The results are mildly hilarious. By a margin of over 20 points, voters agree with these GOP lines: “Both Democrats and Republicans have run up deficits, but now they are out of control under President Obama and threatening our economy”; Paul Ryan’s plan “changes the reckless path of over-spending and borrowing”; and, “Over-regulation and high taxes punish companies for success.” At the same time, by slightly higher percentages, they also agree with the Democrats that Ryan’s budget would “eliminate guaranteed Medicare and Medicaid coverage”; “force seniors to negotiate with private insurance companies, which are free to raise rates and deny coverage”; and “decrease taxes for CEOs and big corporations, giving millionaires another huge tax break.”

Since avowed Republicans and Democrats line up consistently behind whichever arguments come from their side, it is the independents who are responsible for the contradictory results: Almost 50 percent agreed first with the GOP positions, and then, with those of the other party. As the pollsters observed, “[I]ndependents … move in response to the messages and attacks tested in this survey.”

To a sympathetic eye, this result might connote a pleasant openness to contrasting opinions, perhaps a desire to give each group of partisans the benefit of the doubt. But I think it demonstrates a basic thoughtlessness. At a time of economic peril, when one party wants to protect the essential structure of our limited welfare state and the other party seeks to destroy it, most independents, according to this poll, appear to be seduced by the last thing they have heard. Scariest of all, come 2012, they just might be the ones to decide the future course of the republic.