Public opinion is on Democrats’ side in debt negotiations

This is worth a read for anyone interested in the ongoing debt negotiations:

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/13/house-republicans-no-tax-stance-far-outside-political-mainstream/

Nate Silver provides persuasive evidence that the Republicans, by refusing assent to any deal that includes any form of tax increase (or expiration of existing tax cuts), are putting themselves far out of step with public opinion – even among Republicans. He discusses the results of a public opinion survey which shows that the average Republican in America would prefer a deal that’s about 1 part tax increases and 3 parts spending cuts, while the average Democrat wants it about half and half.

I think that his evidence is persuasive and so I accept this conclusion. I have a few random responses:

  • No big surprise. Research has consistently shown that members of congress are ideologically more extreme than their partisan counterparts in the general public.
  • I don’t think this information will suddenly make the Republican leaders re-think their negotiating position. Even though public opinion might be closer to the Democrats, the debt negotiations are a very “wonkish” issue that most average voters don’t know all that much about and most will likely not base their vote on this issue next November. (Unless, of course, the U.S. defaults on the debt and we’re plunged back into a mega-recession. Then people will start to care, but because of its effect on the economy on not because of the details of a policy negotiation.)
  • As a general rule, I personally don’t believe it is always right for elected officials to base their decisions solely on public opinion polls. (That’s why we have a representative democracy instead of a direct democracy.) So I don’t necessarily fault Republican leaders for not conforming to popular opinion on this particular issue. (I fault them for other reasons, but not for failing to conform to popular opinion.)
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