President Obama listens to a reporter at his Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010 news conference.
Pretend you're President Obama for a moment and you're trying to make sense of where the American people stand on a compromise that extends the Bush tax cuts to all the incomes of $250,000 and above.
If you look at a new Gallup Poll, you'd be feeling pretty confident that you made the right decision.
The Gallup Poll indicates that two-thirds of those surveyed support a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts to all the income of the wealthiest Americans. Even a bare majority of Democrats, 52 percent, support that position.
And 66 percent of all voters want unemployment insurance to be extended as well.
So far, so good.
But then there's this new Bloomberg poll an aide has slid in front of you. That poll suggests only a third of respondents support keeping the tax cuts for those with the highest incomes while two-thirds want to extend the cuts for the middle class.
All of which proves that if you're a president, you probably can find a poll to support any position you want to take. The polls on tax cuts have been giving off conflicting signals for a while.
Maybe you look for more data. For instance, you might want to get a feel for how serious your political opponents might be about harming the "hostages" — the unemployed and the "struggling" middle class Americans you accuse the GOP of taking.
Gallup may provide a little insight here, too.
If you look at the conservative base of the Republican Party, those energized voters who just prevailed in the midterm elections and turned control of the House over to Republicans, only 38 percent of them support an extension of the unemployment insurance.
If you're Obama, you could follow the advice from your liberal base and dare congressional Republicans to block an extension of jobless benefits.
But this is a troubling piece of polling data because it suggests that congressional Republicans might react to such a dare by actually blocking the benefits since that stance would be right in line with their base's point of view.
As the president you'd have to ask if it was a risk worth taking, knowing that if those jobless benefits were cut off, you would get the blame as the ultimate national leader, not Rep. John Boehner, the next House speaker, or Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader.
Meanwhile, Politico has an interesting analysis, the gist of which is that while some polls suggest most Americans want to end the higher-end tax cuts, there are many more Democrats than in the past with six-figure incomes.
And some of them are ambivalent about raising taxes on the wealthy since they see themselves as dwelling in that economic neighborhood.
So the polls don't provide the president with a clear picture at all.