Devil is in the details on Obama’s jobs plan

at 12:03 PM ET, 09/22/2011

We have talked a good deal in this space about how many aspects of President Obama’s jobs plan poll quite favorably.

And that’s true.

But as we always note here at The Fix, the devil is in the details when it comes to political polling. And the GOP is searching for said devil as we speak.

They haven’t found it yet, but party strategists believe that the jobs bill isn’t as clear cut a political winner for Obama as polling has shown it.

As Greg Sargent notes, multiple polls have shown that broad majorities of voters – including independents – favor raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans as a means of debt reduction. And Democrats and liberals have pounced on every last poll to show that Obama’s plan has legs with the general public.

“There is an undeniable durability to the support Americans have for the wealthy paying their fair share,” reads a memo distributed by the Democratic-aligned outside group Priorities USA Action this morning. “After three years of relentless Republican efforts to justify tax breaks for the rich, Americans still maintain their fundamental belief that the wealthy should contribute more than they currently do.”

Republicans, though, aren’t willing to concede the point on tax increases for the wealthy. And they think a little bit of messaging can turn the issue on its head and turn independent voters against the president (yet) again.

New polling conducted for the Republican-aligned outside group Crossroads GPS gives us a glimpse on how the party will try to do it.

Rather than a straight question — “Do you support raising taxes on the wealthy?” — GOP pollster Glen Bolger framed the choice as this: Either corporations and the rich don’t pay their fair share and should pay more, or we shouldn’t raise taxes on small businesses and business owners who are already facing tough economic times.

When you frame the question that way, 46 percent oppose raising taxes, while 48 percent favored it.

What does this tell us? Well, of course the issue is going to poll more favorably when the GOP asks the question in its own language and casts the Obama jobs plan as hurting small business.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not instructive to how the political fight over the jobs bill will proceed.

While people generally like the idea of the wealthy paying more taxes – if you’re not among the wealthy, why not? – the issue gets much more complex as you prosecute the details.

Not only can Republicans cast Democrats as raising taxes, period (something Bill Clinton says Obama shouldn’t do in tough economic times), they can also accuse them of doing it at a time when small business owners can least afford it.

Adding those three words — “small business owners” — to the debate changes things significantly. All of a sudden, it’s not just about the wealthy millionaire vacationing in the Hamptons, but about that small business you rely on down the street (or that you own).

Republicans haven’t quite honed their message on Obama’s jobs plan yet — something the Crossroads team acknowledged in a conference call Wednesday — but if the health care and stimulus debates showed us anything, it’s that the GOP is pretty good at beating back Obama’s major proposals.

After all, the individual mandate aspect of the health care bill had nearly 50 percent support in November 2009, according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll, and a year later, it was at 38 percent. The same was true of Obama’s stimulus bill, which fell even more precipitously in early 2009, a total of 12 points in six months, according to CBS News polling.

Put plainly: There is still lots to be ironed out with Obama’s jobs plan, and the early polling shouldn’t be overstated since the message war over it has only just begun. If past is prologue, the numbers will change, and potentially in pretty dramatic fashion.

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