D. Dowd Muska


The Year in Public Opinion

December 18, 2014

It’s not true that the only poll that counts is on Election Day.

Yes, voters delivered a merciless pounding to the Democratic Party in November. But several of the opinion surveys conducted in 2014 help indicate where policy and politics are likely to trend as the nation grasps for sustained economic growth, readies itself for a new president, and faces unimaginable public-sector debts.

First a word about the lame-duck-in-chief. Polls weren’t kind to the Obama Derangement Industry, which can’t be pleased with its futile crusade to pulverize Barack Obama’s image. From January through mid-December, Gallup’s job-approval survey barely budged. Obama entered the year underwater, with 40 percent endorsing his performance and 53 percent disappointed. The latest results: 43 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval. Americans’ reactions to the 40th and 44th presidents remain eerily similar. Ronald Reagan enjoyed the affection of a hard-core and fairly sizable collection of folks who -- no matter what -- just liked the guy. Obama relies on the same kind of base. It’s difficult to see him leaving office with anything approaching the ire that was directed toward Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush.

Speaking of the Conqueror of Mesopotamia, in June, a poll for CBS and The New York Times found that 75 percent did not consider the toppling of Saddam Hussein to be “worth the loss of American lives and other costs.” A few months earlier, Gallup discovered that for the “first time since the U.S. initially became involved in Afghanistan in 2001, Americans are as likely to say U.S. military involvement there was a mistake as to say it was not.”

In 2014, public sentiment could not have emboldened advocates for “national greatness.” In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that “nearly half of those surveyed want the U.S. to be less active on the global stage, with fewer than one-fifth calling for more active engagement.” The newspaper’s poll, taken with partner NBC News, revealed that at 47 percent, the portion of respondents who leaned toward the wisdom of America First “marked a larger share than in similar polling in 2001, 1997 and 1995.” Scaremongering about the Islamic State sent the numbers in the wrong direction in the following months. But as the warnings of imminent terrorist attacks inside the U.S. amount to nothing, as is usually the case, look for strong noninterventionist support to return. Only neocon dead-enders, it seems, fail to understand that peace is impossible in the Middle East’s demented slaughterhouse, the conflict over Ukraine is Europe’s problem, and U.S. “allies” in the Pacific need to work things out with China on their own.

The scariest survey of 2014 confirmed that Americans adore their costliest welfare program, and absent a fiscal meltdown, they’re not giving it up. The Pew Research Center’s analysis of “political typology,” issued in June, asked about Social Security reform. Two options were offered: either “some future reductions need to be considered” or “benefits should not be reduced in any way.” In total, 67 percent chose the latter. The group categorized as “Steadfast Conservatives” agreed to almost the same degree -- 64 percent favored the status quo. Not a single benefit-cut majority existed for the seven breeds of voters scrutinized. A plurality (49 percent) of “Business Conservatives” was willing to accept fiscal reality, but nearly as many (46 percent) wanted the checks untouched. Entitlement Armageddon, coming soon -- it’ll be fun.

The young adults who will pay the bills for Boomers’ and Xers’ nationalized pensions and “free” healthcare are often disparaged as lazy, entitled, helicopter-parented whiners. The right believes that Millennials, who enthusiastically backed Barack Obama twice, will stay blue forever. Au contraire. A spring Reason-Rupe survey concluded that 18-to-29-year-olds “are no more Democratic than older Americans, but they are more independent and less Republican.” (Older Millennials, who have gotten married and/or purchased a home, shift toward the GOP.) The generation is split evenly over government’s role in ending “income inequality,” but majorities prefer capitalism to socialism, and meritocracy to egalitarianism.

Let’s end on an unambiguously heartening data point. In January, Pew released its annual review at the nation’s 20 policy priorities. The economy, jobs, and terrorism clustered at the top, with education, healthcare, and crime not far behind. “Climate change”? It landed at #19, barely edging out “global trade issues.” Warmists’ hysteria -- the left’s version of “Islamofascism” -- doesn’t scare many Americans. It’s encouraging to think that a nation that won’t confront several of its real challenges is savvy enough to ignore a phony crisis.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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