Scott Rasmussen is a pollster and nationally syndicated columnist
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President Obama handily defeated congressional Republicans in the political fight over his health care law. But the law will now face a much tougher opponent — the creativity of Americans determined to gain more control over their own health care decisions. The end result will be a system much different than the president hopes for — and his opponents fear.
To understand why, consider how the nation's 50 million 401(k) retirement accounts came into existence. It was not what Congress intended when it passed the Tax Revenue Act of 1978. Congressional summaries of the legislation listed dozens of its "major provisions" without mentioning what would become its most lasting legacy. At the time, even reducing the top tax rate from 48 percent to 46 percent was considered more important.
To borrow a phrase, Mainstream America and Washington's Political Class have become two nations separated by a common language.
This gap was highlighted by a recent Pew Research Center poll showing that "for 18 of 19 programs tested, majorities want either to increase spending or maintain it at current levels."
There's still a lot of confusion in the Republican Party in the aftermath of the 2012 election. Part of the confusion stems from the struggle between the party establishment based in Washington and the party's base of voters all over the country. Sixty-three percent of Republican voters nationwide recognize that their leaders in Washington have lost touch with the base.
Added to that challenge is the debate over what type of change is needed. Some argue that the party needs to simply change the message and find a better way to sell its product. Others argue that more substantive policy changes are needed.
Following the school shooting horror in Newtown, Conn., our nation shares a heartfelt belief that something must be done.
Polls instantly showed an increase in support for stricter gun control laws. Fifty-one percent of American adults expressed that view in Rasmussen Reports polling.
Official Washington hailed the deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff as a significant bipartisan accomplishment. However, voters around the country viewed the deal in very partisan terms: Seven out of 10 Democrats approved of it, while seven out of 10 Republicans disapproved.
Just a few days after reaching that agreement, an inside-the-Beltway publication reported another area of bipartisan agreement. Politico explained that while Washington Democrats have always viewed GOP voters as a problem, Washington Republicans "in many a post-election soul-searching session" have come to agree. More precisely, the article said the party's Election 2012 failures have "brought forth one principal conclusion from establishment Republicans: They have a primary problem."
In Washington, many are celebrating the deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Some, like The Washington Post, are hailing the "strong bipartisan votes (on) a big, contentious issue."
Outside of Washington, however, the reviews aren't nearly as strong.
President Obama and congressional Democrats are still winning the messaging battle in the debate over the impending "fiscal cliff."
Republican House Speaker John Boehner tried to change that with a fallback position extending tax cuts for everyone except those making more than a million dollars a year and letting the scheduled spending cuts go through. As I write this, the vote on Boehner's "Plan B" has not been taken, but it doesn't really matter. Either way, Republicans will end up as losers in the court of public opinion.
Having survived the Supreme Court and the November elections, President Obama's health care law now faces an even bigger hurdle: the reality of making it work.
Implementation of any massive new program requires cooperation, something the health care law can't count on. Overall, just 46 percent of voters nationwide have a favorable opinion of the law, while 49 percent offer a negative view. The reasons are pretty much the same as they've been all along. Just 22 percent believe the law will reduce the cost of health care. Forty-eight percent believe costs will go up. By similar margins, voters expect the law to hurt the quality of care and drive up the federal budget deficit.
President Obama is winning the messaging wars in the "fiscal cliff" debate largely because Republicans aren't even in the game. The GOP leadership in Washington keeps talking as if the issue is deficit reduction, while the president is talking about fairness.
Consider the numbers. Sixty-one percent of voters want to see a deal reached to avoid the big Jan. 1 tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts, and 68 percent want the deal to include a combination of both tax hikes and spending cuts. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters would like to see more spending cuts than tax hikes.
One little noticed and quite remarkable aspect of Election 2012 is that Barack Obama won a majority of the popular vote for the second consecutive time. With the exception of Franklin D. Roosevelt's four-term run in the 1930s and '40s, it's the first time the Democrats have won a majority of the presidential vote in back-to-back elections since 1836.
This suggests that the president has a unique opportunity to reshape American politics in a major way. To accomplish that, however, his second term will have to be deemed a success in the court of public opinion. Mandates and lasting change are won by governing, not by campaigning.
More than 40 years ago, the federal government launched a war on drugs. Over the past decade, the nation has spent hundreds of billions of dollars fighting that war, a figure that does not even include the high costs of prosecuting and jailing drug law offenders. It's hard to put a price on that aspect of the drug war since half of all inmates in federal prison today were busted for drugs.
Despite the enormous expense and growth of the prison population, only 7 percent of American adults now think the United States is winning the War on Drugs. Eighty-two percent disagree. The latest statistics on drug usage support that conclusion.
One of the strangest aspects of Election 2012 is that voters are demanding change but didn't change politicians. They left Republicans in charge of the House, elected an even more Democratic Senate and re-elected President Obama. They're unhappy with the status quo in the country but left the political status quo in place.
That doesn't make much sense if you think of campaigns as a choice between competing political issues and ideologies. But campaigns are rarely about such things, and in 2012 a plurality of voters thought both the Obama and Romney campaigns were primarily negative. In fact, just 35 percent thought the president's campaign was generally positive, and only 31 percent thought that of the challenger's effort. The numbers among unaffiliated voters were even lower.
Election 2012 has had few surprises. So it's somewhat surprising that heading into the final weekend of the election season, we are unable to confidently project who is likely to win the White House.
All year long, the economy has been the No. 1 issue of the campaign. That hasn't changed. While Mitt Romney has a slight advantage when it comes to handling the economy, neither candidate has really convinced voters that they know what the nation needs.
In Election 2000, Florida was the decisive state in the Electoral College. In 2004, Ohio was the ultimate battleground that put George W. Bush over the top. This year, it might come down to Wisconsin.
That's a state President Obama won by 14 points four years ago. But Wisconsin has gone through an amazing two years of nonstop campaigning since Gov. Scott Walker was elected in 2010. After he took on the teachers unions, there were efforts to recall several Republican state senators and then Walker himself.
The presidential debate season is upon us with President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, scheduled to square off Wednesday night in the Political Class version of a cage match.
Heading into the debates, the conventional wisdom suggests that Romney has fallen way behind and has to dramatically change the course of the race in these head-to-head events. Some even suggest that the debates are Romney's only chance to bring about a change in the race.
The health care debate is a great example of why Americans hate politics.
Both Republicans and Democrats pursue their plans with ideological zeal and reckless disregard for the truth in hopes of winning 51 percent of the vote. Voters hold their nose and choose but would rather have their leaders search for consensus. That would require taking a little bit from the president's plan, a little bit from the Republicans and a lot from what voters think should be done.
Mercifully, the political conventions have ended.
The political press will keep buzzing over whether Clint Eastwood's unconventional speech helped or hurt Mitt Romney and whether the snafu over Israel and God in the Democratic platform will do any lasting damage to President Obama. Republican reporters will think former President Clinton talked too long, and Democrats will note that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talked more about himself than about Romney.
Political junkies get excited about the Republican and Democratic national conventions, but for many Americans they provide a stark reminder of how out of touch our political system has become. The strange rituals and bad jokes seem oddly out of place in the 21st century, almost as strange as seeing an engineer use a slide rule rather than an iPad to perform some complex calculation.
While partisan activists tune in when their team's big show is on the air, most unaffiliated voters view the conventions as a waste of time and money. For the past week or so, everyone I know in the political world has been talking about the latest convention buzz. But I live far from Washington, and most people I talk to aren't wrapped up in politics. Among that group, the most common response to mentioning the convention was something along the lines of, "Oh, yeah, I forgot that was going on now."
One of the things Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate ensures is a series of polling questions over the coming months asking voters what's more important: creating jobs or cutting government spending; helping the economy or cutting deficits; repealing the president's health care law or focusing on the economy.
These questions reflect the way official Washington views the world, but they don't make sense in Mainstream America. In Washington, it's a given that more government spending is needed to help the economy. Most Americans hold the opposite view. So when you ask whether cutting spending or helping the economy is more important, the question doesn't make sense. For most Mainstream voters, one leads to the other.
Just 16 percent of voters nationwide believe it was a good idea for the government to provide Solyndra with loan guarantees. The solar power company went bankrupt and stuck taxpayers with the tab for a half-billion dollars.
The Obama administration generally has responded to questions about the program in the way a venture capital firm would respond to questions about a portfolio loss. They note that similar government investments have turned out just fine and that it's only fair to look at their portfolio as a whole.