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Conservative voters do a pretty good job of recognizing reformers when they see them. Last week, we reported that in our latest poll, voters pick Paul Ryan and Chris Christie long before they choose Rick Perry and Mitt Romney when asked who they think the best Republican reformers are.
What about the issues? We also asked them which of the following four reform proposals, which Republicans are pushing and Democrats resisting, are the most urgent. The results are as follows:
61% - Repealing ObamaCare and using market-based reforms to lower health care costs
20.5% - Imposing a moratorium on new federal regulations and repealing the worst regulations currently on the books
11.5% - Making entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security solvent
7.5% - Lowering tax rates and removing most exemptions and deductions
We have consistently seen that even the most fiscally conservative voters become less conservative when asked about their appetite for reforming Medicare and Social Security. So the 11.5% figure on entitlements isn’t terribly surprising. Despite all of Paul Ryan’s charts, graphs, and videos, voters don’t feel as urgent about reforming entitlement programs as they do other programs that have a less negative effect on the deficit.
Tax reform, likewise, would have a profound effect on the economy. All evidence suggests that it would spur growth significantly. But it registers at the bottom among voters.
So why the high marks for repealing ObamaCare and, to a lesser extent, regulatory reform?
We didn’t probe respondents about motivation or intention. But I have a simple theory: ObamaCare and regulations are frequently cited on the cable shows and in the news as having a deleterious effect on jobs and businesses. And jobs are on people’s minds these day. Of course, part of ObamaCare’s negative ratings stems from the fact that people witnessed its creation amidst rancorous politics. But overall, the effects on the economy seem most likely to explain why repealing the health care law and regulations get higher marks than entitlement and tax reform.
This suggests that Republicans could do the entitlement and tax reform cause some good by making a clear economic case for doing so.
What these results also show, though, is that our candidates and political leaders have failed to make a persuasive case about deficit reduction. Entitlement and tax reform are the two pillars of deficit reduction - an unavoidable conclusion from the facts and from the recommendations of everything from Obama's deficit commission to the Paul Ryan budget.
The fact that urgency on this front is low is because our political class is too timid to be urgent about these issues. Case in point: the Social Security debate in the 2012 GOP race quickly became, and stayed, an exercise in political demagoguery. When's the last time our candidates actually debated the issue - as an issue?