Are You a Member of the Political Class or the ‘Mainstream’?

By way of Open Left, I found an interesting poll from Rasmussen, although the results scare me. They asked people three questions:

— Generally speaking, when it comes to important national issues, whose judgment do you trust more – the American people or America’s political leaders?
— Some people believe that the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Has the federal government become a special interest group?
— Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?
To create a scale, each response earns a plus 1 for the populist answer, a minus 1 for the political class answer, and a 0 for not sure.
Those who score 2 or higher are considered a populist or part of the Mainstream. Those who score -2 or lower are considered to be aligned with the Political Class. Those who score +1 or -1 are considered leaners in one direction or the other.

For the record, I scored a +1 (+1,-1,+1). Leaving aside whether this is a good assessment of populism, this finding was interesting:

Thirty-seven percent (37%) of those on the populist side of the debate are Republicans, 36% are Democrats, and 27% are not affiliated with either major party.

I haven’t dived into the particulars of the poll, largely because it’s not worth $19.95 to find out. Anyway, without the individual responses (as I constantly wail about), even the crosstabs aren’t that useful. But the lack of difference between the Democrats and Republicans is interesting (although we don’t know if their values of 2 are derived the same way).
What scares the hell out of me is that to be a Mainstreamer (> 2), you have to be unsure or believe that the federal government is a special interest group–55% think this. I imagine most Mainstreamers got a +1 for the first question (it’s kind of boilerplate populism). And with the constant drumbeat of regulatory failures during the reign of Little Lord Pontchartrain (e.g., lead in toys), gaining a point from question 3 isn’t a stretch. But a huge swathe of people think, or on the fence, about the federal government question (and I don’t see how you answer affirmatively for question 2 without doing so for question 3).
I suppose people could be conflating individual venality with the federal government. I also guess ‘special interest’ has evolved to mean ‘a group of people I don’t like.’ But, if these polling data are to be believed, this is very disconcerting. Basically, it means that a significant fraction of the public are inclined to think of their own government as an occupying force.
Somebody’s going to have work on that.

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2 Responses to Are You a Member of the Political Class or the ‘Mainstream’?

  1. Russell says:

    The question has a range of meanings. Interpret it to mean something like “do you believe that legislators and civil servants behave according to institutional incentives that don’t always align with national or majority interests,” the answer is “of course.” In short, answering #2 affirmatively doesn’t require viewing the government as an occupying force, but only as an institution that has its own interests not always aligned with those whose interest is is supposed to serve.

  2. jay says:

    Do you actually believe that the federal (states too, for that matter) has not gotten far out of control? That, like every large bureaucratic organization, has become largely interested in protecting it’s own processes? The drug war, patriot act, terroris witch hunts, global military interventionism?
    With good reason, the founding fathers made the federal government very small and limited. We have gotten away from that to our peril.

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