“It’s Overwhelmingly Popular!”

One of the things I’ve seen a number of people point out in blogs and comments on blogs is that various progressive policies do well in polling.   A majority of people in this country appear to agree with those, and in some cases, it appears that there’s a very high percentage of people who think that a particular progressive idea is a good one.   All of which is nice, but it raises the serious question of “If everyone likes it, why isn’t it in place?”  The answers are that 1) the general idea may be popular, but not specifics; and 2) overall popularity does not mean it’s popular in every area.

There’s a saying that “the devil is in the details,” and that’s often the case when we’re talking about national-level ideas.   Let’s take a simple proposition:  No child should go hungry in this country.  It’s a simple statement, one that you’d have to work to find someone who would disagree with it.  I’m not saying that you couldn’t find someone, but as a general proposition, it would have have near universal approval.   Add to this the reality that there are children going hungry in this country, and you could say that a program to solve that issue would be instantly passed.

Which is where the details come in.  Just how bad is the problem?  Where is it?  What plans do you have to deliver food to children?  Who is going to pay for it, and how much?  Is it going to be effective?  Who is in charge?   What foods do you plan on serving?  All of those are things which are up for debate, and argument.   How do I know that?  I simply have to look at the past and current arguments over programs meant for just that purpose.   The old “who, what, where, when, why, and how” are the cause of political battles on this issue.  A “simple” proposition, one that is “overwhelmingly popular” turns out to be quite a different one when you start getting into details of specific proposal.

The other aspect I mentioned is that it may be generally popular, but it’s not popular everywhere.  I run into this on a regular basis where I live.  I’ve mentioned an example in a previous blog post, where a state agency is popular in other areas of the state, but it isn’t popular in this area.  Take something to the national level, and look at how the federal government is structured.  Two senators from each state, regardless of population.  At least one (and possibly more) representatives from each state.  Now take something “simple” like a poll showing that a majority of respondents approve (or are not against) marriage rights for LGBT’s.  Sounds like a slam-dunk to get a marriage equality bill  through Congress, right?  Except that you have to look at how Congress is made up.  Is it equally popular in Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana, or are they overwhelmingly against it?  If states like that are not in favor,  the case you’re looking at is 12 Senators right there who would do their level best to block it, because that’s what their states want.   A “general poll” applied to the population may show that many in California, New York, etc. are for it, but there’s a lot of other, less-populated states who are against it.  Which means that for all intents and purposes, it becomes difficult to get it through the Senate, or the House.

Which is why quoting polls does not mean that a given progressive idea is a “gimme.”  It’s great that it seems to have popular support, but until you can show that on specifics, and turn that into actual legislative votes in hand, it’s simply a popularity poll.   Nice to know, but it doesn’t mean action or results.  Turning those polls into actual programs and accomplishments means a long hard slog to get them into place, and more often than not, getting it in small increments.   That’s something that a poll doesn’t do.


Filed under Politics

20 responses to ““It’s Overwhelmingly Popular!”

  1. Politics, stable politics, works by consensus. You don’t just need to get a majority to agree with you. You have to get an overwhelming majority to decide that what you want is acceptable. In other words, the total of people who want what you want PLUS the total of people who may not want, but can live with it, MUST be an overwhelming majority. That overwhelming majority is necessary to fight back against the inevitable small minority who not only disagree with you but do so to an extent that they are willing to disrupt society as a whole in order to register their disagreement.

    Society breaks down when you can’t come to a consensus on what is an acceptable course. Obama is an advocate for the acceptable course. Of course, that isn’t as blood stirring a platform as the “bang the podium” crowd would like. But it is the only platform that actually advances society.

    • Agreed. What I’ve been seeing a lot in the blogosphere (progressive and conservative) is the use of polls to “support” their position. The problem lies in that neither side is getting into specifics or doing an actual head count in Congress. As I said, I can find majority support in polls for a general proposition, but until I have that support for specifics and votes in Congress, I’m just doing an argumentum ad populum for my stand.

  2. Churchlady

    What a clear-eyed sense of democracy! Those of us who do public policy work, including mobilizing grassroots support for or against something, know that yes, general issues hold sway – and the devil is in the details. Even things I support in principle may not work out in practice. Support for health reform – for universal coverage – did not translate to my support for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hideous plan (or Romney’s either) but DID translate to support for federal health reform. Why? It’s NOT Romney’s plan, that’s why. It’s infinitely BETTER, vastly less expensive to individuals and families, and offers huge ranges of free care to all people. Details matter.

    I love your understanding of how the votes in STATES make a difference. Never saw that better explained. Polls do not have that nuance – and that is a real problem in getting support for “overwhelmingly” popular issues.

    We also take too little notice of our Constitutional separation of powers. Actions ascribed to Obama were actually actions by Congress. Take the closing of Gitmo – he authorized it, and Congress shot it down refusing to repatriate those held in Gitmo to any state in the union. Cowardice by Congress was not Obama’s doing. He has done what was the REASON for the closing – assuring legal and just trials and other proceedings. Is that not the MAIN issue rather than just the symbolic gesture of closing Gitmo? I go for substance over style any day of the week – but the average progressives does not.

    So thank you SO much for the important civics lesson. It’s a huge hedge against “magical thinking” on the Left that matches it on the Right.

    • “We also take too little notice of our Constitutional separation of powers. Actions ascribed to Obama were actually actions by Congress. ”

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for pointing that out. The baggers (tea AND fire) seem to think that the president’s job is to micromanage the country.

      I knew that some of the orange posters were nuts when I read the comments after the murder of Dr. Tiller and the subsequent closing of his practice. Some comments actually demanded that Obama order National Guard doctors to go to Kansas and keep the practice running.

      I mean, WTF??? Of course the murder and the loss of a competent abortion doctor were a tragedy, but come on… The practice was a private business and the family members of the deceased doctor could not be forced to keep it open. Besides, I doubt that the National Guard has late-term abortion specialists on staff, ready to be deployed at any time.

      To me that’s just as irrational as blaming the president for an earth quake.

  3. Excellent, as always, Norbrook.

    It can be frustrating to see some, almost universal concepts, such as feeding our children get totally hung up in the details. Just look at all the BS that came out over this pilot program in Detroit to give all children free lunches. God forbid that some millionaire’s child in an inner city school might eat a free hamburger or hotdog. Whose gonna pay for this, what will they be eating, whose idea was this anyway, totally clouds the real issue of no child should go hungry for any reason!

    Regional differences and politics do matter. Just look at SB1070 and AZ for a good example. Knives are already being sharpened here over PBO’s “back door policies” to deal with illegal immigration and deportation. We live in a democracy and consensus matters.

    I just keep hoping that the “hundredth monkey” phenomenon will finally flip us into a real paradigm shift in this country. Some day all of us may be “washing our sweet potatoes” first instead of trying to eat them all sandy and dirty. ♥

    • That’s was why I chose that particular example. It’s a common sense idea, and heck, it’s only a pilot – it may not work. But, it’s worthwhile trying. You wouldn’t know that from the screams coming from various factions, though.

      I agree about regional differences, but it also comes down to this: Yes, great, show me that poll telling me a given idea is “popular.” Now, explain to me why the Republicans are against it, and why they control the House.

      • The Repugnants are against anything that comes from PBO. They are like that Mikey kiddo in the old cereal ads. They control the House right now for lots of complex reasons that you already know.

        • Yup. My reaction is because I keep getting told on various blogs how “popular” a progressive idea is, but somehow the people using the polls never quite get to the nitty-gritty realities. 🙂

  4. A great explanation of how this actually WORKS, Norbrook. And you’re completely right-sure, progressive ideas POLL well, but what about those places like Alabama, etc. where you can’t get progressive legislation passed? To hell with the polls-get it PASSED.

    • Big AMEN to that Doc! Let’s do what we can actually get passed in our own States. Focus on the local possible. Like ripples in a pond it moves out from there. It has always seemed to me that people in the one on one personal are so much more reasonable than people in some aggregate.

      That’s why I do like canvassing. I know I don’t reach as many people as calling for GOTV but I feel so much more effective in really reaching people.

      • PS: I’ve had a few people tell me that the only reason they got out and voted was because I convinced them they should. You can laugh but that meant a lot to me and I will keep getting out the vote, one by one.

        All politics is local and personal. We need to always keep that in mind.

      • It’s the local elections that people tend to ignore. I know that this year, most of the local offices are on the ballot, whereas next year the state and national ones will be. Most of us who are politically interested are more focused on who is going to be running here now than on who is going to (potentially) be on the ballot next year.

        • That’s why the major cities in Texas all have Democratic mayors (in mayoral elections, candidates don’t disclose their party affiliation, but everybody knows what they are anyway): all the wingnuts stay home.

          I find that interesting because local election affect people more directly than national ones. President Obama will not tell you when to water your lawn, but the city council will. Yet the wingnuts won’t put their teabagger candidates on the council. Instead they put them in Congress to “punish Obama.” It says a lot on so many levels.

    • But doing whatever it takes to get something passed is WORK. And when we’re talking about a red state, it’s A LOT of work. It’s so much easier to demand that the state in question secede already or that the president sell the state to Mexico for a nominal fee.

  5. treestar

    Yes. One would think that people who claim to be political junkies would understand the system.

    • Back when I was a computer pro, one of the things that always made realize I was going to have a mess to fix was the phrase “my kid (friend) knows something about computers and they tried to fix it.” I knew that whatever the original problem was, I was not only going to have to deal with that, but the additional problems created by the “tried to fix it.” Most of these people who claim to be “political junkies” seem to fall into the same category. They really don’t know what they’re doing, but they can bullshit anyone who knows less. 🙄

  6. soonergrunt

    There you go, thinking again.

  7. My 2 cents;

    The common refrain is “the President should just SAY…” Or, “the President should have a “West Wing” or “American President” moment, and you know…get real! And bold!

    Those that believe this should study some history and read about the 10 days leading up to Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise Speech” (as it became to be known) as well as the 2 weeks following his speech.

    Most younger libs today don’t realize it, but President Carter actually pulled a FULL “American President” moment, and followed it up by firing nearly every member of his worthless, lazy, disloyal, backstabbing cabinet.

    The reaction of the American people? Terror. Fear. Rather than America being impressed by his “bold, take charge, swing for the fences, liberal leadership”, Americans looked on their President as having a public freakout, and wacko meltdown. Foreign diplomats even contacted their counterparts in the State Dept out of concern. Serious. Read about it.

    The thruth is, if Obama really went about his job the way some propose the American people would believe that their President had finally lost it. Contrary to popular belief, when the person in charge of the nuclear football and the federal government “gets all real, and shit” people get scared.

    • While he did ask every cabinet member for their resignation, he didn’t fire every member, just five. As he looked back at it, he said he should have just fired the 5 without asking every one for resignation letters.

      “I think the idea was that they were going to firm up the administration, show that there was real change by these personnel changes, and move on,” remembers Mondale. “But the message the American people got was that we were falling apart.” Carter later admitted in his memoirs that he should simply have asked only those five members for their resignations.

      The sad part is that if you read the speech, it was a call for energy independence, and an ambitious program that most progressives today wish we had – but they went and helped sandbag Carter by getting behind Kennedy. 🙄