I know you’re sick of hearing me say this. But today’s Pew poll offers some of the clearest evidence yet that Dems helped Republicans win the argument over the deficit and government spending by acquiescing to the GOP’s austerity/cut-cut-cut frame at the outset:
In terms of the public’s priorities for economic policy, more Americans (52%) say they would place a higher priority on reducing the budget deficit rather than on spending to help the economy recover. In February, opinion was more closely divided (49% reduce deficit vs. 46% spend to help the economy recover).
While there are wide ideological and partisan gaps on this issue, independents view deficit reduction as the higher priority. More than half of independents (54%) say this should be a higher priority for the federal government, compared with 39% who prioritize spending to help the economy recover.
This comes after yesterday’s Bloomberg poll found that the public broadly agrees with key GOP arguments: That deficit reduction is necessary to spur “economic confidence” (the “confidence fairy” argument) and that government regulation and taxes create “uncertainty” that harms job creation.
The key in today’s Pew poll, though, is that there’s been clear movement in the direction of prioritizing the deficit over spending to create jobs. The public was roughly divided on this question in February (49-46), but now the public prioritizes deficit reduction by 10 points (52-42).
As I noted here yesterday, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation going on here. Perhaps the polls are telling us that the public has internalized the idea that government is a drag on the economy and can’t create jobs — and that Dems were right to conclude early on that more spending would be too tough a sell. Or perhaps the polls show that Dems reinforced the GOP frame by effectively endorsing Republican arguments about the necessity of immediate deficit reduction. The fact that the Pew poll finds movement towards prioritizing deficit reduction would suggest that the latter interpretation has something to it — bipartisan prioritization of the deficit over job creation has led the public to place a higher priority on the deficit over job creation.
There does seem to be a real pivot towards jobs among Dems now, judging by their insistence that job-creation measures be included in the now-imperiled debt ceiling talks. But it’s hard not to look at these numbers and wonder what might have been if this pivot had occured much earlier — without the White House and Dems effectively endorsing conservative arguments about the economy at the outset.