The GOP’s confidence gap over the deficit, in 3 charts

March 22, 2013

The question of whether Democrats and Republicans can reach a broad long-term deficit reduction deal remains an open one. For now though, it's notable that polling shows the public has more confidence in President Obama to deal with the deficit than it does in Republican congressional leaders.

A new Pew Research Center survey released Thursday shows that more than half (53 percent) of Americans said they have at least a fair amount of confidence in Obama when it comes to the deficit. By comparison, only 39 percent said the same thing about GOP congressional leaders; and only 45 percent said the same thing about congressional Democratic leaders:

What's more, the confidence gap between congressional Republicans and Obama is very much a result of lagging support among Republicans for its own leadership.

Independents are nearly even split between the two, and a higher percentage of Democrats (20 percent) expressed confidence in GOP leaders than Republicans (13 percent) expressed confidence in Obama. But as the chart below shows, Republicans' confidence in their party's congressional leaders is weaker than Democrats' confidence in Obama.

So what are the big takeaways here? For one thing, Congress is very unpopular. That's one possible explanation for why both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders inspire less confidence among Americans on the deficit, compared to Obama. Being a congressional leader simply doesn't provide an ideal pulpit right now.

Secondly, as the following Pew data show, Americans are more concerned with maintaining entitlements than slashing the deficit, at a time when House Republicans are proposing entitlement reform as one of the vehicles for reining in spending and thus wiping out deficits in 10 years:

The news isn't all bad for Republicans. When it comes to spending decisions, Republicans and Obama are viewed pretty evenly, a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted earlier this month shows. Forty-four percent of Americans said they trust Republicans to do a better job finding the right balance between cutting spending that is not needed and maintaining what is necessary. Forty-three percent said they trust Obama more.

What's clear is that Americans are not fully on board with Republicans when it comes to the nation's budget deficit. The data show Obama doesn't inspire overwhelming confidence either, as the Pew poll found nearly half of Americans don't have at least fair confidence in the president to deal with the budget deficit.

But that's still a better showing than Republicans. At this point, the GOP simply has more work to do than the other side when it comes to influencing public opinion on the budget deficit.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Aaron Blake · March 22, 2013