Articles and Analysis


Divergent Polls: Deficits vs. Spend for Jobs

Topics: Budget , Deficits , Divergent Polls , Measurement , Spending

If you have been following coverage of polling on jobs and the deficit this week, you may be a little confused. “The public now sees reducing the budget deficit as a higher priority than increasing government spending to help the economy recover,” the Pew Research Center told us on Monday. But just today, the headline of the Quinnipiac University poll announces that “American Voters Want Jobs Over Deficit Reduction 2-1.” What gives?

I gathered results from media polls conducted in July that have asked respondents to choose in some way between creating jobs or cutting the deficit and created the following table:

Pew Research/National Journal (7/15-18, n=1,003 adults): If you were setting priorities for the government these days, would you place a higher priority on [rotate] Reducing the budget deficit OR Spending more to help the economy recover?40% spend to help economy51% reducing deficit9% don't know
CBS News (7/9-12, 2010. N=966 adults): Which comes closer to your own view? The federal government should spend money to create jobs, even if it means increasing the budget deficit OR the federal government should NOT spend money to create jobs and should instead focus on reducing the budget deficit.46% spend to create jobs47% reducing deficit7% unsure
Zogby Interactive (7/9-11, n=2,055 likely voters/online opt-in panel): Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Right now, federal spending targeted to create and maintain employment is a more important concern than the federal deficit.53% agree (spend on jobs)42% disagree5% don't know
Quinnipiac University (7/13-19, n=2,181 registered voters): What do you think is more important - reducing the federal budget deficit or reducing unemployment?64% unemploy- ment30% deficit6% don't know
Bloomberg/Selzer & Co (7/9-12, 2010, n=1,004 adults): The U.S. currently has a huge budget deficit and a high unemployment rate. Which should take priority: reducing the budget deficit or reducing the unemployment rate?70% unemploy- ment28% deficit2% unsure

Let’s start with the last two questions in the table asked by the Quinnipiac University and Bloomberg/Selzer polls that show the most lopsided support for a focus on jobs and unemployment. If you look closely, the questions are very different than the others in the table, in that they ask respondents to prioritize between unemployment and the deficit as issues, but they do not introduce the idea of increasing government spending in order to reduce unemployment. The latter choice is closer to the policy argument playing out in Washington, but these Quinnipiac and Bloomberg results are still valuable. While Americans are concerned about the growing deficit, they worry about unemployment much more.

Note that while these numbers differ by party, even Republicans are overwhelmingly convinced that unemployment is a bigger issue than the deficit.

When pollsters introduce the idea of spending government money in order to create jobs or benefit the economy, the results narrow considerably, although not consistently. But notice the difference: The CBS News question produces a nearly even split (46% to 47% on jobs vs. the deficit) when it asks about the government spending money “to create jobs,” while the Pew Research/National Journal polls shows a greater preference for reducing the deficit (40% to 51%) versus spending “to help the economy recover.”

Not surprisingly, these results show the usual partisan polarization. Republicans overwhelmingly prefer deficit reduction, while almost as many Democrats prefer an emphasis on jobs and the economy. Independents, as they often do, divide by roughly the same margins as all adults.

My guess is that the more specific emphasis on “jobs” explains the modest difference between the CBS News and Pew/National Journal results. Other results from the Pew Research poll offer a possible explanation: Large majorities believe that the “federal government’s economic policies” since 2008 have done a “great deal” or a “fair amount” to help “large banks and financial institutions” (74%) and “large corporations” (80%), but only 27% say those policies have done a great deal or fair amount for “middle class people.”

These results tell us that most Americans believe the economic policies their government has pursued have helped some sectors of the economy recover while leaving the middle class and unemployed behind. As such, we shouldn’t be surprised that a slightly more react favorably to the notion of spending “to create jobs” rather than spending to “to help the economy recover.”

Still, it is not surprising that these sorts of forced choice questions produce inconsistent results based on minor wording differences. My guess is that most Americans see the unemployment and the deficit as complementary problems, and that only a few see the conflict that many economists do between cutting deficits and stimulating job growth. So it can be confusing for many Americans when pollsters ask them to choose. I’d wager that many want to ask, “why can’t we do both?”

PS: I have focused less on the Zogby Interactive question here for two reasons. First, their online sampling methodology has produced consistently less accurate results in pre-election horse race polling since 2004, even when compared to other opt-in, online panels. Second, this particular question is presented in an agree-disagree format which probably creates what pollsters call “acquiescence bias” favoring the agree-spend-to-create jobs response.

Thanks for Ann Selzer for providing results by party for the Bloomberg survey, and a hat-tip to the Polling Report for its compilation of questions on budget deficits and the economy.

[This entry is crossposted at the Huffington Post].



The Quinnipiac University and Bloomberg/Selzer polls are different from the others in another important way. They may or may not imply that reducing taxes could reduce unemployment, but they certainly allow those who respond positively to infer that tax cuts will help the economy.



There are too many "ifs" in there. Money spent correctly will create jobs. The stimulus bill is the poster-child of how to not spend money to create jobs - since 3 million jobs have been lost since that spending started.

I think the best way to word this question would be, "Would you be willing to increase the deficit if the additional spending reduced unemployment?"

You would get an answer of about 80% yes.

Then follow it with a question, "Has the stimulus bill passed last year reduced unemployment?"

You would get an answer of about 80% no.

So the questions as worded above don't adress the complete failure of the last major deficit spending bill that was supposed to reduce unemployment.



This observation about Rasmussen has nothing to do with individual elections, but they seem to be promoting hate and divisions in America. It seems like they look for statistics that suppress the less fortunate in our society. First it was trying to prove America supports racial profiling, and wants to get rid of affirmative action, and has pretty much proven that we are a nation that doesn't believe that health coverage is a human right, now they are going after felons.

Rasmussen is guilty now for looking for trouble. The latest crap has been that felons were allowed to vote in MN in the Franken election? Is this conservative group seriously implying that all Felons are Democrats? What about all the people who turn into skin heads in prison? I am sure there are a lot of them in all states.

I think once a person has done their time and is off parole, they should have the right to vote.



"My guess is that most Americans see the unemployment and the deficit as complementary problems, and that only a few see the conflict that many economists do between cutting deficits and stimulating job growth. So it can be confusing for many Americans when pollsters ask them to choose. I’d wager that many want to ask, “why can’t we do both?”"

If this is true - and I think it probably is - the Democrats are really dropping the messaging ball. I didn't hear them describe extending unemployment benefits as "job-saving" (or not doing so as "job-killing"), though I heard a little bit of "anti-stimulus" (which isn't exactly conducive to understanding when trying to convince those that have been led to believe that the stimulus was a failure).

Right not they're letting the Republicans say the Democrats haven't addressed either unemployment or the deficit, even while Democrats are trying to find the proper balance (i.e. struggling with exactly that). Right now the politics being played doesn't even match up to the policy decision in play, which is a shame. But once the debate is properly framed as a choice of a balance between the two, not only would the conversation be that much smarter, the Democrats can also retaliate against the Republicans on not being able to "make hard choices".


Post a comment

Please be patient while your comment posts - sometimes it takes a minute or two. To check your comment, please wait 60 seconds and click your browser's refresh button. Note that comments with three or more hyperlinks will be held for approval.