GOP, CONSERVATIVE DEMS IGNORE PUBLIC OPINION ON TAXES…. Remember during the debate over health care reform, when Republicans said public opinion polls should dictate public policy? When we were told that ideas with support under 40% nationwide necessarily had to be rejected as a basic principle of American democracy?

Those were good times.

As it turns out, Republicans no longer agree with this. They changed their mind right around the time that their top priority — Bush-era tax cuts for the very wealthy — started polling pretty poorly. A recent Newsweek poll found that only 38% of the country agrees with the GOP tax plan. A recent CBS News poll put the figure even lower, at 36%, while a National Journal poll puts support at 35%. A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows nearly identical results.

A majority of Americans favor letting the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration expire for the wealthy. While 37% support keeping the tax cuts for all Americans, 44% want them extended only for those making less than $250,000 and 15% think they should expire for all taxpayers. […]

The president’s views on ending the tax cuts for wealthy Americans are in line with the views of the majority of rank-and-file Democrats. Meanwhile, the majority of Republicans want the tax cuts extended for all taxpayers, regardless of their income level. Independents’ views fall between those of the two groups, but a majority (56%) would seem to endorse the idea of not extending tax cuts for higher-income Americans, whether or not they want them extended for middle- and lower-income Americans.

I understand when politicians let polls help shape their positions. I don’t always like it, but we’re talking about officials who rely on votes to keep their jobs. Those who take courageous stands on principle often lose. I get it.

But that’s what makes the recent news from the Hill so frustrating. President Obama wants to keep lower rates for the middle class, while letting the rates for the rich expire, just as the Republican plan dictated. This approach is broadly popular. GOP leaders want to keep the lower rates for everyone, adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. This approach is not at all popular.

But Republicans are thrilled to push their unpopular plan, and Democrats are terrified of Obama’s popular plan. Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, and a variety of House Dems are siding with the GOP, even after seeing polls showing voters moving away from the GOP on this.

It’s one of those bizarre issues in which politicians, in an election season, flock to the position that polls poorly.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.