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Posts Tagged ‘Polling’

I posted some polling data a couple of weeks ago that showed how the dependency mindset (as captured by these cartoons) is far worse in Europe than it is in the United States.

Now let’s look at some additional public opinion research from Gallup that illuminates American exceptionalism. Here is how voters responded to a question on the biggest threat to America’s future.

Though I don’t want to get too optimistic. Given what’s happening in Europe and the fact that politicians so far have failed to enact genuine entitlement reform, the 64 percent should be 94 percent.

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I wrote last year that, “I don’t think public policy should be based on polling data, but I always am happy when the American people are on the right side of an issue since it increases the possibility of good outcomes in Washington.”

One other thing to consider is that pollsters can manipulate results by changing how they word a question.

But even with those caveats, I feel good about two three new polls. First, from the folks at Gallup,we have two charts showing that the federal government isn’t winning any popularity contests.

And here’s some more data from the Gallup poll, showing that the federal government has the lowest net positive (or in this case, highest net negative) of any segment of the U.S. economy. It even ranks below lawyers and the oil/gas industry.

We also have some numbers from Rasmussen showing that voters are particularly dismayed by the power of the federal government.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 50% of Likely Voters believe the federal government has too much influence over state governments. Just 11% think the federal government does not have enough influence while 26% believe the balance is about right. Thirteen percent (13%) are not sure.  …These results come at a time when just 17% believe the federal government has the consent of the governed and only 14% believe the country is generally heading in the right direction.

I also like that only 17 percent think the federal government “has the consent of the governed.” Sounds like people have figured out that much of what happens in Washington is a racket for the benefit of insiders.

Numbers like these warm my heart – just as happened with recent polls on spending cuts, the VAT, and Social Security reform.

P.S. There’s a new Reason-Rupe poll showing that the American people understand that reducing the burden of government spending will boost the economy, whereas tax increases will just lead to bigger government.

…over 57 percent of Americans say reducing government spending will “mostly help” the economy, according to a new national Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey of 1,200 adults. Just 21 percent believe cutting spending will “mostly harm” the economy. …If taxes do go up, Americans don’t trust that the new revenue will be used to reduce the national debt.  When asked what they expect Congress would do with money generated by tax increases, 62 percent of Americans say Congress would spend that money on new programs. Only 27 percent of taxpayers believe Congress would actually use the money to pay down the national debt.

All these results demonstrate the wisdom of the American people (though I reserve the right to re-classify them as ignorant yokels when they disagree with me).

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I just had the interesting experience of getting called by a well-known polling company while sitting in the Tampa Airport.

The good news is that they’re allegedly going to send me $5 for participating via cell phone (yes, I’m a cheap bastard, so that was all it took to convince me to give up 10 minutes of my time – especially since there are not many exciting things to do while waiting for a delayed flight).

The bad news is that polling companies ask poorly designed questions.

I was asked, for instance, what I wanted as the main goal of fiscal policy. My choices were, a) reducing taxes, b) reducing the deficit, or c) maintaining government services. I told the pollster that the right answer is, d) reducing government spending. After all, the evidence is very clear that excessive government slows growth by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy. Sadly, the poll only allowed the three options. So I said “reducing taxes” since that was my only choice that couldn’t be misinterpreted.

Another question was whether the retirement of the baby boom generation would create problems for health care. So I told the pollster that also made no sense. The retirement of the boomers would create big problems for Medicare and Medicaid, but that’s not the same as big problems for health care. So I refused to answer that question. In retrospect, I probably should have answered “yes” since government intervention has screwed up the entire health care system, even the parts that ostensibly are private.

To be fair, most of the questions were straightforward. Shockingly, I said that I disapproved of Obama’s performance. You’ll also be stunned to learn that I said I was a strong supporter of the Tea Party movement. And I was insulted to be asked whether I was male or female after a 10-minute conversation.

Last but not least, I avoided the temptation to mis-identify myself as a Pacific Islander. That should only be done when dealing with government.

One final note. This actually was my second experience with pollsters. The first time happened when I was walking by a pay phone in a shopping mall in Indianapolis about 15 years ago. The phone rang, nobody was around, so I figured I would answer and tell the person they had a wrong number. Much to my surprise, it was a polling company, which proceeded to ask me questions about a local congressional race. Even though I obviously couldn’t vote in that area, I went ahead and told them I was firmly against Congresswoman Carson.

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I always view polling data with a bit of skepticism, but I’m nonetheless embarrassed by new data from a 22-nation poll showing that German and French respondents are even more opposed to so-called stimulus spending than American respondents. If Americans are to the left of Europeans on size-of-government issues, that does not bode well for our future. On the other had, at least we’re not as naive and/or stupid as Egyptians, Mexicans, Russians, Indonesians, and Nigerians. Here’s a blurb from the summary.

In 14 of 22 countries most people–on average 56 per cent–favour an increase in government spending to stimulate the economy. This includes large majorities of Egyptians (91%), Mexicans (80%), Russians and Indonesians (both 78%), and Nigerians (73%). But majorities are opposed in a number of industrialised countries that had large stimulus programmes–Germany (66%), France (63%) and the US (58%).

The good news from the poll is that a majority of people around the world recognize that governments waste money at alarming rates. Americans think that 55 percent of their taxes are squandered. The Spanish, for inexplicable reasons, are most likely to think money is not wasted (perhaps because most of them have their snouts in the pubic trough?).

People believe that their government misspends more than half the money they pay in tax, according to the findings of a new BBC World Service global poll across 22 countries–but many are still looking to government to play a more active economic role. The poll of more than 22,000 people, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, found that people estimated on average that 52 per cent of the money they pay in tax is not used in ways that serve the interests and values of the people of their country. …The countries with the lowest average estimate of misspent tax money were Spain (average 34% misspent), Indonesia (40%), Azerbaijan and Egypt (both 42%). The highest were in Columbia (74% misspent) and Pakistan (69%). In the world’s two largest economies, Americans estimate on average that 55 per cent of their taxes are misspent, while in China the figure is 46 per cent. …As well as being less likely to support action to address the deficit, those who have the highest estimates of tax misspending are less likely to support government stimulus spending–among those who think that more than three-quarters of their tax money is misspent, only 47 per cent believe the government should spend to stimulate the economy.

The full report can be read here.

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I am pleasantly shocked to see that a healthy majority of respondents favor partial privatization of Social Security. I knew support was reasonably strong several years ago, but I feared that the financial crisis would have made Americans more leery of financial markets. I also wondered whether the idea was discredited by its association with the Bush Administration. But a new Pew survey shows very good results, so maybe Republicans will feel more comfortable about developing a “secret plan” for Social Security reform.

…a majority favors a proposal to allow some private investments in Social Security… The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted Sept. 9-12 among 1,001 adults, finds that 58% favor a proposal that would allow workers younger than age 55 to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts that would rise and fall with the markets; 28% oppose this proposal. Majorities across all age groups — except for those ages 65 and older — favor this proposal. …Support for the general concept is comparable to support for a similar plan advocated by former President George W. Bush in 2004. As he sought reelection in the fall of 2004, 58% of registered voters that September favored allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security; 26% said they opposed this change. However, after Bush won reelection and debate about the proposal began, support weakened. By March 2005, the public was largely split (44% favor, 40% oppose) and the proposal was not enacted.

P.S. The same poll shows that people are not sympathetic, however, to reforming Medicare, however, so the Social Security silver cloud does have a dark lining.

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I like poking fun at French politicians for being hopeless statists, and I always assumed that French voters shared their collectivist sympathies. But according to new polling data reported by the Financial Times, there may be a Tea Party revolt brewing in France. Among major European nations, the French are most in favor of smaller government. Sacre Bleu!
European governments have solid public support, at least for now, for the spending cuts they are making in an effort to boost economic recovery, according to the latest Financial Times/Harris opinion poll. …The poll’s results point to a fiscal conservatism among the European public that contrasts with the eagerness with which most governments ran up high deficits to protect jobs and living standards as the crisis unfolded. …Asked if public spending cuts were necessary to help long-term economic recovery, 84 per cent of French people, 71 per cent of Spaniards, 69 per cent of Britons, 67 per cent of Germans and 61 per cent of Italians answered Yes. …Asked if they preferred public spending cuts or tax rises as a way to reduce budget deficits and national debts, strong majorities in the five EU countries as well as the US were in favour of spending cuts. Similarly conservative views on public expenditure emerged when people were asked if EU governments were right to engage in large-scale deficit-spending after the 2008 crisis. In all five EU countries, a majority – ranging from 68 per cent in France and Italy to 54 per cent in the UK – said the governments were wrong to have done so.

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Gloominess and despair are not uncommon traits among supporters of limited government – and with good reason. Government has grown rapidly in recent years and it is expected to get much bigger in the future. To make matters worse, it seems that the deck is stacked against reforms to restrain government. One problem is that 47 percent of Americans are exempt from paying income taxes, which presumably means they no longer have any incentive to resist big government. Mark Steyn recently wrote a very depressing column for National Review Online about this phenomenon, noting that, “By 2012, America could be holding the first federal election in which a majority of the population will be able to vote themselves more government lollipops paid for by the ever shrinking minority of the population still dumb enough to be net contributors to the federal treasury.” Walter Williams, meanwhile, has a new column speculating on whether this cripples the battle for freedom:

According to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., research organization, nearly half of U.S. households will pay no federal income taxes for 2009…because their incomes are too low or they have higher income but credits, deductions and exemptions that relieve them of tax liability. This lack of income tax liability stands in stark contrast to the top 10 percent of earners, those households earning an average of $366,400 in 2006, who paid about 73 percent of federal income taxes. …Let’s not dwell on the fairness of such an arrangement for financing the activities of the federal government. Instead, let’s ask what kind of incentives and results such an arrangement produces and ask ourselves whether these results are good for our country. …Having 121 million Americans completely outside the federal income tax system, it’s like throwing chum to political sharks. These Americans become a natural spending constituency for big-spending politicians. After all, if you have no income tax liability, how much do you care about deficits, how much Congress spends and the level of taxation?

Steyn and Williams are right to worry, but the situation is not as grim as it seems for the simple reason that a good portion of the American people know the difference between right and wrong. Consider some of the recent polling data from Rasmussen, which found that “Sixty-six percent (66%) believe that America is overtaxed. Only 25% disagree. Lower income voters are more likely than others to believe the nation is overtaxed” and “75% of voters nationwide say the average American should pay no more than 20% of their income in taxes.” These numbers contradict the hypothesis that 47 percent of Americans (those that don’t pay income tax) are automatic supporters of class-warfare policy.

So why are the supposed free-riders not signing on to the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda? There are probably several reasons, including the fact that many Americans believe in upward mobility, so even if their incomes currently are too low to pay income tax, they aspire to earn more in the future and don’t want higher tax rates on the rich to serve as a barrier. I’m not a polling expert, but I also suspect there’s a moral component to these numbers. There’s no way to prove this assertion, but I am quite sure that the vast majority of hard-working Americans with modest incomes would never even contemplate breaking into a rich neighbor’s house and stealing the family jewelry. So it is perfectly logical that they wouldn’t support using the IRS as a middleman to do the same thing.

A few final tax observations:

The hostility to taxation also represents opposition to big government (at least in theory). Rasumssen also recently found that, “Just 23% of U.S. voters say they prefer a more active government with more services and higher taxes over one with fewer services and lower taxes. …Two-thirds (66%) of voters prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes.” 

There is a giant divide between the political elite and ordinary Americans. Rasmussen’s polling revealed that, “Eighty-one percent (81%) of Mainstream American voters believe the nation is overtaxed, while 74% of those in the Political Class disagree.”

Voters do not want a value-added tax or any other form of national sales tax. They are not against the idea as a theoretical concept, but they wisely recognize the politicians are greedy and untrustworthy. Rasumussen found that “just 26% of all voters think that it is even somewhat likely the government would cut income taxes after implementing a sales tax. Sixty-six percent (66%) believe it’s unlikely to happen.” 

Fiscal restraint is a necessary precondition for any pro-growth tax reform. If given a choice between a flat tax, national sales tax, value-added tax, or the current system, many Americans want reform, but it is very difficult to have a good tax system if the burden of government spending is rising. Likewise, it would be very easy to have a good tax system if we had a federal government that was limited to the duties outlined in Article I, Section VIII, of the Constitution.

Republicans should never acquiesce to higher taxes. All these good numbers and optimistic findings are dependent on voters facing a clear choice between higher taxes and bigger government vs lower taxes and limited government. If Republicans inside the beltway get seduced into a “budget summit” where taxes are “on the table,” that creates a very unhealthy dynamic where voters instinctively try to protect themselves by supporting taxes on somebody else – and the so-called rich are the easiest target.

Last but not least, I can’t resist pointing out that I am part of a debate for U.S. News & World Report on the flat tax vs. the current system. For those of you who have an opinion on this matter, don’t hesitate to cast a vote.

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