It’s the meme that won’t die: Obama’s newly aggressive push to raise taxes on the wealthy is about nothing more than playing to the Dem base, and his “class warfare” risks alienating the center.
David Brooks today complains that Obama’s “populist cries” will “fire up liberals but are designed to enrage moderates.” The Hill insists that Obama’s new posture is merely designed to “shore up or win back his base.” Mark Penn helpfully warns Obama that his “class warfare” is tantamount to “abandoning” the center. Mark Halperin pronounces that analysis ”essential reading.”
So let’s be clear about this: It’s all utter nonsense. This is not how the White House sees things. While it’s true that Obama’s new posture is partly about firing up his base, he and his advisers also view it as the best way to win back moderates and independents. They may be wrong about this, but that’s how they see things. They believe the way to win back those voters — even as he seeks a deficit reduction deal — is for Obama to be seen as a fighter for jobs.
To insist that this is only about winning over disaffected Dems is to misstate the nature of the bet the White House is making, which is a bet on where the true center of the country lies. Worse still is the unstated assumption underlying much of the analysis: That there’s no way the middle of the country could possibly embrace Obama’s new approach.
But as it happens, strong majorities of moderates and independents support tax hikes on the wealthy as the best way to close the deficit. I’ve compiled a half dozen polls showing that to be the case:
1) This month’s New York Times poll found that 86 percent of moderates, and 74 percent of independents, support deficit reduction through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. It also found that 65 percent of moderates, and 57 percent of independents, favor taxk hikes on those over $250,000.
2) Last month’s Marist-McClatchy poll found that 80 percent of moderates, and 68 percent of independents, support dealing with the deficit by raising taxes on income over $250,000.
3) Last month’s CNN poll found that 74 percent of moderates, and 62 percent of independents, think the deficit supercommittee should raise taxes on businesses and higher-income Americans.
4) Last month’s Gallup poll found that 64 percent of independents support reducing the Federal debt by hiking taxes on upper-income Americans.
5) A Washington Post poll in July found that 73 percent of moderates, and 64 percent of independents, favor reducing the deficit through a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. It also found that 80 percent of moderates, and 73 percent of independents, favor tax hikes on those over $250,000. (WaPo also has a nice chart of other polling on Obama’s jobs positions.)
6) An NBC/WSJ poll in July found that 66 percent of moderates, and 54 percent of independents, supported Obama’s approach to reducing the deficit over that of the GOP — including tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy.
Now, Republicans tend to think such polling isn’t that meaningful. Even if it shows public support for high-end tax hikes, Republicans are happy to target Democrats on the issue, because they can continue to make the general charge that Dems are tax-hikers, furthering the narrative of profligate Big Government liberals running off the spending rails. Republicans believe this narrative is very potent with moderates and independents. And there very well may be something to this.
But Obama and his advisers look at the same polling and they bet that they can overcome this hurdle. They are betting they can persuade moderates and independents — who are willing to tell pollsters that they want higher taxes on the rich — that they should turn on Republicans for blocking their balanced approach to deficit reduction. Even if Republicans have had past success tarring them as tax and spend liberals, they are betting they can win the argument with middle of the road voters — and that those voters’ instincts suggest they will come to embrace Obama’s balanced vision.
I don’t know if the White House is right or not. But this is the bet they’re currently making. And it’s unclear how the ubiquitous claim that this new populism is all about just appealing to the base squares with all the polling that demonstrates strong support for raising taxes on the rich — in the middle of the country.
UPDATE: In the cases where the partisan and ideological breakdown is not in the linked internals, I’ve obtained the information from the news outlets themselves.