Republican Voters Don’t Want to Reduce Spending

Michael Tomasky breaks down a recent poll that asked Republican votes what about specific spending cuts:

Breaking down results to Republican respondents only, their positions are as follows. By 47-37, they oppose letting the current payroll tax cut expire (an Obama position). By 68-26, they’re against cutting Medicare spending. By 61-33, they oppose cutting Medicaid spending (yes, Medicaid spending!). By 66-28, they’re against eliminating the home-mortgage interest deduction. By 72-25, they oppose eliminating the charitable contribution deduction. And by 56-44, less overwhelming but still very much a landslide in political terms, they just say no to raising the Medicare eligibility age.

Remember: these are Republican voters. If you are having trouble understanding these polling numbers there’s something you need to keep in mind: Republican voters are the primary recipients of Federal spending. David Frum explains:

The strategic challenge is the need to rebalance their voting base. Jonathan Chait posted yesterday a mocking little essay that contends Republicans cannot offer a coherent budget plan because they don’t know what the federal government spends its money on. The true problem is even more vexing. Republicans find it difficult to produce budget plans because we (or at least our leaders) do know how the federal government spends its money: on our voters. For all the angry talk-radio talk about Obama’s “gimme-dat” coalition, the awkward fact is that it’s the GOP that commands the support of America’s top “takers” : the older, the rural, the Southern. If you want to close the budget gap, you won’t get very far by squeezing young black single mothers – not compared to what you’ll find in the defense budget, or in Medicare, or in Social Security, or in the farm budget, etc. etc. etc. Junk facts like the Heritage Foundation’s claim that we spend $1 trillion a year on “welfare” are intended to obscure this truth. (The biggest chunk of that $1 trillion is Medicaid spending, and the biggest and fastest-growing program in Medicaid is nursing-home care.)

It’s not easy for the party that represents the biggest beneficiaries of government spending to formulate plans to reduce government spending. If the GOP is to continue as the party of limited government (as I’d wish), it’s going to have to find ways to rebase itself more on the votes of suburbans professionals of all races and both sexes, and less on the votes of retirees. To act more like Reagan’s party of the 1980s, its vote will have to look more like Reagan’s vote.

In the minds of these voters, their government services and checks are benefits. Everyone else’s are welfare. Its always easier to talk about ‘reducing the size of government’ when its services you don’t rely on. When it comes to to ‘my medicare’ and ‘my farm subsidy’ and ‘my social security check’ these Republican voters transform into progressives pretty quickly.

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2 Responses to Republican Voters Don’t Want to Reduce Spending

  1. Jarret R. says:

    This is why calling the “Liberal-Conservative” divide a debate over the “size of government” has always been a misnomer. Conservatives don’t care about the size of the Federal state (whatever the term “size” means anyway), rather, they care about securing the benefits of power for their ruling base. Liberals, of course, also care about securing power for their base, but there’s a reason you never hear liberals talk about the “size” of the state: its because such an abstract concept is not as important to them as securing the benefits of the public-private relationship (because there will always be one) to a more widespread segment of the populace. All politics is about interest groups and power, and conservatives will blithely blow out the deficit in the service of maintaining the power of a small but influential class. I mean, the deficit was already in the trillions by the start of President George W. Bush’s second term, and the Republicans controlled all three branches, yet, did the conservative culture machine ever complain about debt then? Of course not.

    • This is why I wish the GOP would listen to David Brooks more. They should focus far less on size and scope of government (is very small anyway compared to other advanced nations) and focus more on effective and efficient government. Everyone hates bureaucracy and red tape. The size of government is basically set. Neither side really get large victories anymore like the New Deal or Great Society.

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