04/14/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Message From NYT/CBS Poll: Public Wants Government That Delivers

The picture of an ideologically conflicted American people is starkly depicted in the latest NYT/CBS poll.

While conservatives can cling to the 56% of the public that says they want "smaller government providing fewer services" in theory, liberals can point to reluctance to put that into practice, as 62% are "not willing" to "decrease spending in areas such as health care and education" to reduce the deficit.

(Notably, more people are willing to cut military spending to reduce the deficit, 45%, than health care and education spending, 30%.)

Also, while people want bipartisanship -- over 70% want both President Obama and congressional Republicans to compromise -- most also want action -- 50% want to change the filibuster rules so bills can be more easily passed with a simple majority.

What should congressional leaders take from those paradoxical responses?

Take a look at some of the other numbers.

For example, the question about small versus big government resulted in a tie just two years ago, after the desire for small government dropped 14 points over the course of the Bush administration. Seeing the failure of conservative government changed people's attitudes.

Unfortunately, the first example of active government in the Obama era -- the bipartisan stimulus compromise -- has not been perceived as directly improving people's lives.

Only 6 percent say the stimulus has already created jobs. This is demonstrably untrue. It's just hard to demonstrate when there are still net job losses.

Only 12 percent say that the Obama administration has decreased their taxes. This is also demonstrably untrue. But the tax cut was a small and subtle one, showing up in your paycheck as a reduction in what's withheld. Meanwhile, the weak aid for state government in the stimulus meant states legally obligated to balance their budgets have needed to raise taxes and fees, undercutting the stimulative effect of the federal middle-class tax cut.

Together, these policies have helped avert a Great Depression, but they haven't put us on a path to a robust recovery. You don't feel being saved from an unknown worse fate. You only feel your own economic struggles.

The lesson is: doing nothing while things get worse is no political remedy. Republicans already paid that price.

And doing the bare minimum doesn't get you much get credit either. Democrats are paying the price for that now.

The only way to straighten out the ideological conflict at the heart of the American electorate is to pass strong government policies that truly deliver results.

And while bipartisanship is nice, it can't get in the way of producing results.

Originally posted at

(NOTE: This post has been edited after initial publication to clarify the data regarding military spending and health care/education spending.)