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Two separate Washington Post articles today make dubious assertions about public polling findings relating to deficit reduction. Peter Wallsten and Perry Bacon, Jr. write, "Polls have shown that Americans see government spending and deficits as top-tier concerns." And Lori Montgomery writes: "Polls show rising concern about deficits but little appetite among voters for cutting specific programs."
Neither article actually referred to any specific polling data, which may be because polls consistently show that the public ranks deficit reduction much lower than other priorities. The most recent polling on priorities found on PollingReport.com is a January 15-19 CBS News/New York Times poll that found 43 percent of Americans think the most important thing for Congress to focus on is job creation; only 14 percent said the budget deficit. The most recent Gallup poll on the top problems facing this country found that 29 percent of Americans think unemployment is the nation's most important problem and another 26 percent think the economy generally is; only 12 percent told Gallup the deficit is the most important problem.
And what of the Washington Post's own polling? The last time a Washington Post poll asked respondents to rank the deficit against other issues in terms of importance was last October, when the paper asked people to name the most important issue in determining their vote. Thirty-nine percent of registered voters said the economy was most important, 18 percent said health care, 12 percent said "the way DC work[s]," 8 percent said taxes, and only 6 percent said the budget deficit. Six.
Wallsten and Bacon also write: "Polls also indicate that Obama needs to boost his budget-cutting credentials, with just 43 percent of Americans approving of his handling of the federal budget deficit in a January Washington Post-ABC News poll."* But that same poll found that more Americans trust Obama to handle the deficit than Republicans, so it's odd for the Post to single Obama out as needing to "boost his budget-cutting credentials." (Not to mention the fact that the Post conflates deficits and budget-cutting.) Finally, the poll data the Post cites does not establish a "need" for Obama to "boost his budget-cutting credentials" -- not when Obama's overall approval rating in the poll is a solid 54 percent, and not when polling consistently shows the public cares more about other issues.
* This line does not appear in the online version of the article, though it did appear in the version that ran on page A-1 of the paper's suburban edition, which is accessible via Nexis.