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Polling the sabotage question

<p>&lt;p&gt;To varying degrees, the question of whether congressional Republicans are hurting the economy on purpose has been bandied about for a couple of

To varying degrees, the question of whether congressional Republicans are hurting the economy on purpose has been bandied about for a couple of years now, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) bringing it back to the fore last week. But what do voters think?

There aren't many polls on this, but there's some evidence to suggest much of the public finds the "sabotage question" argument credible.

Nearly half of voters believe that Republicans are deliberately hamstringing efforts to resuscitate the economy in order to bolster their chances of defeating President Barack Obama, according to a new poll released Tuesday.The latest survey from Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling (PPP), conducted in conjunction with Daily Kos and SEIU, shows that 49 percent of registered voters nationwide think Republicans are "intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy" to ensure Obama's defeat in November. Half of all independents surveyed feel the same way.

This is largely in line with a Washington Post/ABC News poll released in November that found 50% of Americans nationwide agree with the statement that President Obama is "making a good faith effort to deal with the country's economic problems, but the Republicans in Congress are playing politics by blocking his proposals." That's not exactly the sabotage question, but it's close.

At first blush, this seems like a pretty big deal. If the polls accurately reflect public attitudes, nearly half the country believes Republicans are so craven, so devoid of a sense of duty to their own country, that they're holding back the economy on purpose because they hate Obama more than the care about the rest of us. This should, in theory, give the president a significant boost.

But I'm not sure it will.

The level of national cynicism is so intense, many Americans may simply assume Republicans are undermining the national economy deliberately, but take their frustrations out on the president anyway.

Voters' understanding of the political process is quite limited, and many Americans may very well fail to appreciate the role Congress must play in policymaking -- no matter how hard the president fights for job-creation proposals, he needs the approval of lawmakers who are eager, if not desperate, to see him fail.

As a result, there are no doubt plenty of voters thinking, "Sure, Republicans are sabotaging the economy, but why can't Obama just go around them?" unaware of the fact that, on a grand scale, this isn't an option.

On a related note, Michael Cohen has a good piece on the sabotage question this week.

In recent days, Democrats have started coming out and saying publicly what many have been mumbling privately for years -- Republicans are so intent on defeating President Obama for re-election that they are purposely sabotaging the country's economic recovery. These charges are now being levied by Democrats such as Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Obama's key political adviser, David Axelrod.For Democrats, perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence of GOP premeditated malice is the 2010 quote from Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."Such words lead some to the conclusion that Republicans will do anything, including short-circuiting the economy, in order to hurt Obama politically. Considering that presidents -- and rarely opposition parties -- are held electorally responsible for economic calamity, it's not a bad political strategy.Then again, it's a hard accusation to prove: after all, one person's economic sabotage is another person's principled anti-government conservatism.

That's true; it is hard to prove. In fact, after last week's item on the subject, I talked to a learned friend of mine who balked -- even if he were sympathetic to the idea, he said, there's no way to demonstrate definitively if it's true.

Folks can obviously come to their own conclusions about this, but I'd encourage those pondering the question to consider three distinct categories.

1. Republicans oppose Democratic ideas to improve the economy: Every meaningful idea Democrats have proposed to boost job creation or economic growth has been met with fierce GOP opposition, even when overwhelming evidence shows the ideas help the country, and even when Republicans have supported similar ideas in the past.

2. Republicans oppose Republican ideas to improve the economy: GOP policymakers have traditionally supported monetary policy to boost the economy during downturns, as well as some fiscal measures, such as the payroll tax break. Under Obama, Republicans not only oppose Democratic measures, they've also begun opposing their own measures.

3. Republicans have taken deliberate steps that have made the economy worse: Literally every GOP policymaker on Capitol Hill last year said they would crash the economy, on purpose, unless Democrats met Republican demands to take money out of the economy through deep spending cuts. The stunt, without precedent in American history, did significant damage to the U.S. economy.

To say that the first point isn't necessarily evidence of "sabotage" is fair -- Republicans and Democrats disagree. But what about the other two points?