Old Poll Echoes Today

Public debate in 1982 centered on Reaganomics, which bewildered people as much as current economic woes do today.Cleaning out your garage can be clarifying on multiple levels. You create space for new stuff and you discover old, nearly forgotten stuff — like polling data from 1982.

"I am very saddened by the priorities that were cut. I am not convinced that a balanced budget is an absolute necessity..."

"Basically big companies are not paying taxes, and we're paying more taxes."

"I think the worst in the economy is still ahead…"

"We're going to appreciate the important things more and do away with some of the frivolous things."

"I believe in greater good than in greater harm. It's going to hurt. It's going to hurt fort a long time, but we must begin."

"Defense should be cut and welfare, social programs, education and the arts should have more added back."

Sound familiar? These could be quotes from a focus group last week instead of one held April 1982 in Richmond, Virginia. Back then the debate centered on Reaganomics. Today it touches on mortgage securities, derivatives and hedging. And, of course, ObamaCare.

Maybe as the world changes, it stays the same — or at least the problems stay the same.

However, as I reflected on these long-stored nuggets of polling wisdom, I was struck by a sense of voter bewilderment about what course to take to preserve jobs in America, liberty at home and peace abroad. That bewilderment continues today, spiced by more partisan and rancorous rhetoric.

In reviewing other campaign-related material stored away from 1982, it also was striking how much campaigns have evolved. There was a thick sheath of paper about direct mail, which has been largely replaced today by social media. 

Even polling techniques have changed, as telephone surveys and live focus groups are being supplanted by online instruments. Mobile phones, which existed in only primitive form in 1982, are morphing into smart phones, which allow for almost instantaneous surveys. Twitter offers an immediate response to political gaffes, avoiding the need to conduct a poll to measure the damage.

But the words of one Richmond woman focus-group participant still ring true today: "There's got to be something we can do, but you know I don't know what we should cut and what we shouldn't. I'm confused."

Luckily, I cleared up space in my garage.