51% Of Trump Voters Believe He Should Be Able To Overturn Judiciary Decisions – That’s Bad

It’s bad, but not only for the reasons you might think.

 

A recent PPP poll shows that 51% of Trump voters believe that Donald Trump should be able to overturn decisions by judges he doesn’t agree with. Rachel Maddow reported on this poll last night. Here’s the chart:

trump yes

The reaction has been what you might expect. Trump voters are called unpatriotic, undemocratic traitors.

Before I say anything else, I would like to make the following clear:

  1. I did not vote for Donald Trump
  2. I am deeply troubled by many of the actions that he has taken as President – including executive orders and cabinet appointments

Ok – now that that’s out of the way – let’s proceed.

What bothered me about what I saw is how this one chart takes on a life of its own when it is not placed in appropriate context.

What is appropriate context? Well for starters, it would be good to know what the sentiment is for America as a whole. Asked and answered in the chart below.

trump no

Apparently – when you double your sample size by including people who didn’t vote for Trump, you halve the percentage of people who believe that Trump should be able to overturn decisions he doesn’t agree with (51% -> 25%) and you double the percentage of people who believe that he should not be able to overturn decisions (33% -> 64%). This is not surprising (in case you’re bad at math – this essentially means that all non-Trump voters surveyed think that Trump should *not* be able to overturn judicial decisions).

OK So What’s The Point?

My point is this – the survey only asks enough questions to arm political analysts with more ammunition to use in their takedowns of Trump and the people who voted for him. What would be more helpful for viewers and for the country as a whole is a more complete picture.

What does that look like? Maybe phrase the question differently. Here’s a better (but not best) suggestion:

“Should the president be able to overturn decisions made by judges if he/she believes it is in the best interests of the country for him/her to do so?”

 

I like this suggestion because it is less partisan – less about Trump, more about the president in general. What matters more is what citizens think about the executive branch, not necessarily what they think about the current president. I also like this suggestion because there is huge difference between capricious action taken because one “disagrees” and calculated action taken because one “believes it is in the best interest of the country”. The term “disagrees” can bias respondents because it implies that the decision maker may not be acting in good faith.

The best way to conduct this poll would be to take a walk back in time to provide us with more information that will help us to get to the heart of what Americans really think.

First – we should look at a tense situation on the other side of the political aisle. It would provide a great deal of insight to see how Obama voters would have answered this question when we were in the midst of the individual mandate court battle for the Affordable Care Act.

Do you think that people, who in their heart of hearts felt that the Affordable Care Act was the morally right thing to do back in 2012, would have wanted for President Obama to be able to overturn any and all judicial decisions that would have potentially came down against the individual mandate (without this particular provision, there would have been no ACA)?

Would the people calling Trump voters unpatriotic also call 2012 Obama voters who may have wanted to see a broadening of Barack Obama’s executive powers unpatriotic? I contend that they would not. It is different when the people undermining democracy are people you agree with. In-Group bias is real, folks.

ASIDE:  just to make sure we’re all on the same page – it *is* true that giving the executive branch this kind of discretion would undermine our democracy. Separation of powers exists for a reason.

How Could The Survey Have Been Better?

 

A good survey writer takes a step back and asks – “What is the best way to get at what is in people’s hearts?”

If I were conducting this survey, I would want to understand where the respondents are politically and then I would present them with 2 brief scenarios – one where a liberal president is at odds with a judicial decision and vice versa. I would then ask the question from above:

“Should the president be able to overturn decisions made by judges if he/she believes it is in the best interests of the country for him/her to do so?”

This would cause the respondent to consider what it would look like for the executive branch to have this degree of unchecked power when they (the respondent) would disagree with the action the executive may take. The question is then less partisan and more so getting at “What does the respondent truly believe is best for the country?”

As a closing note: We do know that this approach to surveying will not change what people think and feel when they’re deeply held beliefs or their identity is challenged – but it does serve as a good model for how we should govern ourselves and our country. If we could all exercise more empathy and thoughtfulness in our decision making, our country would be in a better place.

Until Next Time