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Omero: More are concerned about the deficit?

Topics: NBC/Wall Street Journal , Obama

A question from the NBC/WSJ poll released this week made some news this week, and risks framing the upcoming health care debate.  A majority (58%) agreed with the statement "The President and the Congress should worry more about keeping the budget deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover."  Only a third (35%) agreed with this statement: "The President and the Congress should worry more about boosting the economy even though it may mean larger budget deficits now and in the future."

News outlets reported this as "people are more concerned about the deficit than the economy."  But in fact, when asked that question, respondents were quite clear that they were more concerned about the economy.  More said "job creation and economic growth" (31%) should be the top priority for the federal government than said "the deficit and government spending" (19%).  Similarly, more said unemployment was the most important economic issue (35%) than the deficit (24%).

So why does the longer question show an inflated emphasis on the deficit?  One hypothesis is the wording of the question.  The "focus on the deficit" answer category ends on a positive note--the implication is the economy will eventually recover.  The other answer category ends on a negative note--the potential for deficits down the road.  I don't know if this explains the results to the question, and, for the record, I don't doubt the balanced intentions of the researchers (Hart/McInturff).  But the difference between this question's results and the rest of the survey warrant discussion.

This single result is framing the current debate in terms of "voters are concerned about Obama's spending," as in the first sentence here. But not only does a recent NYT analysis show the deficit is hardly caused by Obama, Americans don't blame Obama either.  Nearly half (46%) in the NBC/WSJ survey blame former President Bush, and only 6% blame Obama. A good reminder as we enter a debate over the cost of health care reform.

 

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