The Public vs. Deficit Hawks

Conservatives argue that the public is in full deficit reduction mode and that there’s nothing more important to them than cutting government spending. The grain of truth here is that the public is in fact concerned about the size of the deficit. But everything else is wrong. There are many more important things to the public than cutting the deficit.

Take jobs, for example. The public declared by 60-38 in a mid-June Gallup/USA Today poll that they favored Congress passing new legislation this year that would provide “additional government spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy.” Of course, this is exactly the kind of legislation conservatives are now strenuously opposing on the grounds the public is sick and tired of spending to create jobs.

Nor does the public want to see budget cuts in social spending. A late June Pew poll asked the public if they’d approve of various spending cuts to balance their state’s budget this year. The public opposed all of them. This included 73-21 opposition to cutting funding for K-12 public schools; 71-25 opposition to cutting funding for police, fire, and other public safety departments; 65-27 opposition to cutting health care services provided by state or local government; and 50-43 opposition to cutting funding for maintaining roads and public transportation systems.

The most important priority to conservatives and a fair number of media commentators may well be deficit reduction through spending cuts. But this most assuredly is not the public’s most important priority. Policymakers would do well to remember this as they consider bills that would pump additional money into the economy by extending unemployment benefits, preventing teacher layoffs, and the like. Killing these bills in the name of deficit reduction is not doing the public’s bidding—it’s exactly the reverse.

Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Progressive Values page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.