Voting is Retrospective


Greg Sargent notes a public opinion paradox:

The new CBS/New York Times poll drives this point home as starkly as you could want — and suggests that Dems have failed at one of their core political missions.

The poll finds that an overwhelming majority of 64% think Republicans are opposing Obama’s health care plans mostly for political reasons. But it also finds that an equally large number, 65%, say Democrats shouldn’t pass a bill without Republicans — even if they think it’s right for the country — and should instead compromise to win over some GOPers.

I don’t know that I think this shows Democrats have failed at anything. I think it mostly re-demonstrates the familiar result that outside a fairly narrow band of questions the public doesn’t necessarily have detailed, stable, and coherent opinions. That these two views don’t really make much sense together suggests that a substantial swathe of the population just hasn’t thought these questions through very thoroughly. Which is to be expected—why would everyone have strongly-held opinions about obscure in-the-weeds process issues?

As Steve Benen says the bigger issue is going to be whether or not people like what they see after a new program is implemented. Nobody is going to say “this bill sucks, but I appreciate that the reason it sucks is compromises made in order to please George Voinovich which was a course of action I approved of at the time, so therefore I can’t complain.” How many people even know who George Voinovich is?

A bill that’s bipartisan enough to be supported by the opposition party leadership (like TARP or to some extent the Iraq authorizing vote) probably does buy you some political cover by actively compromising your potential critics. But it’s hard to see what difference one diffident minority legislator or four or zero or two is going to make.