Friday, September 9, 2011

Jobs vs. Deficit -- Where the Public Stands

Following President Obama's address before a joint session of Congress on Thursday to lay out a plan to spur jobs creation, the political and policy debate in congress continues to be about stimulus spending to create jobs vs slashing government spending to cut the deficit.

While Republicans, and particularly the new Tea Party lawmakers who joined them on Capitol Hill this year, spearheaded the drive to put deficit reduction front and center, deficit reduction had risen at least modestly in the list of public concerns.

But public support for deficit reduction as the top economic priority over the job situation has been weakening under the weight of increasingly bad economic news in recent months resulting from the fragile recovery and the failure of the jobs market to improve.

A Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll conducted Sept. 1-4 shows a steady rise since March – from 34% to 43% – in the percentage of those saying that the job situation is the economic issue that worries them most. Those citing the budget deficit as their top worry declined from 28% in May and 29% in July to 22% in September.

A mid-August poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found a similar trend on a somewhat different measure.

In June, 52% had said the higher priority for government should be reducing the deficit, compared with 42% who favored spending to help the economy recovery. But the August poll showed the public almost evenly divided over whether the higher priority should be spending to help the economy recover (47%) or reducing the budget deficit (46%).

Those results showed the same sharp partisan split that characterized the budget battles throughout the year. Republicans favored deficit reduction over spending to help the economy by 66% to 29% and GOP Tea Party adherents held that view even more strongly, 82% to 16%. Democrats favored stimulus over spending reduction by 61% to 32%.

The big factor driving down overall public preference for deficit reduction over stimulus since June was a change in outlook among independents.

In June, they favored deficit reduction over stimulus by a 54% to 39% margin, but in the August survey, 47% backed spending on the economy while 46% stuck by deficit reduction as the higher priority.

The recent shifts in public opinion on the importance of deficit reduction comes as worsening economic news started to seep into the American conscience during August.

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