According to one poll, six in ten Americans want a budget compromise to prevent a government shutdown. According to another survey 60% want a government shutdown to get to a budget compromise. Wait, what?
Yes, two polls in the past week have shown apparently opposite results on how Americans feel about a looming government shutdown, should Congress not pass a budget by the end of the week. So why the sharp discrepancy?
The answer, as is so often the case, is in the framing.
Last week, a Gallup poll showed that 60% of Americans would rather see a budget compromise than see members of Congress who represent their interests hold out for their ideal budget, if it means the government would shut down. That phrases the current debate in Washington fairly concisely.
Compare that to Rasmussen, which framed the question much differently:
5* Would you rather have Congress avoid a government shutdown by authorizing spending at the same levels as last year or would you rather have a partial government shutdown until Democrats and Republicans can agree on what spending to cut?
That frames the budget showdown as an either or: either the government continues spending at current levels, or it shuts down until cuts are made. In response to that, 58% of likely voters said they preferred a government shutdown.
Yet that’s not really what Congress is deadlocked over. There’s a general consensus that cuts have to be made. The debate now is about how deep those cuts should be, and where they should be made.
It’s also worth mentioning the other questions Rasmussen posed in the lead up to that final one about a government shutdown:
1* How closely have you followed recent news reports about the federal budget debate in Congress?
2* Will the spending cuts proposed by Congressional Republicans significantly reduce federal spending and deficits or will they have little impact on overall levels of spending and deficits?
3* Congress never passed a budget for 2011, but authorized spending for a few months. That authorization will expire soon and Congress must act quickly or some federal government services could be shut down. As Congress authorizes spending for the rest of 2011, should they authorize spending at the same levels as last year, authorize less spending than last year, or authorize more spending than last year?
4* If Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a budget agreement soon, there will be a partial shutdown of the federal government. Payments for things like Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits would continue, but some federal government services could be shut down until an agreement is reached. Would a partial shutdown of the federal government be good for the economy, bad for the economy, or have no impact on the economy?
Neither party is proposing raising spending, or even keeping it at current levels, though the third question raises the unpopular specter of each. And for that matter, the previous question gauged support for a Republican spending plan, yet there was no mention of a competing Democrat plan to cut spending.
Another question hedges on a government shutdown, saying that popular programs like Social Security will not be affected, while “some” other services “could” be shutdown.
Rasmussen was widely criticized last week for a poll that, through arguably leading questions, produced a result favorable to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in his showdown with the state’s public employee unions. In the New York Times polling guru Nate Silver wrote, “Because of the problems with question design, my advice would be simply to disregard the Rasmussen Reports poll, and to view their work with extreme skepticism going forward.”