Poll shows contrast between voter opinion, legislative action

The survey indicated 78 percent of those polled oppose cutting Medicare.
Ashley Lane / Graphic Designer

A poll released by ABC News and the Washington Post showed a stark contrast between what a majority of constituents polled supported and what legislators have voted on and proposed in recent months.

The phone survey, conducted April 14-17, shows most Americans supported raising taxes on households with incomes over $250,000. The 2011 budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wi., includes extending the Bush Era tax cuts for households making over $250,000 for another two years, but the survey discovered that 72 percent of Americans favor raising these taxes.

The survey also concluded that 78 percent of adults oppose cutting funding for Medicare. A stark contrast when compared to the many congressmen, both Republican and Democrat, who are proposing major cuts to the program. The poll has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

Political Science professor Marvin Overby said these discrepancies are not uncommon and have many possible causes.

"The general public doesn't turn out to vote, the general public tends to have a relatively short attention span — they don't stay engaged," he said. "When asked a survey question they may give an answer off the top of their heads more or less and it may or may not indicate something that motivates them to get out and vote."

Overby said groups which are more directly affected by cuts like this will be more active in making sure their congressmen vote to benefit them.

"You're going to have people who make more than a quarter of a million dollars and they are going to be more mobilized to actually get out and oppose a policy that's going to raise their taxes," he said. "So you have a small but more interested group of people who are going to be opposed to the policy even though you might have a larger group of people who would prefer to see a big tax like that pass, but their interest in it is actually relatively modest."

Political Science professor Jonathan Krieckhaus said many people answer polls with ideas that they think would be beneficial but do not put a lot of thought into it.

"Polls don't always get at true preferences," he said. "It could be that people report wanting to increase raising taxes on the wealthy in the polls but if they thought about it that may not be the kind of public policy they want."

Krieckhaus said that when asked these questions, the people polled essentially make unrestrained decisions that would not be possible in real policy making.

"People in polls don't like budget deficits, they don't like taxes, they do like spending — that's logically impossible to do those three things, so clearly polls aren't right," Krieckhaus said.

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