Steve Moore wrote a column published by the Wall Street Journal yesterday that tried very hard to use the results of a recent Gallup poll to convince everyone a massive taxpayer revolt is close at hand. There are two problems: He’s misreading the poll and he’s doesn’t understand its implications.
Some background: The Gallup poll Moore referred to in his column was released about 10 days ago. As I posted earlier this week, “(t)he poll shows that, on average, Americans today believe that 50 cents of every federal tax dollar is wasted.” The problem was that the poll didn’t define what it meant by waste. Some respondents undoubtedly felt that some programs could be implemented more efficiently. Others very likely thought it was a complete waste for the government to be doing something — foreign aid for example — at all and that every dollar was wasted. As a result, the poll may be interesting but its anything but instructive. I called it “worthless.”
But Moore, who before coming to the Journal was head of the anti-federal spending Club for Growth, sees in the the poll’s results things that he wants to see even if they’re not really there.
For example, he says the poll indicates that the “…Republicans’ strategy of creating a unified bloc of ‘no’ votes to Obama spending initiatives…is in line with where voters are.” The poll actually says nothing of the kind, especially for respondents who defined waste as federal spending that doesn’t in any way benefit them. In that case, they may not want fewer initiatives and less spending, they just want less spending on things for others. The “no” strategy Moore cites could, therefore, be exremely damaging.
Moore then says “the polling suggests something even bigger: Americans are in the mood for a radical shrinking of government in order to reduce debt and waste.” That’s wishful thinking in the extreme. Does he really believe that most Americans want to cut radically any program from which they personally benefit? We know from what is now decades of experience that, regardless of whether Congress and the White House are controlled by Republicans or Democrats, there is little public appetitite for reducing spending signiicantly and that the only real question is what spending gets increased. Everyone has a favored program or two. That means that there’s no way the 15 percent across-the-board reduction in every program that Moore demands could ever happen.
Moore also says that there’s “… a powerful voter backlash…” against the spending that’s been approved over the past year even there’s certainly nothing in the poll that says that. It’s actually just as easy to say that many voters are angry because they don’t see how the initiatives helped them or because they’re not producing results they wanted as quickly as hoped. If cash for clunkers is any indication, programs that people like are not considered wasteful even if economists say they’re inefficient.
Moore has an extraordinary ability to label anything he doesn’t like as spending even when it’s something else. For example, he refers to the stimulus bill enacted earlier this year as “…little more than a refill of the budgets of every left-wing program Democrats have wanted to throw money at for 40 years.” Unfortunately for Steve, he has conveniently forgotten the stimulus included a significant amount of tax cuts, including yet another one-year patch for the alternative minimum tax.
Anyone who has heard Moore on CNBC or read his columns over the years knows that he thinks of federal spending as a tool of the devil. He could look at a cloud formation or an ink blotch and see something in it that he will say is an indication the government should cut back. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he sees taxpayer and voter revolts in his sleep. Like the cloud formations, however, that’s more in his mind than in the poll results.