Americans want to cut the deficit, but they’re loath to give up much to do it
A rapidly growing number of Americans think that reducing the deficit is very important: 69 percent in 2012 believe it’s a top priority, as compared to 53 percent in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center. Only the economy and jobs rank higher.
The problem is, Americans don’t like most of the big changes that would be necessary to reduce the deficit in a meaningful way, explains Pew Research Center president Andrew Kohut in a new brief on the issue. “In my years of polling, there has never been an issue such as the deficit on which there has been such a consensus among the public about its importance — and such a lack of agreement about acceptable solutions,” he writes.
While they overwhelmingly support reducing the deficit, more Americans would prefer to increase than reduce spending in nearly every major policy area, from Medicare to aid to the needy, Kohut points out, citing a 2011 Pew Research poll. There are only two areas where more Americans want to cut spending than increase it: unemployment benefits and foreign aid, neither of which would make much of a dent in the deficit.
There is some support for changes on the tax side, particularly for provisions hitting wealthier Americans. In another survey, 47 percent say they’d support higher taxes for with annual incomes over $250,000, and 64 percent say they’d raise the Social Security contribution cap for the wealthy. Nearly 60 percent also said they’d freeze the salaries of federal workers.
But ultimately, despite listing the deficit as a priority, most Americans — about 60 percent in a 2011 poll — would prefer to maintain benefits than take steps to reduce federal spending. As Kohut explains, this puts legislators in a real bind: “They are dealing with a public that is demanding solution to a problem which it has declared to be a major priority, but at the same time Americans are resistant, or divided at best, on the sacrifices that would be required to achieve a solution.”