We poll for a reason

Politicians are often derided for their poll-tested messaging, accused of putting their fingers up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. 

If only Democrats were that beholden to the polls, perhaps they wouldn’t be in such difficulty this year. 


Immigration reform is wildly popular — polls consistently show support for reform near the 80s, and it’s equally popular among all political leanings. A May poll by Lake Research for America’s Voices found that Democrats and independents both supported reform by 76 percent, while Republicans topped that, at 84 percent. Despite the broad and deep support across the country, Democrats did nothing, paralyzed with fear that Republicans would run nasty ads accusing them of “amnesty.” They’ll do that anyway.

When debating the healthcare reform bill, Democrats immediately took single-payer off the table, despite 58 percent favoring it, according to a Kaiser Health tracking poll in July 2009 (and garnering similar support in myriad other polls). A government-run public insurance option garnered 57 percent support in an October 2009 Washington Post/ABC News poll, despite nearly a year of nonstop demonizing by opponents. That level of support remained virtually unchanged through passage of the bill, including support from a significant minority of Republican respondents. Yet Democrats did nothing, paralyzed by the dictates of their corporate benefactors and afraid of the ads Republicans would run (and are running anyway) accusing them of a “government takeover of healthcare.”

Polling has consistently shown huge public support for reversing the regressive “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevents openly homosexual Americans from serving their country in our armed forces. A CNN Opinion Research Corp. poll in May had support at 78 percent, compared to a fringe 20 percent opposed. A CBS poll in August had nearly identical numbers (75-19). Only recently have Democrats moved on the issue, and, even then, tentatively so, clearly afraid of sparking culture-war attacks for their support for tolerance and equality.

How about more stimulative spending? A USA Today/Gallup Poll on June 11-13 of this year asked, “Would you favor or oppose Congress passing new legislation this year that would do the following? How about approve additional government spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy?” Sixty percent favored a new stimulus package and 38 opposed it. Democrats did nothing, paralyzed with fear that Republicans would run nasty ads accusing them of deficit spending. They’re doing that anyway.

On global warming legislation, a Gallup poll for USA Today in June found that 56 percent of Americans favored “Regulat[ing] energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming,” while 40 percent opposed. Democrats did nothing.

And finally, there’s the matter of George W. Bush’s budget-busting tax cuts, which Republicans desperately want to maintain for their millionaire benefactors. The most recent poll on the issue, from Opinion Research Corp. for CNN on Sept. 21-23, found that 79 percent favor extending the tax cuts for those making under $250,000, while 53 percent oppose doing so for those making above that number. Yet Democrats are doing nothing to craft a new tax-cut package for middle-class Americans before the election, paralyzed with fear that Republicans will run nasty ads accusing them of raising taxes (on the rich). Republicans are running those ads anyway.

Assuming big Republican gains this November, the media narrative will claim Democrats overreached and governed too liberally. Yet actual progressive policies polled well and continue to poll well. If anything, it’s been failure to act on popular legislation that helped put them in this hole.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos and author of American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right