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Saturday, January 19, 2019

David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — For the first time since President Obama took office, reducing the federal deficit has slipped as a priority for most Americans, particularly his fellow Democrats, according to a new in-depth study of public attitudes.

That shift corresponds with the president’s view. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, aides say Obama is likely to point to the rapid shrinking of the deficit, particularly over the last year, and suggest that other agenda items, such as improving education and investing in scientific research and the nation’s roads and bridges, should take a higher priority.

In the first quarter of the government’s current budget year, the deficit was 40 percent lower than in the same period a year earlier, and many economists think that for at least the current year, a slightly higher deficit would be better for the economy.

Any call to put deficit reduction on a back burner likely will bring a favorable reaction from Democrats, judging by new data from the Pew Research Center. Fewer than half of Democrats now see further deficit cutting as a top priority, a sharp drop from last year, Pew’s annual survey of public priorities showed. Deficit reduction now ranks behind improving education, strengthening Social Security and protecting the environment as a priority for Democrats.

But as with so many other issues, a widening partisan gap divides self-identified Democrats and Republicans on the deficit issue. Fully 80 percent of Republicans rate further deficit reduction as a top priority, essentially tying it for first place, along with combating terrorism, on their priority list.

The differing views of the deficit have had a clear impact on Congress. Republican lawmakers, for example, have insisted that any move to extend unemployment benefits for people who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks must be paid with cuts elsewhere in the government, rather than added to the deficit. Democrats have proposed offsetting the higher spending this year with cuts that would not take effect for several years down the road.

On both sides of the partisan divide, strengthening the economy remains high on the priority list and has been the top subject for the public overall since 2008. Improving the outlook for jobs and combating terrorism are two other priorities that garner broad public agreement.

By contrast, the gap between Democrats and Republicans over the importance of reducing the deficit is the largest in 20 years of Pew polling on the issue. Similarly large gaps exist on several other major subjects, including protecting the environment, “dealing with the problems of the poor and needy” and improving education, all of which Democrats rank much higher than Republicans, and “strengthening the U.S. military,” which is a top priority for the GOP, but not Democrats.

The percentage of Republicans who see helping the poor as a top issue has declined sharply, with just under one-third rating it as a chief priority. Almost half of Republicans rated it a top priority a year ago. Among Democrats, two-thirds rate the problems of the poor as a top priority.

On most subjects, the views of self-identified independents fall roughly in between those of Republicans and Democrats. But overall, the independents’ list of top priorities more closely resembles that of Democrats.

Two other issues that Obama is likely to mention in his State of the Union speech — global warming and international trade — remain more niche concerns, cited by fewer than one-third of the public as a top priority. Global warming is listed as a top issue by 42 percent of Democrats, but only 14 percent of Republicans.

As Obama prepares to lay out his own priorities, he continues to labor with a tepid level of public approval: 43 percent approve of his performance in office and 49 percent disapprove. Those figures are largely unchanged from last month but slightly better than in November.

The president continues to enjoy stronger marks on his personal favorability. Just over half the public, 51 percent, say they have a favorable impression of him, compared with 45 percent who view him unfavorably — ratings that are largely where they’ve been for most of the last two years.

But there, too, the polarization is striking. Only 8 percent of people who identified themselves as conservative Republicans said they had a favorable view of Obama, compared to 88 percent who see him unfavorably.

First lady Michelle Obama enjoys much broader popularity, with 68 percent seeing her positively and 24 percent negatively. Conservative Republicans hold a negative view of her, 29 percent to 56
percent, although Republicans overall are closely split, with 42 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable.

The public’s view of the two parties gives Democrats several advantages, but not across the board.

Just over half the public, 52 percent, say the Democrats are the party more willing to work with the other side, compared with just over one-quarter, 27 percent, who give that nod to the Republicans. By similar margins, the public gives the edge to Democrats as the party more concerned “with the needs of people like me” — 52 percent to 32 percent — and less “extreme in its positions” — 54 percent-35 percent. By 47 percent-30 percent, the public sees Republicans as “more influenced by lobbyists.”

On issues facing the country, Democrats get a nod from the public as best for handling health care — 45 percent-37 percent, an improvement since September — and dealing with the problems of poverty, 46 percent-33 percent.

Republicans have an edge on dealing with the deficit, 45 percent-35 percent.

The public rates the two parties roughly even on dealing with the economy, taxes and immigration.

One other piece of public wisdom: By a large margin, Americans don’t expect relations between the parties to improve any time soon. In the survey, six in 10 say they expect partisan relations to stay about the same this year, one in five expect them get worse, and only about one in six expect an improvement.

The Pew survey was conducted January 15 through January 19 among a national sample of 1,504 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Photo: 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

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10 responses to “Deficit Reduction Drops As A Public Priority, New Poll Shows”

  1. City Guy says:

    Just because the deficit is number 2 on people’s list of worries does not mean the issue has gone away. 2014’s deficit is projected to be the 5th highest in history from a constant dollar standpoint and an inflation adjusted standpoint. The 4 higher years we all under Obama. Even 1943, the highest deficit year of WW2, had a lower inflation adjusted deficit.
    The author may be accurate saying the 2014 deficit is expected to be 40% lower than 2013, but it is misleading to infer that the it is no longer an issue. If we had the 5th highest level of murders, but were still 6 TIMES the historical average, people would be freaking out.
    The pole shows people are still freaking out about the deficit, they are just freaking out more about their own jobs. No wonder, we have the lowest percentage of able bodied people working in 44 years!!
    This article is misinforming rather than informing people of the reality of our situation and how other Americans feel about it. I think the author is an Obama supporter and spinning the pole results accordingly.

    • daniel bostdorf says:

      Nice opinion. No real facts to back it up….I appreciate your viewpoint, but teh American people simply don’t agree that it is all about the deficit.

      It is about economic equality and fairness as outlined by Obama in the SOTU speech last night.

      • daniel bostdorf says:

        Commentary section snafu???—-my edited version above…

      • City Guy says:

        The foundations of my comments are 100% based on fact. Go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals/

        The American people ARE worried about the debt – it is the number 2 issue. That was the topic of the article!

        I agree 100% with Obama in 2008 when he criticized Bush’s irresponsible spending and high deficits. If this opinion is propaganda, why is Obama touting it? See him yourself on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kuTG19Cu_Q

        Karl Rove was a big spender too. His is critical now just to be critical – that is how he makes a living. No different that the rest of Fox News and MSNBC. Being partisan puts food on their tables.

        Clinton is the most fiscally responsible president we have had in my lifetime. He has also criticized Obama’s huge deficits. When interest rates rise and a much bigger part of our budget is going to pay interest on $17 T debt, people will be longing for the days of the sequester cuts. The problems will face then will not be about politics, not socialism vs capitalism, just the reality of the math.

        The sad thing is that it is all fixable by setting priorities, determining the most important things to fund and the things we can do without (or are really special interest give-aways).

        The hate-speak of class warfare is propaganda. The study of economics is not.

    • daniel bostdorf says:

      Nice opinion. Article is not biased. The article contains no misinformation.

      Your opinion is based in Karl Rove propaganda talking points we have heard ad naseum over the past 2 years. Not facts.

      The American people see through this propaganda and have made a prudebt decsion to not worry about the deficit.

  2. Mr. Sequel says:

    Per Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, Congress alone has the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States.

  3. daniel bostdorf says:

    The author here is not an Obama supporter. Just a reporter writing an article about the REAL facts….not opinion as the poster below has done.

    Back in 2012, this deficit reduction issue was front and center. And this article clearly shows that tehnAmerican people understand teh FACTS about what deficit reduction is and isn’t.

    They reject the propaganda that was posted below.

    Worrying About The Deficit Is Bad For The Economy

    “The most basic reason not to worry about the deficit, according to all of the economists interviewed for this story (bleow), is that those fears could lead to choices that would put the U.S. in an even worse bind. “What I oppose, because it’s false,” said James Galbraith, a professor of government at the University of Texas, “is the notion that the deficit either can or should be reduced by cutting public spending and especially by cutting back on basic social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — that protect the entire population from destitution. Actions of this type inflict unnecessary harm on vulnerable people, and they also have no ultimate effect on the deficit. If you cut people’s incomes, you will hurt the economy.”

    The Trillion-Dollar Deficit: Eight Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Sweat It:
    The rest of the article states the case far better than I can.
    read more here:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/deficit-us_n_1933905.html

    and the poster below needs to get the facts first.

  4. daniel bostdorf says:

    The article is factually correct and not biased towards Obama.

    This deficit issue has been discussed heavily since 2012, and the American public sees through the propaganda of the right and Rove talking points, unlike the poster below.

    There was an article last 2012 that address this issue better than anything. It is titled: The Trillion-Dollar Deficit: Eight Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Sweat It by Saki Knafo….

    From the article:
    “Worrying About The Deficit Is Bad For The Economy”
    The most basic reason not to worry about the deficit, according to all of the economists interviewed for this story, is that those fears could lead to choices that would put the U.S. in an even worse bind. “What I oppose, because it’s false,” said James Galbraith, a professor of government at the University of Texas, “is the notion that the deficit either can or should be reduced by cutting public spending and especially by cutting back on basic social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — that protect the entire population from destitution. Actions of this type inflict unnecessary harm on vulnerable people, and they also have no ultimate effect on the deficit. If you cut people’s incomes, you will hurt the economy.”

    Read all 8 reasons here:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/deficit-us_n_1933905.html

    And City Guy below needs to get the facts, not propaganda to base his comment on in my opinion. Appreciate his point of view but it is flawed.

  5. 4sanity4all says:

    I, too, put the deficit low on my list of priorities. Here is why: If the government improves the infrastructure, that will provide jobs. It will benefit businesses, as improved infrastructure reduces transportation costs. If the government raises the minimum wage, there will be more money purchasing more goods, immediately. That will boost sales, a win for businesses. If the government changes the tax code, so that the very wealthy and corporations pay their fair share (as they did in prosperous times) the deficit will be reduced. If the government maintains a strong safety net, people at the bottom will maintain their health and financial security. When the better times come, they will be able to work their way up the ladder, because they will not be living under a bridge or sick from not eating. I could go on, but you get the idea. These are all a much higher priority to me than the deficit. Because if these other matters would be handled correctly, the deficit would go down as a result. Austerity has never worked, and never will. It sounds good, but it is wrong. A household budget might respond well to austerity, but a government budget does not, because a household budget has nothing to do with a country’s budget. Running a government is nothing like running a household, and it is time for people to realize that.

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