Matt Lewis

About that Karl Rove poll…

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Matt K. Lewis
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      Matt K. Lewis

      Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to The Daily Caller, and a contributing editor for The Week. He is a respected commentator on politics and cultural issues, and has been cited by major publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Matt is from Myersville, MD and currently resides in Alexandria, VA. Follow Matt K. Lewis on Twitter <a>@mattklewis</a>.

In Washington, polls are a dime a dozen. But there has been unusual buzz over a recent poll by Crossroads GPS on Obamacare implementation. Specifically, Crossroads asked respondents whether it was a good or bad idea to shut down the government in order to repeal Obamacare, and by a 64-29 margin, respondents opposed the shutdown strategy.

Hard-core defund-Obamacare advocates cried foul. Over at RedState, my friend Erick Erickson likening Crossroads to Spartan betrayer Ephialtes who helped the Persians at Thermopylae! And popular conservative talk show host Mark Levin said the poll was “rigged.”

Crossroads commissioned the poll through Republican pollster Whit Ayers, president of North Star Opinion Research. I asked to see the details (which are available online). First, the good news. According to the poll:

- A plurality of Americans oppose Obamacare (47 percent -42 percent).

- Large majorities of Americans support dismantling the worst parts of Obamacare now (63-22) – including 61 percent of independents. 

- A strong plurality (49-39) of Americans believe healthcare is a responsibility of the individual, not a collective right.

These are all good results – and good for conservatives. Encouraging, really. But then they asked this question:

“Some people say that the health care reform law is so bad that an effort to repeal it should be attached to a bill necessary to keep the government running. Do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea for opponents of the health care reform law to risk shutting down the government in an effort to get rid of the law?”

These results were ugly. Voters think this is a bad idea by a 64-29 margin. And for the only time in the poll, independents switched sides.

So was it “rigged”? Critics of the poll do have a legitimate point when they note that the question portrayed a defunding effort in the worst possible light — especially by referring to Obamacare as “the health reform law.” (In other parts of the poll, health care reform is referred to as “the Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare.” It would have been nice if they had been consistent.)

Crossroads says they were describing it as it would likely be explained by the mainstream media, and this isn’t an absurd thing to say. I’m generally of the opinion that the President always has the bully pulpit (and Obama has a friendly media), so it is probably wise to overestimate Obama’s ability to frame the debate. What is more, the repeal question is question number 47 in the survey — meaning that (by the time the question was asked) respondents wouldn’t need to be reminded yet again that “the health reform law” is the same as Obamacare. Still, it would have been preferable had they called it “Obamacare.” And by not doing so, they invited skepticism.

Regardless, it seems that the only thing less popular than Obamacare itself is a government shutdown.

This survey was ostensibly commissioned to help conservatives message the defeat of Obamacare — not to persuade them to support its implementation (if that were the goal, they did a lousy job). Unless one believes that Rove is covertly working to support Obama, then this is a fight about strategy and tactics and messaging — not about ideology. And if a legitimate survey conducted by a respected pollster finds that the defund message isn’t the most popular message, why is everyone so hostile to the possibility that the poll might just be on to something?

Speaking of messaging, over at the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson makes an interesting observation:

“[A]n effort that is framed as defunding Obamacare is likely a political loser, while efforts to delay two of Obamacare’s most central and least popular provisions—its individual mandate and its fraud-friendly exchanges—would likely be embraced by all but the far left of the political spectrum.  If congressional Republicans decide to make approval of a continuing resolution or a debt-limit increase contingent upon anything relating to Obamacare, delay of these two central elements would seem to offer the best chance for rallying public support.”

Anderson is saying that the wording — the choice of “delay” instead of “defund” — makes a big difference. This, of course, makes him a sellout, I suppose?

The good news here is that there is a lot of good in this poll. Health Savings Accounts, for example, are supported by 81 percent of the public. Conservatives do have real alternatives to Obamacare. And our alternatives should be part of the debate. Regardless, merely pointing out that the default message is perhaps not the most prudent option should not equate to political treason or even weakness.