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NBC poll: Public attitudes clear as mud

Americans' top 5 policy priorities are Democratic proposals -- which will be rejected by the Republican Congress that Americans just elected.
Residents of the Park Slope section of the borough Brooklyn vote in the 2014 U.S. midterm elections in on Nov. 4, 2014 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA)
Residents of the Park Slope section of the borough Brooklyn vote in the 2014 U.S. midterm elections in on Nov. 4, 2014 in New York, N.Y.
The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll offers the first national snapshot of Americans' attitudes in the wake of the 2014 midterms, and those hoping to gain clarity from the data are likely to be disappointed.
There's no shortage of interesting results, but for me, the most striking figures were on the public's top policy priorities. From Mark Murray's report:

The NBC/WSJ poll also lists several actions the next Congress might take beginning in 2015. From most popular to least popular: * 82 percent support Congress providing access to lower the costs of student loans;* 75 percent support increasing spending on infrastructure, roads and highways;* 65 percent support Congress raising the minimum wage;* 60 percent support approving emergency funding to deal with Ebola in West Africa;* 59 percent support addressing climate change by limiting carbon emissions

So, the top five most popular policy ideas in the nation are Democratic proposals. To find a popular Republican priority, we have to go the sixth item on the list -- 54% support the Keystone XL pipeline -- which is far behind center-left priorities.
And that's where the confusion kicks in. The American mainstream strongly backs the same policy agenda Democrats want, but that same mainstream just elected a Congress that will make it impossible for Americans to get what they say they support.
Indeed, the closer one looks at the results, the less rational they appear. As Rachel noted on the show last night, public attitudes on immigration are even more puzzling.
The results found, for example, that 57% of Americans favor immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. A whopping 74% favor a pathway that requires these immigrants to "pay a fine, any back taxes, and pass a security background check."
So there's obviously broad support for the president's policy, right? Well, yes, right up until the public is asked if they support Obama's efforts, in which case a 48% plurality are opposed.
There are related results throughout the poll:
Most of the public has a positive reaction to the election results ... and at the same time, most of the public now has "less confidence that elected leaders in Washington will start working together to solve problems."
President Obama's approval rating is up and now matches a high for the year ... and at the same time, Americans want a less popular Congress to take the lead in setting the nation's policy direction.
By more than a two-to-one margin, Americans want policymakers to compromise ... but most of the public doesn't expect the newly elected Republican Congress to work with the White House.
A majority of Americans believe the government should "do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people," rather than leaving issues to businesses and individuals ... though the election results, which most of the country is happy about, guarantee that won't happen.
There's ample room for discussion about the contradictions, but one thing seems indisputable: if Republicans look at the 2014 as a broad national mandate for a far-right agenda and hardball partisan tactics, they're badly misreading the political landscape.