Maybe the Democratic Base is Spineless Because Party Leaders Praise Not Having Spines

A new NBC/WSJ poll that shows self-identified Democrats think Congressional Democrats should compromise on the budget while self-identified Republicans think their elected Republican leaders shouldn’t compromise. Seeing these numbers, Matt Yglesias writes “Democratic Leaders Are Spineless Because Democratic Voters Like Spinelessness,” claiming that the pathetic response from top Democrats is them merely responding to their base’s love of compromise on spending reduction levels in short-term continuing resolutions.

Looking at other recent polls and policy fights, I think he is mistaking cause for effect. What we are seeing here is probably more the base reflecting the leadership than the other way around.

During the health care debate, the Democratic leadership was able at the end to rally most of the base, including some very big pundits that had previously publicly attacked the bill, behind what was fundamentally a revived old Republican proposal, because “Obama needed the win.” Republican leaders, on the other hand, were able to work their base into a frenzy, painting a plan modeled on Mitt Romney’s health care plan as a tyrannical destruction of our freedoms.

Take for example the polling on Libya. After President Obama addressed the nation, there was a 10-point increase in the number of Democrats who thought it was the right decision, and a 12-point increase in the number of Republicans who thought it was the wrong decision. That is a huge bounce among Democrats on an extremely high-profile war simply in response to an appeal by the party’s leader.

I suspect compared to unnecessary war, most of the Democratic base is far less likely to have a firm position on how much compromise is smart in a short-term budget dispute.

I suspect on issues like this, after hearing for months from the de facto head of the Democratic Party how compromise is the only correct choice in this very complex procedural debate few follow, most people who still choose to call themselves Democrats are inclined to take the default position of assuming what their leaders are doing is the right call.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at