It's a poll that sure to get a lot off attention -- and spin -- from the right. A new Gallup poll shows that most voters rate "reducing gun violence" and "reforming immigration" as top priorities. The problem is that this percentage is on the lower end of the scale from economic issues.
Part of the problem is that Gallup gives their analysis of the poll the completely inaccurate title of "Americans Give Guns, Immigration Reform Low Priority." The poll shows that 55% of Americans rate gun violence and 50% rate immigration reform as "top priorities" and 20% and 32% think that the respective issues are of medium priority. It's hard to see how those numbers are bad news for people advocating for either issue. It's just that fewer are rating those issues as priorities over economic issues. People don't think immigration and gun violence are "low priority," as Gallup's headline would make it seem. Majorities think they're high priority. In fact, Gallup specifically asked in they were low priority and the response was overwhelming. Only 13% believe that immigration reform is a low priority, while 17% believe the same about gun violence.
Gallup even admits to comparing specific apples to very broad oranges:
"Creating jobs" and "helping the economy grow" are of course broad and diffuse goals that do not easily translate into specific legislation. And even though there is significant consensus across party lines that these two issues should be given high priority, there are fundamental party disagreements on the broad approach that can be taken to achieve these goals. These disagreements no doubt have kept the Congress and the president from moving forward on these issues -- but to the degree that these elected representatives feel it is their duty to follow the wishes of those they represent, they would renew their focus on efforts to come to consensus on reaching these goals."
The short take to that is that "creating jobs" and "helping the economy grow" are vague notions that always score high. In answering those questions, respondents could have very different approaches in mind. To one person, these could mean another round of economic stimulus; to another, big giant tax cuts for the "job creators." Meanwhile, gun violence and immigration reform are not only more specific agenda items, but suggest very specific legislation being debated in Washington at this very moment in history. In fact, the more vague the question, the more positive the answer across the board. "Creating more jobs" and "helping the economy grow" score higher than more specific policy-related questions like "reducing the deficit" and "improving access to healthcare." The maddeningly vague but oh-so enticing sounding "making government work more efficiently" scores big, despite the fact that it could mean anything from increasing budgets so departments and agencies don't have to cut corners to privatizing everything and turning the nation into a Libertarian Utopia. It means whatever you want it to mean, so of course it's very popular.
But the big takeaway from this poll isn't that people should forget about gun violence and immigration reform, the takeaway is that prioritizing these issues wouldn't be politically expensive. When majorities say that issues are of top priority, you're doing OK. And even people who say an issue is of "medium priority" won't be disappointed to see it addressed -- after all, they do agree that it's a priority. Despite Gallup's poor wording in their headline, their poll shows that majorities would like to see gun violence and immigration reform addressed as a top priority.
As I said, the right will try to spin this to scare politicians away from these two issues -- in fact, they already are. But anyone who looks at the numbers closely will see that the soft-on-crime and anti-immigrant arguments do very poorly here -- which is why they're glomming onto the headline, instead of the actual report.
[photo via KB35]