The Washington Post

Blame voters, not Congress, for our budgetary woes

An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday asked 1,000 U.S. adults about what would make them more or less likely to vote for a congressional candidate. “Compromise” overwhelmingly topped the list, with 86 percent saying that they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who “will work with members of the other party and compromise to get things done.”

But the two next-highest priorities on the list are somewhat baffling: 67 percent of Americans say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports cutting federal spending, but 67 percent also said they’d be more likely to vote for someone who “is committed to bringing federal dollars and projects to the local area.” This mindset – bring home the pork for me but not for anyone else – is the very crux of our nation’s budgetary problems.

Pollsters have long noted Americans’ tendency to be in favor of abstract “spending cuts,” only to balk when asked to note which specific areas they’d target. But the NBC/WSJ survey makes this contradiction starkly apparent. And it explains the bind lawmakers find themselves in when it comes to spending issues.

More than 60 percent of federal spending goes to defense, social security and Medicare. Economists generally agree that you can’t have meaningful spending reduction without addressing these three areas. But Americans are divided on how they feel about congressional candidates who support defense cuts: 42 percent say they’d be more likely to vote for such a candidate, but 38 percent say they’d be less likely. And cuts to social security and Medicare are at the bottom of the list: only 17 percent say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports such cuts.

Candidate characteristics shape American voters’ opinions

Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
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