Contrary to its name, our company doesn’t do a single penny of business from political polling. Anything political we study or write about is done mostly for fun and almost always carries a hint of not-so-latent cynicism. Would Mark Cuban beat Donald Trump head-to-head? Why are Liberals so much more bombastic than Conservatives on social media? These aren’t things anyone would pay us for. And we’re happy to stay out of the mess.
Even last week, when we launched a scientific and seemingly-serious poll about late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s open seat, it was not aimed at measuring public opinion on the topic- that much was predictable – but at measuring the depths of our country’s political ugliness. Mission accomplished.
We started by asking a diverse sample of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents whether they would support efforts by Congress to block President Obama’s nominees to replace Scalia before the next President is inaugurated. Here’s what they said:
As you can see, the top-line numbers are fairly even. Not shockingly, 78% of Republicans support obstruction, 88% of Democrats oppose it, and 8% of each were undecided. Independents opposed blocking an Obama nominee slightly, at 41% to 38%, with a large group of 21% undecided. But that wasn’t the interesting part. At the same time that question was running, we asked a separate but similarly-comprised group of people a different question.
Now, do me a favor. Stop reading for a minute. Go into your kitchen and grab your salt shaker. Poor some out and take the largest grain of salt you can find. You’ll see why in a minute.
While our numbers on the Obama question were evenly divided, we see something very different when asking people about a similar hypothetical scenario during George W. Bush’s presidency. Respondents claim that they would have opposed Congressional obstruction by more than 2 to 1.
Why so different? Because people are blinded by their political biases, that’s why. 34% of Republicans said they would have supported obstruction of a Bush nominee. Yeah right. My guess is that these people saw through my trick question, tried to rationalize their current stance on an Obama nominee, and lied. 40% of Republicans were at least honest.
And Democrats? 70% of Dems said they would NOT have encouraged Congress to block a Bush nominee. If you believe that, I have a $10 Billion research company to sell you. Smart people that they are, these left-leaning respondents gamed this poll question just to make a statement about the current SCOTUS debate. “See! Congressional obstruction is wrong no matter what,” they cry.
The cynic in me would bet, if the political circumstances were reversed today and a Republican was in the waning months of his presidency, we would see evenly divided top-line results similar to the Obama question above. The majority of Republicans aren’t urging legislators to block a late-stage President’s SCOTUS nominees because it’s good policy. They’re doing it because they can. And nobody will convince me that Democrats wouldn’t do exactly the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot.
Unfortunately, there is no objective way to study that alternate scenario. Our country is so politically divisive right now, we can’t even run a simple poll without people trying to manipulate it. Sigh.