Reaction to Ryan: A Gap Between Mainstream America and Official Washington


One of the things Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate ensures is a series of polling questions over the coming months asking voters what’s more important: creating jobs or cutting government spending; helping the economy or cutting deficits; repealing the president’s health care law or focusing on the economy.

These questions reflect the way official Washington views the world, but they don’t make sense in Mainstream America. In Washington, it’s a given that more government spending is needed to help the economy. Most Americans hold the opposite view. So when you ask whether cutting spending or helping the economy is more important, the question doesn’t make sense. For most Mainstream voters, one leads to the other.

To gain a sense of how strong this belief is, consider the fact that voters are fairly evenly divided when asked whether they fear the government will do too much or too little to help the economy. At Rasmussen Reports, we asked those who wanted more government intervention what they would like the government to do. Most said cut spending. Overall, 66 percent of voters believe that the best thing the government can do for the economy is to cut spending.

The same dynamic exists when it comes to repeal of the national health care law. Rather than being seen as a diversion from talking about the economy, 43 percent believe repeal would help the economy. Just 27 percent think it would hurt. That’s part of the reason most voters consistently support repeal. So, once again, it’s not a choice between repealing the health care law and focusing on the economy. They’re part of the same plan.

But the gap between the Political Class and Mainstream America doesn’t end there. In Washington and on the campaign trail, Ryan is presented as either a serious budget hawk or a budgetary extremist, depending on who’s doing the talking. Yet fewer than half the nation’s voters believe government spending will go down even if Romney wins and Republicans gain full control of Congress. That was true before Ryan was selected, and it’s true after.

So while voters think spending cuts are what the economy needs, they don’t expect either team in the presidential race to deliver. The choice is seen by many as between one team that will increase spending and another that will maintain the status quo. It’s a reasonable perspective in a nation where total government spending has increased every year since 1954.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner recently highlighted another gap by praising Ryan’s vote in favor of the bailouts. He called those who opposed the bailouts “knuckledraggers.” While Boehner reflects the conventional wisdom in Washington that the bailouts saved the economy, only 25 percent of voters agree. Most belong to the group Boehner considers knuckledraggers.

Finally, on Medicare, the Washington view is that Ryan’s plan for changing it will hurt the GOP ticket. While the issue is volatile and that may happen, the initial reaction from voters is much different. On the topic of Medicare, more voters in Florida fear the president’s health care law than the Ryan plan.

As Campaign 2012 progresses, we’ll hear lots of analysis and polling data based on the Washington view of the world. But the election will be decided outside of the nation’s capital.

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