New York Times reporter Matt Bai has tried to argue that the public is really worried about the budget deficit. He’s tried to find polling evidence to show the public favors some form of budget-cutting austerity,which usually leads him to focus on numbers that support his argument while ignoring those that run counter to his political preference.
He’s back at it today (11/5/10),in a piecewarningRepublicans to not confuse their midterm for some sort ofmandate.He tries to make a case that the voters were really with the Tea Party on some key issues:
All of this implies that Republicans think the voters are with their most ardent activists on the economic issues of the day. And there is a persuasive case to be made that they’re right about this, at least as far as the conservative critique of federal spending is concerned.
In exit polling in November, 56 percent of voters said government was doing too much that should be left to the private sector and individuals, compared with 38 percent who thought it should be doing more.
It’s important to remember that this is a poll of2010 midterm voters–a subset of the total voting population, and one that would skew Republican, given the electoral outcome.It’shard to draw many conclusions from such a vague idea anyway, but Bai has better evidence:
In a Pew poll from December, 70 percent of voters said they saw the federal deficit as a major problem that needed to be addressed now–a powerful show of support for the Tea Party argument.
Huh. When I clicked on that link–which is a different Pew poll–I saw that when people were asked what was more important, jobs or the deficit, jobs won 45-22. And the other Pew poll–an exit poll of voters–showed “cutting spending to reduce the deficit” running neck and neck with “spending to create jobs.” I don’t see any of that supporting “the Tea Party argument,” as best I can understand what that argument might be.
Looking at other polls doesn’t much help–if you scan some of the summaries at PollingReport.com, for instance, you see surveys like a recent CBS poll where voters express far more concern about jobs (56 percent) than the deficit (4 percent).
Bai’s reporting style seems reminiscent ofJohn Stossel. He starts with a premise–some Tea Party ideas are popular, people want to attack the deficit– and cherrypicks evidence to supportthat conclusion. So he can write things like “voters endorsed the Tea Party ideal of a radically more parsimonious federal government” and point to evidence thatmaybe–if you squint really hard–supports that conclusion, while rejecting substantial evidence to the contrary.