So here’s the latest Gallup poll, asking people whether various groups have “too much power.” The funny thing about it is that Americans apparently think that everyone has too much power:
Churches and the military manage to escape the “too much power” box largely thanks to support from huge numbers of Republicans. Labor unions and the federal government go the opposite way, but Democrats don’t support them enough to keep their overall numbers from being pretty dismal. Lobbyists, banks, and corporations come in for mostly bipartisan abuse.
Roughly speaking, I’d say that this poll doesn’t tell us much aside from the fact that American political beliefs are fairly incoherent. But we knew that already. Beyond that, an awful lot of Americans apparently feel that they themselves have no voice to speak of, which must mean that everybody else has too much. And they might be right.
And to put a timely political spin on this, the lousy showing of the federal government goes a long way toward explaining why Obama “lost” the battle with John Boehner and the tea party over spending cuts. Without taking sides on whether Obama himself deserves any of the blame for this, the fact is that it’s pretty much impossible to win a political battle when the public is on the other side. And this poll makes it pretty clear that a big plurality of Americans are in favor of defanging the federal government.
Of course, they’re largely in favor of this only when proposed spending cuts are aimed rather vaguely at “discretionary programs” or some such. Boehner won this round because the actual reductions on the table were never made concrete. (In fact, they’re still trying to figure out exactly which line items are going to be cut.) However, when it comes to something big and well known, like Medicare, this dynamic shifts in the opposite direction and Boehner will almost certainly be on the losing side of public opinion if he tries to push for big cuts. Political strategy matters in all this, but public opinion matters even more. That’s the main reason Boehner won this round and it’s the main reason he’ll lose the next one if he overreaches.