May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Gallup has a new survey showing American adults largely in agreement on the nation's top priorities: more jobs and a growing economy. At the same time, the poll exposes how partisanship colors the way Americans interpret even basic questions of public policy.
For example, asked to rate how high a priority "reducing gun violence" is, 73 percent of Democrats rated it a top/high priority while only 40 percent of Republicans said the same. Likewise, 83 percent of Democrats cited "improving access to health care" as a top/high priority while only 47 percent of Republicans did.
There may be a few gun nuts on the fringe who genuinely don't care much about reducing gun violence, or an equally small number of hard-core libertarians who don't care about improving access to health care. It seems unlikely, however, that a majority of Republicans -- 60 percent and 53 percent respectively, according to Gallup -- don't consider either issue a high priority.
More likely, Republicans associate "gun violence" with President Barack Obama's efforts to increase gun regulation, and "access to health care" with Obamacare. Consistent with the Ramones Theory of Republican Politics, if Obama is for something, large numbers of Republicans instinctively are against it.
Poll respondents (there were 1,021 of them) didn't rate "reforming immigration" as a top priority either. But the partisan pattern is curiously different. Only 44 percent of Democrats considered it a top/high priority while 55 percent of Republicans did.
Gallup's analysis is that the heightened Republican interest "may reflect a number of factors, including the possibility that Republicans may favor the government's taking more actions to restrict illegal immigration or to deal with illegal immigrants already in the country."
It's also true that Obama has ceded much of the spotlight on immigration to Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has been actively trying to sell immigration reform to the conservative base. Among Republicans, and perhaps among Democrats, too, it's possible immigration reform is now more identified with Rubio than with Obama. (That might explain both heightened Republican interest and limited Democratic support.)
If that's so, it's an example of the "permission structure" at work. As Greg Sargent says here, Republican Senator Pat Toomey basically endorsed the concept, made famous by Obama, that U.S. politics is so partisan and dysfunctional that the White House has to construct a political "permission structure" to make it feasible for Republicans to support goals that Obama also supports.
Here's Toomey describing why almost universally popular background-check legislation didn't overcome Republican obstruction in the Senate: “In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”
In other words, if Democrats want immigration reform -- or any other legislation -- to pass the Ramones Congress, they will have to keep a Republican face on it. Get ready to see even more of Rubio.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)