Figuring out what the public really thinks isn't always an exact science, as anyone who's seen two polls touting completely contradictory results can affirm.
One reason for that: most Americans, regardless of their political views, don't have a solid opinion about every single issue of the day, particularly when it concerns a complicated or obscure topic. People tend, reasonably, to rely on partisan cues -- if a politician they support is in favor of a bill, they're likely to think it's a good idea, or vice versa.
As a classic case in point, Republicans are more likely to oppose repealing the 1975 Public Affairs Act -- which doesn't actually exist -- when they're told that President Barack Obama wants to do so, while Democrats object when they're told it's a Republican proposal. But even when it comes to real issues, reactions to polls can vary greatly, depending on the wording.
How much can namedropping a politician matter? Conveniently, Republican front-runner Donald Trump shares a couple of policy positions with Obama and other leading Democrats. In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, we randomly assigned one half of the 1,000 Americans surveyed to say whether they agreed with positions Trump held. The rest were asked whether they agreed with positions held by Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry or current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The trick: the positions were actually the same.
Yet respondents' reactions were decidedly different. Hearing that Trump supported a certain policy was enough to cause Democrats to reconsider ideas they'd otherwise support, and for Republicans to endorse positions they'd usually avoid.
Still, associating a particular politician with a certain position wasn't enough for people to abandon their most deeply held convictions. Protecting Social Security, for instance, is an overwhelmingly popular idea, whether it's being proposed by Clinton or by Trump.
Although most Republicans say they strongly disagree with Democrats on health care, Iran and affirmative action, fewer than a quarter of Republicans strongly disagreed when those positions were presented as Trump's. Democrats, a majority of whom said they strongly agreed with their party on health care, were less supportive when Trump was the one endorsing the policy.
Here's a look at the results:
Universal Health Care
Opinions on health care are deeply polarized, and policies tend to get more support from the right when Obama's name isn't attached -- Kentucky residents, for instance, dislike "Obamacare," but feel considerably less hostility toward Kynect, the state-run health exchange.
The same principle holds true in this survey. Democratic support for universal health care dwarfs Republican support among respondents who were told Obama endorsed the policy. But respondents from both parties were about equally likely to agree with universal health care when they were told Trump supported it. Republicans were significantly more likely to agree with Trump, while the percentage of Democrats who said they weren't sure how they felt about universal health care jumped from 8 percent to 33 percent when Trump was the one endorsing the idea.
The Iran Deal
Kerry has defended his nuclear agreement with Iran as America's best chance of thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions. While Trump opposes the deal, he did tell NBC News that "It's very hard to say, 'We're ripping it up,'" and that he would instead "police that contract so tough that they don't have a chance."
Opinions on the Iran deal are hard enough to measure, even without controversial politicians thrown into the mix -- most Americans aren't even sure what the agreement is intended to do.
Three polls in July found that public support for the deal ranged from 33 percent to 56 percent, depending on how the survey question described the agreement.
In the HuffPost/YouGov poll, while just 20 percent of Republicans told that Kerry opposes ripping up the Iran deal agree with him, more than half of those told that Trump opposes doing so concur.
Democrats, who support the Iran deal by a narrow majority when it's presented as Kerry's position, don't have a notably different reaction when it's presented as Trump's position instead.
There's a reason that Social Security cuts are the proverbial third rail of American politics: most people firmly support the program, regardless of whether it's being touted by Hillary Clinton ("We don’t mess with it, and we do not pretend that it is a luxury -- because it is not a luxury") or by Trump ("It’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want to be cut").
More than 80 percent of Democrats say they agree with protecting Social Security from budget cuts, regardless of which politician endorses the idea. Republican support for the program rises modestly when it's presented as Trump's position, but 57 percent like the program even when they're told that Clinton endorses it.
Obama believes that there's a place for affirmative action, while Trump says he's "fine" with it. Republicans who hear that Obama supports the program, however, are 22 points more likely to disagree with affirmative action than those who hear that Trump supports it. Democrats are less likely to agree with affirmative action when Trump's name is attached to the policy, and are more likely to say they're not sure about it.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Aug. 24-26 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. In this survey, each question was asked of a split sample of about 500 respondents. Full crosstabs of the result, including party breakdowns, are available here.
The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls' methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.
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