The Public on Deficit Mania, the Bush Tax Cuts, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

More than occasionally the discussion in Washington seems light-years removed from the public’s actual concerns. This is especially true of the discussion cultivated by conservatives. Consider public views in three areas of current political controversy: the deficit, President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military.

On the deficit, conservatives are promoting the idea that immediate drastic action must be taken to shrink government spending and reduce the deficit despite the current economic situation. They are aided and abetted by a chorus from the mainstream media and professional budget scolds. Indeed, to listen to the rising tide of deficit mania you’d think nothing was more important than rapid action on this front.

But that’s not how the public sees it. Fifty-six percent of respondents in a recent CBS News poll said they wanted the new Congress to concentrate first on jobs and the economy. Fourteen percent said health care, and a whopping 4 percent said the budget deficit or the national debt.

On the Bush tax cuts, conservatives claim that preserving the tax cuts for the rich is a matter of grave national importance that must not be separated from preserving the middle-class tax cuts. Once again, the public’s view is far from that of conservatives. Sixty-four percent of respondents in a recent CNN poll either want to keep only the tax cuts that apply to families earning under $250,000 a year (49 percent) or think all the tax cuts should be eliminated. Just 35 percent endorse the idea that all the tax cuts should continue regardless of how wealthy families are.

Finally, conservatives are putting up a last-ditch effort to stop the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which currently prevents gays from serving openly in the armed forces. They may be worried about this change, but the public isn’t. In the same CNN poll just referenced an overwhelming 72 percent favored permitting gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military compared to only 23 percent who were opposed.

Earth to conservatives: You say you want to represent the will of the American people with your newly won power in Congress. Why don’t you start by actually listening to them?

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.