The problem with polls (or maybe it’s the reporting of poll results) is that they ask (focus on) too many closed-loop questions. For instance: “Do you approve of the way the President is handling health care reform?”
The answers to such questions lend themselves to neat and tidy conclusions — perfect blog fodder — such as Chris Cillizza’s suggestion today that the President is losing the support of Independents on health care reform.
However, what such data — and/or its parsing — does not explain is “why” Independents are abandoning the President on this issue. Is it the projected cost of reform? Is it the threatened taxes to pay for reform? Or is it something else all together, e.g., Independents don’t think the President is doing enough to shape the debate; that he’s deferring too much to Congress on policy details?
It’s an important question because the “why” on this issue — and many others — can make a critical difference in how policymakers respond to the “what.”
Case in point: If most Independents are dissatisfied with the level of Obama’s involvement in shaping policy, his team’s response would likely be to get him more involved (as they appear to be doing). In contrast, if most Independents are dissatisfied over the projected costs, then Team Obama’s response might focus not on the details of policy, but on all-out efforts to lower the expense of said policy.
Granted, the end-game might be the same, but the paths for getting there could be remarkably divergent.