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Attitude Check

Do Americans care about the debt crisis in Europe?

Frank Newport Dec 15, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: So, about that European debt crisis — how are Americans feeling about it? It’s time for Attitude Check, when we touch base with the polling firm Gallup about what Americans are thinking on economic issues.

A U.S. House panel today will be talking to economists and others about what threat the European debt crisis poses to the American economy. The summit last week, by the way, hasn’t settled very many concerns. In fact, countries such as Spain and Italy are paying more than ever to borrow money to pay their bills.

Frank Newport is Gallup’s editor-in-chief. He’s with us now. Good morning Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Chiotakis: Where does the European debt crisis rank on Americans’ list of concerns?

Newport: That’s an excellent question. We don’t find it shows up at all in our “most important problem” question that we ask every month: What’s the most important problem facing the country? Now, it may be hidden behind the economy, because a lot of Americans volunteer that the economy, just generally, is the number one problem. But we don’t see the European debt crisis mentioned specifically.

We did find a question from about a month ago asked by another organization, where they put in front of the public the idea of giving financial assistance to nations which have in turn assisted Greece — 71 percent of Americans said: Absolutely not, they weren’t in favor of that. So it suggests to us that the public is not totally locked into believing that the European debt crisis is highly important to Americans.

Chiotakis: One of the debates that’s going on in Europe, though Frank, is over governments and whether they should cut spending and balance their budgets, or try and boost the economy. The debate is also going on in this country. Do Americans have an opinion on that?

Newport: Let me give you a couple of thoughts here. One, we did ask Americans a while back: What’s the number one thing to do to create jobs? And Americans said: bring jobs back from overseas — no answer given as to how to do that.

But then, Americans volunteered — a number of them — infrastructure spending stimulates the economy, but just as many said to pull the government back and don’t get the government involved. That shows you the ambiguity there.

But we did have a question that we asked a while back, we were very specific: Do you favor spending government stimulus money — direct investment in infrastructure and stuff — in order to (and this is the important point) create jobs and stimulate the economy? And when we said it that way, 60 percent of the American public agreed.

Chiotakis: Do you think that’ll factor into the election?

Newport: Oh, absolutely. I think the number one issue in this election is of course the economy, but right behind that is the role of government. And this is this issue: does the government function best as an actual instrument that brings about positive things? Or is the best government less government? I think it’ll be a key issue in the election.

Chiotakis: Frank Newport, editor-in-chief over at Gallup. Frank, thanks.

Newport: You bet.

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