The Debt Fight and Public Opinion

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Two smart points about how the circus in Washington is being viewed by American voters:


Indeed, pollsters have warned that what’s unique about this crisis is the consequences are so big but the facts also so new to the average American. That’s because Washington has never quite had a debt ceiling fight like this one and early polling can’t be trusted since voters need time to sort out the issue for themselves.

I think that’s clearly right. Walter Lippman argued that the massses can’t be expected to understand complex issues clearly enough to dictate decisions for the common good, and called for a professional class of researcher-experts to guide government action. That’s a problematic approach in a democracy. But it’s probably also true that current polls reflect some of the least-informed opinion we’ve seen in a while.

That said, I do think this process-oriented opinion dynamic, as described by Norm Ornstein, is valid and important–particularly as we try to envision the potential political fallout from this whole fiasco:

The tribal politics in Washington have metastasized into the country, but even most members of the two tribes want the people we elect to come to Washington to get together, transcend the differences, and solve problems. Anything that looks more like mud-wrestling than mature problem-solving through compromise gets a hearty thumbs-down. And, in contrast, anything that looks like mature problem-solving, even if the parts are questionable, gets a big thumbs-up. Tea Party conservatives are convinced that the 2010 elections were a huge public mandate of support for a radical, cut-government and cut-taxes agenda. The mandate was far more one of trying to get mature individuals to come together and transcend their differences for the public good. That was certainly true of most Democrats and most independents, and a healthy swath of Republicans. But it was not true for the most active share of Republicans, those who dominate caucuses and primaries, and it is the latter group to whom Republican lawmakers are most sensitive.