Standing Athwart History, Yelling "Ignore the Polls!"

There's nothing new in yesterday's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is strongly supported. So is cutting defense spending and making the rich pay a larger share of tax revenue. Least surprising of all, Americans prefer the federal government do more to combat unemployment than reduce the deficit. Polls like this are an occasion to ask how conservatives confront this inconvenient reality, and the answer is, "not very well."

Ignoring the results is one option. But it's far better to dismiss the results because the poll is hopelessly biased. Since the public knows little of the science of polling or statistics, your better hacks can count on having a compelling account to tell. Badly designed polls do, after all, exist. But if conservative opinion leaders and Republicans actually believe the public is on their side, then what would hold them back from pushing through the most radical agenda they can muster?

In the past, Republicans have been reluctant to attack the welfare state head on. But with the most unreasonable faction of the party driving the agenda, perhaps we're witnessing an important test of how far Republicans are willing to push against popular sentiment. Consistent polling showing the unpopularity of the Republican agenda won't be viewed as a "cautionary sign" if the party has convinced itself that the polls are biased and the people are actually on their side.

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