Budget 2013: What If the Federal Budget Reflected Public Opinion?


Now that the Senate has passed a budget for the first time since Obama has been the president, there are some real budget negotiations happening between the House and the Senate. Should we focus on spending cuts, raising taxes, or both? That question is what is driving the conversation in Washington, but would it be if they listened to the voters?  Recent polling data shows that the American people are just as confused on what to do about the budget as Congress is, yet even amongst the confusion the voters still provide the path to success.

A CBS News poll conducted from March 20-24 of this year sheds some light on what voters think about the budget. The data from the poll shows some discrepancies within the opinions of the American people, but that premise is set up early on when 39% said they did not know enough about the budget to know if addressing the deficit will have a positive or negative impact on the economy. Only 42% believe it will make the economy better in the long run, however, 61% knew enough to believe that the budget deficit had an impact on their personal or family financial situation.

Digging deeper into the numbers reveals that 58% do not approve of cutting defense spending as part of reducing the deficit. 79% oppose cuts to Social Security, while 80% oppose cuts to Medicare. Here is where it gets interesting. 47% of people polled said they approved of cuts to government programs and services that benefit people like them, while 45% opposed it.

Did the respondents of the poll view recipients of Social Security and Medicare as not like them? They overwhelmingly opposed cuts to these programs but were slightly in favor of cutting programs and services that benefited people they viewed as similar to them. That same thought process continues, as 52% were in favor of raising the capital gains tax, but 66% were opposed to personally paying more in taxes.

Despite all the back and forth nature of the data, there still was some indication on what voters think should be included in any budget that passes. 58% of those polled believe that a combination of spending cuts and tax increases should be used to address the budget deficit. A closer look, though, reveals that only 2% thought tax increases only should be used while 34% believed only spending cuts were necessary. Herein lays the clues to what politicians need to make any budget work. While a combination of tax increases and spending cuts are desirable, there is less appetite for tax increases than spending cuts, and Congress and the president should make note of that.

Polling data shows that the American people are just as conflicted with how to deal with the budget deficit as Congress is. However, even with that confusion they still provide what should be the base for any plan, a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that leans towards cuts but protects Social Security and Medicare. Even amongst their own confusion the voters have provided a path to success, but time will tell whether or not Washington sees that plan amidst their own confusion.