Most registered voters support efforts to cut federal spending now. They want those cuts to begin in this fiscal year and not wait until the next. They support cutting spending not only in general, but also when presented with the argument that the cuts "mean slashing funding for important programs like education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and border security." Voters are worried that our current levels of spending, deficits, and debt will undermine our economic vitality and hurt our ability to grow private sector jobs.
President Obama's job approval has slipped back to its normal range after the bump he received from his speech following the Tucson shooting tragedy. His job approval now stands at 47 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove. After splitting evenly in Resurgent Republic's January survey, a majority of Independents (54 percent) now disapproves of the President's job performance, while 39 percent approve.
Disapproval of the President's job performance is far stronger when voters focus on how he is handling the budget and fiscal issues facing the country. Voters overall disapprove of his fiscal job performance (40 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove), with Independents disapproving overwhelmingly (31 percent approve, 64 percent disapprove).
Voters in all three partisan groups believe the deficit is driven by too much spending, not too little revenue, when asked which of the following statements comes closest to their views:
We need more tax revenue as well as spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit. We will never get the deficit under control unless we make the difficult but necessary decision to raise taxes.
Our federal deficit is a result of too much spending in Washington, not too little tax revenue. Instead of raising taxes on anyone, Congress should make the difficult but necessary decisions to get spending under control.<
Voters overall agreed that we should "make the difficult but necessary decisions to get spending under control" by 64 to 29 percent. Republicans and Independents agree by the overwhelming margins of 81 to 18 percent and 63 to 33 percent respectively. But even a majority of Democratic voters agrees that the deficit is a result of too much spending, 52 to 35 percent.
A broad appeal to "stop spending money we don’t have" trumps the argument focused on cutting specific programs.
Congressman A says we should not cut 100 billion dollars out of current federal spending. Cutting that much means slashing funding for important programs like education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and border security.
Congressman B says we should cut 100 billion dollars out of current federal spending. Individuals and families are making do with less, and the government needs to do the same. We have got to stop spending money we don't have.
Voters overall agree that we should cut $100 billion by almost a two-to-one margin, 61 to 32 percent. Republicans agree with the cuts by 86 to 10 percent and Independents agree by 68 to 24 percent. Democrats agree with Congressman A, but by a 60 to 33 percent margin that shows support for spending cuts among a third of Democrats.
When the argument against spending cuts focuses on the cost to the middle class, seniors, young adults, and veterans, voters still prefer a message focused on controlling spending to create a better environment for private sector job growth.
Congressman A says the spending cuts in the Republican budget are too severe and go too far. These proposed cuts will destroy American jobs and hurt middle-class families, young adults, seniors, and veterans. We can’t win the future if we don’t invest to meet our needs.
Congressman B says spending cuts are necessary to get government spending back to a level we can afford and produce a better environment for creating private sector jobs. While there may be disagreements about particular programs that should be scaled back, we have to stop bankrupting our country and mortgaging our children's future.
By 60 to 34 percent, voters overall say the spending cuts are necessary. Republicans agree that cuts are necessary by 85 to 12 percent, and Independents agree by 65 to 27 percent. Democrats think Republican budget cuts are too severe by 61 to 32 percent.
Voters agree with the statement that we can save Social Security with minor benefit adjustments for people 55 and under, and that we should make changes now rather than wait for a crisis.
Congressman A says Social Security will not face budget problems until 2037, so we need to focus our attention on our immediate budget problems and leave Social Security alone. Take Social Security off the table.
Congressman B says Social Security is in real trouble because of so many retiring baby boomers. We can save Social Security with minor benefit adjustments for people age 55 and under, and we should do that now rather than wait until the program faces a crisis.
Voters agree that we should make changes to Social Security now by 54 to 39 percent overall, with an identical margin among Independents. Republicans agree with Independents by 70 to 23 percent, while Democrats believe we should take Social Security off the table by 51 to 40 percent.
An expanded argument on entitlement programs that concedes the need for cuts but resists balancing the budget "on the backs of seniors and the poor" finds traction.
Congressman A says we should not balance the budget on the backs of our seniors and the poor. We need to cut back federal spending, but Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid should be off limits.
Congressman B says we will never get the deficit under control without dealing with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, because those three programs make up more than half of all federal domestic spending.
Voters agree with Congressman A by 53 to 41 percent, as do Democrats by 71 to 23 percent. In this case Independents agree with Democrats, 51 to 43 percent, while Republicans support Congressman B, 59 to 35 percent. This more successful argument from the left does not simply ignore the need for any cuts, but says they should be accomplished without touching the three entitlement programs.
Voters overwhelmingly believe workers should not be required to join a union to work in a unionized workplace. Even half of Democratic voters agree with that sentiment.
Congressman A says workers should be required to join a union if they are going to work in a unionized workplace. They are getting the pay and benefits negotiated by the union, and they should pay their fair share in dues to support the union.
Congressman B says we should give workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union to work in a unionized workplace. No worker should be forced to join a union and pay union dues just to get a job.
Overall voters think workers should not be required to join a union by 71 to 27 percent. Republicans agree by 89 to 10 percent, Independents do so by 74 to 23 percent, and Democrats agree by 50 to 46 percent.
Half the electorate believes government employee unions hurt the country. The same partisan pattern seen with the favorable and unfavorable ratings, with Democrats on one side and Republicans and Independents on the other, holds for this question:
Congressman A says government employee unions help the country. They give dedicated public employees like teachers, police, and firefighters the leverage they need to negotiate reasonable pay and benefits packages.
Congressman B says, while many public employees are dedicated professionals, government employee unions hurt the country. They demand pay and benefits packages that break our budgets, hurt our fiscal standing, and place an unreasonable burden on the taxpayers who pay the bills.
By 50 to 43 percent, voters overall think government employee unions hurt the country. Democrats think they help by 71 to 24 percent, but Republicans think they hurt by 72 to 21 percent. Independents agree with Republicans that government employee unions hurt the country, 56 to 39 percent.
Voters of all three partisan groups think it is bad for the country that the average pay and benefits package of federal government workers is now more than double the average pay and benefits package of private sector workers. Overwhelmingly voters view this development1 as bad for the country. Republicans think it is bad by 84 to 6 percent, Independents do so by 73 to 13 percent, and Democrats do so by 52 to 26 percent.
1Dennis Cauchon, "Federal Workers Earning Double Their Private Counterparts," USA Today, 8/10/10.
A majority of voters thinks we will never solve our long-term budget problems unless we address overly generous pay and benefits packages for government employees.
Congressman A says Republican governors have used state budget problems to start a war against government employee unions. These governors should focus their attention on fixing our budget problems, not breaking government employee unions.
Congressman B says we will never solve our long-term budget problems unless we address overly generous pay and benefits packages for government employees. One-time budget concessions just postpone dealing with the long-term problem.
By 53 to 38 percent, voters agree with Congressman B that we need to address overly generous pay and benefits packages for government employees. Republicans agree with Congressman B by 76 to 15 percent, as do Independents by 59 to 33 percent. But Democrats agree with Congressman A that Republican governors have used state budget problems to start a war against government employee unions, 64 to 28 percent.
The historic assumption that voters support spending cuts in general but oppose them in specific seems to be less true in the current environment than has been the case in the past, with the arguments about “slashing” spending on even popular items like education, environmental protection and border security falling short against the broader argument for the need to cut spending. Also, a broader economic growth argument linked to the need to cut federal spending trumps concerns about impacts on popular population subgroups like the middle class, seniors and veterans.
Some argue that we should cut spending without touching entitlement programs. Consequently, those advocating for spending restraint should: 1) Press those who oppose entitlement reform to explain where they would get the spending cuts they concede we need and, 2) Make clear to voters that cuts in entitlements are not simply about reducing the deficit but about saving those programs for the long term.
Lastly, relative to the debate over government employee compensation playing out in many states, voters tend to side strongly with those advocating the need to get public pay and benefits under control, and see those benefits as overly generous and threatening to the future of the country.
This survey of 1000 registered voters was conducted March 1-3, 2011. Respondents were selected randomly from a random-digit-dialing sample including both cell phone and landline telephone numbers. All respondents confirmed that they are registered to vote in the county in which they live. Quotas were set for state, age, and race based on state registration and previous turnout. The party balance for registered voters in the sample is 31 percent Democrat, 37 percent Independent, and 27 percent Republican.
The margins of error for responses with an even split – 50 percent for one response and 50 percent for another response – is ±3.10 percent for the full sample, ±5.94 percent for Republicans, ±5.06 percent for Independents, and ±5.61 percent for Democrats. The margin of error is smaller when one response receives a higher level of support. For example, the margin of error is ±2.68 percent when 75 percent of respondents in the full sample choose one response and 25 percent choose another response.