The importance of educating voters

THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATING VOTERS…. Several recent polls have asked Americans for their opinions on the House Republican budget plan, which, among other things, ends Medicare and replaces it with a privatized voucher scheme. The results have been one-sided: the mainstream isn’t buying what the GOP is selling.

But then there was that Gallup/USA Today poll that didn’t match up at all with the other data. Americans were asked, “Which do you think is the better long-term plan for dealing with the federal budget deficit — the Republican plan put forth by Congressman Paul Ryan or the Democratic plan put forth by President Barack Obama?” The results: 44% backed Obama’s vision, while 43% backed the GOP plan.

How is it possible that some polls show 80% disapproval of the Republican agenda while Gallup shows that agenda tied with the president’s plan? It’s surprisingly easy to understand — while GOP officials were giddy with the Gallup poll, the truth is, the question assumes most people know who Paul Ryan is and what his plan entails. They don’t.

Suzy Khimm had a good item on this yesterday.

[A] separate poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found support for the Ryan plan dropped sharply when survey-takers explained the specific outlines of the Republican Medicare proposal. As Kaiser Health News reports, the Kaiser poll “found just 30 percent of seniors supported the idea of restructuring Medicare into a system where seniors are given government subsidies to shop for private coverage. In contrast, 62 percent of seniors said they wanted Medicare to be left alone with the program continuing to guarantee the same benefits to all enrollees.”

Democrats are banking that the Ryan plan will be politically toxic for the GOP. But these two polls suggest that won’t necessarily be the case: the GOP’s plan could still have widespread appeal unless Democrats manage to communicate exactly how the specifics of RyanCare would impact ordinary Americans. The Dems faced the same dilemma when it came to federal health reform: Americans tend to feel positive about many of the specific benefits of the Affordable Care Act, but the Republicans have continued to succeed in making them feel queasy about the law overall. So Democrats shouldn’t simply assume that Americans will recoil at RyanCare at first blush.

The Gallup results should have been predictable as soon as one saw the wording of the question: asked to choose between a Republican plan and a Democratic plan — with no additional information — of course the public is nearly tied. Most Americans haven’t the foggiest idea what the plans include, so it becomes a straight-up partisan test.

The lesson for Democrats should be painfully obvious: Americans reject the Republican agenda once they’re told what it is — so go tell them.

Ignorance isn’t just the GOP’s friend, it’s the lynchpin of the entire GOP strategy.