Mainstream pundits vs. mainstream voters

As part of its new offensive on the economy, the Obama White House has been pushing an ambitious, more populist agenda, focused on job creation, public investments, middle-class tax breaks, and asking the very wealthy to shoulder more of the tax burden. In response, plenty of high-profile pundits have offered their assessment: this is a big mistake.

David Brooks, Mark Penn, and Mark Halperin all weighed in yesterday, saying President Obama’s plan, regardless of its prospects in Congress, is the kind of agenda centrist and independent voters just hate. Politico declared this morning, “Obama sparks middle-of-road rage.”

The problem, of course, is that those who claim to know what moderate voters want actually have no idea what the American mainstream is thinking.

Gallup released a new poll late yesterday, and the results weren’t even close. While the Brooks/Penn/Halperin triumvirate said most Americans reject tax increases on the wealthy, the data shows otherwise — increasing income taxes on the wealthiest Americans enjoys broad support (66% favor, 32% oppose), while eliminating corporate tax deductions is even more popular (70% to 26%).

Just as important, support wasn’t limited to the left — nearly half of Republicans agree.

As for the measures in the American Jobs Act, most of Obama ideas enjoy overwhelming support from the American public, including three-to-one backing on ideas like saving public-sector jobs from state layoffs and infrastructure investments. Again, the popularity spanned the spectrum.

Greg Sargent went even further, documenting the extent to which Brooks, Penn, and Halperin are wrong when they assume the president and his team are only playing to their base, alienating everyone else.

[L]et’s be clear about this: It’s all utter nonsense…. 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. […]

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.

“Centrist” pundits think they know what moderates and independents want, but the gap between their assumptions and the polling data is striking.

If folks like Brooks, Penn, and Halperin want to make the case that the American mainstream is wrong, they’re welcome to give it their best shot. But to simply make up public attitudes, based on their own bogus assumptions, is ridiculous.