Friday, May 25, 2007

John Q. Public, Wisenheimer

Reading around the Internet today, I found out that "the public" is getting favorable reviews these days.

The left believes the public is wise because 63% say they support troop withdrawal timetables.

Meanwhile, the right believes the public is wise because 69% say that illegal immigrants should “be prosecuted and deported for being in the U.S. illegally.”

Though neither side says so explicitly, the clear implication is that we need to treat public opinion with the proper reverence. Strangely, and despite the fact that both opinions come from the same CBS/NYTimes poll, neither side mentions public's fulmination on the positions opposite their own.

Perhaps they just didn't read the whole thing. Here is a sampling of the public wisdom they missed.

1. George Bush is doing a terrible job at everything.
2. Congress is only doing a little bit better.
3. The economy is fairly good, but it's four times more likely that it is getting worse than getting better.
4. A Democrat will be our next president.
5. If it is Hillary Clinton, a lot of people won't be happy about it.
6. It will be Hillary Clinton.
7. Rudy Giuliani shares the values of the Republican party, but he definitely isn't a conservative.
8. Democrats are much more favorable than Republicans.
9. This is probably because they are more likely to make the right decision about every issue reviewed.
10. Abortion should remain legal , but we can talk about stricter guidelines.
11. Despite the opinion that illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported, they should also be given a chance to apply for legal status (more about this later).
12. Immigrants contribute to the country far more than they cause problems.
13. Nevertheless, immigrants will make society worse.
14. A federal database of all U.S. workers is a bad idea, but just barely.
15. Guest-worker programs are a good idea.
16. Illegal immigrants need to wait their turn, but should be allowed to apply for citizenship.
17. Illegal immigrants are much more likely to take jobs Americans don't want than they are to take jobs from American citizens.
18. Still, they also overwhelmingly weaken the economy.
19. Immigration might be increasing the threat of terrorism, but it probably isn't.
20. The government should be more worried about health care than immigration.
21. Iraq is going very badly.

All of this is from a group who is overall undecided about Dick Cheney.

Incidentally this wasn't really an equal opportunity error. The NRO post was especially egregious in its implication of public endorsement. Yes, 69% of participants did say that "illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported for being in the U.S. illegally." But when given a choice of immigrants being "given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status," or being "deported back to their native country," they chose the chance for legal status 62% to 33%.

The TPM Cafe spot earns a much smaller demerit. There was nothing in the poll that directly refuted their selected stat. I would argue that they aren't completely off the hook, however. Just reading the list of public opinions in the list above tells you all you need to know about the capriciousness of the public (or about the importance of question content.) It just doesn't seem safe to use public opinion as a buttress for any argument.

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