David Harsanyi: Stop lying to us, America
A recent Rasmussen poll found that 1 in 3 Americans would rather win a Nobel Prize than an Oscar, Emmy or Grammy.
Though there’s no way to disprove this peculiar finding, I’m rather confident that it’s complete baloney. The average American probably can’t name more than one Nobel Prize winner — if that. Even if many could, it’s unlikely they would choose a life in physics or “peace” over being a celebrated actor, musician or television star. Put it this way: Any man who tells you he wants the life of Nobel Prize-winning Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, instead of the life of George Clooney is lying. And that includes Ahmet Uzumcu.
Polls may have been precise in forecasting recent elections (though 2012 pollsters only received an average C-plus grade in a poll conducted by Pew Research Center; we’re waiting on a poll that tells us what to think about polls that poll polls), but it’s getting difficult to believe much of anything else. Beyond sampling biases or phraseology biases, many recent polls prove that Americans will tell pollsters what they think they think but not how they intend to act. And when it comes to politics, they’re also giving small-government types like me false hope.
For instance, 60 percent of Americans in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll claim that if they had the chance to vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including their own representative, they would do it. That’s the highest percentage reached since the question has been asked.
What they actually mean is that they really hate your elected official. Fact is that the incumbency business is as good as it’s ever been. After 2012, the Bloomberg Government Barometer found that though approval of Congress was then at an all-time low, 9 in 10 members of the House and Senate who ran for re-election were successful in their races. That was an improvement over the 85/84 percent incumbent success rate of 2010, which was considered a sweeping “change” election.
Then, a new Gallup poll finds that 60 percent of Americans believe that the major political parties have done such an appalling job representing their constituents that the system is in dire need of a third party.
We might fall for this if we didn’t have an extensive, 200-plus-year test case on the subject. The thing is that we already have third parties — and fourth, fifth and sixth — and very few people give them even the slightest consideration. Why? Probably because the major parties already represent consensus on both the right and left. Now, many of you might believe that the consensus has pulled too far to the right or left, but in the end, it mostly pulls the party to the middle. Dissatisfaction with the two-party system doesn’t mean voters are willing to throw their vote to a third-party candidate, no matter what they tell a pollster.
Polls also reliably find that national debt is one of the primary concerns of the average American voter. When given an array of choices — education, national security, environment, etc. — respondents almost always place national debt as one of their top issues.
How worried could they really be, though? When was the last time a politician won an election with a plan that spent less and cut more? When was the last time a majority of Americans supported reforms that would deal with deficits in any meaningful way? Broadly speaking, voters want to tackle the debt problem. But they don’t like any of the specifics.
Finally, supposedly 6 in 10 Americans believe that the federal government has too much power — 1 percentage point from the highest level in September 2010. According to Gallup, at least half of Americans since 2005 have said the government has too much power.
Where is the proof that a majority of Americans want less government? Americans have elected two Presidents who have vastly expanded the scope of government, and both of them won re-election rather comfortably. It’s likelier that voters view government as having too much power when government is being run by someone else. And that’s our biggest problem.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at “The Federalist.” Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.