Americans broadly support an across-the-board cut in spending for a government often seen as wasteful, but there is wide opposition to blanket cuts to the military, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The general idea of slicing government spending is popular, with majorities of Republicans, independents and Democrats all saying they support an across-the-board five percent reduction in federal outlays. (This poll asked only about cuts started with the so-called sequester, not about taxes, or any possible budget deal.)
Unsurprisingly, support for cutting government spending peaks at 82 percent among conservative Republicans, including 60 percent who say so "strongly." But even 50 percent of liberal Democrats back such cuts, at least in general terms. Some 55 percent of liberal Democrats also back the eight percent slashing of the U.S. military budget included in the sequester. Republicans overwhelmingly oppose such cuts to defense.
The large support for cutting government spending stands in stark contrast deep public opposition to decreasing spending on particular programs. In February the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans on 19 areas of federal spending, and there was majority support for decreasing spending in precisely zero of them. (See also Huffpost Pollster's write-up of the cuts paradox.)
In short: the American public likes the idea of cutting federal spending; what they don't like are actual cuts in federal spending.
That paradox makes it very difficult for elected officials to navigate the issue of whether -- and what -- to cut. It also explains why we should have seen the sequester as politically inevitable right from the start. Without any clear signal from the public of how, specifically, it wants the cuts to happen, politicians did the easy thing: They let an across-the-board cut go into effect without having to vote (read: explain) on it.
The lack of clarity in public opinion makes the way forward in Washington on the issue less than clear. If progress is to be made, it will require politicians to do a bit of a high-wire act without a net -- choosing what specifically to cut without knowing whether the public supports their moves. Will they do it? Count us as skeptical.
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Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) said Ashley Judd is "seriously considering" a Senate run.
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"Sequester could ultimately affect severe-weather forecasting" -- Josh Hicks, Washington Post
"Jeb Bush is back in the spotlight — and thinking about 2016" -- Peter Wallsten and David Nakamura, Washington Post
"The Powerless Presidency" -- Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker
Cohen is the polling director of Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.