National Patriots Schadenfreude Day

LOL! I've been having a good time on some of the sports boards. Heh heh heh.

Ed said...

National Patriots Schadenfreude Day! LOL! That's great!

You could do a Commentarama Poll on where to make cuts?

CrispyRice said...

What I don't get is why politicians are afraid to follow through then. ARgh!!

Good article!

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

It's too bad more people aren't willing to cut more, but I guess this is a start. Grrrr. I can't understand why so many people are against raising the retirement age. It's not like you can't retire; it's just that your benefits don't kick in for a delayed period of time. It always amazes me how much power some people let the government have over them.

Ed said...

Pittsburgh Enigma, I agree. I don't understand what the big deal is with adding a couple years before social security kicks in? It's not like you can't retire before that? You still have your company retirement and your 401k, and lots of people work past that point anyway? What is the big deal?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I'm not sure a Commentarama Poll would be worth it as we haven't really come up with a list of things to cut at this point.

P.S. I'm enjoying National Patriots Schadenfreude Day very much. I was on the Boston Globe website, they've actually set up a grief page where fans can whine about the loss. Apparently, Tom Brady's girlfriend is "the Yoko Ono of Boston." Yikes.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Thanks! I think they take the path of least resistance, that's why. And fewer people will be upset if a program isn't cut than if it is cut -- plus the intensity of the being upset is on the side of those whose program gets cut.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, I don't get it either. If the choice is that some people need to live a few more years before they get benefits or the program goes broke, how could anyone not pick the extra few years? I think this goes back to the something for nothing mentality that the program instills.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, Good point. I think people lose track of the fact that social security is meant to supplement your retirement, not be your retirement.

StanH said...

Cut, cut, cut, and when in doubt cut more. At this stage nibbling around the edges wont do in the long run. There are thousands of earmarks, $790,000.00 to study cow farts, $1,300,000.00 to build a turtle tunnel just a couple. There are several alphabet agencies that need to be eliminated, or trimmed back EPA, DoE, FCC, giving more control to the legislative, these are becoming tools of a runaway executive to force it’s will by fiat. If we do not demand draconian cuts, we’ll wind up with none…shoot for the stars and wind up in-between.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I agree. It's time to cut, cut, cut and to do it in a way that takes away power. Let's hope the Republicans in Washington are listening.

CrispyRice said...

I hope these Republicans are different. Let's hope the Tea Party people hold their feet to the fire and teach them what the public wants.

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