Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 12, 2009

MAJORITY STILL MISGUIDED ON ECONOMIC PRIORITIES.... The polling has been remarkably consistent on this all year. And it irks me every time.

Americans are more concerned with lowering the massive budget deficit than boosting the ailing economy, according to a new national poll.

Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNBC survey released Friday morning say President Barack Obama and Congress should worry more about keeping the budget deficit down even if that means delaying the economic recovery. That's 23 points higher than the 33 percent who feel boosting the economy should be the top priority, even if that means larger deficits now and in the future.

This continues to be hopelessly backwards. Given the precarious state of the economy and widespread concerns about unemployment, common sense suggests concerns over the deficit should wane. But all of the recent polling suggests a majority of Americans really do care more about deficit reduction than growing the economy and creating jobs.

The majority, then, is completely wrong. I'm not even sure if the majority fully understands what the deficit is, why it's large, who's responsible for having created the budget mess, what it would take to make the deficit smaller, and how it fits into the larger economic landscape. For many, it seems the "deficit" is just an amorphous concept that they've been trained to viscerally reject.

Which is why it's important that policymakers not base policy decisions on illiteracy. Americans say they want a stronger job market and a far more robust economy. They also say they want less spending, lower taxes, and an immediate focus on deficit reduction. The inherent contradictions are lost on far too many.

Matt Yglesias recently explained:

A lot of politicians and political operatives in DC are very impressed by polling that shows people concerned about the budget deficit. I think it would be really politically insane for people to take that too literally. If Congress makes the deficit even bigger in a way that helps spur recovery, then come election day people will notice the recovery and be happy. If, by contrast, the labor market is still a disaster then people will be pissed off. It's true that they might say they're pissed off at the deficit, but the underlying source of anger is the objective bad conditions.

Once in a while, policymakers have to be responsible enough to ignore polls and do the right thing. If these results are accurate, people care more about the deficit than the economy. But that's crazy.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Sizeable numbers of Americans believe in ghosts and angels and do not believe in evolution. At the end of the day, the United States will cease being a major world power because too many of our citizens are too stupid/uneducated.

Posted by: Terry on December 12, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Why is anyone surprised? 80 percent of Americans can't balance their own checkbooks. Anybody notice anytime recently that any high schools had classes in "how the economy works" or "how the government works"?? If they did, did 1 in 100 students in the school take the class? And of those who did, did fewer than 2 in 5 sleep through it in the back of the room?

Economically and politically, the American people aren't just illiterate, they're completely ignorant. This country is the exact opposite of that "well educated republic" Jefferson wrote about.

Posted by: TCinLA on December 12, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

They have no problem ignoring polls that show the public option is popular.

PS -- Thanks liberal media!

Posted by: Dems lose huge in 2010 on December 12, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not even sure if the majority fully understands what the deficit is, why it's large, who's responsible for having created the budget mess, what it would take to make the deficit smaller, and how it fits into the larger economic landscape.

And whose fault is that? Well, besides the corporate-controlled media . . . .

The greatest orator in our generation has a fetish about "bipartisanship" that keeps him from explaining to the American people how bad the economy is and who is responsible. As Obama tries to "stay above the fray" the Republicans are cutting his feet out from under him. He can't seem to understand that the Republicans will be perfectly content to leave this country a smoldering ruin, as long as they get to govern over the wreckage.

Come on Obama, wake up before you become another Democratic one-term president!

Posted by: SteveT on December 12, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

I think the poll is a good sign. While I don't agree that we should be overly concerned with deficits right now, the polling indicates that the American people are generally optimistic--they think we will emerge from the current recession sooner than later. It also indicates that the general public is wise enough to realize that long term deficits are a bad thing for the strength of the coming recovery.

The stimulus is artifical, we can't continue to pump money into the system forever. At some point we have to transition back to a more normal economy. I don't think anybody has even begun to think about what that normal economy will look like.

I say hurrah, the general public has an inkling that the stimulus is temporary and we need a permanent fix. That permanent fix will include reducing the deficit to free up more money for the regular economy.

All of that said, right now is the time to plan the transition back to a more normal economy, not to kill the current economy prematurely.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 12, 2009 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Sizable numbers of Americans are total assholes. Check out this line-up:Nixon,Ford,Reagan,Reagan,Bush,Bush,Bush. In that time we've gone from being the wealthiest country in the world to being the largest debtor nation.

Posted by: par4 on December 12, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

To me is seems a tails you win, heads dems lose type of problem.

If continued deficit spending does help the economy Dems won't get credit and people may vote the deficit issue, if Dems focus on reducing the deficit and the economy gets worse they will lose by even larger margins. So they might as well do the right thing and focus on jobs right now.

Posted by: laurie on December 12, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

The raygun thatcher alliance was the tippy point from great creditor to greatest debtor . Oh how could lord raygun rob us and our actual hungry , non anecdotal , children ?
He is a saint after all .
Raygun also got he ball rolling on insane talking points .
Paraphrased -
"We will remember this point as a time when Americans were free ..." early 60's
He also sweetened the rule by ballot in California , so their present morass could entertain and expand to the federal level ,
For our , poor , poor , wealthiest few in the moments when they aren't hysterically laughing on the way to , or , from the "bank" .
I luv raygun jolly jolly raygun
I luv raygun to last me all my life
I've got no pence to spend , and no pence to lend
And no pence to send home to my spouse
No cares have I to grieve me
No information to contradict
cause the schools are shut
I'm as happy as a lark believe me
If I only knew what a lark is
Rolling home , dead ignorant
By the light of the obscure object in the industrial murk

Posted by: FRP on December 12, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

CNBC poll? Any someone would comment on it? What kind of based for reporting or investigation does this suggest? CNBC has no credential for polling. They do however have a reason to advertise their wares with this kind of work.
That anyone would take it seriously enough to even comment is rather hard to understand. It makes the reviewer out to be someone incapable of understanding the scientific method, or basic reporting questions of WWWWWH.
Or is this just humor?

Posted by: bird on December 12, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

The poll proves that Republicans have accomplished one of their 2010 electoral missions: they've successfully linked the dismal economy and the deficit in voters' minds. Because most Americans are pig ignorant about economics (they couldn't tell you who Keynes was if you held a gun to their heads), they blindly accept that a horrible fact (our gigantic deficit) caused another horrible fact (our jobless economy). Republicans aren't required to offer proof of this because they've also successfully created/bought a media that treats death panels with the same seriousness as the Afghan war, ie. Republicans can make any claims they wish -- fact checking is so twentieth century. The single best thing the Obama administration can do is push back on the meme that the deficit has caused the bad economy, when exactly the opposite is true.

Posted by: dalloway on December 12, 2009 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

I will admit to having been one of these people in my past. I remember thinking the deficit was a big problem, but I didn't know what it actually meant or how it affected the economy. At one point I thought it meant the same as the national debt, and that having a large debt was bad for the economy because ... well I never got that far.

Needless to say, I've corrected my thinking since then, but I've always considered myself someone who is intelligent and well-educated. Unfortunately, no school or university I've attended teaches this stuff, and even smart people can be utterly confused on what a deficit is and what it means to run a large one.

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on December 12, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

And lets not forget the only reason the deficit polls that high is because the TradMed has been harping on the issue lately, much to the joy of people like Pete Peterson.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on December 12, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Call the American people's bluff. Obama should prepare and submit a budget that cuts the deficit by half NEXT YEAR. Then when people howl that they don't want to pay taxes or lose Medicare, he can laugh at them.

Posted by: JMG on December 12, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Is it really such a surprise? People worry about themselves. As long as 80% of the people are working and have health insurance, the heck with the rest of the populace. If you are secure in your job, the stimulus is a fund to benefit others. It will cost those presently working in future debt repayments. To paraphrase PT Barnum, you can't overestimate the selfish greed of the American people.

Posted by: ajohng on December 12, 2009 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Look, it's simple -- most people simply don't understand what "the deficit" means. They analogize to their own lives, where if they have a "deficit" it means they have less coming in than going out, and so assume it's a bad thing. They don't understand that microeconomic concepts don't apply across the board on a macro level, and so they think "the deficit" is shorthand for "how well the economy is doing."

Polling on this issue is as useful as polling the public about quantum physics, say, or interest rate fluctuations on the international bond market -- they have no idea what they're talking about, so they pick a word or phrase they've seen before and hope it's right.

Posted by: Stefan on December 12, 2009 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

(1) A too-small stimulus package that prevents a depression, but not big enough to obviously bring unemployment % down

(2) A health care plan that has some insurance reform but little or no health care delivery reform to bring health insurance costs down and few obvious benefits in 5 years, much less by November of 2010 or 2012

(3) A non-winnable, non necessary war escalated in Afghanistan and many troops still in Iraq at costs of $150-300B/year that are not paid for by taxes

(4 Financial reform bills that only begin to solve the regulatory problems

(5) A growing budget deficit with few obvious immediate benefits

And you have brewed a hellish Darth-Vader mixture created by the Democrats that even Republican insanity may not prevent political disaster for democrats in 2010 and 2012.

This hellish brew really is due to Democrats... They could have acted much more boldly in every instance. They could overturn the filibuster in the Senate.. that takes a majority vote. They can use reconciliation.. and get a Parlamentarian that will approve whatever they propose (that's what Tom Delay did). Obama could actually speak out consistently in favor of something bold... rather than pass anything please. He could twist arms and threaten (channel LBJ). The Republicans are the party of no, the Democrats are the party of really can't do too much

Posted by: gbittner on December 12, 2009 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not be too hard on the Americans who want to balance the budget. My dad doesn't have a cruel bone in his body, but he's terrified of government overspending because he doesn't want his grandkids to have to pay off this generation's scary-looking debt. On top of that, Clinton's balance-budgeting did have positive effects on the economy overall. What's not to like?

I guess I'd recommend telling these people (& my dad) that a better way to take a stab at this debt than axing gov't programs is to tax rich people more. It worked for Clinton and in every "up" business cycle since WWII, and you could argue it was even relatively painless for the rich.

Posted by: beejeez on December 12, 2009 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Beejeexz. Actually, what you need to tell your dad is that the time to balance the budget and pay off debt is when the economy really starts to grow. Macroeconomic rules are not the same as microeconomic rules. If neither he nor you understand why that might be so, try the following.

He has a $10,000 credit card debt on which he suddenly can't continue to make payments because he lost his job and there are no jobs where he lives. He can get a job away from where he lives, but he needs spend $1,000 to do so, but that means going further in debt. In fact, he might also sell his gardening shoes to pay off his debt, albeit that means he also wont eat. Republican Hooverian solution: sell your shoes, stay home and feel virtuous.. Keynsian solution: Add $1000 more to your debt and go get a job.

Posted by: g bittner on December 12, 2009 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

"common sense suggests concerns over the deficit should wane."

I can't believe I'm reading these words. The interest on the debt is rapidly becoming the largest item in the federal budget. In the guise of interest payments hundreds of billions of dollars a year are being transferred from the pockets of working Americans to the pockets of the fat cats. It's one of the greatest scandals of our times, clearly an act of theft and a crime of unimaginable proportions. The majority of people in this country are showing they understand economics much better than the so-called professionals. We must stop the hemorrhaging of federal monies and get the debts and deficits under control. That is the first and most essential step in getting the economy back on track. It's the most basic common sense of all. Until we do that there simply will not be any money at all available for stimulus, health care, or anything else. If you can't see that then you really need to school and begin studying basic economics.

Posted by: mike on December 12, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

What I think many people don't realize what makes the budget deficit so large.

When B2 was in office, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not put in the budget, but paid for with supplementary spending bills in order to hide what was actually spent.

Posted by: wbn on December 12, 2009 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

This needs to be explained to people in terms they would understand. Phrase it as such: Would you rather put food on your table for your family or pay a little more than the minimum on your credit card balance?

Posted by: grs on December 12, 2009 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it isn't crazy, it's moralistic. If you think debt is just plain wrong, it doesn't matter that the economy recovers more slowly.

Now if the economy isn't going to recover at all, maybe that's crazy.

Posted by: FreakyBeaky on December 12, 2009 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see why everybody thinks the deficit is such a problem. We don't need to borrow money to retire the debt; the government can just sell Deficit Bonds. I got the idea from Ben Nelson.

Posted by: FearItself on December 12, 2009 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

"...policymakers have to be responsible enough to ignore polls and do the right thing."

Why would they change their tactics? They're irresponsible enough ignore the polls and do the wrong thing on universal health care?

Posted by: Marnie on December 12, 2009 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

this is another example of what might be described as a natural result of the "two-Santas-lie.


Cut taxes, and government revenues will go up! Otherwise known as supply-side-economics--a complete lie from beginning to end.

America is suffering from 40 years of GOP lies. People believe all kinds of ridiculous shit, and the most rightward of right-wing goopers have been brainwashing the entire country with absolute lies in order to enrich themselves and their already-rich pals.

It really is enough to make you want to start looking for the pitchforks, the tumbrels, the torches and the guillotines.

Posted by: LL on December 13, 2009 at 4:49 AM | PERMALINK

The general public is right; the commentators on this blog are wrong. This is not an ordinary recession (for which the deficit spending argument would be appropriate). Instead the problem is that Americans having been living beyond their means for the last decade. The solution is NOT to pile on massive additional public borrowing(thus allowing this living beyond one's means to continue); the solution is for Americans to downsize--to start living within their means. This is going to cause a lot of pain--there is no way to avoid it. But the preferred solution of the commentators on this blog (which will end up as escalating deficits every year) is going to cause economic armageddon within a few years.

Posted by: PastTense on December 13, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK
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