Over the past decade much has been made of the growing federal deficit and debt. The yearly federal deficit now tops $1.2 trillion and the federal debt is over $13 trillion. Both liberals and conservatives have warned that the “debt crisis” may endanger the United States long-term future. The Tea Party largely rose to prominence based on concerns about the federal deficit and its potential effects. Despite this emphasis on the deficit, a recent poll shows that when given the choice most Americans are more than willing to increase the deficit under certain circumstances.
The poll in question comes from ABC News and The Washington Post. The purpose of the poll was to find out whether Americans supported the recent tax cut deal made by President Obama and the GOP, but the most shocking result of the poll deals with the federal deficit. The ABC News/The Washington Post poll, like others, shows that Americans support the tax cut deal as opposed to the alternative of no deal at all. The polls have 69% of Americans supporting the tax cut deal and just 29% opposed. Many have assumed that Americans support the deal because they do not know what is in it, or that Americans do not know the deal will increase the deficit. However, even when respondents were told the deal would add $900 billion to the deficit they still supported the tax cut deal by 28-point margin (62%-34%).
This poll suggests that for all the talk about deficit reductions, most Americans are more concerned about economic growth and tax rates. Americans do want to reduce the deficit, but they are not willing to increase taxes in order to do it. Some conservatives have argued that Americans are willing to cut spending to decrease the deficit. The problem with that assumption is that the defense spending, Social Security, Medicare, and debt payments make up over 64% of the federal budget. It is literally impossible to balance the budget without cutting these popular programs. Just like polls show Americans do not like higher taxes, polls also show Americans do not want to cut Medicare, Social Security, or military spending. A super-majority (82%) of Americans oppose cuts to Medicare. Over 80% of Americans also oppose cuts to Social Security. A large majority (63%) of Americans believe that we either spend “about the right amount” on the military or “too little.” Interest payments on the debt are not optional so there is not any point in polling on that issue.
What does all this practically mean? The American public is like a boyfriend who refuses to commit, and the deficit is like the girl who keeps hoping he will marry her. The public keeps saying it will do something about the deficit, but when given the choice they in fact favor proposals which increase the deficit. This year Americans were given the choice to reduce the deficit by letting the Bush tax cuts expire, but as the ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Americans actually favored reducing taxes again. In the next year some Republicans are likely to propose cuts to Social Security and Medicare. In the same manner, the American public is likely to come out in force against any such cuts. If the deficit problem is every to be realistically solved, the American public is going to have to become more educated on the math behind the federal budget.