For Me, “Depressing” Is The Sudden Realization That My Finely Tuned Sense Of The Great Public Policy Debate Questions Of Our Time And Sharp Take On Political Opinion Can Be Reduced To Five Points On A Likert Scale

So in the evening hours of Thursday, April 23, I was robo-called by Rassmussen to take one of their robo-polls. I admit, I was curious, so I stayed on the line. It took about eight and-a-half minutes, and I scribbled down the questions in the meat of the poll (i.e., not the general “did you vote” “what’s your affiliation” questions) while I was on the line. They went something like this:

  • Do you think the U.S. is fair and decent?
  • Should the U.S. pay more attention to its allies or vice versa?
  • Does the U.S. have a free market system or less than a free market system?
  • Something about overregulation . . .
  • Does regulation hurt big businesses or small businesses more?
  • Something about how the economy is going today . . .
  • Is the U.S. fair & decent to someone or other, maybe immigrants or
    minorities or who knows . . .
  • Should immigrants adopt the culture of the U.S. or should they not bother?
  • Do you want more services and higher taxes or fewer services and lower taxes?
  • Are the U.S.’s best days ahead of us or behind us?
  • Something about whether the U.S. and its allies are cooperating with each other . . .
  • Who do I trust more, the people or the leaders?
  • Has the federal government turned into a sort of “special interest”?
  • Something about government working.

They also asked right track/wrong track as well as whether I approved of the job Obama is doing.

I answered “not sure” for a lot — especially stuff like this “Has the federal government turned into a sort of ‘special interest’?” question, which I didn’t understand at all.

So here is what I think is the writeup of the poll (it doesn’t appear to be a permalink, so be careful if you look this up down the line).

As for the poll, it was a “national telephone survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted by Rasmussen Reports April 23-24, 2009. The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.” I’m not a statistician — and maybe I’m an outlier, and maybe my answers were automatically omitted anyway — but actually having participated in the poll, I don’t know that I would be that confident it its results.

For starters — just for me but I wonder how many others are like this — I honestly don’t know if I’m “very liberal,” “somewhat liberal” or “moderate” (I tuned out after “moderate”). For the record, I chose “somewhat liberal,” but I don’t know what this means. Maybe I had a flash of Cynthia McKinney in my mind and automatically reached for the number 2 on my phone. I don’t really remember. And that was one of the easier questions!

Anyway, here’s the lede:

Americans appear more upbeat about the direction the country is taking in the short term but are growing more pessimistic about its long-term future.

While an increasing number of Americans say the United States is heading in the right direction, a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 47% now think America’s best days have already come and gone. That negative assessment is up six points from a month ago, twelve points since Inauguration Day, and is now at the highest level of pessimism since May . . .

OK, so America’s best days have come and gone. Hrm. Let me go back and figure out what I thought . . . I don’t remember what I said. I’m pretty sure I would have said “not sure” because, duh, that’s one of those things that you can’t be sure about! I think my mental image was Frank Sobotka on the The Wire saying, “You know what the trouble is, Brucie? We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.” Poor Sobotka! A tragic figure! Days gone!

But then I’m thinking, well, wow, I read Thomas Friedman — well, most of the time . . . or I guess some of the time — and I read his “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” — America rules! Days ahead!

So what do you tell them — er, I mean which button do you push? And the thing about these polls is that they go fast. And these are questions that you could debate for hours. If you were so inclined. I’m not.

Here’s the other thing: The barrage of questions over the course of the poll. Are you wanting America to bend over for its allies? Should immigrants have to learn the culture? Is the federal government just a special interest? By the end I felt all riled up, like I was watching Glenn Beck or something. Hell no, I will never bend over for our allies! America’s allies bend over for us! Has Nate Silver or Mark Blumenthal ever discussed the questions around the questions (versus just focusing on specific questions) because there’s this rapid-fire talk radio kind of vibe that goes along with it all that you can’t help but think affects the poll’s outcome.

And then there’s this:

Just 39% now say America’s best days are in the future. The nation’s Political Class is much more bullish about America’s future — 94% of that elite group say the country’s best days lie ahead. Among those who hold a more populist or Mainstream View, just 29% offer such optimism.

Uh oh. So am I part of “the nation’s Political Class” or am I — perish the thought — more “populist” and “mainstream”? And here’s what they determined:

The Political Class and Mainstream classifications are determined by the answers to three questions measuring general attitudes about government. Most Americans trust the judgment of the public more than political leaders, view the federal government as a special interest group, and believe that big business and big government work together against the interests of investors and consumers. Only seven percent (7%) share the opposite view and can be considered part of the Political Class.

. . .

On many issues, the gap between Mainstream Americans and the Political Class is bigger than the gap between Mainstream Republicans and Mainstream Democrats.

To create a scale and calculate whether someone belongs to the Mainstream or the Political Class, each response to one of the three questions earns a plus 1 for the more populist answer, a minus 1 for the political class answer, and a 0 for not sure.

Those who score 2 or higher are considered part of the Mainstream. Those who score -2 or lower are considered to be aligned with the Political Class. Those who score +1 or -1 are considered leaners in one direction or the other.

In practical terms, if someone is classified with the Mainstream, they agree with the mainstream view on at least two of the three questions and don’t agree with the Political Class on any.

So I remembered these questions . . . I know I said “not sure” when asked whether I viewed the federal goverment as a special interest, mostly because I was like “what the fuck is that supposed to mean?” And I’ll admit that I think I pulled the populist trigger on the “trust political leaders or the people” question, though I was similarly baffled and in retrospect probably wouldn’t have pressed the button I did. I think I had an image of Michael Bloomberg in my head, and this week I’m like fuck him. I honestly don’t remember what I pushed when asked whether I believed that big business and big government work together against the interests of investors and consumers . . . sometimes they do, right? Other times they don’t. And other times I see black helicopters and prepare my survivalist cache. Suffice it to say, it’s the type of question that washes over you like the cable news in general. I wouldn’t be surprised if I pushed 1, 2 or 3.

And for that I’m exiled from the Political Class?! Fuck you, asshole!
Give me my independence back!

I know it’s just a poll. And beyond that I know it’s just a Rasmussen poll. And yet . . . and yet . . . isn’t it still possible to wean ourselves from the dichotomous, binary political milieu we seem to be trapped in? We should take a survey and find out.