— 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.