CNN is currently hyping the results of a new poll that supposedly proves that Americans are gung ho for spending cuts. But what CNN is really proving is that it doesn’t know how to read its own polls.
But that’s not what the poll says. Instead, the poll reaffirms that people love spending cuts in the abstract, but oppose virtually all specific cuts. And cuts to military spending are among the least unpopular of specific cuts.
Look at the numbers. CNN asked about a range of options for deficit reduction. Higher taxes for the rich, the Democratic position, continues to be wildly popular. And on spending cuts, the poll finds:
Fifty seven percent support “major cuts in spending on domestic government programs,” versus only 40 percent who oppose them.
Forty seven percent support “major cuts in military spending,” versus 53 percent who oppose them.
Only 35 percent support “major changes to the Social Security and Medicare systems,” while 64 percent oppose them.
The problem, of course, is that there’s no real difference between “major cuts in domestic government programs,” which have strong support, and “major changes to the Social Security and Medicare systems,” which have very little support. Major cuts would have to come from entitlements — and barely more than a third supports this.
Rather than having well-organized views of public policy, most people have opinions that are internally inconsistent. And budgeting is the classic example.
CNN’s poll doesn’t say that people want “deep cuts in domestic spending.” It says what we already know: government spending is unpopular in the aggregate but popular when disaggregated. CNN’s reading of its poll is just plain wrong, yet its spin on the numbers is already getting traction.