Attitude Check

What Americans think about President Obama’s budget

Marketplace Contributor Feb 16, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: The president’s budget that came out this week is what you might politely call a planning document. Political realities in Congress mean it won’t actually pass.

But it does seem fair to ask, given the dollar amounts involved and that it’s your money, how do you really feel about it?

Attitude Check is what we call our partnership with Gallup. Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief, is with us every week to help us understand what Americans really think. Frank, good to talk to you again.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: Let’s talk about the budget for a minute, and let me ask you based on the polling you have done: What do Americans want the government to spend more on, just for starters?

Newport: Well, the American public actually likes the government spending more on anything that relates to jobs. Plus, education is actually at the top of this one list we gave them of eight things. Yes, Americans say that’s great if the government spend money on education. The military, Social Security and Medicare, homeland security, even aid to farmers; and on one list, even aid to arts and sciences — Americans said yes, that’s something good that the government should be doing.

Ryssdal: What do they want us to spend less on? What do they want to cut out of the budget, do you know?

Newport: That’s difficult. You can ask some questions and they’ll say spend less on, for example, trying to reduce income inequality, some more broad things on these lines. Republicans, of course, say spend less on trying to intrude health care control into our lives. But the problem is, that when you give Americans lists of things, they kind of like them all. We gave them a list of about eight things, and the only thing that less of the majority said they like the government is doing is foreign aid — they’re willing to cut foreign aid.

Ryssdal: What about the deficit, though? You and I have talked before about how deficit’s right up on the top of the list of things Americans are worried about. And this is a budget that comes in at $3.8 trillion, with annual deficits for couple of years of $1 trillion. You know, what do we think of that?

Newport: Americans are worried about the deficit in general. And in general, Americans are worried about big government; they’re worried about government spending. But then when you list things individually one by one, as we’ve been talking about, Americans say, ‘Well I like that’ or ‘Don’t cut that.’ So it’s an essential paradox that’s very difficult to solve; short-term versus long-term. clearly President Obama and his advisers, for the first year of his budget, said we’ll look at the short-term; we’ll focus on getting Americans these ideas about spending money to help increase jobs and do wonderful things.

Ryssdal: I wonder if we could end, perhaps, on a happy note. You and I have spoken before about how Americans are fed up with the partisanship in Washington and how they just want people to agree in Washington on what would be best for the country. And this week we saw, lo and behold, Congress potentially listening: A deal on the payroll tax cut and extension of unemployment benefits. It’s a curious thing that this is happening now.

Newport: Well, I’m not sure it’s so curious because I think members of Congress have been reading our polls, Kai, no question about that. You’re absolutely right: Every poll I’ve seen said yes to the payroll tax extension, and yes to extending unemployment benefits, and that’s exactly what’s happened. I think members of Congress on both sides of the aisle saw what happened last August when they dithered up to the last minute on the expansion of the debt ceiling, so now they’ve said hey, we’d better do something to show some cooperation. I think the American public will be very, very pleased and positive about what’s happening in terms of this agreement.

Ryssdal: Fascinating stuff. Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief at Gallup. Our partnership with them is called Attitude Check. Frank, we’ll see you next week.

Newport: Great.

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