When a party is on the wrong side of public opinion on a major policy fight, its leaders and members have a choice. They can (a) acknowledge reality, explain why they believe the public is wrong, and take steps to persuade more of the mainstream to their point of view; or (b) pretend polling says what it does not say.
Take a wild guess which option House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) prefers.
In this case, the Republican leader is flagging a new McClatchy-Marist Poll on the fiscal debate, which includes a big quote from Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion: "Voters are not in a mood to increase taxes."
And broadly speaking, that's true. The problem for Boehner is that he refers supporters to an article that we can read, and wouldn't you know it, the poll the Speaker is excited about doesn't endorse the GOP line at all.
At the surface, a 53% majority said they prefer to reduce deficits by "mostly cutting government programs," rather than "mostly by raising taxes." (The poll did not ask about support for the Republican position: only cutting spending.) Just below the surface, however, most Americans would prefer to raise taxes than cut education, would prefer to raise taxes than cut Social Security, would prefer to raise taxes than cut Medicare, would prefer to raise taxes than cut infrastructure, and would prefer to raise taxes than cut Medicaid.
In other words, for all of Boehner's satisfaction, most Americans are simply not where he and his caucus are.
Greg Sargent added, "This gets to something interesting about the unfolding battle over the sequester. Republicans are proceeding from the assumption that the overall clash of messages favors them, because Americans like spending cuts in the abstract, as the McClatchy poll demonstrates. But one thing that's noteworthy about the politics of the sequester is that it is likely going to allow Americans to experience the impact of specific cuts in a unique way."
Yep, and as we know, Americans love the idea of cutting spending, right up until they're offered detailed choices, at which point they want to increase spending.
The sooner Boehner starts dealing with polling results as they exist, as opposed to how he wishes they exist, the better it'll be for his party.