Two new articles/polls this week highlight how out of touch Republicans and Tea Partyers are from basic reality. While I am not surprised, per se, at some of these results I have to say that I would have hoped that they had a better handle on their own personal sanity.
The first article appeared in Forbes, that bastion of liberalism, in an article entitled the Misinformed Tea Part Movement. Bruce Bartlett, an economic historian who worked as an advisor to Reagan and as a Treasury official for Bush 41, teams up with my seemingly new pal, David Frum, (I have mentioned him in my past two blog postings) to poll a gathering of 300 or so Tea Party protestors to see what they know about taxes. Based on their focus on taxes one might have expected that their answers would be close, if not wholly accurate, instead they are totally divorced from reality.
According to the poll when they were asked how much the federal government gets in taxes as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) the average answer is almost three times as high as the truth—42% vs. 14.8%. In fact, historically speaking, the highest it has ever been since we have collected this data was “20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944” with the” highest since the 1970s occurring in 2000 when it was 20.6% of GDP.”
Per Bartlett’s article, the Tea Partyers were then asked how much a family making $50,000 per year pays in federal income taxes to which the average response was “$12,710, the median $10,000. In percentage terms this means a tax burden of between 20% and 25% of income.”
This is waaaay off the mark, as Bartlett points out, using data from the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT): “tax filers with adjusted gross incomes between $40,000 and $50,000 have an average federal income tax burden of just 1.7%. Those with adjusted gross incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 have an average burden of 4.2%.”
Wow that’s 1.7%-4.2% vs. 20%-25% talk about not even coming close.
Bartlett tried to the throw the Tea Partyers a bone by admitting that perhaps they were including payroll and excise taxes in their answers, even though the question specifically asked about only federal income taxes, as such, he showed that the JCT allowed for a rate of 12.3% for those earning $40,000-$50,000 and 14.5% for those earning between $50,000 and $75,000.
Closer but this ain’t hand grenades so I’m not given ‘em any awards for that one either.
The article goes on by highlighting how more than two-thirds of the group think taxes have gone up since Obama got into office despite the reality that taxes went down $322 billion since he has been in office. The stimulus bill, which they hate so much, was 40% tax cuts but somehow this goes totally unnoticed by the Tea Partyers.
Now, one could say that they are protesting the eventual increase in taxes that will need to occur to bring down the deficit and those that will take effect to bring about health care reform but that doesn’t excuse their ignorance of where we are currently at. Instead their ignorance of the current tax situation shows that they believe any and all taxes are a burden. As Bartlett points out “today’s Republicans and Tea Party members oppose all tax increases for any reason, no matter how big the deficit is. I really believe that many would rather default on the debt than raise taxes by a single penny.”
As if that weren’t enough to make you shake our head. A new Harris Poll shows that 24% of Republicans believe Obama may be the Anti-Christ…the friggin Anti-Christ! Now I may not have cared for various aspects of Bush 43’s policies, and I may not have thought much of his character, but I certainly never thought he might be Darth Vader! I mean what the frick??!
This poll of well over 2,000 people (thus hitting the barrier of the law of diminishing returns wherein getting a larger sample size does not significantly alter margin of error associated with sampling size) also detailed the following:
Majorities of Republicans believe that President Obama:
- Is a socialist (67%)
- Wants to take away Americans’ right to own guns (61%)
- Is a Muslim (57%)
- Wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one world government (51%); and
Also large numbers of Republicans also believe that President Obama:
- Resents America’s heritage (47%)
- Does what Wall Street and the bankers tell him to do (40%)
- Was not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president (45%)
- Is the “domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of” (45%)
- Is a racist (42%)
- Want to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers (41%)
- Is doing many of the things that Hitler did (38%).
Deep down I am just hoping that most of those that were claiming to be Republicans were really members of the Tea Party or else David Frum’s feared takeover of the Republican Party by the lunatic fringe may, in fact, have already happened.
Despite my fear of being called a liberal elitist I have to point out that the polls showed a gaping chasm in the response between those with a higher level of education and those without. By taking this last part and adding it to the context of all the other information it seems clear to me that this is less about an intellectual or philosophical difference of opinion about government’s role in society. It is actually about fear pure and simple and it is fear that has been fed by the Republican Party and the conservative entertainment industry. And it is a fear that may lead to disastrous results. Already members of Congress have had their homes vandalized and their children threatened with assassination simply for passing health care reform. What’s next?
As John Avalon wrote in the Daily Beast, “the “Hatriot” belief that Obama is a “domestic enemy” as set forth in the Constitution is also widely held—a sign of trouble yet to come. It’s the same claim made by Marine Lance Corporal Kody Brittingham in his letter of intent to assassinate the President Obama.”
These polls show more than a basic lack of understanding about the facts on the ground, the irrationality of the respondents leads one to get an overwhelming sense of foreboding—all I have to say is that if someone gets hurt the blame will rest squarely with the Republican Party members who have cheered on these opinions and the conservative media outlets that have provided the platform for vitriolic speech to thrive. I would never tell them what they can and cannot say, freedom of speech is a fundamental right that I cherish, but the responsibility for harm done in support of their rhetoric is undeniable. While Republican officials, such as House Minority Leader John Boehner, have finally come out against the actual violence if not the rhetoric, it may prove a little too late. Especially since just last week he insinuated that Representative Driehuas “may be a dead man” if he voted for health care reform. Granted it could be argued that he was speaking metaphorically but considering the inability of the current conservative base to understand any type of nuance I am inclined to believe they would miss that it was a metaphor. But the truth is, once you’ve told your fans or constituents that Obamacare will bankrupt the nation and bring about the end of democracy, capitalism, liberty and grandma how else do you think they will react?
In response to some posts:
I have changed the “is the Anti-Christ” to “may be the Anti-Christ.” That was an unintentional and yet significant error on my part. I thank you for letting me know I made that error.
On the sample sizes:
- For the Forbes sample, 57 is indeed a small number (n) in general but if the pool you are pooling from is only 300 (N) than it is a significant sample size to at least review the opinions of those individuals, but since Tea Partyers are a loose nit confederation at best, I will admit that one should not too broadly apply this to all Tea Partyers.
- As for the Harris poll, as I stated in the article, a 2,000+ person sample size meets the standards of the LAW of diminishing returns when applied to polling. If Harris had interviewed 3,000, 10,000 or 100,000 the law states that the amount of reduction in the margin of error would be so small as to make the larger sample unnecessary. And if one looks at how Harris conducted the poll it seems that they did their best to get a broad swath of the American populace while also using “propensity scoring” to make up for the online nature of the poll. If the poll has one weakness is that they only poll people who are registered i.e. that want to participate in polling which could very well mean that only people that have very strong opinions want to be polled.
Regarding the photo: I am sorry if it offends some people, but I still feel it is appropriate because to me it represents the ugliness of those who think Obama may be the Anti-Christ. The image was not doctored by me but can be readily found simply by searching for Obama Anti-Christ in Google. I certainly meant no disrespect towards goats as one poster has implied.
Hatriots: I absconded with that term from John Avalon at the Daily Beast (I quoted him using that term in my article) and I thought it was appropriate for describing people who are willing to do or threaten violence against others or property while covering themselves in a cloak of patriotism.
Divisiveness: Am I being divisive with this article? Perhaps. But I do not intend to divide liberals from conservatives, I would like to think that I would make conservative politicians move away from their wingnut faction in the same way that no liberal politician is going to embrace the rhetoric or tactics of loony leftwing radicals. I can guarantee you that if I saw a poll that showed that 20% of Democrats thought that Sarah Palin may be the Anti-Christ I would mock them incessantly as well. Same would go for if I saw a poll showing that liberals though George W. Bush intentionally let the planes smash into the twin towers. For example, I don’t see any politicans spouting views of anarchist punk bands such as Leftover Crack and yet conservative politicans seem to have no problem ruminating on whether Obama is a muslim or a natural born citizen.
Am I displaying a biased or partisan point of view? Absolutely, but I don’t claim to do otherwise. Everything is biased because, at the bare minimum, someone has to decide that this fact or theory is important enough to write or talk about and this or that one is not. Escaping bias is impossible. As for partisanship, I gladly and whole heartedly admit that I hold the classic liberal belief that capitalism is a good economic system which due to imperfect information, irrational actors, and natural inefficiencies sometimes suffers from market failures and in those cases the government should step in and attempt to resolve the issue. Do I want a full government takeover of our lives? No, no I do not, no more than most supporters of small government want to return to a Hobbesian state of nature.
photo credit: thanks to Fibonacci Blue via flickr for the pic