Early in the 2010 election cycle, Daily Kos's polling turned up the survey question that would really matter: what later came to be known as the "intensity gap." If you wanted to see whether disaster was coming, that was the question to watch.
Well, it's happened again for 2012, though this time the honor for finding the critical question goes to (so far as I can tell) Suffolk University. As Steve Benen reports today in a post entitled "Polling the Sabotage Question", Suffolk finally had the bright idea of asking Florida voters the question that is on everyone's minds -- generally admitted to by Republicans (a while ago) and now belatedly picked up to use as a club by Democrats.
It's tucked away in a larger poll reported here:
With 51 percent of voters saying that jobs and the economy are the most pressing issues in the nation today, 49 percent said they believe that the Republicans are intentionally hindering efforts to boost the economy so that President Barack Obama will not be reelected. Thirty-nine percent disagreed. As expected, most registered Democrats (70 percent) agreed that Republicans are intentionally hindering the economy and hurting Obama, but independents (52 percent) and even some Republicans (24 percent) also agreed.
This question needs to be asked more often and everywhere. Watch those numbers. If it gets worse for Republicans, the election is over. The issue of the economy no longer cuts against Obama. Even people talking about whether it is true hurts the Republicans. We informed voters talk about it, but if this perception is now spreading the the population at large, without and huge PR push or major media attention, then the Republicans are doomed -- and for more than the Presidency.
Here's how Benen starts out:
To one degree or another, the “sabotage” question has been generating some debate for about a year now. It is, admittedly, a provocative subject: are Republicans trying to hurt the nation’s economy on purpose, simply to undermine the Obama presidency?
Over the last few months, the charge has become more common and more mainstream, with the question being raised by leading officials in President Obama’s re-election team, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, and a growing number of pundits and political observers.
What we’ve lacked, however, is polling data. Are Americans actually prepared to believe that Republican officials care more about politics than the nation’s well being? Have we really reached the point at which voters see GOP leaders as willing to sabotage the country?
(Go to Benen's post for the original supporting links. The man has earned some hits!)
His payoff quote:
in Florida, nearly half of voters — and a majority of Dems and independents — believe Republicans are so craven, so devoid of a sense of duty to their country, that they’re holding back the economy on purpose because they hate Obama more than the care about the rest of us. Nearly one-in-four Republicans believe this to be true.
I guess this isn’t a fringe idea after all.
Benen graciously also links to Greg Sargent, who developed the idea in Benen's article by, among other things, getting the original wording:
Do you think the Republicans are intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy to insure that Barack Obama is not reelected?
Sargent sounds a few loud notes of caution:
Of course, the natural follow up question is important: Will this matter? The Suffolk poll contains no signs that it does. Obama’s approval is at 41 percent in this key swing state, versus 50 percent who disapprove. He’s tied with likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney, 42-42. An equal number — 29 percent — say they will vote either Democratic or Republican “no matter what,” with another 13 percent saying they will only vote Democratic if the economy gets better, meaning Dems will be held accountable.
As I’ve been saying, it’s very possible that the GOP will benefit politically from blocking Obama’s jobs policies, even though they have majority support. This new Florida poll raises another possibility: That Republicans may benefit from blocking Obama’s policies even though voters accept the idea that they’re sabotaging the economy for political reasons.
The question is this: Even if voters are persuaded that this is the case, will they chalk it up to mere politics and still hold Obama accountable for failing to get his policies through in spite of politically-motivated GOP obstructionism? Will voters who don’t grasp the realities of filibuster abuse conclude that whatever the motives of Republicans, Obama’s failure to get around them proves he’s weak or ineffective?
I think that Sargent misreads the situation, though. Yes, there's no move in the top numbers yet. But top numbers move later once a meme takes hold. Today is the first day that the issue has even been talked about in polling results. Now that the cat is out of the bag (and into the Post), this will pick up steam. Pundits will start discussing it more. Republicans will panic -- maybe even falter, which will hurt them with their fizzy-flecked-mouthed base. And more and more, voters will ask themselves the question: "if Republicans are doing this, is it right to blame Obama?" And beyond that: "why are Republicans doing this? What do they want instead?"
Combine that with the new Occupy sensibility in the country and Republican gamesmanship becomes an albatross around their neck. We need good metaphors and analogies to reach the public on this: the one that keeps coming to my mind has Obama as a physical therapist and Republicans as cutting the patient's Achilles tendon, but that may be a little abstruse. (I'm sure you all can do better than that.)
Even by broaching the possibility that the public will, amazingly, catch onto what the Republicans are doing helps to strengthen Obama to fight hard and move in a progressive direction -- after all, the argument depends on their blocking him, which means that he has to show that he's trying to make progress.
So, please (Markos? DemFromCT? David?) -- start asking this question every week so we can see how the trends change. There may be nothing else we could do that would scare Republicans more and make them more likely to collapse and capitulate.