New Poll: Federal Cuts and Spending

New York Times: “As President Obama and Congress brace to battle over how to reduce chronic annual budget deficits, Americans overwhelmingly say that in general they prefer cutting government spending to paying higher taxes, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.”

Well, duh! Did we really need a poll to tell us that?

The questions are interesting though.
See Survey questions and results here
The Federal Budget Deficit
Do you think it is necessary to take immediate action to lower the budget deficit or do you think it is possible to wait for better economic times? Most people say it is necessary to lower the budget deficit.

In order to reduce the federal budget deficit, do you think it will be necessary or not necessary to increase taxes on people like you? Most people think it will not be necessary to raise taxes on people like them.

No surprise with those answers. But now it gets interesting.

If you had to choose one, which would you prefer — raising taxes on people like you or reducing spending on government programs that benefit people like you? 62 percent say they prefer reducing spending on government programs that benefit people like you.
OK: now here is the catch. What government programs do they consider benefiting them? Whenever I ask this question in class, people have difficulty, at least initially, thinking about the many ways in which they benefit from government spending. So, what programs do they receive benefits from that they are willing to cut? Call me a skeptic, but except for the elderly receiving social security and Medicare, or perhaps those receiving unemployment–I doubt that most people really have a tangible benefit in mind when answering this question.

But then when they ask about specific program cuts–well, only cutting the military receives a majority approval.

If you had to choose one, which would you be willing to change in order to cut government spending?
Only 13 percent say Social Security and 21 percent say Medicare. The only other option in this set was the Military, which 55 % say they would cut.

They then ask them to choose between another 4 options:
If you had to choose one, which of the following domestic programs would you be willing to reduce in order to cut government spending? Education, Roads, Science and Medical Research, or Aid to the Poor and Unemployed. Well, not a lot of takers on this one either:
8 % would cut Education
34% would cut Roads
26% would cut Science and Medical Research
21% would cut aid to the unemployed and poor.

Of course, the results might be a little different if they separated science and medical research, and unemployed and the poor–but clearly, there is not a mandate for cuts here.

The last question listed gives it all away:
If you had to choose one, which of the following changes to Social Security benefits would you prefer in order to keep the program financially sound?
The winner, at 66%, was Reducing benefits for Americans with higher incomes

It raises questions, at least in my mind, about whether people are really willing to see the government take actions which reduce their benefits.

There were a number of questions that were asked that were not reported in the NY Times article.
One is about how to handle the projected shortfall in Medicare: cut benefits or raise taxes? 64% said raise taxes.
Another was about how to handle the projected shortfall in Social Security (note: this question is a problem because social security is solvent for at least another 30 years–it feeds into the fear of crisis)–cut benefits or raise taxes. Again, over 60% say raise taxes.
So–in one general question, they say cut benefits rather than raise taxes, but when you get specific, they say raise taxes.
See full poll results

And none of this makes much sense really when they are not presented with data about how much money we are talking about: cuts to science and medical research might not make as much of an impact on the deficit as cutting the military. The federal government does not spend that much money on education either–relative to Military. But without data, this is more of a popularity contest.

Interesting tidbit: 16% of those surveyed said they were temporarily out of work. That is higher than the official unemployment rate.
How the Poll was Conducted
Methodology: The latest New York Times/CBS News poll is based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 15 through 19 with 1,036 adults throughout the United States. The report a +/- 3 percent margin of error.
They surveyed both land line phones and cell phones. They also weighted the data.

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