espite the Washington
Post headline "Poll Shows New Doubts on Economy; President's
Tax Cut, Policy Are
Questioned" George W. Bush can take some real satisfaction
in the paper's new poll on the performance and priorities of the
new administration. To take one example, after months of Democratic
criticism, just 36 percent of those surveyed say the president's
proposed tax cut is too big. In contrast, 48 percent say it is about
the right size and 10 percent say it should be bigger. If
those numbers are correct, then Bush is winning the Lexus war.
But it may be that one of the poll's most important findings has
little to do with Bush, and very much to do with his bitter rival,
John McCain. The Post's pollsters asked respondents to rank
a number of issues in order of importance to them. And those surveyed
by the Post ranked "reforming election campaign-finance laws"
dead last among six choices. Less than half of those surveyed
45 percent rate it as a high priority, while 53 percent assign
it a middle or lower rank. In contrast, 89 percent say the catch-all
"keeping the economy strong" should be a high priority, and 63 percent
say cutting taxes should be a high priority. (The Post did
not include anything about campaign finance in its front-page article,
but you can read the full
results of the poll here).
The poll also shows that campaign-finance reform has dropped in
the public's estimation since a similar survey taken in mid-January.
Then, 20 percent of those polled said it should be the government's
highest priority; now, that number is 18 percent. Then, 34 percent
said it should be a high priority; now, that number is 26 percent.
On the flip side, in January, 15 percent said it should be a low
priority; now, that number is 20 percent.
"When you ask people to prioritize, when you ask them to make choices
from a comparative list, that's when you find that campaign-finance
reform has little political currency," says Republican pollster
Kellyanne Fitzpatrick. "It's a third-tier issue that has been catapulted
to the top of the agenda in Congress." The greatest reason for that,
of course, is the determination, charisma, and media appeal of John
McCain. But another factor is what Fitzpatrick calls the "feel-good
phraseology" of campaign-finance reform. "It's right up there with
term limits, the balanced-budget amendment, and school choice,"
she says, "words that seem to suggest both problem and solution
in one sound-bite."
But the appeal of feel-good phraseology ultimately fades, and now
there is even more evidence that the public doesn't believe campaign-finance
reform is one of the nation's top issues. Given that, perhaps the
Post should have asked another question: Should the United
States Senate devote two full weeks of debate to campaign-finance