WaPo/ABC Poll: “Helpless Dem” Story Working

BarbinMD alerts us to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, which indicates that 70% of Americans want the $190 billion war allocation reduced.  That’s good news.  Unfortunately, there’s some less-good news in there, too.

I wanted to point out some numbers in the raw data from the WaPo/ABC poll that are both interesting and deeply frusterating to those who want Democrats to be more assertive in confronting the Bush administration.

It seems to me that the obvious reading of these poll numbers — or at any rate an easily available reading of these numbers, and a reading which will surely be adopted by many Democrats in the captial — is that the “helpless Dem” narrative is working like a charm.

The poll questions and numbers below are quoted directly from the complete poll on the WaPo website; the formatting is my own.

First of all, let’s look at the obvious question.

14. Do you think Democrats in Congress have gone too far or not far enough in opposing the war in Iraq?

Too far: 35

Not far enough: 55

Right amount (vol.): 5

No opinion: 5

So most pollees want to see Congress do more in opposing the US presence in Iraq.

Democrats in Washington might take this as a sign that they should be more vocal and proactive in confronting Bush.  However, another poll result indicates that Democrats need not do so: they have successfully sold, to many Americans, the idea that Democrats are a “helpless majority” in Congress.

6. Overall, how much do you think Congress has accomplished this year: A great deal, a good amount, not too much, or nothing at all?

Great deal: 2

Good amt.: 14

Not much: 65

Nothing: 17

No opinion: 1

7. (IF CONGRESS ACCOMPLISHED NOT MUCH/NOTHING) Who would you say deserves most of the blame for that (President Bush and the Republicans in Congress) or (the Democrats in Congress)?

Bush and Republicans in Congress: 51

Democrats in Congress: 25

Both: 20

Neither: 2

No opinion: 2

The results to 7 will be music to many Washington Democrat ears.  In a sense: question 7 is all capital hill Democrats need to know,  in order to feel assured that they need not do anything bold.

This, even though question 15 suggests that bolder action would be welcome.

15. The Bush administration has requested nearly 190 billion dollars to fund the wars and related U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year. This is about 40 billion dollars more than first estimated. Do you think Congress should approve all of this funding request, or reduce it? IF REDUCE: Should this funding request be reduced somewhat, or reduced sharply?

Approve: 27

Reduce somewhat: 23

Reduce sharply: 43

No money should be approved (vol.): 3

No op.: 3

The pollees were asked if funding should be approved, reduced somewhat, or reduced sharply.  In the above question, pollees were not given the option of not approving any money at all.  3% of pollees volunteered this response anyway.

Given those results, the results to questions 13 are nearly incomprehensible.

13. There’s been a proposal to remove these additional U.S. forces from Iraq by next summer, returning to the earlier level of about 130-thousand U.S. troops. Do you think the number of U.S. forces in Iraq should be reduced more (quickly) than this, more (slowly), or is this about the right pace of troop reductions?

More quickly: 43

More slowly: 12

Right pace: 38

Should not be reduced (vol.): 2

No opinion: 5

In this case, pollees were not given the most, let’s say, right-wing possibility: not reducing troop levels at all.  2% volunteered this response anyway.  The incomprehensible thing is that 50% of pollees said the Petraeus reductions count as too much or just the right amount of troop reduction (12% + 38%).

If I had to give a single reading to all of the above results, it would be that America wants Democrats in Congress to do more than they are doing, but has bought into the narrative that they cannot, and has accepted the narrative that the Petraeus status quo counts as doing something.

In other words, the Washington Democratic narrative of unfortunate but forced stagnation is working perfectly.

That is, this narrative is working perfectly (CNN transcript, h/t Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left):

BLITZER: Let’s talk about the war in Iraq. When you speaker, you said, “Bringing the war to an end is my highest priority as speaker.”


. . .

BLITZER: The war, if anything, is not only continuing, but it’s expanding. There’s more troops now in Iraq than there were when you became the speaker. What are you going to do about that?

PELOSI: Well, we did, when we took office, we took the majority here. We changed the debate on the war. We put a bill on the president’s desk that said that we wanted the redeployment of troops out of Iraq to begin in a timely fashion and to end within a year. The president vetoed that bill.

He got quite a response to that veto, and the Republicans in the Senate then decided he was never going to get a bill on his desk again. So we have a barrier and it’s important for the American people to know that while I can bring a bill to the floor in the House, it cannot be brought up in the Senate unless there’s a 60 vote, now 60 votes.

The blogosphere’s message that Congress both can and must do more is not getting out there.

The poll can be read as saying that Dems in Congress can ride a complacent status quo into a 2008 rout of the Republican party.  I don’t know if this is actually true.  But the reading is available in the numbers; and it’s the one that’s gonna get adopted by many who are afraid that bold action would alienate the electorate.

(Crossposted at the Big Orange)


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  1. imho

  2. pushing your opponent over the cliff and not getting pulled over with him.  Dems are playing a dangerous game right now, both with their own electoral chances as well as with the lives of US troops and the Iraqis.

    Dems are already seeing their advantages in party ID and support erode, while Congressional approval numbers (3.) have plummeted to sub 30’s overall (and sub 40’S for Dems).  If the Dems keep voting for (and funding) more war, by this time next year all that finger pointing may simply not matter to an electorate wholly sick of the entire enterprise, especially considering Bush won’t be on the ballot to vote against.

    The WaPo poll also strikes me as somewhat pushy. The assumption in 13 of a troop reductuion plays right to the Petraeus shell game that removing the troops from the escalation is somehow a net reduction overall – an illusion of progress that is actually just a return to the status quo pre-Nov 2006.

    Basically, those who think they are supporting a troop reduction at ‘the right pace’ may not wholly realize they are not supporting any real reduction at all, and more importantly, that there is no guarantee that reductions will continue once troop levels return to pre-Surge levels.

    Not that that will matter much to our short sighted Democratic ‘Leaders’.  You are correct that they will read these polls as validation of their strategy for electoral victory in 2008, even if it means their strategy for ending the war (if there really is one) remains in tatters.

  3. The implication in all of this is that the Dems are using Iraq to electoral advantage.  That’s a deal with the devil, Faustian, and unworthy of support. 

    We do want the Rs to lose big in ’08 but we also need to scare the timid Ds, thus, we should back strong candidates against Pelosi and her House gang in the primaries.

  4. Questions only allow responses which fall into categories defined by the poll. I was encouraged by the poll, if you consider that most get their information from the corporate media, it looked to me like people aren’t buying the Democrats line. One thing we can do is to move our knowledge of the real story  out into the public square.

    We too suffer from our own bubble, because the net works by trying  to exert pressure on the pols instead of working to move the public. We are guilty of framing the situation in terms that play to the political fictions generated by the status quo machine, which at this point other then Kucinich etc. are operating on the right wings carefully constructed illusions.

    This poll makes me feel like people are not idiots and presuming that they are conservative, afraid or apathetic only allows the messages that help the pols keep the voter pool down to those who accept the fictions. They trim their sails to the Republicans rather then offering policies, values, and solutions that would breath life into the party. I guess in order for this to work they would actually have to care about the people they represent on a level of more then  consumer/voter. 

    • eugene on October 2, 2007 at 19:15

    People hate the Republicans’ guts. But as the GOP themselves discovered, relying on the public to hate the other party more is not a reliable method of getting reelected. Because eventually the voters will become frustrated with you, outweighing their dislike of the party out of power.

    This will probably only work to keep the Dems in Congress in 2008. I see no possible way for them to avoid disaster in 2010, unless the Republicans win the White House.

  5. When I read your title, I was not surprised that the American people agreed with the frame.  Then I re-read it more carefully, and realized you had written “Helpless Dem.”  Sorry, but I believe my title is more appropriate and more clearly reflects the attitude of the American people.

    -Synonyms miserable, woebegone, wretched, forlorn; pathetic, pitiable.

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