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Ezra Klein, wunderkind of the Washington Post, believes he has the goods on Republicans. His “gotcha” comes in the form of a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll on the matter of which party should compromise in order to avoid a government shutdown and all its attendant apocalyptic events.

I’ll not recreate Klein’s argument, but I’ll give you the gist. Most Democrats and Independents say that Democrats shuold compromise. Most independents say Republicans should also compromise but most Republicans say that Republicans should not compromise. Oho, says Klein! Here is proof of conservative recalcitrance! Here is everything you need to know about who is willing to bend on the budget debate!

His conclusion is that the poll demonstrates that the Democrats are poised for the big win because of the stubbornness of the base:

The problem for Republicans is that what their base wants them to do is not what independents want them to do. Democrats, meanwhile, can work to prove their openness to compromise because that’s what both their base and independents want them to do. Their political incentives are a lot easier to navigate than the GOP’s.

And that’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion if the poll is solid. But it’s not. It is a horrible deceptive poll that assumes a fact that is not a fact. When you remove the false assumption and look at the current situation as it is, the poll falls apart and Republican voters look a heck of a lot more reasonable. The problem is in assumption behind the question the pollsters asked to each party, so let’s take a look at those questions.

Here is what the poll asks Democrats:

Do you want Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to make compromises to gain consensus on the current budget debate, or do you want them stick to their positions even if this means not being able to gain consensus on the budget?

So far, so good. This is a perfectly reasonable question and the respondents give a perfectly reasonable answer. Of course they want compromise. Who besides a bull-necked super-partisan wouldn’t want compromise when the lack thereof means that poor Ma and Pa Bitterclingy will have to cancel their spring vacations?

Now let’s look at the question asked of the Republicans:

Do you want Republican leaders in the House and Senate to make compromises to gain consensus on the current budget debate, or do you want them stick to their positions even if this means not being able to gain consensus on the budget?

That looks like pretty much the same question, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not and here’s why. Both questions assume that neither party has heretofore compromised on their positions. We know, however, that isn’t true. Republicans have made several compromises.

Remember that the GOP’s opening bid on cuts in this year’s budget was $100 billion dollars. They campaigned on that number and won a historic election victory. However, in the spirit of compromise, they quickly backed down to a position at $61 billion that is nearly halfway between their $100 billion and the Democrats’ opening bid of no cuts at all. That, by the way, is an awfully fair number as it cuts their opening bid in half plus tacks on a very small “we won” bonus which, I’m sure you’d agree, is more than reasonable considering the party in power always retains the upper hand in negotiations.

Clearly, the Republicans have already compromise once. But that’s not the end of it. They compromised again with the latest one-week continuing resolution. The GOP is asking for $12 billion in budget cuts, which would bring the grand total thus far (thanks to a recent $10 billion cut) to $22 billion. This $12 billion is the sticking point for Democrats. This is the cut over which they are willing to close parks, stop paychecks to soldiers, and bring about the End Times.

So, really, what we have is a situation where the Republicans started at $100 billion and are now all the way down to fighting for $22 billion. Maybe they’ll get back to their $61 billion and maybe not. But they have compromised, to the tune of $78 billion dollars. The Democrats have reluctantly gone as far as a paltry $10 billion and will not budge any further.

So when the poll asks Republicans if their members of Congress should compromise, it’s deceiving you because it leaves out the annoying little fact that they already have. NBC and the Wall Street Journal want you to believe that neither side has compromised so they can push their poll results as de facto evidence that Democrats are the reasonable people in this debate. What is truly insulting about the poll, and Klein’s reaction to it, is that all this information is readily available thanks to the magic of Google. They all simply assume we’ll swallow whatever they shove at us like it’s tasty candy. Thankfully, we’re living in a New Media world and stuff like this just won’t fly anymore.

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2 Responses to “Fun With Bad Polls (Or, Why Won’t Those Wicked Republicans Compromise?)”

  1. EricH says:

    Republicans didn't exactly negotiate their way from $100B to $61B, they just lowered their sights, as time passed; cutting 4% from a year's budget is bound to be more money than cutting the same 4% from a 7 month budget. I think that's why they don't get credit for compromising….
    What bugs me at this point in the ongoing reporting is that they only mention the disagreement on the top-line number, as though that was the only problem. ("Dems won't cut more than $33B, Reps won't cut less than $40B, this is going to cause a shutdown!") But even if they settled on one number or the other, there would still be disagreements on where to make the cuts, and those disagreements would be enough to make the budget fail.

  2. [...] — $100 billion against “Screw you and the Tea Parties you rode in on”.Republicans backed down to $61 billion and Democrats ponied up a counter-offer of $6 billion (which they then blew up to $50 billion [...]

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