Polling the ‘sabotage’ question

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?

As best as I can tell, pollsters haven’t even asked. But reader R.B. passed along this new Suffolk University poll of registered voters in Florida, which put the question to respondents. The results were fascinating.

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. [emphasis added]

To be sure, this wasn’t a national poll; it only asked voters in one state. But it’s a large, diverse swing state that both parties take very seriously.

And 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.

Here’s a suggestion for other pollsters: given these results in one of the nation’s largest states, and the fact that the charge has been made by so many prominent political voices, perhaps it’s time to start putting the question to a national audience?

Update: Some good follow-up from Greg Sargent, who tracked down the original wording of the question, and who has some worthwhile analysis of the electoral implications.