The new CNN/ORC poll really is a curiosity. Conducted between Sept. 9 and Sept. 11, it admirably focuses on the enduring unemployment crisis, and the recent American Jobs Act that President Barack Obama is promoting in earnest. Right off the bat, we get standard reaffirmations of things I've been highlighting for months. "Are you better off than you were three years ago, or not?" By a 58-32 percent margin, respondents say they are "not better off." "If you had to choose, would you rather see Barack Obama and Congress pay more attention to reducing the budget deficit, or more attention to creating more jobs?" Unsurprisingly, by a 65-29 percent margin, respondents favor action on creating more jobs. Americans are concerned about their household debts. They aren't particularly concerned with the budget deficit.
Then, however, we get into the questions on the American Jobs Act:
"As you may know, Barack Obama gave a speech to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night in which he outlined a number of proposals concerning the economy and unemployment. Based on what you have read or heard, do you generally favor or oppose the proposals that Obama made in that speech?"
The good news for Obama is that he gets the lion's share of approval. The bad news is that it's pretty lukewarm:
Given the widespread nature of the unemployment crisis, and the fact that 65 percent of these respondents picked job creation as their top issue, that wavering 22 percent who have no opinion on the American Jobs Act is awfully high, especially when you consider how much barnstorming Obama did on the issue prior to the collection of these responses. Funny thing, though: Once the poll starts digging in to the components of the plan, they start having all sorts of opinions -- and the good news for the White House is that they are favorable opinions, at times dramatically so:
We've seen this phenomenon before, with the Affordable Care Act. The public's support, at its apex, for the "Obama plan" wasn't nearly as strong as the component parts of the policy.
What does this tell us? Well, it reminds us once again that polls like this often tell one story in their headline and a different story entirely below the fold. In turn, this promotes a call for better practices when it comes to collecting information and then reporting on the collection. In terms of politics, it certainly suggests a strong support for the component parts of the bill -- which would tend to bolster a common GOP argument that these wide-ranging measures are best passed by breaking them down into parts and doing it one step at a time.
But I'd argue that these are the wages of the public's constant exposure to horse-race politics, which place too much focus on political personalities, and not enough on policy. Here we have a jobs package packed with things the public supports, but they're somehow less sure of the things they favor when they become attached to Obama's advocacy, because approval of "Obama, political personality" is held in lower esteem than "Obama, policymaker." I'm not sure how the White House changes this dynamic. But these respondents need to understand that there isn't some other political figure who is going to come along and be more interested in passing these policies into law than Obama already is.