America Worries as Government Mucks Through Budget

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Obama's FY2012 Budget Delivered To Congress (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Michael Dimock, associate director for Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, talked about the new Pew poll on people's perceptions of the economy and how the government is handling the budget and the deficit.

When asked whether President Obama or Republicans in Congress have a better approach to the budget deficit, most Americans say they don't see much of a difference between them. (Compared to November, when only a third felt this way.) This month a poll conducted the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found this dive in public opinion reads true across the board — Americans seem to be souring on, well, everything.

The shift has something to do with the mid-term elections is not that surprising, according to Michael Dimock.

A lot of folks right after the midterm elections felt that the Republicans had a plan. At that point about a third of Americans said they thought Republicans had the better approach to the deficit. Now that's fallen down to just 21 percent who think Republicans have a better approach to the deficit than Obama. Some of the bloom is off and that's not unusual in the months after an election when a party turns from campaigning to actually governing which is a much trickier endeavor.

There's evidence of a divide among conservatives as well, Dimock said. In November 2010, when Tea Partyers were asked this question, 16 percent said there wasn't much difference between how President Obama and the Republicans are handling the deficit. This time around, that number more than doubled to 39 percent.

There's certainly a wing of the Republican party who has consistently felt that the leadership isn't going far enough and has become sort of disillusioned with the way that the Republican party is handling the deficit issue.

There was also another shift in how Independents are feeling, after many of them leaned to the right in the midterm elections. The percentage of Independents who felt Republicans had the better plan for the deficit in November 2010 has now been cut in half in this current poll — from 37 percent to 17 percent.  And now 62 percent of Independents feel that neither side has a quality approach on the deficit.

Dimock said over the last decade, the proportion of Americans who say they're neither Democrat nor Republican has increased. Now it's up to nearly 40 percent of the American public. This substantial growth.

What's interesting about it is Democratic identification had really surged around 2007 and 2008 during Obama's election year. It's come back down since then but Republicans have not gained any traction in drawing people in to Republican identification. So, as there are fewer Democrats there are just more Independents.

Independents are tricky though, Dimock said. Some lean left and some lean right.

The diversity of opinions among Independents is incredibly wide...About half of the people who say that they agree with the Tea Party are Independents, about half. The other half say they're Republican...but in many ways those Independent Tea Party-ers are far more conservative than Republicans...You see that on the left as well. You see plenty of people who call themselves Independent but hold very, very liberal views on government policies, be that social policies or economic policies, so the Independent grouping has become incredibly diverse, widespread in its views.

As for the number one economic concern for Americans? It's jobs, jobs jobs. The majority of folks who called in to the Brian Lehrer Show felt the same way. Bonnie on Staten Island had this to say:

If you don't have a job, you can't pay off your debts. That goes for the country as well as for your own private budget.

The poll question gave three answer choices on this one: jobs, the deficit, or rising prices and jobs was the overwhelming answer, but there was a lot of break-down among demographics. Republican men were most concerned about the deficit. Younger people are most concerned about jobs. Women and low-income people are most concerned about inflation.

As for tax increases, 61 percent of Democrats opposed them in the poll as a way to reduce the deficit. Dimock said this demonstrates what kinds of answers you get when you ask very general questions.

I think this gets to one of the critical problems right now with the deficit debate which is, people oppose a lot of things in general but when you get down to the specifics, there is more support. There's no doubt that a majority of Democrats backed eliminating the tax cuts for income for over $250,000 which didn't get through in December...The problem is when things are pitched in general terms, people tend to reactively oppose them...but when you get more specific, like what about this kind of change what about that kind of change, people express less resistance. But right now the conversation is still in these broad general terms which leads to a lot of resistance from the public.

April 8 is the final due date for the federal budget.


Michael Dimock


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Comments [18]

john mulligan

So if the poll showed overwhelmingly that Americans don't give a darn about the deficit versus job creation, and if your audience thought the same, then why on earth did you spend half this segment talking about how Americans see no difference between Boehner and Obama with respect to the deficit?

I'm on my phone so I can't check this right now, but it seems to me that either Pew is at fault for measuring public support of the parties on the basis of a single (and rather predictably meaningless) issue, or, if they did measure support with respect to employment policy as well, then you and your guest are at fault for purposely having ignored the important metric.

How can you establish that people don't, relatively speaking, care about the deficit, and then spend ten minutes talking about what people think about the deficit, ignoring that lack of interest?

Mar. 22 2011 02:18 PM
Mike from new york

It surprises me that nobody is making any connection between the on going wars and the economy of USA.

Mar. 22 2011 12:53 PM
gary from queens

Your audience is clueless about economics, Brian.

There must be a drastic cut in Gov spending first. Gov Dollars must be pulled out of the economy so that private investment will expand businesses and the economy. (Unemployment is high now because of the capital strike by businesses and investors.) When profits roll in, then jobs will be created.

OK? You cant CREATE jobs. they only come later, from a process.

If the national debt continues, insolvency will cause more job loses and worse.

Mar. 22 2011 10:31 AM

Jobs =#1 to decrease the deficit by having larger tax revenue. Higher taxes for higher incomes.

A cost of living index that reflects the actual cost of living instead only "core inflation."
Without it, 3 yrs w/o a SSD increase means I can't afford food & medicine!

Mar. 22 2011 10:29 AM
Lex from Islip, NY

Jobs -
There has to be a mindset shift away from layoffs as an acceptible "normal" way to bring value to shareholders.
People are less willing to take on large long term debt (I.e. Mortgages) when their prospects of paying off that debt is no longer dependable.
Substantive jobs are needed. Our gov't needs to remove incentives from corporations that off-shore jobs.

Mar. 22 2011 10:29 AM
Laurie Bell from Washington Heights


Mar. 22 2011 10:26 AM


the inflation rate is so low that my mother’s social sec did not go u last year. the current rate is less than 2%
please correct me if i'm wrong

Mar. 22 2011 10:25 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I agree that jobs are #1, but the next question is how to get there! And that's a major difference between the parties. Did the poll ask what approach people thought would bring jobs back?

Mar. 22 2011 10:23 AM

Food has gone way up! Luckily I'm in the position to plant a huge vegetable garden this summer to off-set the rising prices.

Mar. 22 2011 10:22 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

Recently my main concern became inflation - I'm on the upper west side each Sunday and get coffee at a Columbus Ave. coffee shop (small, w/ milk, 1 Splenda) - That coffee just went from $1 to $1.25. The Trader Joe's bran muffins which are now essential went from $3.99 to $4.49. Zucchini was $2.99 a pound the other day. McDonald's latte went from $1.99 to $2.25 (small, no flavoring) My rent went up $65+ effective 5/1.
There was no SS increase last year or this year. I'm frugal and live simply but I can't/don't want to live without the stuff that's important to me. Like rent and coffee. ;-)

Mar. 22 2011 10:19 AM

Jobs and housing--whatever happened to that "avoiding foreclosure" help?

Mar. 22 2011 10:19 AM
moo from manhattan

I actually think income inequality is the biggest problem. exacerbating all others.

Mar. 22 2011 10:18 AM
The Truth from Becky

Obviously JOBS!

Mar. 22 2011 10:18 AM
tom from astoria

Jobs that are in CHINA> Have they asked about how Americans feel about 100 million factory jobs in China? Hey! Wake up! China is booming! With jobs for American companies!!!

Mar. 22 2011 10:17 AM


Mar. 22 2011 10:17 AM
antonio from park slope


Mar. 22 2011 10:14 AM


Mar. 22 2011 10:12 AM


Mar. 22 2011 10:10 AM

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