When the parts are more popular than the whole

The New York Times/CBS News poll, released in full last night, has plenty of results you’d probably expect to see. President Obama’s support continues to slip; Congress’ support has fallen off a cliff; Dems are slightly more popular than Republicans (though both are unpopular); and an increasingly pessimistic public wants policymakers to work on jobs and the economy, not deficit reduction.

But we knew all of that. What I found far more interesting are the specific economic policies the American mainstream supports.

On President Obama’s American Jobs Act, for example, the public is lukewarm — a plurality are “somewhat” confident the agenda will “create jobs and improve the economy,” but support is hardly one-sided. Notice, however, what happens when respondents are asked about individual provisions:

Cut payroll taxes
Good idea 56%, bad idea 30%

State aid to prevent public-sector layoffs
Good idea 52%, bad idea 40%

Infrastructure investments
Good idea 80%, bad idea 16%

Small business tax cuts
Good idea 81%, bad idea 14%

Also note, a 71% majority believes any deficit reduction plan should include a combination of both tax increases and spending cuts — an approach rejected at a fundamental level by the GOP.

A CNN poll this week found similar results — the public generally approved of the American Jobs Act, but really approved of what’s in the Americans Jobs Act.

This may seem counter-intuitive — if people like the parts, they should like the whole — but it makes a lot of sense. Indeed, we saw the exact same thing during the fight over health care reform when Americans said they didn’t like the Affordable Care Act, but strongly supported all of the ideas in the proposal. The problem is one of political perceptions — the president is struggling, so when folks are asked about his plan, the question becomes a referendum on him. But when asked about specific ideas, it turns out most Americans agree with Obama and his plan. (Likewise, during health care, folks were misled by attack ads and lousy media coverage, and came to think poorly of the proposal, but they actually liked what’s in the plan.)

Taken together, Republicans aren’t just unpopular as a party, but they also stand strongly against with what the American mainstream wants. Some of the most popular ideas to give the economy a boost are also some of the ideas Republicans refuse to even consider.

Indeed, we now have four recent polls — NYT, CNN, National Journal, and NBC — that have all found roughly the same dynamic: “[D]espite all the disapproval and pessimism, Americans approve of the actual fiscal policies Obama is proposing.”